Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Rose By Any Other Name

I had a very pleasant surprise last Friday morning. My good friend Tom Orr came down from Tarpon Springs to join us at the Friday Morning Group. That was a pleasant enough surprise in itself. But Tom had brought his good friend Rose Sperling along as well. Rose is a very talented sculptor who is currently living in Fort Pierce. We are (I am) trying very hard to get Rose to move to St. Pete. Can't we all do something to encourage her?

We had a wide ranging discussion this past Friday. We talked about the Roser Park Art Festival that was held the weekend before. We also talked about the new Saturday Art Market to be held in Williams Park starting on December 1st. For more information about that, contact Leslie Curran at Interior Motives, 1110 Central.

The Studio@620 was also a topic of discussion. Seems they are having a juried show in February and the deadline for submissions is January 8th. We also talked about the current show The Water is Wide - the Art of Boat Building which opened last week. I am really looking forward to getting over there to see that.

We also talked about Al Lang Field again. The Rays announcement of their plans to build a new major league stadium on the site certainly puts the decision not to zone the site as parkland into a new light. There are still many questions to be answered, but the site has been the traditional home of a ball park, so I am certainly open to the idea.

Talk of ballparks led us to an unusual historical discussion of artists ties to this area. We talked about the Rolling Stones performance in Jack Russel Stadium in Clearwater which led to the composition of Satisfaction at the Jack Tar Harrison Hotel. Clearwater led to talk of Jim Morrison's ties to this area as well as Jack Kerouac's. And to top it all off, I had heard on NPR on the way in that last Friday was the anniversary of Janis Joplin's arrest at Curtis Hixon Hall in Tampa for using profanity on stage.

That woulda never happened in St. Pete.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Wait, hasn't somebody already used that as a title? Oh well. It is apropos here because through the good offices of St. Pete City Council Member Leslie Curran, we were able to "kidnap" an old friend for a few minutes last week. Nancy Loehr, who more than anyone else was responsible for the formation of the Friday Morning Group, was able to join us this past Friday morning at the Friday Morning Group.

Nancy has some marvelous title at Progress Energy, but mainly she deals with community affairs. Since her office has moved to Clearwater, it has been a bit more difficult for her to join us. But we are awfully glad she did last Friday.

Leslie wanted to remind us all of the Saturday Art Market that is starting in Williams Park on Saturday, December 1st. This market will feature artworks from dozens of artists from St. Petersburg and the surrounding area, and is intended to be a compliment to the Saturday Morning Market on Central Avenue. If you are interested in participating, contact Leslie Curran at the Interior Motives Gallery at 1110 Central Avenue or call her at 727 898 6061.

Leslie also told us a little about the Avanca Ska event scheduled for Williams Park on December 7th. This intriguing event will feature a portion of the Florida Orchestra, ballet and live art. Sounds interesting.

While we had Leslie, we asked her about the status of the update to the City's Cultural Plan. Apparently the next step is discussion by the City's Arts Advisory Committee. Stay tuned.

We did talk a little about the now Tampa Bay Rays new logo and uniform launch event last Thursday night in Straub Park. There was general agreement that Kevin Costner ought not give up his day job for the band. Otherwise a very good event.

Of course that conversation was held before we learned of the Rays plans to leave TropicanaField and move to a new stadium on the site of Al Lang Field. As usually happens at the Friday Morning Group, talk of sports franchises brings up the vastly superior economic impact of the arts over sports franchises. Leslie indicated that the arts economic impact study has recently been updated.

We also heard that early next year (which is not all that far away) The Studio@620 is going to be doing a project that pairs Senior artists with Junior Artists. Sounds similar to components of our Pinellas Prize and Creativity Center concepts?

And Shirley got an agent!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

To Park or Not to Park

My apologies to the Bard, but let me make this perfectly clear:


This past Friday at the Friday Morning Group, we had yet another lively discussion. This one centered on the City as the Art.

There was not a politician in sight last Friday, but somehow the conversation got turned onto an upcoming issue the City Council will be facing. When the City passed its long in development new set of Land Development Regulations (LDRs), one major item remained unsettled: What to do with Al Lang Stadium.

The new LDRs created, amongst other things, a brand new zoning district called Downtown Center - Parks (DC-P). The areas currently zoned as DC-P can be seen on this map in green. Areas zoned DC-P include Williams Park, North Straub Park, South Straub Park, Pioneer Park, Demens Landing, Spa Beach and the new Albert Whited Park. Notably absent from this list is Al Lang Stadium, and oh by the way, the property the Mahaffey Theatre now occupies as well as the property to which the Dali is planned to relocate.

