Sunday, November 26, 2006

Saturday Morning Market

There is nothing I like better than going to the Saturday Morning Market in downtown St. Pete. Every Saturday morning from October through May, the city closes off Central Avenue between 1st and 2nd Streets and transforms Central into an old time market place from days long gone by.

Just like Alice's Restaurant, you can get anything you want at the Saturday Morning Market. There is food of every description. There is art, there is kitsch, there are chairs and clothing and massages. There is coffee.

There is music. For the last couple of years, there are two live music venues. When one takes a break, the other one starts right up. Yesterday we had a blues band in the main music area and a Caribbean steel drum band in the other.

But hands down, the best thing about the Saturday Morning Market is the people. There are of course the musicians who are working far from their normal working hours. The market opens at 9 AM. I defy you to get hold of any working musician you know before noon. There are the vendors, who must arrive at 0 Dark 30 to get set up. And then there are us other folks.

I have to admit that people watching is one of my all time favorite pastimes, and the Saturday Morning Market certainly does not disappoint in that regard. But what is really, really great about the Saturday Morning Market is how it takes the place of the Town Square.

I like to sit at one of the tables in front of the main music venue. There is terrific people watching from there. I particularly like the parents who get their kids to dancing to the music. They are sooo cute. Eventually someone will come along and ask if one of the seats at the table is available. Of course I always say yes. Unless of course when it isn't. But if it is, and I get really lucky, the person will join me at the table. That's where the real fun begins.

Two weeks ago, I had been sitting down at the table for some time and was beginning to feel the urge to move around some. Just about that time, an elderly gentleman wearing a Korean War Vet ball cap asked if he could join me at the table. I replied that he was certainly welcome, but that I was just getting up to leave. As he was black and I am white, I felt uncomfortable at the idea of getting up just as the gentleman was sitting down. I tried to make it clear that I was not leaving on his account.

Much to my good fortune, when I went to sit down at the Market yesterday morning, my elderly gentleman with the Korean Vet ball cap was back, pretty much where I had left him the week before. I sat down, we struck up an inconsequential discussion, and the blues band began to play. That's when I saw my friend Linda pushing her bicycle. Now Linda had just completed a cross country (yes that's not a typo, a cross country bike ride). So me being the smart mouth that I often am, asked her what she was doing so close to a bike so soon after her excellent adventure.

Thus began a brief but very interesting conversation. Linda is also executive director of the local domestic violence shelter, and she reported back to the St. Pete Times periodically on her bike trip progress. I introduced her to my new friend with the Korean War Vet hat. He gave her his full name (he had only given me his first name). Linda said, oh yeah, I know who you are. It seems my new friend Charles is an active neighborhood activist. (Is that redundant?) Charles lives in a neighborhood that has been largely neglected by the City. As often happens in such neighborhoods, it has seen more than its share of crime. Charles has been very active in attempts to clean the neighborhood up. Who knew?

So, of course the topic of Charles and my conversation shifted immediately to his neighborhood. The neighborhood contains the once world famous City Tennis Center. In the good old days, it hosted one of those must attend tournaments on the woman's tour. I have seen Chris Everett as a 16 year old on those courts. Billy Jean King, Yvonne Goolalgong, Margaret Court Smith and a host of others. A dear, dear friend of mine, who passed away just a few years ago, taught many a tennis lesson on those courts. My friend Dan Sullivan was a very fine tennis player in his own right, in the days of Pancho Gonzalez and Bobby Riggs. Yes Bobby Riggs was a legit tennis player once. One of the main courts at the Tennis Center is now named for my friend Dan Sullivan.

One of the best programs going on in the City right now is the after school tennis program for neighborhood kids at the Tennis Center. Supported by local tennis fans, as well as the likes of Jim Courier, who has given a lot of his time to this effort. The program is hugely successful, giving hundreds of kids every week a chance to learn how to play tennis and how to compete within the rules. Youngsters who are learning to play tennis are not out stealing cars, or dealing drugs. (At least not while they are playing tennis).

This has gotten me to thinking of my misspent youth. Those days, kids were pretty much left to look to themselves for recreation. but there were always other kids around and places to play baseball or football. There were basketball courts and tennis courts, pretty much everything we needed. All of this was provided by the City Parks and Recreation Department. My parents could shove me out the door in the morning confident that I would find some non criminal activity to keep my mind and body occupied and that they wouldn't have to worry about me until supper time.

