Dispatches from the Sunshine State

St. Petersburg-based flilm Loren Cass released on DVD, Netflix

“Loren Cass,” that dark portrait of St. Petersburg in the late 90s, was finally released to DVD this week.

If you haven’t heard about “Loren Cass,” see my past articles here and here. Or, just check out what the L.A. Times had to say about the film.

Watching this film’s stature rise from a local independent movie shot by a 21-year-old native son to a national recognized film is a true success story. So, St. Pete residents should support the release by purchasing the DVD, or at least renting it.  Let’s try to make it one of the Local Favorites of St. Petersburg on Netflix!

Behind the News, Dispatches from the Sunshine State

City leaders destroy Central Avenue, now complain about it (REDUX)

Over the last week, Central Avenue has a hot topic with the St. Petersburg Times’ editorial encouraging artists to take over the 600 block. And once again, they mention the efforts of City Councilmember Leslie Curran. So, once again, I must remind folks how city councilmembers, including Ms. Curran, ruined that block to begin with. To take credit for any burgeoning artist scene now is, well, infuriating.

Please check out my rant on that here.

I hate to be a Negative Nelly — I’m glad something is happening as oppose to vacancies or, gasp, condos — but I can’t help but think how this all could have been avoided if city officials had any sense of — well, let’s just leave it at “any sense.” I also take great umbrage to Councilmember Curran newest quote to the Times:

Curran says the renaissance along the 600 block is similar to what happened years ago in Ybor City when artists went into empty storefronts long before developers took an interest in the area.

“My wish is that it (Crislip) becomes a viable art center that connects to the Beach Drive art scene, the Florida Craftsman Gallery, the Dome District and the Craftsman House in the Grand Central District,” said Curran. “Whatever we can do to get those folks out in the forefront and tie them together, that will be great for the city.”

Yes, Curran, and we all now how Ybor turned out …

Dispatches from the Sunshine State

St. Petersburg Homeless Image street newspaper debuts

If you traveled downtown at all this weekend, you may have spotted folks hawking an unfamiliar newspaper.

The St. Petersburg Homeless Image —  a forum for advocates, homeless and formerly homeless people, students and the general public —  made its debut this weekend on the streets of St. Pete. The paper includes articles on the homeless lawsuit against the city, St. Pete’s designation as “Second Meanest City,” a blistering attack on the St. Petersburg Times for their recent article against panhandling and passionate obits on recent street people who died.

The paper is the brainchild of G.W. Rolle, a formerly homeless man who serves on the county’s Homeless Leadership Network. The project grew out of a need to provide accurate, passionate news and opinions to the people of St. Pete during an unusually hostile atmosphere toward the homeless. Plus, through a generous vendor program, the paper provides an economic opportunity to the city’s homeless. They can sell the paper for a profit and, besides getting some extra cash, learn valuable job skills. Rolle told me it’s a good alternative to panhandling.

The idea is nothing new. In 19 cities throughout the United States and Canada, “street newspapers” have proven effective in giving homeless people a “hand-up” instead of a “hand-out.” Street newspapers even have a national umbrella organization backing them.

If you pick up a copy — and you should — you’ll find a few articles written by myself and some homeless advocates across the county. The design and editing needs a little work, but the St. Petersburg Image is a good example of the kind of alternative journalism we need in St. Pete.

Behind the News, Dispatches from the Sunshine State

How’s that for civil discourse? Baywalk vote ends in brawl!

Just when you thought the Baywalk Bruhaha couldn’t get any more ridiculous… two old men battle out in the City Council chambers! One of them is City Councilmember Bill Dudley’s brother. Go coach!

Basically, after the City Council reversed a previous vote and decided to privatize one of Baywalk’s sidewalks, several protesters in the crowd left in a huff. Peace activist Dwight Lawton chides the City Council for something about stabbing the Constitution, while homeless advocate Bruce Wright told the dias, “You’re so full of shit.”

But the shit-talking did not stop there.

Another anti-privatization guy, 61-year-old Ronald Deaton, says something about the city turning fascist when 76-year-old Fred Dudley — Councilmember Bill Dudley’s bro — yells, very loudly, “Why don’t you just MOVE!”

