Redner might still have some surprises

By SUE CARLTON, Times Columnist
Published January 17, 2007

Just when life couldn't get any more like a Carl Hiaasen paperback peppered with wacky only-in-Florida characters, our local strip club king runs for office.

Old news, you say?

Yes, Joe Redner has done this before. A half-dozen times he has run, and each time he has had his hat handed to him. You started to wonder if he was doing it for the pure fun of being a splinter under someone's fingernail, a headache no amount of HeadOn could erase.

Except this time around, Joe just might win.

Think of it. The guy who loved to blast elected officials from the marquee of his Mons Venus naked lady emporium - who called the City Council "idiots" at a meeting - up there on the dais beside them.

Joe with a vote, a platform, a say.

Not that he hasn't always had something to say. Besides championing your All-American rights regarding the baring of bodies, he donated to a Planned Parenthood program for teens when the commission yanked funding.

He declared himself gay in a lawsuit against a county ban on recognizing or participating in gay pride events, making him an injured party. (I don't want to think too much about Joe's sexuality one way or another, but probably we can agree he's a guy who likes to make a point.)

He seems always ready to argue the First Amendment, to sue, to point a finger or poke an eye no matter whose face it occupies. Imagine mouthy, unrepentant, fearless Joe as your elected representative.

Probably you are either intrigued or horrified.

Fresh off a thrashing in a Hillsborough commission race, he has bounced right into his current one against Tampa City Council Chairwoman Gwen Miller and four other candidates.

Miller has the incumbent edge, but I'd venture Joe has the best-known name in the lineup.

And remember, when he ran against popular County Commissioner Jim Norman in November, he won in the city with 3,784 more votes. He got nine write-in nods in a Senate race - more than Rush Limbaugh and SpongeBob SquarePants combined.

"I think I'm getting across to the people that I'm not that big Satan," he said in a 2004 campaign. "I don't lie, I don't cheat, I don't steal."

Of course he is most famous (or infamous) for his Mons Venus club conveniently located on Dale Mabry near the Bucs' stadium.

In certain circles, the Mons is as much a Tampa Bay landmark as Busch Gardens or the beaches.

He also owns businesses in which people generally keep their clothes on and refrain from gyrating on the laps of others, among them a trendy Hyde Park gym. He has cleaned up since a cocaine possession charge more than two decades ago. He even went vegan.

Last year, he campaigned at the Without Walls mega-church and got himself a standing ovation. Even those who despise him or his causes will tell you he knows the issues and is more than happy to argue them with you.

Will voters get past the idea of Joe Redner as a purveyor of flesh, a seller of sleaze, an exploiter of women? We'll know come the March elections.

Strip club king elected to City Council, the headline might read - as improbable and interesting as anything Hiaasen might dream up.