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Legislators talk 2019 session at Suncoast Tiger Bay Club [St. Pete Catalyst]

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The media has been inundated with coverage of the explosive issues of the 2019 Legislative Session. From arming teachers to the implementation of Amendment 4, to a ban on so-called Sanctuary Cities. But it is in the weeks following the close of session that the stories behind the scenes arise.

The Suncoast Tiger Bay Club held the first of what will be many Legislative Wrap-up panels with the Pinellas Legislative Delegation Thursday at the Feather Sound Country Club.

A contingent of Pinellas Democratic legislators, including Sen. Darryl Rouson, Rep. Ben Diamond, Rep. Jennifer Webb, and Rep. Wengay Newton spoke at length about the challenges, accomplishments, and lessons of the 2019 Legislative Session.

The delegation’s Republican colleagues were also invited, but spent the afternoon with Gov. Ron DeSantis, who made a surprise visit to South St. Petersburg’s Mount Moriah Fundamental Christian School to tout the signing of an education bill that will create a new school voucher program, setting aside $130 million in tuition dollars for up to 18,000 low-income students.

The Democratic lawmakers shared their feelings on the progress of the legislative session, and how they made their voices heard as members of the minority party.

Rouson called the 2019 session significant. “I significantly defended against the evisceration of Amendment 4,” Rouson explained. “We defended against Sanctuary Cities [ban]. We defended against arming teachers. We defended against private school vouchers and we had to play a lot of defense this particular session.”

As for policy-making in the minority, “I learned a newfound respect for the amendatory process,” said Rouson. “Many times that’s the only way we could be heard, was by filing amendments on bad bills to try to make them better.”

Diamond, in line to lead the House’s Democratic caucus in 2022, characterized the session as filled with missed opportunities, despite passing what he called a very good state budget. “By the end of the budget conference, we reached a point, a really special point where pretty much the entire legislature was in agreement that the budget that we crafted was a good budget and correctly funded the priorities for Floridians,” said Diamond.

“But overall, the session from my perspective was very distressing because we had a number of policy bills jam through in the last week of session that I strongly disagreed with, and I know my colleagues here disagreed with.”

Webb, a first-year lawmaker representing district 69 called the session instructive. “There were bad bills that we were able to stop in committee, that we pulled together bipartisan support to stop on the floor, that we amended to the point where it was good policy instead of giving into the excesses of my colleagues from the other party.”

Artists, art leaders talk shop at Suncoast Tiger Bay meeting [St. Pete Catalyst]

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The Suncoast Tiger Bay Club welcomed a quartet of movers and shakers from St. Pete’s cultural community to its Thursday luncheon at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

Participating in a panel discussion on “Arts and Economic Development’ were glass artist Duncan McClellan, St. Petersburg Arts Alliance executive director John Collins, painter Carrie Jadus and Hank Hine, director of the Salvador Dali Museum.

It was Tiger Bay’s first discussion dedicated to the arts since 2010. In that time, arts and culture in the city have emerged as major economic drivers, at the same time the state legislature has eviscerated funding for the arts on an annual basis.

“We would love to see our leaders come up with funding streams,” Collins said, “so that every morning I don’t have to wake up and say ‘Who am I going to ask for money today?’ Because that’s how we’re funded to do these programs.”

A question was asked about the balance between art and new business in any community – can they exist together, and work together as economic springboards?

Of course, volunteered Hine.

“There’s no difference between the impulse to make something new in glass, metal or canvas and to create a new business,” Hine said. “The lessons of elasticity, and going beyond the bounds of normal assumptions that an artist has to take, those lessons could be learned by business.”

Said Collins: “If you’re a company thinking about moving here, what is going to tip the scales in our favor? I would say it’s our City of the Arts. Nor that we don’t have to build a lot to support that moniker  that we’ve called ourselves, we’ve built it. But now we need to support it.”

The Arts Alliance director explained that he is frequently sought out by such companies, inquiring about everything from artists, studios and museums to performing arts venues and even art supply stores.

McClellan, Jadus and Collins agreed that while the Dali is rightfully advertised as a major cultural draw, the thriving arts scene here could use a bit more attention from local and statewide tourism bureaus.