Deaton snaps back, “Why don’t you just EAT SHIT!”

Well, I guess Dudley doesn’t get too many retorts to his jingoistic comments (“Love it or leave it!), so he lunged at Deaton, who wasn’t going down without a fight. Police eventually broke up the scuffle, but there’s some controversy surrounding that, too.

First, though, watch the scene for yourself. There are two videos making the rounds today. The first was captured by a cameraman for WTVT. It begins right after Polson switches his vote and agrees to privatizing Baywalk’s sidewalk:

This second video was taken by Leonard Schmiege, an engineering consultant and City Council candidate. It’s the best video to see Dudley take the offensive:

Who started the fight is important, because by watching the videos, you can see police chose to take down Deaton and not Dudley. It wasn’t until protesters complained that police chose to take Dudley down to jail, too. St. Petersblog 2.0 makes a good case about this here.

And all this for one lousy sidewalk in front of one lousy mini-mall. Wow.

Behind the News, Dispatches from the Sunshine State

Did the St. Petersburg City Council destroy Baywalk?


For the last two months, I’ve tried hard to avoid the debate over Baywalk’s public sidewalk. I did not ignore the subject because I hate free speech or love Baywalk, or any version of these two. No, I avoided it because the whole damn thing is a non-issue.

Like many “big stories” in this town — and come to think of it, across the country — this is another “us vs. them” argument that seems to make good soundbites and elicit a flood of Letters to the Editor. But, frankly, this idea that city councilmembers are fighting for “the soul of dowtown St. Petersburg” is complete rubbish. I have even more disdain for those business owners and editorial writers (see “They Put the Dagger into Baywalk” Tim Nickens) who cry wolf at the City Council’s recent decision not to privatize the Baywalk sidewalk.

By reading the St. Petersburg Times, I’m supposed to pick one of two arguments:

1) Baywalk is the Golden Boy (or Girl) of downtown St. Pete. Without it, our vision of a thriving downtown is dead. But poor, poor Baywalk is on life-support due to a bunch of unruly protesters who prevent decent hardworking Americans from shopping at Chico’s. We should allow the new owners of Baywalk to control their sidewalk. That’ll fix the recession!


2) Hell no! We won’t go! Giving up a public sidewalk to the evil capitalists at Baywalk will destroy the fabric of democracy! Sure, we haven’t protested there in ages, but by golly, when George Bush’s henchmen overthrow Obama we need to be ready! Hell no! We won’t go! Hell no! We won’t …

Now you see why I’ve shut my ears and eyes to this nonsense?

But, alas, after reading a recent Times’ editorial, I’m compelled to respond. So let’s break this down so even Tim Nickens can understand it:

  • Baywalk is in trouble because we are in a recession. Baywalk isn’t the only Tampa Bay retailer experiencing hard times.
  • The few people who can afford to visit the movie theater or shop at Trade Secret may be more scared of the recent shootings than protesters. I’m not sure how privatizing the sidewalk will solve that. Maybe Mayor Rick Baker should spend his time looking into the crime problems in St. Pete instead of how to sell off public land.
  • These protesters never prevented anyone from seeing a movie or buying a hamburger. We’re not talking about throw-blood-on-your-fur-coat protesters or huge aborted fetus protesters. These are PEACE protesters with, you know, PEACE signs. Not to mention the fact that these protesters have not been there for several months anyway.

So if just one sidewalk is really not the issue, why are the new owners of Baywalk so adamant about controlling it? Two reasons …

The first one is simple: Why not? As business owners, they want to leave as little to chance as they can. If they have the chance to control more area in order to bring in customers, they’ll take it. Hell, I’m sure they’d ask to own all the sidewalks in St. Pete if they thought it would pass!

The second reason is a little more insidious:

While the city fights over the sidewalk, reporters and citizens are distracted from the real issue — the City Coucil giving nearly $700,000 of taxpayer money to a failing private enterprise in the midst of a recession.

Someone please tell me the difference between giving taxpayer money to Baywalk and using taxpayer money to build a new stadium for the Rays?

