It's way more than just a postmark

Published May 16, 2007

Image-wise, St. Petersburg sometimes sounds like a sibling weary of its bolder, brassier sister city across the bay.

Nothing makes proud St. Pete residents boil like hearing the words "Tampa Bay" carelessly tossed off in reference to an entire region rather than a body of water. (See Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Lightning, and most insulting of all, Devil Rays, who by the way play in Tampa only during spring training.)

Insulting, too, are national news-and-sports types who find their way here for some event and then insist on showing pictures of the bigger of the two cities. And saying things like, "It's a beautiful day in Tampa Bay."

You can be hometown to a well-groomed governor who still gets $9 St. Pete haircuts, or make national news with your big-city struggle to deal with the homeless. You can have no less than the New York Times opine that "Anyone who still considers St. Petersburg, Fla., the last stop before checking into a nursing home may be shocked by the transformation of this once sleepy Gulf Coast city, " as the newspaper did last week. And you can still get dissed.

Bring in something like the Grand Prix, and Tampa will just host a bigger party like the immensely popular MacDill AirFest on the same weekend. (Oh, sure, they say it was an oversight ...)

So when it came to the great postmark war, Tampa was sure to beat St. Pete, right?

Last year, the postal service announced plans to reroute St. Petersburg's mail to a facility at the Tampa airport, a money-saving measure in the face of a slowdown in letter-sending.

That meant St. Pete letters would be postmarked "Tampa."

Maybe this is no big deal to you. But I think mail should say where it comes from, that you should be able to look at a postmark years later and know that it's accurate.

Mail a letter one county south of us and the postmark will say "Manasota." Where, exactly, is Manasota?

So some town-proud folks in St. Pete didn't much like the idea of a Tampa postmark.

"We'd be giving up a portion of the city's image, " said Mayor Rick Baker.

And the prospect of a "Greater Tampa Bay" postmark was almost more insulting.

Well, turns out the world can surprise you.

A fired city manager planning a sex change can turn out to look absolutely fabulous as a woman - who knew? The self-satisfied smirk can disappear from Paris' Hilton's face at the horrifying thought that she might get treated like everyone else. The postal service can even come up with a stamp that's still good when prices go up again (and sure as Joe Redner runs for office, they will.)

St. Pete's mayor rallied. U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and C.W. Bill Young got involved. At last, a logical compromise: a postmark naming both cities debuts next year.

Mayor Baker sounded proud. After all, "St. Petersburg is the fourth-largest city in the state of Florida, " he said. (Guess who's No. 3.)

"I know this has been very important to Mayor Baker, " said Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who says she has "a great relationship" with the mayor over there. "It's all okay with me."

"If this is something that makes them feel better, then good, " she said.

Oh, in case you're wondering? The word Tampa will sit comfortably above Saint Petersburg on every envelope.