“We’ve got a great infrastructure of the arts here,” McClellan said. “We’ve got something to advertise. That would be one of things I’d love to see implemented.”

Added Jadus: “The city provides a great art experience. I give them kudos for that. I feel that in some ways the artists, and the arts community, are the main drivers in pushing this forward, towards this being a city for the arts.”

What she wishes for, she said, is “a little more support at the government level, where we’re receiving the money we need to maintain ourselves as an arts city.”

Debate Over Preservation, Growth Heats Up In St. Petersburg [WUSF]

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  MAR 21, 2019

St. Petersburg developers and preservationists on Thursday debated how the city might balance its rapid development with the preservation of its charm and history.

Last year, the City of St. Petersburg reported 27 new developments were either underway or recently completed. Peter Belmont of Preserve the Burg, a historic preservation group, told the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club gathering that preserving existing buildings is better for growth than the high rises popping up in downtown.

“Preservation is important for the ongoing success of St. Pete,” he said. “Preservation in terms of recognizing the history of properties has shown to be good for property value. It’s been shown to be good for neighborhoods. So there are many reasons why there are positive attributes to recognizing our history and promoting what keeps our city special.”

Belmont was joined on the panel by Alan DeLisle, the City of St. Petersburg City Development Administrator, Elihu Brayboy, owner of Chief’s Creole Café, and developer Mack Feldman of Feldman Equities.

They discussed controversial projects such as ONE St. Petersburg – currently the tallest building in downtown. Preservationists challenged the city about the height of the building owned by the Kolter Co., and others worried the condominium would drive up rental prices. The city eventually allowed for the project to be at its planned height, but under conditions that promoted preservation, said Feldman.

“One of the things that made that building as tall as it was, was a special bonus that the city of St. Pete has wherein the developer agrees to pay money toward preservation – in this case it was the Snell Arcade,” said Feldman. “The Snell Arcade was completely renovated in part from money from the Kolter project.”

Feldman believes that there is a place for both preservation and development in the city. He also said that with the amount of people moving to the area, development is necessary to accommodate everyone.

“We have to allow supply to keep up with demand,” he said.

From left to right: Peter Belmont, Mack Feldman, Elihu Brayboy, and Alan DeLisle
CREDIT NICOLE SLAUGHTER GRAHAM / WUSF

For Brayboy, a business owner in St. Petersburg’s historic Midtown neighborhood, development looks a lot like pushing low- and median-income residents out in the name of growth.

“It’s going to bring in some new things, but (development is) not necessarily inclusive,” he said. “I’m not saying its gentrification, but it looks like it, smells like it, feels like it. It may very well be a gentrification concept unintentionally.”

Brayboy pointed to the demolishing of the primarily black neighborhood in the city’s Gaslight district in the 1980s to build Tropicana Field and to the the removal of residential homes on 22nd Street South to build the Job Corps facility. Expansion of city development, Brayboy said, doesn’t sound like it will be good for the community in which he lives and works.

“You cannot convince me that you’re going to mix a million-dollar condo with (federal-government supported) Section-8 housing,” he said. “I don’t think any developer is going to do that. St. Petersburg is not making room for the working class people that are here.”

City Development Administrator DeLisle said that the city is working hard to make sure St. Petersburg works well for all of its residents, current and future.

“I think—and I know that the Mayor (Rick Kriseman) has worked very hard at this—that St. Petersburg is about all people feeling comfortable,” he said. “All people being part of the economy.”

Community members also weighed in on the debate. Matt Weidner is an attorney who represents a resident trying to demolish and rebuild his home in the historic Driftwood neighborhood. He said preservationists don’t take individual rights into consideration.

“One of the most frustrating things about the preservation argument and debate is that the proponents of preservation have no concern whatsoever for the financial consequences of individuals,” he said.

Beth Connor, a candidate running for St. Petersburg City Council, said she wished developers and preservationists would focus more on areas on the city’s southernmost side – the Skyway Marina District and the Pink Street neighborhood.

“There’s adaptive reuse of buildings in my district. There are lots that can be repurposed for things. There’s housing stock that can be renovated and reused,” she said.

