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Goliath Davis will need help from residents with the right attitude

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By BILL MAXWELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 22, 2001


I am glad that St. Petersburg Police Chief Goliath Davis is resigning to become deputy mayor for economic development in the city's so-called Challenge zone.

Although Davis' tenure has been successful in many ways, it was a bust in other ways from the start. Let me deal with these areas quickly and move on to the real point of this column.

He made the streets of St. Petersburg safer for black males. I know. I was out there before he became chief, and I have been out there since. I and other black males know the difference, and cops know that we know the difference. The change is palpable.

The biggest downside to Davis' tenure is race.

Davis and most of his white officers simply do not get along. Let us not play games and pretend otherwise. Race has been a part of the St. Petersburg police scene for many years. It was a raw nerve under Ernest "Curt" Curtsinger. It exploded in Darrel W. Stephens' face. It festers inside Davis' department. Because Davis is black, he -- the man -- has become the issue, which is not good for public safety. It is not good for the man himself.

He offered Mayor Rick Baker his resignation because he knows that his time is up. Race won.

Now, to the real issue at hand.

Davis will need some special help if he is to come anywhere close to succeeding in his new job of uplifting the city's black south side. He may not have much experience in economic development, but he is smart and is a quick study. I am certain that Baker will back Davis as much as possible.

Baker said this of the area and Davis' task: "Quite frankly, I want to make it like other areas in the city so that you don't have a high unemployment rate or a high crime rate or property in disrepair. So it will mesh with the rest of the city and the concept of the Challenge area will disappear and it becomes a seamless part of the city."

These are nice words spoken by an earnest man. But if anything is to become reality, Davis will need the special help of black residents. What I am about to write will anger many black people, but it needs to be written.

Many ordinary residents need to change their attitudes about their own neighborhoods. Many business owners and career professionals need to change their attitudes.

I do not like the word proactive, but proactivity is exactly what is needed in the area. Real, permanent change will not come from the top down. It will not come from the outside. You can walk the streets of the various neighborhoods and tell who does and does not care about the quality of life there. People will have to start caring more.

Baker spoke about property being in disrepair. Most of the disrepair I see is the direct result of people not caring. Many things do not take money to accomplish. Many people will not commit the simple act of picking up trash in their yards. Some residents have not painted their houses or done simple repairs in decades. Of course, their properties slide into disrepair. The new deputy mayor will need their help.

Many landlords, not just absentee ones, do not care about their tenants. They spend as little money as possible on their buildings and ignore complaints. Davis will need their help.

Too many people use the sidewalks and easements as places to throw paper, cans and whatever else they want to get rid of. Davis will need their help. Many business owners take no pride in their buildings, which contributes to the area's unkempt appearance.

Some owners have never considered landscaping, something that would add a touch of beauty and a sense of caring for customers. Davis will need their help.

Drive along 16th Street, 18th Avenue and other streets, and you will see some of the worst zoning in the country: A restaurant sits next to a radiator repair shop. Another restaurant sits next to an auto paint shop. A rib joint sits next to an auto body shop. A hand car wash has no drainage -- sending gallons of contaminated water into the ground each day.

All is not lost. In some neighborhoods, residents do everything they can to keep their places looking good. I see them manicuring their lawns, painting, making repairs. I see them picking up trash and debris that others have deposited. These people have the right attitude.

For the first time, Challenge zone residents will have a full-time person in City Hall who will be responsible for trying to improve the area. I am certain that Davis -- who was born and reared in the area -- will dedicate himself to the job. He will need special help. No excuses.

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