tampabay.com

Joe shows how times really are changing

By SUE CARLTON
Published March 9, 2007


It's the morning after the Tampa city elections, way too early for anyone in the business of strip clubs, but Joe Redner is up and at 'em.

Not at that business, the infamous one on Dale Mabry that features naked ladies, the one that helped make him a household name and a millionaire.

No, this is his legit business, a trendy Hyde Park gym where Redner is puffing away on a stationary bike. While he's talking campaign strategy to a newspaper reporter on his cell phone. As he's being filmed by a TV news station.

"People are tired of developers shoving things down the city's throat, the citizens' throats," he's saying.

Are we ready for Joe Redner, serious contender?

A lot of voters apparently are, having catapulted him out of a six-person City Council race and into a runoff against 12-year incumbent Gwen Miller. (Though she is the council chairwoman, Miller got only 1,031 more votes.)

Anyone who thinks this or any of Redner's previous runs for office were merely symbolic - retribution, perhaps, for all those run-ins with government types - hasn't been listening.

Tampa's strip club king (as we like to call him) is something of a wonk. He can talk light rail and water. His yard signs pitch not just his well-known name but an actual issue: Growth Must Pay For Itself , they say. He's a businessman even if you don't like his brand of business. He knows something about legal issues, given his dozens of adult entertainment-related arrests, his First Amendment-themed TV show, those lawsuits he files. (Remember when he sued over the county ban on gay pride, declaring himself gay and therefore an officially injured party? Vintage Joe.)

That well-worn nickname ("king" being so much better than just "owner") is his campaign's best friend and worst enemy.

It's why people who never met him know him anyway. It's also why some people who might agree with him on every single issue will never be able to bring themselves to vote for him. Depending on where you sit, Redner is a slicked-back Tampa folk legend, a guy who would shake things up and make government fun to watch, or an exploiter of women, period.

"I think I'd have been elected years ago if I had not been an adult business owner," he says.

Times change. Awhile back, some city bosses thought putting 6 feet between strippers and their patrons was a major issue.

These days, police tend to concentrate on actual crimes, and Redner tends to agree with the mayor.

And what of his sometimes rough-and-tumble personality - calling officials "idiots," castigating enemies from his Mons Venus marquee, getting a chair thrown at him after calling a Republican "fat boy" on TV? How might this play on a board that has to work together to get anything done?

"I'm maturing. I'm learning to control myself," Redner says. But he has to add, "even with the fools."

Developers should sweat this new council. Already it includes a couple of avowed green types and a lawyer who tends to side with neighborhoods.

Add to that maybe, just maybe, the infamous strip club king.

"I've got a hell of a shot," Redner said election night, and he's right. (But Joe - did you have to go and say "hell"?)