No two opinions seemed to agree completely, but community members who attended the event did feel like they had more insight into the city’s future. Monica Kile, a member of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club was happy with the conversation.

“It was better than I thought it would be,” she said. “I learned a lot and I felt like the panel presented a nice mix of opinions.”

Sheriff Gualtieri: Mitigate school safety threat now, navigate prevention bureaucracy later [St. Pete Catalyst]

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By Megan Holmes

If there is one thing that Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has been unequivocal about, it’s that something needs to change in Florida schools. Gualtieri, who serves as the Chair of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Commission, was tasked with analyzing and creating a law enforcement response to the Feb. 14, 2018 mass shooting in Parkland that left 17 people dead and 17 more wounded in just three minutes and 51 seconds.

“Think about that, look at your watches,” Gualtieri asked of his audience at a luncheon hosted by the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club last Thursday. “That isn’t even four times around by the second hand on your watches. In three minutes and 51 seconds he shot or killed 34 people.”

“We need to do something differently than what we’re doing today,” Gualtieri explained. “And we need to do something differently than what we were doing on February 14 of last year if we expect a different outcome then what happened at Stoneman Douglas.”

Gualtieri has come under fire since the conclusions of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas investigation became public, for his advocacy of the controversial practice of arming school personnel under the state’s Guardian program, created by state legislation passed in response to the massacre. The program allows school personnel trained to stop active assailants on school premises to carry a concealed firearm. To date, only two school districts in the state have allowed the program. Currently, classroom teachers are ineligible for the program.

During Thursday’s luncheon held at St. Petersburg Yacht Club, Gualtieri defended his position, fielding questions from the public on arming teachers, mental health policy solutions, and the logistics of implementing Guardians into schools.

One common theme emerged: action on harm mitigation needs to happen now. That mean taking action so that when bad things do happen, the results are less catastrophic. Because, according to Gualtieri, it’s going to happen again. “As sure as I’m standing here today, and it’s a hard thing to say, and it’s not what you want to hear, it’s going to happen again,” he said, solemnly.

“The biggest question for all of us is, ‘What have we done differently to drive a different outcome,’ if you always do what you’ve always done, you’re always going to get what you always got.”

The harm prevention vs. harm mitigation issue continuously arises not just in community conversations about these issues, but the national debate on school safety and gun violence.

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long addressed Gualtieri Thursday.

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long asked Gualtieri why, if America is the only country in the world with this problem, we can’t study other countries who don’t have this violence. “What do you identify that maybe I’m not that makes us so special that we have this problem here?”

“How long have we been talking about gun issues and had the gun debate? Like forever,” responded Gualtieri, pointing to the paralysis of national gun debate. “How long are we going to be talking about gun issues and have the gun debate? Forever. And in the meantime, we need to do something differently.”

“This is not about the gun debate in people who want to make it about the gun debate are missing the mark,” he added. “This is about closing a gaping hole in a huge vulnerability and being able to mitigate harm.”

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, Florida state legislation passed in 2018 after the Parkland shooting, mandates at least one armed “safe-school officer” in every school, whether that be a school resource officer, school safety officer, or a guardian.

According to Gualtieri, one is not enough. “What I am saying is, is that two is better than one, three is better that two, and four is better than three,” he said.

“And if you have people out there that want to do it, who are qualified or willing to go through a rigorous background process – a background check, a polygraph, a drug screen, psychological screening, etc. And they’re willing to go through rigorous training, weapon retention drills, site acquisition drills, shoot don’t shoot scenarios and all of what cops go through then we can have that two is better than one, three is better than two, etc.”

Tiger Bay member Susan Taylor stood to ask a question Thursday.

Harm mitigation isn’t the only focus, according to Gualtieri. But it is the most pressing. He outlined numerous prevention issues that could make these mitigation efforts less necessary in the future, including school-based behavioral threat assessments using multi-disciplinary teams to refer kids to proper services before they become a threat and master case management between the criminal justice system and the mental health system.

“Last year in the state of Florida, we had 102,000 Baker Acts. That’s not 102,000 different people … a whole bunch of them are bouncing back and forth between the criminal justice system and the mental health system,” Gualtieri explained.