Now the City has more parks than ever before. What don't they have that is working so well at the Tennis Center? They don't have anyone around to help the kids get organized around one event or the other. We always at least had the older kids who'd already been around the block and knew how to get things going. This is pretty much a skill that can be learned, but it does not come naturally to a lot of kids.

Maybe if our City would put a little more effort into seeing that our kids are entertained or are entertaining themselves in sporting contests or otherwise recreating, we wouldn't be wondering why we can't hire and retain enough cops to deal with the crime problem in this City?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Things I Don't Like About St. Pete

I was going to write a Thanksgiving Diary about St. Pete. Lord knows, there is a lot to be thankful for amongst those of us fortunate enough to live here. But now it is the day after, and I'm sort of over it. Maybe it's because I participated in one of the best Thanksgiving traditions in St. Petersburg, Harvey's Thanksgiving Night Party. Used to be there was absolutely no other place to go on Thanksgiving evening. Last night, someone told me that even Pepins was open. What's up with that?

But, the one thing natives and even a lot of visitors know for sure is that Harvey's will be open and you will see people you never see any place else and only maybe at the same place on Christmas night.

Dan Harvey has opened up his 4th Street Grille on Thanksgiving and Christmas nights since I can't remember when. Everybody who went to school here, used to work there, or who knows anybody who knows, knows that Harvey's is the place to see and be seen on The big holiday nights. After a day cooped up with family, even if it's all good, folks just need a break. And they know just where to get it.

That's a pretty long introduction to what was supposed to be the shorter of my diary options. Chalk it up to staying up almost past my bedtime for tonight, let alone last night. But , here goes:

I don't like that Harvey's on Thanksgiving and Christmas is the only time and place I see so many old, young and good friends. We should stay in better touch.

I don't like that so many of my friends kids are now buying me drinks at Harvey's. But, hey, that's my problem.

I don't like that the Saturday Morning Market is so successful that is having to consider moving. My suggestion - go West young people. Expand across 2nd Street to the same block that Get Downtown is at on the first Friday of the Month.

I don't like that I have such a hard time finding places to park in Downtown St. Pete. Grrrrr. And those Meter Maids - don't get me going on them.

Speaking of downtown, why can't folks building condos here learn to build them on their own property and quit using our city streets for storage and office space? I mean that is something I seriously don't like about downtown. I'm not kidding Leslie, Bill, John, Renee, Earnest, Jamie, Jeff and Herb(?).

I don't like Mayor Rick Baker. OK, actually I do like Rick Baker. That's what I don't like.

I like Bill Young and I like Samm Simpson. So, just like the 18,300 folks in Sarasota, I decided not to vote in that race. Right. (Oh wait, that's not St. Pete.)

I don't like that there is no place to get breakfast in the late night early morning hours in downtown St. Pete. Does anybody besides me miss the Owl?

I like Charlie Crist. I really like that the Governor-elect is from St. Petersburg. I don't like that Jim Davis is not going to be the Governor for the next 4 years. (I like having cocktails with Charlie. Opportunities to do that are going to be a little harder to come by.) And, oh BTW, Jim would make a great Governor.

I like having Bill Heller as my new State Representative. I can quit being embarrassed by Frankly. Can't think of anything not to like there. Damn.

I like the fact that my friend Gershom Faulkner is going to run for Renee Flowers Council seat when it opens up next year. I don't like the fact that we don't have a good candidate for Bill Fosters' seat yet. I'm open to any and all suggestions?

I don't like the fact that Laura is not state Representative Charlie Justice's LA. anymore. I like the fact that Laura is now in charge of Governmental Affairs for the City. I don't like the fact that she got it because Herb Polson retired. I like the fact that Charlie Justice is now Senator Justice. And I'll like all of this a lot better when the Council appoints Herb to fill the seat vacated by newly elected Representative Rick Kriseman.

I don't like the fact that there's too many places I can walk to downtown where I can get great stuff to eat. Wait, yes I do. Never mind.

Speaking of food, I'm going to grab lunch now. I really won't like it if you don't tell me what you don't like about St. Pete.

I don't like that I haven't heard Tommy Wareham singing You'll never Beat St. Pete at Ten Beach Drive in way too many years.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Local Politics is All Where All Politics is Local

Tip O'neil's famous line, "All Politics is Local", has never been more appropriate. Here in Pinellas County, Florida, we have just gone through an election of historic significance. Local Democrats picked up two open seats in the Florida House of Representatives, and one open seat in the Florida Senate.

