Actually, Bob Buckhorn, Tampa’s mayor since April of this year, and Bill Foster, elected mayor of St. Petersburg in November of 2009, have some things in common.
Both were bureaucratic mid level functionaries for a couple of decades while they lusted after the top office in their city, both were turned away by voters several times from elective office before finally reaching the pinacle of municipal government.
Both of them ran against women candidates.
Both of them have lived bland, unremarkable lives, nestled in the pieties and comforts of the comfortable mid-size American Sun Belt cities.
Foster, is a former trust and estate lawyer, a devout Christian Conservative who refused to support his city’s Gay Pride Parade this year, does not believe in evolution, and says his job is a calling -though he will be sure to govern St. Petersburg under the rules of the Constitution of the United States of America. His favorite movie is “Casablanca.”
Buckhorn is an affable, ebullient likable guy who labored as a high profile public relations executive and worked once as an aide to one of Tampa’s mayors, and served on the Tampa City Council with honor if not distinction. Well, we said a lot of things in common, police say Buckhorn owns an SUV once owned by a pimp who ferried prostitutes around the city in the black 2005 Yukon Denali which came from a police forfeiture lot. We won’t hold that against him, and We don’t know his favorite movie, but it’s probably not “Casablanca.”
But the biggest thing they have in common, is they govern popular tropical cities, on opposite sides of a large body of water, which are often referred to as sister cities.
And both of of thise ‘sister cities’ have an enormous unemployment and homelessness problem.
And here’s where the “sister” thing comes in. There’s going to be some sniping, some adjusting to sharing the same territory, some finger pointing, some ‘she said, she said.’ in any sibling relationship.
Especially when you’re looking for the high ground in a two year frustrating struggle over what to do with and/or about the homeless people in both cities, whose numbers have exploded in just two years to 17,000 in Hillsborough county, and 9,500 in Pinellas.
Well, make that one city struggling with what do do about it, since St. Pete decided to take the gloves off and banned panhandling and sleeping outside in one fell sweep in their city about a year ago, and opted for a massive facility they call Safe Harbor to provide sleeping space and counseling and food and an option to arrest if a homeless person is caught sleeping outside, or panhandling.
And the powers that be are very smug about it over there in St. Petersburg.
Just one thing, a massive, one might call it an explosion of day-glo vested people from Pinellas swarming into Tampa over the past year, and finally bringing the body part per million of day-glo vests to in intolerable level in this city.
A situation which then mayoral candidate Buckhorn promised boldly to ‘fix’ in his first week in office. And he could have, had it not been for the pesky city council, and four new members who had to be convinced anew that according to Buckhorn panhandling on Tampa streets was the end of human knowledge as we know it.
Along with all of the yelps and groans from charities, and unions and picketers and newspaper vendors who depend upon the right to solicit for their money on city streets as well.
And a municipal government is not able to ban one and not ban others….it’s a U.S. Constitutional matter. ( Hello, Mr. Mayor Foster.)
Now, Tampa is on the verge -a vote set for September 22 – of a panhandling ordinance which seems will be able to placate everybody…and probably have the desired effect of convincing panhandlers who have come here from other cities to panhandle, to leave.
And just when everybody -except for the frantic panhandlers – thought they could relax, and look forward to a resolution.
Mayor Foster took a swipe at Mayor Buckhorn, and a sigh went up across the Bay area. “Now What?”
Seems Mayor Foster is concerned about “St. Pete having to deal with all of those homeless from Tampa, especially during the Republican National Convention in Tampa next year.
And he just cannot understand why he cannot stroll hand in hand into Buckhorn’s office with the ‘homeless consultant” whom the St. Petersburg municipal government shelled out a whole lot of money to consult with them on what to do with their homeless people….and present this consultant to Mayor Buckhorn as the solution to the Tampa problem.
There is an undercurrent of speculation in all of this that Mayor Foster is miffed that Mayor Buckhorn has made it well known that he would be happy to see The Tampa Bay Rays move to Tampa.
The panhandling issue will be decided, once and for all, (drum roll) on September 22, when the Tampa ouncil will meet to cast the deciding vote.
And the conventional wisdom is that vote will restrict panhandlers to Sundays only to solicit cash on the streets of Tampa. The newspaper hawkers, charities, and anybody wishing to espress freedom of speech, i.e. picketing, handing out leaflets, wearing outlandish costumes to advertise food places, like the big chile bean we’ve seen on Dale Mabry, will all be free to be out there seven days a week.
And it remains to be seen what kind of fracas we will see on Sundays, when all of them are out there together.
And then, we’ll see what Mr. Mayor Foster has to say when all of those Pinellas people who flocked to Tampa to don their day-glo vests and fly their signs on Tampa streets…..flock right back to St. Petersburg.