St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

7 protesters arrested; ticketholders kept out

By JOHN BALZ and MIKE BRASSFIELD

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2002


TAMPA -- Seven protesters were arrested Saturday outside the USF Sun Dome, where President Bush was speaking at a political rally for his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush.

TAMPA -- Seven protesters were arrested Saturday outside the USF Sun Dome, where President Bush was speaking at a political rally for his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush .

In an unrelated event, several Bill McBride supporters who had tickets to the rally were denied entrance because they were wearing McBride buttons.

Between 150 and 175 people demonstrated at the rally, according to University of South Florida police, although most stayed in a designated area for protesters on Fowler Avenue, hundreds of yards away.

One of the seven protesters arrested and charged with trespassing was Tampa nude-club mogul Joe Redner, 62. He and two friends -- Jeffrey Marks, 31, and Adam Elend, 25 -- stood outside the Sun Dome with a video camera and signs reading, "Why do you let these crooks fool you?" and "War is good business. Invest your sons."

Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies told Redner and his friends three times to go to the official protest zone, but they refused, Redner said.

"I went down there to exercise my right to protest knowing that these people would try and take that right away," said Redner, who has been arrested repeatedly during his business career. "If the result was being arrested, then I knew I was going to be arrested."

The seven people were charged with trespassing after warning, obstructing without violence and disorderly conduct.

Designated "First Amendment zones" for protesters are common nationwide during political conferences and presidential visits.

Last year, when three demonstrators were arrested during a rally for President Bush at Legends Field in Tampa, a protest zone had been set up a half-mile away. The trespassing charges against those three protesters were eventually dropped.

Free tickets to Saturday's rally at the Sun Dome were available at local Bush-Brogan campaign offices.

At least six volunteers for the McBride campaign said they obtained tickets to the Bush rally because they wanted to hear the president speak. However, they said, Republican organizers confiscated their tickets and turned them away at an entrance gate because of the McBride buttons they were wearing.

"I'm a USF student. That's a public university. I don't see how they can deny us entrance when the tickets were free," said John Dutty, 37, of Tampa. "I could understand if we were causing a commotion inside the event, but we weren't being disruptive."

A spokeswoman for the Jeb Bush campaign said Saturday night that the campaign had the right to turn McBride supporters away because the rally was a private event.

The McBride volunteers said they hadn't been planning to protest inside the arena.

"We just wanted to hear the president talk," said Patty Jay, 61, of Town 'N Country. "We just had those little round pins on, and that's all it took."

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.