“If I was going to suggest to the state legislature or to Congress, what could you do that in the long term would make the greatest difference and have the greatest effect would be establishing dedicated case management entities that are going to guide these people into the right resources, because they’re all co-occurring disorders between mental health, behavioral health and substance abuse.”

Editorial: Three mayors united for Tampa Bay [Tampa Bay Times]

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The mayors of Tampa Bay’s three largest cities held their final public chat this week, underscoring again how far the region has come in appreciating its shared future. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos are different political animals dealing with distinct constituencies. Their cities have their own charms and challenges. But they have created the best relationships ever among the region’s big-city mayors, and they have built a strong foundation for their successors to work collaboratively to address transportation, water resources, the Tampa Bay Rays and other regional priorities.

Thursday’s lunch before a friendly crowd of civic activists in Clearwater was a final joint appearance before Buckhorn leaves office in May. With Kriseman serving his final term and Cretekos departing next year, it was a chance for the trio to trade gentle pokes and reinforce the strength of their relationships. While the cities have their own agendas, the mayors can come together on issues of regional concern. And where they disagree, these mayors have forged an easy and effective channel of communication, building a rapport that promotes understanding if not always unanimous agreement on regional issues.

Transportation. Hillsborough County’s approval of a 30-year transportation tax in November will focus attention there to improvements in local service. But Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties have worked for years on improving regional transportation. Hillsborough must continue to support connecting the region’s major cities with modern mass transit options, including express bus or train service over the area bridges. While the citizen-led transportation referendum in Hillsborough may offer some lessons, that momentum — and a major private effort to promote it — has yet to surface in Pinellas and Pasco. Hillsborough should operate its transportation fund so that it becomes a model for other areas and be willing to take the lead on regional connectivity.

Water. Buckhorn will ask the regional utility Tampa Bay Water again in February to approve Tampa’s plan to send highly treated wastewater into the regional water supply. The move could guarantee Tampa’s water needs for the immediate term, provide the region with the water it needs to grow and save area governments millions of dollars in avoided water projects costs. St. Petersburg has raised some environmental concerns and fears the move could pave the way for Tampa to leave the cooperative. Unless the impasse is broken next month, the standoff will fall to Buckhorn’s successor to convince the region the plan is a win-win. The future of Tampa Bay Water should not be compromised.

Rays. While St. Petersburg’s agreement allowing the Rays to explore a new stadium site in Hillsborough has expired, but the team and Hillsborough’s business and political leadership made significant progress before the Rays decided not to seek an extension of the pact to keep negotiating directly. The clock is ticking on the lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, which expires in 2027. Hillsborough should independently keep improving its pitch, St. Petersburg should decide how it wants to proceed — and the community deserves a clearer answer from the Rays. Cooperation, not competition, among the cities will be the key to keeping Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay.

It would be unrealistic to expect the mayors to always see eye-to-eye, and these three exercise power differently and have their own agendas. But they have advanced the cause of regional unity by talking openly, developing relationships and sending a positive common message. That commitment is an example their successors should follow.

3 Mayors Play Up Cooperation Between St. Petersburg, Tampa And Clearwater [WUSF]

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The tensions that have been seen in the past between Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater seem to have largely dissipated.

The bad old days of fighting about water and public institutions are gone. That was the theme as St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos and Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn spoke Thursday at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

“The days of us fighting about bridges and institutions. Buried. Dead,” Buckhorn said. “Do not let anybody run for office in Pinellas County that would advocate anything other than a stronger relationship with our partners in the Bay area is a good thing for all of us.”

Buckhorn told the crowd the relationships between the cities has never been stronger.

“I think the tone and tenor of this relationship and this discussion that we have on a regular basis is that we are better together, that we are stronger together, that we are more competitive together,” he said, “and that we will continue to grow together, maximizing the advantage of each of our communities.”

Even the tug-of-war over where the Tampa Bay Rays will play has simmered down

Kriseman told the crowd that he’s waiting to hear from the Rays on what their next move will be. With the proposal for a new stadium in Ybor City dead, Kriseman says he’s willing to partner with the team to build a new stadium. But if they’re not?