Those areas, shown as blue on the map, are in the DC-3 zoning district. DC-3 is basically the downtown waterfront district. One thing that is evident from the map is the myth of the unbroken string of downtown waterfront parks, at least as far as zoning goes. The park chain is broken by the Museum of Fine Arts, the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and, of course, the Al Lang / Bayfront Center (now the Mahaffey Theatre and Dali) plot.

What is sparking concern about the zoning classification of Al Lang is the fact that the Devil Rays will no longer hold Spring Training at Al Lang after this upcoming season. Without a Spring Training tenant, speculation about what will happen to Al Lang is running rampant. St. Petersburg has hosted Spring Training baseball games on its downtown waterfront since 1914. I am in the camp of those who wish to see that rich part of our history continue into the future. The problem seems to be that the City administration does not appear to be making attracting a new Spring Training tenant to Al Lang a priority.

And therein lies the problem. Because the Al Lang site was not given a park zoning designation, there is a tremendous amount of concern in the community about just what the City administration may be cooking up for Al Lang. To prevent another surprise announcement on the City Hall steps, a very active movement is afoot to give the Al Lang site the added protection of parkland zoning. And just to be clear about that:
Many ideas have been bandied about regarding what would be the best use for Al Lang presuming baseball goes away from that site. A home for the Saturday Morning Market is oft mentioned. Also widely discussed is a plan for a walking trail that would connect Beach Drive directly to the Progress Energy Plaza with the Mahaffey, the Dali and the new airport park. One thing to remember about the Al Lang site: the Dali came to St. Pete lo those many years ago in part because a suitable site was available for it.

There is no doubt that the downtown waterfront park system is the jewel in this city's crown. It is a major part of what makes the city the beautiful canvas that we all paint on. And it looks like we will have the opportunity to repaint a portion of that canvas. We should consider very carefully what happens next. But just to be clear:

Monday, November 5, 2007

Twas the Night Before Election

Yes, Virginia, tomorrow is Election Day in St. Petersburg. For the candidates and their families, the long ordeal of running for office will be over. There will be candidates who will be winners and candidates who will be losers.

But at the end of the day, will the City of St. Petersburg be a winner or a loser? The answer is, at this late date, not entirely clear. What is clear is that there has been a remarkable alignment of disparate candidates into what are effectively two distinct slates in this "non partisan" election.

On one slate you have Herb Polson, Ed Montanari and Gershom Faulkner. (For good measure, throw Jamie Bennett onto this slate as well.) These candidates could be considered the establishment or "insider" candidates. On the other slate are Bob Kersteen, Bill Dudley and Wengay Newton. These candidates could well be called the "outsiders" or the insurgents.

On the establishment side Herb Polson is an appointed incumbent who is now seeking election in his own right. Ed Montanari is the campaign manager for Bill Foster's last re election campaign. Gershom Faulkner is an integral part of the Democratic Party establishment in St. Petersburg. He currently works as Outreach Director for Congresswoman Kathy Castor. Prior to that, he spent 6 years as Legislative assistant to State Rep. Frank Peterman, and is seen to be a protege of County Commissioner Ken Welch.

Jamie Bennet is a 6 year incumbent, having been originally elected to fill the term of Larry Williams who resigned to run for Mayor in 2001. He drew no opposition to re election to a full term in 2003 and did not even appear on the ballot. This time, his opponent dropped out of the race after the Primary. This triggered a bizarre provision in the St. Petersburg City Charter that has Bennett now running against "New Election". That means if New Election were to garner the most votes tomorrow, the City will be forced to go back to square one in the election process for this seat.

On the insurgent side you have Bob Kersteen, who served on the City Council previously, but left to run for another office. (He lost.) Bill Dudley, a retired wrestling coach who was soundly drubbed for this seat by Bill Foster 4 years ago. And Wengay Newton is a neighborhood association president who's brother happens to be the head of the local firefighters union. Anyone want to take three guesses who the firefighters endorsed?

So here are the match ups. In District 1 it is Herb Poslon and Bob Kersteen. Polson was a long term employee of the City who for over twenty years was the City's lobbyist. He probably knows more about this City government than any other living human being. Kersteen was a member of what was described as the most dysfunctional City Council anyone could remember. Kersteen campaigns like an angry old man. Apparently this City has done nothing right in the time he has been off the Council and he is going to fix it all. Trouble is, everything he says he wants to do is solely within the purview of the Mayor. Bob, you are running for the wrong office.

District 3 gives us Ed Montanari and Bill Dudley. Montanri was Foster's campaign manager when they beat Dudley to a pulp last time. He was also Chairman of the Albert Whitted Blue Ribbon Task Force and by all accounts brought the disparate interests on that Task Force to consensus and the plan they brought forward is now being implemented.