What’s more infuriating is the lack of historical context in this debate. Tens of millions of dollars have already been spent on Baywalk over the years. And even before Baywalk, city leaders bulldozed six blocks and spent millions on the Bay Plaza boondoggle.

The Times’ Tim Nickens and others screaming about “the death of Baywalk” don’t seem to understand what has revitalized St. Petersburg over years. It certainly was not Baywalk. Sure, we should have a movie theater and some high-end shops downtown. But Ybor and Channelside have the same thing — and yet they aren’t attracting people from all sides of Tampa Bay, except for maybe bachelorette parties.

What made downtown St. Pete is the mixed-use projects that allow folks to live, work and play downtown; the charming restaurants and hip bars; the eclectic shops; the art galleries; the walkability; the waterfront; the major venues like State Theater and Jannus Landing, which recently closed. If we’re throwing around thousands of dollars, why not invest public money to open Jannus back up? I guarantee that venue has brought more people downtown than some cheesy mini-mall.

In short, screw Baywalk.

If the owners can’t make money because of a handful of protesters, then they deserve to go under. With that kind of attitude, they might as well give up now.

Just give us back our $700,000 before the door hits your ass.

(Photo courtesy of Vera Devera/Flickr)

Dispatches from the Sunshine State

University of South Florida and animal testing


Ever wonder what kind of animal research goes down at the University of South Florida? Well, thanks to a recent Humane Society lawsuit, you can find out with just a few clicks of the mouse.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently posted animal testing reports from the nation’s research facilities on its website. The annual reports — which contain information on what kind of animals are used and if the experiments are painful — are required by law, but until now, only available after a lengthy Freedom of Information Act request.

So, what kind of creatures live in USF’s labs? In 2008, the university conducted experiments on 410 hamsters, 212 pigs, 208 guinea pigs, 56 primates, nine rabbits, four gerbils and four cats.

Unfortuately, the information included in the reports is not complete. Mice, rats, fish and birds are excluded from the reports. Also, the documents lack specifics on the experiments themselves.

But — and this is the point where you all gasp — the reports do separate the animals into categories: those animals used for breeding; animals used for experiments that didn’t involve pain; animals used for experiments that did cause pain or distress, but researchers used anesthetics; and animals used for experiments that did cause pain or distress, but aesthetics were not used.

About a quarter of the hamsters and four monkeys fell into the latter category.

The animal rights blog News for Florida Animal Advocates listed some of the other research facilities in Florida and brought up a great point about the lack of information in the reports: Shouldn’t the people of Florida know the nature of the testing and why alternatives to animals were not used?

Speaking of animal cruelty, did you hear about Glenn Beck and “Frog-gate?”

(h/t to News for Florida Animal Advocates)

(Photo courtesy of DanielJames/Flickr)

Behind the News, Dispatches from the Sunshine State

St. Petersburg Mayoral Primary: Kathleen Ford and Bill Foster jockey for losing candidates’ support

As Bill Foster and Kathleen Ford celebrate primary wins this evening, the losing eight mayoral candidates wrapped up election parties and drove home. But their roles in the mayoral election are not finished. Over the next few weeks, Foster and Ford will jockey for the remaining 47 percent of voters who didn’t choose them tonight, and attempt to turn former opponents into friends.

That won’t be easy.

The third and fourth top vote getters — Deveron Gibbons (19 percent) and Scott Wagman (15 percent) — won’t say who they’ll support in the general election.

As Gibbons left Push Ultra Lounge, he promised to meet with Ford and Foster to “discuss the issues.”

“Then let me sit down with my supporters and decide who I run the race with,” he said.

Wagman said he was hesitant to back either candidate.

“At this time I’m not even thinking about it,” he said from his event at Outback Steakhouse. “I have issues with both [of them].” He paused and added, “I will back Ken Welch. At some point, he will be mayor of this town.”

John Warren, the owner of Savannah’s Cafe who championed smart growth and economic recovery, also wasn’t prepared to support either candidate.

“I’ve had a chance to speak with [Ford and Foster] and each has some decent ideas,” he said. “But a big issue that hasn’t been discussed is community planning. A lot of the other individual issues you could categorize under community planning.”

The importance of the other candidates was not lost on Ford or Foster.

