By Jim Bleyer
Tampa’s leadership flunked its latest test Saturday at the University of South Florida.
A March for Our Lives town hall discussion drew only a handful of candidates for Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa. Incumbent officeholders scored a zero. Likewise Republicans.
The USF event is part of a “Road to Change” bus tour put together by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. They encouraged the crowd of more than 200 to register to vote and make gun reform an important issue in the November election.
Local student organizers also participated. Similar town halls are scheduled in every Florida county.
The no shows are bereft of any sense of what really constitutes public service, what it means to represent an entire constituency, or morality for that matter.
No one would expect a mayor that promotes gun violence to attend. But what about State Rep. Janet Cruz, the term-limited politico who said she was so moved by February’s high school massacre in Parkland that she decided to run against incumbent State Sen. Dana Young? Her ghost might have stopped by the fruitful discussion but she was nowhere to be seen.
Hypocrisy to the max. By tuning out the alleged centerpiece of her campaign, Cruz continues to turn off voters in what so far has been a disastrous effort to unseat a popular incumbent that actually has been constructive in addressing gun violence.
Twelve candidates, truly interested in solving the country’s number one social issue, attended the event:
—Joy Gibson, State Senate District 20
—Debbie Katt, State House District 57
—Adam Hattersley, State House District 59
—Debra Bellanti, State House District 60
–Karen Skyers, State House District 61
—José Vazquez, State House District 62
-–Fentrice Driskell, State House 63
—Elvis Pigott, Hillsborough County Commissioner District 5
—Ray Chiaramonte, Hillsborough County Commissioner District 7
—Scott Hottenstein, School Board District 6
—Mitchell Smithey, School Board District 6
—John Godwin, Tampa City Council District 2
There were representatives from gubernatorial candidates Andrew Gillum and Phil Levine.
And you know who else thought March for Our Lives merited their attendance? Gun Exchange advocates, a half dozen or so. They were respectful, asked questions, and were described as “cool” by other audience members who do not share their views.
Moms Demand Action representatives showed up. State House candidate Bellanti is an activist.
Anyone that is a parent of a student of any age should be disgusted with the officeholders and candidates that pulled a Houdini. Tampa Bay Beat has heard excuses from a couple of them. Meaningless.
One month ago Tampa Bay Beat lamented that the six primary candidates for Tampa mayor were weak, pliable to entrenched interests, and not the least bit forward thinking. Their unanimous disinterest in addressing gun violence merely validates our view.
One would not expect former police Chief Jane Castor, who targeted people of color and Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s political opponents under her watch, and wealthy, out-of-touch socialite David Straz to educate themselves in contemporary thought. The remaining four candidates are more than lazy. They are craven.
Sadly, one of these jamokes will lead Tampa, a city whose cultural climate trails American cities of similar size by several decades. So-called local “leaders” lament the area is not attractive to Millennials but are reluctant to alter the prevailing “good ol’ boy” attitude more common to the rural Panhandle.