“The city of St. Petersburg will be just fine,” he said. “We have 86 acres that we will be redeveloping. And it gives us a huge opportunity. An opportunity that not a lot of cities around the country don’t have as far as the impact that site could have, and the jobs it could create and the housing it could address.”

The Tropicana Field site is being eyed for everything from commercial and research park to hotels, office space and new homes.

For this Tampa Bay mayoral power trio, a final local show [Tampa Bay Times]

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By Charlie Frago

CLEARWATER — Early on during his joint appearance with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman noted the numerous political road shows the three have done over the the years.

On Thursday, before a friendly crowd of Suncoast Tiger Bay members at the Feather Sound Country Club, their performance could have been dubbed “The Three Amigos.”

The mayors, all in their second and final terms, frequently lunch together. They didn’t miss an opportunity to praise one another between bouts of tooting the horns of their respective municipalities.

Thursday’s theme was unity and regional cooperation.

“The days of fighting over bridges and institutions are over. Buried. Dead,” said Buckhorn, who leaves office on May 1.

Simmering tensions between Tampa and St. Petersburg over Tampa’s plan to convert highly-treated wastewater to drinking water didn’t surface. Nor did anything else that might ruin their party.

For nearly an hour, the mayors joked and poked gentle fun at each other between fielding serious questions about affordable housing, gridlock, climate change and the future of the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Tampa is the best city because we’re so secure in our identity we gave you back your baseball team,” quipped Buckhorn, who said he didn’t have any idea if the region would hold on to its major-league baseball team.

Kriseman said he still believes the 86-acre Tropicana Field site is the best place for the Rays. He said he looked forward to talking with team executives, but was noncommittal on his city’s chances.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said.

Cretekos, who drew a big laugh when he referred to the region as “Clearwater Bay,” reminded the crowd that his city would continue to host the Philadelphia Phillies for spring training.

Hillsborough County’s one-cent transit tax, approved by voters in November but currently tied up in court, was praised by the Pinellas County mayors as something to emulate.

“We’ve got to learn a lot from Hillsborough on how they did it,” said Kriseman, who said he welcomed “elevated aerial transit” and rapid transit bus systems among other options to ease congestion.

“I don’t care what it is, but we’ve got to take those steps forward,” he said.

Buckhorn advised Pinellas residents to create a grassroots effort instead of a top-down push. Cretekos reminded the predominantly Pinellas crowd that two previous efforts across the bay in 2010 and 2016 to provide a dedicated funding source for roads and transit failed.

The mayors also discussed how their cities need to combat climate change. Seawalls, better stormwater and sewage systems and adaptive building codes were all mentioned.

Buckhorn singled out Kriseman for praise, saying his leadership has paved the way for the region to adapt to a changing climate.

Kriseman, who opened his remarks by calling President Donald Trump’s shutdown of the federal government “unconscionable,’ described his administration as a political hybrid.

“We’re proving you can be progressive and pro-growth business friendly,” said the Democratic mayor.

Moderator Adam Smith, a Tampa Bay Times columnist and political editor, jokingly told the crowd before Kriseman’s opening remarks to be prepared for Kriseman to try out his 2022 gubernatorial stump speech.

Kriseman has three more years in his term. Cretekos is slated to serve until his term ends in 2020. But Buckhorn is counting down his final weeks in office.

While Buckhorn joked that he’ll be an Uber driver after he leaves office, Kriseman and Cretekos praised his leadership.

“This is Mayor Bob’s last time with each one of us. I would hope you all appreciate what he has done for the Tampa Bay area, directly and indirectly, because his successor has got some really big shoes to fill,” Cretekos said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459 . Follow@CharlieFrago .

Art O’Hara is remembered for his dedication, determination [St. Pete Catalyst]

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The education and welfare of Pinellas County children was paramount to Art O’Hara, whose vision – and tenacity – helped develop R’Club, Inc. into the largest and most successful education-based childcare program in the area.

O’Hara, 68, died Sunday at St. Anthony’s Hospital, from an apparent heart attack.

