06/28/17 Economic Development
Tampa, a place busy reinventing itself, is not exactly known for its streets. At least not in a good way.
The road called Dale Mabry has long been multiple lanes of traffic hell stretching city to suburb. There's Horrible Hillsborough Avenue, the used car lots of Florida Avenue, the persistent prostitutes of Nebraska Avenue. Our streets are perpetually under construction, excuse me, "improvement." In short, except maybe beautiful Bayshore Boulevard curving along the water and old brick streets that have somehow survived "progress," pretty much no one thinks of Tampa and says: Great streets!...
When you're talking about Tampa's downtown, growth is good. Cranes bobbing, parks reborn, streets bustling, buildings rising, all good. Growth is great!
But a side effect of growth that threatens to mess with one of the city's best assets? Not good.
The problem is parking, or the lack thereof. City officials will tell you there are plenty of spaces — just not, you know, close to where you want to go....
06/09/17 Public Safety
Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee sits across the table at La Tropicana, a coffee-and-Cuban toast spot in Ybor City favored by politicians and police. He's in crisp dress uniform, chest and arms covered with impressive stars and badges for a speech he will give later at MacDill Air Force Base. It will be one of his last as sheriff.
The waitress moves in, balancing steaming cafe con leche on a tray, stops, gives him the once-over. "You're even better looking in person," she says. And it is interesting to see a man who has run law enforcement in the county for the past 13 years — with a $405 million budget and more than 4,000 employees — blush....
06/05/17 Human Interest
TAMPA — It took heated discussions at two City Council meetings and the threat of losing contracts worth millions, but Monday morning, Mr. Al returned to his post at Old City Hall.
"I'm glad to be back," said Al-Hassan Mans-Kamara from behind the security desk between the elevators, where he has watched over the building for the last six years. "They're nice people, very nice people."...
06/01/17 Human Interest
If you work in an office, maybe you know someone like Mr. Al.
He's there when you come in, at a desk in the lobby, keeping a log, saying hello, remembering your name. And he's there when you're done for the day, telling you to have a nice evening.
For years at Tampa's historic Old City Hall — the quaint, Disneyish building where the City Council meets — that was Al-Hassan Mans-Kamara, Mr. Al or just Al, at his post in the lobby by the elevator. He gave directions and knew faces. He read agendas before meetings for potential crowds and controversy. He looked out for council members. And they knew he had their back....
In the dispute-gone-national over a bad joke uttered by Tampa's mayor, it is instructive to recall the nickname bestowed upon him by the local military.
"Swagger" was the fighter pilot call sign given Bob Buckhorn by folks at MacDill Air Force Base, on a patch for his flight suit, even — and yes, he had a flight suit. Clearly, it is a name he enjoys.
In fact, swagger has been front and center in his years as mayor. "Tampa's got its swagger back," Buckhorn declared early on, and swagger remains evident as he pushes his city forward in the final years of his second term....
Six months ago, Kyle Simon ditched his car and pretty much walked where he needed to go. And he did this here, in one of the most dangerous places in America to be a pedestrian.
Can you see where this story is going?
First, some background. Simon, 33, has lived in cities where you can get along fine without wheels, places with better public transportation and bike-friendly streets. But when he resettled in his native Tampa, he figured he'd need a vehicle....
We have an expression in the South to describe someone who can never quite pass muster with the powerful: It's like being the red-headed stepchild at the family reunion, elbowed from the table for having the impertinence to even try.
At the moment, in the legislative scheme of things, that would pretty much fit the University of South Florida.
USF — in the interest of full disclosure, my alma mater — just got the Tallahassee Treatment akin to a couple of rich-kid bullies administering a particularly humiliating wedgie. And the swift and sure arrogance with which this was executed was nothing short of breathtaking, even for that bunch up in Tallahassee....
It's an old saw but a true one: Sometimes it's not what you do — it's what you do after.
Okay, so when a person has shown some seriously bad judgment, sometime's it is what you did. What Hillsborough Judge Margaret Taylor did last week was publicly lambaste a University of South Florida football player charged with sexual battery and then turn on his coach for further hauling over the coals....
05/10/17 Local Government
TAMPA — A Hillsborough judge made news last week when she publicly blasted University of South Florida football coach Charlie Strong after one of his players was charged with sexual battery.
But this week, relations were decidedly better between Judge Margaret Taylor and Coach Strong when the two had a cordial meeting at the courthouse Tuesday.
"It was a very positive conversation," reported Chief Judge Ron Ficarrotta, who met Strong for coffee and asked if he would be willing to meet with the judge who gave him the dressing-down. Strong agreed, and the two spoke for about ten minutes in the chief judge's chambers....
Hillsborough County Judge Margaret Taylor, I feel your pain. I do.
Like you, I am a proud alum of the University of South Florida (Go Bulls!) Like you, I graduated pre-football. I spent years trudging to friends' games in Tallahassee, Gainesville and Miami, jealous of their traditions and their fun. (Though I never did get that whole painting one's face orange and blue thing.)
Maybe like me, judge, you were happy when we finally got a football team of our own. And all that comes with it, as it turns out....
TAMPA — The judge who ripped into a University of South Florida Bulls football player and then his coach in court this week has voluntarily taken herself off the case after video of the dressing-down went viral.
Hillsborough County Judge Margaret Taylor, who hears first appearance cases, told USF defensive end LaDarrius Jackson that if the allegations of sexual battery and false imprisonment against a fellow student are true, Jackson's behavior was "nothing short of outrageous." ...
The death penalty, and how we use it, is changing. Hey, it can happen, even in Florida.
Until recently, it was perfectly okay if only most people on a jury agreed that a killer should die. We have since come around to the idea that well, yes, perhaps unanimous is wiser given we're talking about taking a human life.
Meanwhile, a dramatic legal face-off is playing out between new Orlando-area state attorney Aramis Ayala — who refused to seek death for an accused cop killer, or anyone else for that matter — and Gov. Rick Scott, who promptly grabbed 23 death penalty cases away from her....
The Tampa Bay area's biggest failure of the moment has to be our utter inability to get traction for a meaningful and necessary transportation plan to take us into the future.
Reasonable referendums to pay for roads and transit fail, and fail again. Elected officials fear political kneecapping if they dare even speak the word "rail" — heck, even if they talk up "transportation improvements" beyond patching the latest pothole....
04/22/17 Human Interest
Tampa's bar and restaurant mecca along South Howard Avenue — SoHo if you're in the know — is something of a paradox.
And maybe at a crossroads, too.
South Howard stretches from the waterfront high-rises and mansions of Bayshore Boulevard to busy Kennedy Boulevard — Kennedy being the street certain genteel citizens still say there is little reason to cross for whatever lies north, the theory being that monied South Tampa holds all one could want....