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East Tampa in need of a political dream team

By ERNEST HOOPER
Published December 7, 2003

At the news conference to introduce Civitas' grand Central Park redevelopment plan this week, managing partner Ed Turanchik could point to a number of influential citizens in attendance.

He could not, however, point to one politician who represents east Tampa. There were different interpretations on the notable absences of Mayor Pam Iorio, Hillsborough County Commissioner Thomas Scott, Tampa City Council member Kevin White, state Rep. Arthenia Joyner, state Sen. Les Miller and U.S. Rep. Jim Davis.

Organizers said it was by design to underscore the fact this was coming from the private sector. Plus, they said, they didn't want the politicians pressed into giving opinions before fully digesting the plans. Prior commitments such as a City Council meeting scheduled at nearly the same time also were factors.

Iorio, however, is distancing herself from the project until it is closer to completion. Turanchik's group has some clear obstacles to overcome, such as the displacement issue, which could result in a far-reaching backlash by the black community.

Still, I don't think any of the politicians who represent east Tampa can merely look at Turanchik's project from afar without asking themselves an important question: What are they doing to help revitalize east Tampa?

I'm not sure what answers they should give, but I do know how they should answer: collectively.

* * *

Envision, if you will, another news conference where all six leaders are proudly sitting on a stage to tell about a list of specific projects they have made a priority for east Tampa. Each could be accompanied by realistic timelines and measurable benchmarks.

This isn't to suggest they shouldn't help Turanchik achieve his project, but beyond Central Park, there is still much work to be done in the blighted area. You can't have too many development ideas, but wouldn't the success rate be heightened with a concerted effort between local, state and federal officials?

Sure, each representative we're talking about has cordial relationships with the others, but given the daunting task of bringing economic prosperity to an area that has been swamped with forgotten promises, you need something palpable to truly move forward. Standing together is the best way to stand up and be accountable. By pooling resources and goals, this coalition could create a more enticing carrot for private developers.

Any business knows the value of having positive relationships in city and county government, not to mention Tallahassee and Washington. An executive interested in joining the revitalization could string together a seemingly unending list of meetings and lunches, but a coalition could help streamline the inquiry process, becoming a political super center.

And it's our leaders who should be shepherding the private sector to ensure that east Tampa doesn't become the next urban boiling pot of economic alienation.

* * *

You might ask, How can a group of politicians from different levels with apparently different goals for the future come together? I ask, How can they not? A list of accomplished and targeted projects would give each some tangible selling points for voters, whether in seeking re-election or aiming for higher office.

I'm not naive enough to think egos wouldn't be an issue (actually, I am), but the good that could result from this should be the overriding factor. Think back to how Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan set aside personality differences to lead a team of NBA superstars to Olympic success in 1992. The "East Tampa Dream Team" also could bring home the gold, making our entire city a better place to live.

That's all I'm saying.

- Ernest Hooper can be reached at Hooper@sptimes.com or 226-3406.

[Last modified December 7, 2003, 01:34:09]


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