Pinellas used to be the most Republican county in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. The irony is that now that the State of Florida leans Republican, Pinellas County is now leaning Democratic. That doesn't mean that the local Republicans have rolled over and played dead. Governor-Elect Charlie Crist hails from St. Petersburg, and he carried Pinellas County handily. All but two of the County Commissioners are Republicans, as are all of the county's Constitutional Officers. Of the three Congressional Districts representing all or parts of Pinellas, only the portion of FL-11 in south St. Petersburg is represented by a Democrat.

Pinellas is beginning to become a tale of two counties. Southern Pinellas is starting to look pretty blue, while Northern Pinellas is still bright red. However, one of the biggest surprises this cycle is how close Carl Zimmerman came to victory in House District 48 in Northern Pinellas. The two State House seats picked up by Democrats this cycle are both in South Pinellas. When added to the Dist. 55 seat held by Frank Peterman, and Dist. 53 held by Rick Kriseman that was formerly the seat of newly elected Democratic State Senator Charlie Justice, the South Pinellas County House district map is almost entirely blue. The only red parts of this map below Ulmerton Road are the parts of House District 54 now held by newly elected Republican Jim Frishe.

St. Petersburg's Mayor, Rick Baker, is a Republican. However, 5 of the 8 city council seats were held by Democrats. The City Council will select a new Council Member to replace Rick Kriseman who resigned to take up his new seat in the state House. The best bet is Kriseman's replacement will also be a Democrat, Herb Polson. Two St. Petersburg Council seats will be open for the city election in November 2007. Bill Foster and Renee Flowers will be leaving due to term limits. Flowers seat is likely to remain in Democratic hands, with Gershom Faulkner the likely winner. The interesting race will be for Bill Fosters' seat. Foster is a Republican, but his Council District resides within State House District 52 which was just picked up for the Democrats by Bill Heller. Stay tuned. We'll be talking a lot more about both of these seats in later issues.

While St. Petersburg is the most Democratic of the cities in Pinellas, the other larger cities are not bereft of Democratic office holders. Three of the seven Commissioners in Largo are Dems, including Mayor Pat Gerard. Pinellas Park Democrats hold 2 of the 5 Council seats. Even Clearwater has Democratic Council Member Carlen Petersen.

One could not set the stage for local politics in Pinellas without a discussion of the local Republican and Democratic Parties. Each of these parties will soon be getting their own story told in more detail. However, we must talk a little about both here.

The Pinellas Democratic Party, well, what can you really say about them? The local Dems have been a complete horror show since July when Chair Carrie Wadlinger resigned. She was succeeded by Ed Helm. That's when the fun really began. To say that Helm has been divisive is a massive understatement. In a year that Democrats seemed to have everything going for them, Helm has made the local Democratic Party more fun than a three ring circus. For everybody but members of the Pinellas Democratic Party, that is. Helm decided to violate Florida Democratic Party rules by endorsing his own slate of candidates in the September 5th Primary. Showing what an adept politician Helm really is, every one of his candidates lost in the primary. Helm stirred things up during the primary by suggesting that the winning candidates were not "real" Democrats, whatever those are.

There will be an election of officers for the Pinellas Democratic Party on December 13th. Former Party Webmaster Tony Molinaro, who Helm unceremoniously fired in the middle of the general election campaign, will be running for Chair against Ed Helm. The Pinellas Party meetings since Helm took over as Chair have been real donnybrooks. The election meeting on December 13th should be no different. Look for a Credentials fight before the voting begins. I say it is even money whether or not a vote will even be held on the 13th. Stay tuned. We'll be sure to have more on that later.

Meanwhile, Pinellas Republicans have had no bed of roses to lie in either. While devoid of the histrionics that have characterized the Dems under Helm, The GOP has had its own trials and tribulations. Chair Tony DiMateo has drawn more than his share of criticism lately. Losing the two State House seats and the State Senate seat formerly held by Republicans hasn't helped him any. He has not appeared to have drawn any opposition for re-election so far, however. Neil Brickfield, a former local elected official and County Commission candidate is slated to become Vice Chair this cycle. Rumor is Brickfield will replace DiMateo after the 2008 presidential election.

Well, Pinellas is not Peyton Place, but sometimes it comes close. There will be the Party elections in December. There are municipal elections in March, and St. Petersburg will hold Council elections in November. Plenty of politics and local governance issues to talk about in between elections. Come back and see what's been happening lately.