The St. Pete native had been executive director of R’Club since 2000, after seven years in a similar position at the Children’s Home Society’s Gulf Coast Division.

Founded in 1967 as Latchkey Services, R’Club is a nonprofit that provides before- and after-school services for children of working families. Approximately 4,500 young people are served per day; the organization’s mission is getting kids ready for school, and helping them be successful in school, through curriculum-based programs, including STEM-related subjects.

Board president Dennis Ruppel said that O’Hara, behind his engaging smile and self-deprecating humor, was laser-focused on the organization’s mission. “He didn’t just go through the motions,” Ruppel explained. “He took on the big challenges.

“The most recent one was his advocating to our board that we agree to take over the operations of Happy Workers Daycare Center, which was a St. Pete institution going back to the 1920s. It had fallen on hard times in recent years and was at risk of losing its license. Art inspired us all to take on that challenge, to raise funds so that it can become a first-class facility. We’re far along, and I know we’ll finish it as part of his legacy.”

O’Hara was instrumental in turning around the fortunes of the Louise Graham Regeneration Center, which provides employment for developmentally disabled adults through the recycling and sale of paper products, in order to maximize their independence. He had been the center’s executive director since 2006.

“Art was very straightforward and very clear about his priorities,” said Ruppel, who joined the R’Club board in 1989. “The things he felt were important. And he had a very persuasive rationale about why his priorities should be adopted by the community.

“And because he did the things he said he would do, he garnered great respect from both city government and county government, the Juvenile Welfare Board and the state legislative delegation. People who got to know him understood that he spoke from depth; he really understood what he was doing, what he was espousing, and that he had a mastery of the complete picture. And that when he said he could get something accomplished, you knew he could get it accomplished.”

Tweeted Mayor Rick Kriseman: “Art O’Hara used his time on Earth wisely. He made a difference, made our community better. The future of St. Pete is brighter because of Art and his focus on our children.”

Mike Sutton, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County, wrote on Facebook: “The Habitat family is saddened to hear of the passing of Art O’Hara, and our prayers go out to his loved ones and the R’Club family. Many of our Habitat partner families have benefited from R’Club Child Care, Inc. programs over the years, and we are grateful for his leadership, legacy and the tremendous impact he made in our community, especially for local children.”

O’Hara, the divorced father of two adult sons, held a bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology from the University of South Florida, and a master’s in social work from Florida State University. He began his career in social work as director of the San Antonio Boys Village in Pasco County.

He was also a past president of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

“Art had a captivating smile and a shine to his eyes, which really was the emanation of how deep and rich his heart was,” said Ruppel. “He was a very, very caring person; it just radiated from him. And I think that’s why he garnered such respect and trust.”

O’Hara’s talent, he said, extended to building a solid, dependable team around himself.

“I know we’ll continue to operate well,” Ruppel explained. “We won’t miss a beat. But there’s just no replacing somebody like Art. He was very special.

“The board is highly engaged and will take all the right initiatives to find the best possible replacement. But there’s only one Art O’Hara.”

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

 

 

 

 

Suncoast Tiger Bay Club celebrates 40 years [St. Pete Catalyst]

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The Suncoast Tiger Bay Club was never going to be just another civic organization programming speakers. Since its inception in 1978, the emphasis of Tiger Bay – a non-partisan political club – has been as much on member questions, and responses, as the presentations. According to charter member and former president Tom Dunn, the idea was to “ask penetrating questions, hold speakers accountable and reinforce public ethical standards.”

A remarkable array of guests have “walked through the tiger’s jaws” in 40 years. The names come tumbling out: George H. W. Bush, Bob Graham, Lawton Chiles, Jeb Bush, Pat Robertson, John Glenn, Bob Martinez, Connie Mack, Bill Nelson, Paula Hawkins, Marion Hammer, Charlie Crist, Jack Eckerd, C. W. Bill Young, Paul Tash, Bill Foster, Rick Kriseman, Gabe Cazares, George Plimpton, Alan Harvey, Buddy McKay, Martin Dyckman and many, many more. Two full generations of Floridian and American history – and many have walked away with marks from the tiger’s fangs and claws.