To his credit, Bill Dudley is a much better candidate this time around. He ought to be. He has been running for this seat for well over 4 years now. However, he is still running with the same chip on his shoulder attitude. Like Kersteen, he apparently thinks nothing good has happened here lately, and that he is the only one who can get the City back on track. Bill, see note to Bob above.

District 7 provides probably the most competitive race. It didn't always look like it was going to be that way. Gershom Faulkner was clearly the candidate favored by the political establishment (of both parties). He had wrapped up the endorsement of just about every elected official on the planet. OK, it only seemed that way. Faulkner raised a prodigious amount of money early on. He also spent a prodigious amount of money early on. And then along came the Stonewall Democrats.

Actually, the night before the Stonewall Democrats meeting in August, came the CONA candidate forum. CONA (the Council of Neighborhood Organizations) took questions from the audience and presented them to the candidates through a moderator. All the candidates were asked if they would attend the St. Pete Pride Festival (one of the largest in the Southeast US). Gershom Faulkner said that he would probably not go, but he went on to say that he would ensure that no one in this city was discriminated against. His opponent, Wengay Newton, who claims not to be a politician, saw an opening and jumped all over it. Wengay said that he probably would go. However, he was no where in evidence a few weeks before when the Pride Festival was actually held.

The following night's events qualify Faulkner as a finalist in the stupidest political move of the year award. The Stonewall Dems, as do many organizations, sent the candidates a questionnaire and invited them to their meeting. Not surprisingly, the Stonewall Dem qustioned the candidates on their stand on a number of hot button gay issues, none of which were ever likely to be raised at the City Council level. Faulkner, like many socially conservative African Americans, apparently was not a supporter of the gay issues. So here is where Faulkner went all stupid on us. He filled out the questionaire with all the "wrong" answers and then went to their meeting.

A more seasoned candidate, or one who was listening to better political advice, would have not answered the questionnaire, but would have responded with a letter employing many non discriminatory platitudes, and regretting that a schedule conflict precluded him from being able to attend the meeting. But Faulkner, a hard headed Marine if there ever was one, charged straight into the lions den. And he got his ass kicked. Not only that, he enraged the Stonewall Dems President, who put out an email calling Faulkner a "homophobe". Note to Stonewall Dem President: my dictionary says a hompophobe has an unreasoning fear of homosexuals. I would say Faulkner was probably too stupid to be scared of you, because he came to your f-ing meeting, moron. He just doesn't believe in your issues. As does about half the country. That doesn't make him a demon. What it makes him is not the guy who is going to champion your issues. But then you have plenty of those already.

So Faulkner, who had been cruising along as a shoo in for election, had now angered a vocal but politically weak constituency. Two State Representatives pulled their endorsements of Faulkner. But Faulkner appeared unruffled. He reached out behind the scenes to leaders in the St. Pete gay community for private conversations. But he underwent no conversion.

However, his opponent was in no position to worry him. What little money he was raising, Wengay Newton, who looks like he hasn't missed many meals, was spending on meals at Burger King and MacDonalds. About this time, though, the insurgent candidates seemed to sense their affinity for one another. Newton seemed to benefit from that and his long, rambling discourses became somewhat more focused long rambling discourses. The self proclaimed non politician began feeling his feet come under him on the campaign trail, exactly as a good politician eventually does. He used humor to good effect, both pointed at himself and his opponent. However, he, like the other insurgents believed that everything the city had done should be blown up so they could remake the City in their own image, whatever that is.

Newton began distorting information he found in the newspaper as facilely as the best politicians seem to do. Again, pretty good for a non politician. Newton's favorite distortion involved a cost comparison for lawn mowing in parks. Seems the County pays a lot less than the City to mow lawns in parks. And that seemed strange because the County has much more acreage of parks than the city does. However, what was not mentioned by Newton is that much of the County's park land is kept in a natural state which does not require mowing. Conversely, most of the City's park land is in active parks that do require mowing. Newton either knew that and chose not to disclose that salient fact or he didn't know. If he knew, he was playing politics with the truth. If he didn't know, he should have done his homework, something he would need to do on the Council.