At her victory party at Red Mesa Cantina, Ford praised all contenders for running great campaigns, singling out Gibbons and Wagman. At Midtown Sundries, Foster told supporters, “I intend to be everybody’s mayor, whether they supported me or not.”

Like the other office-seekers, former city councilmember Larry Williams, who finished fifth in the primary, knows the remaining two candidates will seek his support.

“I’m going to meet with them and I have three questions,” he said. “What are you going to do about D and F schools? What are you going to do about panhandling? And what about the baseball team?”

After finishing off a chicken wing, Williams added, “Before I ran my first campaign, a friend of mine in Tampa, who worked on many political campaigns, told me, ‘Sometimes you’re more powerful when you’re not elected.'”

Dispatches from the Sunshine State

St. Petersburg Mayoral Primary: At the Deveron Gibbons party

I’m attempting to hit every candidate’s election night event for insight, great political theater and free food. Next up: Deveron Gibbons.

Where: Push Ultra Lounge (upstairs from Kathleen Ford’s event)

Mood: Vague, much like Gibbons’ campaign. There are a few people mingling about, no real energy. Many patrons are just here to drink at the bar, not supporting the campaign. The few supporters are separated by the Lounge’s bar that wraps around the room. Gibbons hasn’t even shown up.

Who’s Who: Eric Atwater of Atwater’s Cafeteria is here. Otherwise, none of the big names that made Gibbons’ campaign, including Gibbons himself.

Free Food: Notta.

Dispatches from the Sunshine State

St. Petersburg Mayoral Primary: At the Kathleen Ford party

I’m attempting to hit every candidate’s election night event for insight, great political theater and free food. My first: Kathleen Ford.

Where: Red Mesa Cantina

Mood: Upbeat and relaxed, like a cocktail party (well, except for the guy on the right). About 25 Ford supporters sip large margaritas and chat. Although reserved, Kathleen Ford is sharing the latest mail-in ballot votes that put her at 27 percent and toe-to-toe with Bill Foster. “It’s still too early,” she says.

Who’s Who: Ford’s husband, some friends, some Bay News 9 reporters, a group of St. Petersburg firefighter union members and representatives from the Service Employees International Union. “With the financial shape that the city is in and shared across the this state … we think that we will be able to work well with Kathleen Ford,” says Van Church, communications director for SEIU’s Florida Public Service Union.

Free Food Factor: None. Only Cantina Red Mesa’s menu and full bar.

Dispatches from the Sunshine State

St. Petersburg Mayoral Primary: Scene Report

In just shy of an hour, the polls close on St. Petersburg’s mayoral primary. I’ve crisscrossed the city and made some calls to give you an update. Here’s a brief rundown:

The Pinellas County Elections office has the turnout so far at 6 percent. With early voting, total turnout hovers around 18 percent. I almost feel excited we may break 20 percent. Then, I fall back into depression over my dimished expectations

As rush hour begins, campaign supporters with signs are on nearly every intersection. No, wait. Those are just panhandlers

Bay News 9 already found a party to crash: Bill Foster’s event at Midtown Sundries. I guess we know who they bet on …

At Push Ultra Lounge and Red Mesa Cantina, several Kathleen Ford and Deveron Gibbons supporters set up for tonight’s election results fete. Just looking at the signs out front (see above), I can tell this is going to be one skitzophrenic party …

Jamie Bennett is holding his campaign affair at home — 768 Pinellas Point S. Bennett was chopping up a pork tenderloin just out of the smoker when I caught up with him. “Just look for the 100 Bennett signs in the lawn,” he says …

Two-time mayoral candidate Ed Helm is planning an “election celebration” at St. Pete Diner on 34th Street North. Helm tells me “a good Democrat owns it, there’s good food and the original blue plate special.” He guaranteed the food is free, too …

John Warren and Richard Eldridge have not gotten back to me. The only reason I can imagine for not having a party is expecting a loss …

UPDATE: Warren is inviting supporters to Savannah’s Cafe from 7 p.m. “until one minute after my concession speech, which for the fun of it will be crafted and delivered by those in attendance.” …

And still no sign of Paul Congemi. I even checked the KFC on 34th Street.