(Consequently, Tiger Bay’s “Fang and Claw Award” evolved – presented to that member asking the most penetrating question at each event.)

The idea for the club, according to former Tiger Bay president Bob Stewart, began at a luncheon meeting held at Landmark Union Trust Bank. St. Petersburg attorney and gubernatorial candidate Raleigh W. Greene, who’d survived a grilling while speaking to Miami’s Tiger Bay Club, proposed establishing a similar organization in St. Pete.

Others at the organizational meeting included banker Howard Nix, attorney Bill Davenport, former chair of the Chamber of Commerce Tom McLean, and Stewart.  Mike Richardson, of the Evening Independent, soon joined in the effort.  A board of directors was formed, and various administrative matters attended to.

Tiger Bay was publicly announced on Sept. 20, 1978. “We want it to be truly wide-open and broad-based,” McLean said at the breakfast event. “The real value of a Tiger Bay Club is that a meeting becomes such a media event.  We want to generate news. Questions are only allowed from club members, but these people should be able to ask some very pointed questions.”

The first meeting was held Oct. 13 at the Hilton Hotel, with Wayne Mixon, candidate for lieutenant governor, as guest speaker. The St. Petersburg Times noted that Tiger Bay was getting off to a “low-key” start with mostly “mushy, easy questions” from an audience of about 150.  Club organizers downplayed that critique but conceded the need for “a little more in-depth questions.”

Over the years the club struggled with the sharpness of questions, or lack thereof. In 1999, Times columnist Howard Troxler berated the club under the headline “Skip the Catnap, and Get Back on the Prowl.” After stating that he had appeared twice before the club without the tigers “ever laying a claw on me,” he criticized the club for giving city councilwoman Kathleen Ford a free ride. Dunn agreed: “We were pathetic,” he recalled. “There’s a difference between being rude and asking insightful and incisive questions.”

Another program featured Betty Castor, who at the time was running for state education commissioner. It was to be a debate between Castor and her opponent, but the opponent got sick and sent his mother to debate Castor instead. Club rules were that surrogates – including mothers – could not substitute for the invited speaker. Nevertheless the club reserved an empty chair for the missing candidate, and Dunn would briefly address the empty chair when it was time for the missing candidate to present, or rebut.

Over its four decades, Tiger Bay programs ranged from serious to comic, and the best were a mixture of both. In 1984, comedian and perennial presidential candidate Pat Paulsen addressed the club. He stated that while he had announced three times that he would like to be president, he did not think he would ever launch a serious campaign. “I certainly wouldn’t want the job, but I don’t think things would break down if I was elected because I wouldn’t do anything.”

One of the most contentious issues in the city in the 1980s was whether to build a stadium for Major League Baseball. Construction of a multi-purpose sports facility was approved by the city council in July of 1986. At that time there was no commitment from MLB to provide a team to play in the new stadium, and that did not happen until five years after the stadium was built. Governor Bob Graham stated that the council vote demonstrated “a lot of optimism for the future of St. Petersburg.”

During his first Tiger Bay appearance, Graham also got a laugh when he said he was bringing a baseball franchise to Tampa Bay, but there would be three drawbacks: The franchise would be awarded to the Tampa Bay Bucs; Lieutenant Governor John McKay would be the team’s manager; and Graham would be the relief pitcher.

Twelve years later, Graham again addressed the club tongue in cheek about baseball, “taking credit” for the at-the-time winning record of the Tampa Bay Rays by doing a work day at the stadium helping to construct the bullpens “using poor quality dirt in the visitor’s bullpen.”

In 1996, the city was rocked by the shooting of 18-year old TyRon Mark Lewis, which ignited two-nights of racially-charged violence and civil disturbance. Tiger Bay squarely addressed both the shooting and other root causes of the disturbance. Police chief Darrel Stephens told the club: “Somehow, we have to learn greater tolerance so we can at least engage in healthy conversation without all the labels … we can all do better at seeking out opportunities to enhance understanding and sensitivity.”