The final fiasco in this district race came in the form of a newspaper endorsement. Seems Gershom Faulkner had some minor run ins with the law. Well not entirely minor, he did get arrested a few times. A few is more than one, but less than many. There is some dispute about the number of "arrests". In any event, two of the possibly three arrests were for traffic infractions, so maybe they are minor after all. This information came to the public when the St. Petersburg Times endorsed Fulkner. Perhaps in an effort to make up for their past non disclosures, the Times felt compelled to disclose information supplied to them by Faulkner about his past. None of these incidents is recent and Faulkner has since married, and become a Deacon in his church. None of that stopped Newton from beginning to refer to himself as the candidate who hadn't been arrested. Again, that's just exactly the way a politician handles a situation like that. He doesn't talk about the other guy's arrests. He just says nothing like that ever happened to him. Just what a politician would do.

In my humble opinion, things have been going fairly well in St. Petersburg up until lately. While I personally disagree with Mayor Baker on any number of issues, and I don't much appreciate the "Stealth Mayor" approach, this City has been moving forward. Much, much more has been done right than has been done wrong. And now with the shameful shenanigans of the Republican politicians in Tallahassee, this City is going to be facing some difficult challenges in the next few years.

It is therefore more important than usual that well qualified people with the proper temperament sit on the City council. The insurgents do not fit that bill. They do not show the temperament that will be needed to deal successfully with the challenges this City is sure to face.

We will be winners in this City if we re elect Jamie Bennett and Herb Polson. And we will be winners if we elect Ed Monatanari and Gershom Faulkner. If we don't, someday soon we'll be wishing we had.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Experience Matters

Last week, the Friday Morning Group had Herb Polson on the hot seat. Herb is running for re election to the St. Petersburg City Council in District 1.

We actually started off with a discussion of the meaning of the term re election. That's because Herb was originally appointed to the Council last year to fill the vacancy created by Rick Kriseman's resignation upon his successful run for the State Legislature. Herb is now running for the seat in his own right. He also did his homework. Understanding the power of incumbency, Herb asked for and received a ruling from the state Division of Elections telling him that, as the incumbent, he was entitled to use the term "re elect" in his campaign material.

Well, Herb's opponent did not like that fact and complained to the St. Petersburg Times. The Times, which has had precious little coverage on any of these City Council races, decided that this complaint was newsworthy. However, as Herb was able to show us, the complaint was absolutely unfounded. So maybe the lesson is if you want to get into the newspaper, lodge a completely unfounded complaint.

OK, enough about that. Herb Polson has spent nearly his entire adult life in the service of the City of St. Petersburg and our country. Herb stared his career with the City as a civilian in the police force, and wound up for many years being the city's liaison to other governments - the city's lobbyist, if you will. Herb also is (was?) an officer in the Navy Reserve for many, many years.

When Rick Kriseman ran for the legislature, Herb retired from the City so that he could seek appointment to the vacated council seat. Herb was appointed last year and has been putting his knowledge of city operations to work as a council member since that time.

And what a year it has been! Of course the big issue for the City this year has been in dealing with the effects of the property tax "reform" effort in Tallahassee. This has caused the City to cut back their spending and initially led the Mayor to propose zero funding this year for arts and social services organizations.

In one of his roles as a City employee, Herb was actually responsible for arts and social services funding. He was also responsible for putting together the City's Cultural Plan that was the initiative of then and now Council Member (and Friday Morning Group member) Leslie Curran.

We had a discussion about the amount of tax relief we each actually received from the first round of property tax "reforms" in Tallahassee. Herb posed the question to us if for the amount of property tax relief we each received, did we think it was worth it in terms of the cuts the City was forced to make. Universally, we did not think it was worth it. However, Herb warned us that the next round of cuts that may come would even be much more painful for the City.

However, Herb also told us that there is a tremendous amount of money inside and outside the City available to fund some of the things we have indicated we wanted, if we just were creative in how we went about looking for it. To his credit, Herb has already found "outside the box" solutions to keep the libraries open on Saturday and with the help of the Devil Rays, to keep an exchange student program with our Japanese sister city alive. That's what experience can do for you.

We also talked about how the arts have had a tremendous impact on the City of St. Petersburg. That, in fact, the arts are a much more valuable economic engine than any of the professional sports franchises in the area. We also talked about how this all seemed to come about when St. Petersburg quit trying to be Tampa and just decided to concentrate on being St. Pete.

Herb also told us how he was a firm believer in asking people what they want and then delivering it to them. This would be as opposed to telling people what they should want and delivering that to them instead. Herb told us that the City used to regularly poll its residents to see just what it was the residents did want. In the early 90's, Herb was responsible for a questionnaire that went out to all 93,000 households in the City asking the residents what their needs and desires for the City were. Out of this came the city's extremely successful neighborhoods program and many other programs that make the City the success story that it is today. Herb believes that it is well past time to go back to the residents again asking them what they want the City to be.

Seems to me like experience does matter.