Stephens was shortly followed in another program featuring Mayor David Fischer. Fischer, speaking about a $20 million federal aid package provided the city to address root causes of poverty, said “There are people who I believe can’t be helped, but at the same time there are a lot of people caught in a web that I believe can be helped. If you want to say nobody can be helped, you’re fooling yourself but winding up with a dangerous community.”

The club also invited Omali Yeshitela, chairman of the National People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, to reflect on the Lewis shooting and its aftermath. Yeshitela said that the city must commit to economic development for African-American neighborhoods, not handouts but capital, so the neighborhoods could rebuild themselves. He was asked what he would do if he were mayor? “First of all,” he said, “I’d call me.”

Tiger Bay also has an annual meeting, where awards are presented and members kick back and have fun. Over the years such entertainers as Mark Russell and the Capitol Steps have appeared.

Tiger Bay presents two awards and has two programs for young people.  The Ben Franklin Award recognizes exemplary public leadership. Former Tiger Bay President Jade Moore once stated the club named the award for Ben Franklin because Franklin “exemplified public service without enslavement to public opinion.” Recipients of the award are a who’s who of local and state political life: The first recipient in 1981 was school board member Martha Rudy Wallace.  This year’s recipient is State Attorney Bernie McCabe.   The club also presents the Susan B. Anthony Grassroots Award to a person whose grassroots efforts have made a singular contribution to public policy, or by contributing to a broader understanding of public affairs.  The 2015 award went to Dr. Yvonne-Scruggs-Leftwich

The Margo Fischer Young Tiger Program was created to encourage youth to take interest in public affairs. During the school year, high school juniors and seniors, as well as Political Science students from local colleges, are invited to club meetings. Full member privileges, including the right to ask questions, are extended to the “Young Tigers.”

Some have walked away with the Fang & Claw Award. The Dorothy Walker Ruggles Democracy Scholarships are awarded to graduating high school seniors through the Pinellas County Education Foundation.

Suncoast Tiger Bay’s current president, Kelly Kirschner, emphasizes that “one of the many 21stcentury trials we face is to step out of the digital realm, and reaffirm our commitment to building a stronger civic commons by being physically present and interacting with our fellow citizens in organizations such as Tiger Bay.”

Turning 40 is a big birthday in our culture, not just for people, but also organizations. It’s a time for Tiger Bay to celebrate, but also reflect, recharge, and plan for the no less exciting years ahead.

 

Will Michaels is the former director of the St. Petersburg Museum of History and author of The Making of St. Petersburg and the Hidden History of St. Petersburg.  He is also a long-time member of Tiger Bay and may be reached at wmichaels2222@gmail.com.

Bernie Sanders’ Campaign Manager Urges Gillum To Stick To His Progressive Message [WUSF]

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The campaign manager for Senator Bernie Sanders had a little advice for the Democratic hopeful for Florida governor during a visit to St. Petersburg Thursday. It boils down to: stick to your guns.

Jeff Weaver has been with the iconic Vermont Senator for decades, helping mold Sanders’ image as a defender of the “99 percent.”

Weaver told the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club the Florida governor’s contest is this year’s marquee billing. He says this is a clear choice between a right-wing candidate, Republican Ron DeSantis, and the progressive he arranged for Sanders to campaign alongside, Democrat Andrew Gillum.

“He put together the kind of coalition that is going to be critical going forward for the Democratic Party to win,” Weaver said. “There’s so many young people who have given up on the Democratic Party, and politics in general, and people like Andrew Gillum are bringing them back in. That was one of the things that Bernie Sanders did, one of the things that Barack Obama did.”

Weaver says for Gillum to win, he needs to expand his base of younger, more liberal voters and reach out to traditional Democrats like the working middle class.  Weaver said his role model would be Franklin D. Roosevelt and his grand coalition of working men and women and progressives.

“I argue that by returning to those roots, and people like Andrew Gillum and Bernie Sanders, Stacey Abrams in Georgia and others,” he said, “that we in fact can reconstitute that grand coalition that made the Democratic Party the dominant party in this country.”

In a victory for two candidates considered “outsiders,” Gillum bested four Democratic candidates for the nomination, and DeSantis beat the early favorite, Agriculture Comissioner Adam Putnam of Bartow.