By Jim Bleyer
“I have much respect for your father. But your father, his thinking is old-fashioned.“
That’s how Virgil Sollozzo described Vito Corleone to his son Michael in The Godfather. Sollozzo could just as well have been talking about David Straz as much as the iconic film’s title character.
Straz, 75, and a prominent philanthropist, has formed an “exploratory committee” for a possible run as Tampa mayor in 2019. In the announcement unveiling the committee, Straz said that he wanted to “give back” to the city he has called home since 1994.
But Tampa, after nearly two terms of rule by a media opportunist who did little but enrich his ego and diminish his legacy, desperately needs an enlightened leader, a visionary with a solid handle on contemporary culture to lead it into the 2020s.
Straz, for all his good works, fails to meet those criteria.
Tampa wants to thrust itself into the mix of top shelf urban areas by luring established high technology companies, encouraging startups, and being known as an entrepreneurial hub. To accomplish that, the city needs to attract Millennials as they are the most tech savvy and innovative members of the U.S. work force.
Topping the list of areas that have successfully achieved these goals are the usual suspects: Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Washington D. C., the Research Triangle, and Boston/Cambridge. The second tier looks something like this: Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, New York City, Baltimore, Denver/Boulder, Austin, San Diego.
Those considered up and comers include Madison, Indianapolis, Columbus, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and others. Not listed: Tampa or any other Florida city.
All the cities mentioned have one thing in common: they are forward looking. All welcome diverse cultures, have a highly educated populace, do not reject science, and embrace modern ideas over entrenched thought.
It has nothing to do with political party; it has everything to do with political leadership.
Those urban areas do not have leaders that threaten to shoot journalists, protect monuments to slavery, dismiss manmade climate change, and oversee law enforcement agencies that target people of color. They respect and understand Millennials and minorities because they expose themselves to those groups on a regular basis.
In a 2015 interview with NewsTalk Florida, the cocooned Straz showed absolutely no grasp of contemporary thought, denigrating the Millennial generation almost nonstop. Having a daughter that is a Millennial doesn’t make him an expert on them just as being Amabassador to Liberia doesn’t make him an expert on people of color.
Does Straz know the headwinds most Millennials face? Does he realize the amount of college debt they were forced to incur? Does he understand there is a shrinking middle class and that lower income people have a higher wall to climb than at any time in the history of the republic? Apparently not.
He pointed to his daughter, who surely is a fine person, as having interned six hours a day for 11 weeks. Bet it wasn’t at a fast food joint. She had every advantage at her disposal; she and her friends at tony Berkeley Prep are not representative of an entire generation. They never faced daunting challenges.
The writer knows many Millennials at every educational and economic level. Most of those are hard workers who clocked 40 hours a week during their summer breaks and labored part time during their college years.
In the NewsTalk Florida interview, Straz describes Millennials thusly: “The work ethic isn’t there…..they have a handout mentality….they just don’t seem to want to work hard…..there’s a lack of work ethic…it could be the parents that don’t want to instill a work ethic.”
The interview link is below; the salient portion begins at 7:00.
Near the end of the interview, Straz displays his disdain for a pluralistic society and the interests of generations younger than his during a discussion of religion. He noted that church membership is dwindling and laments that attendance at his traditional service diminishes while the numbers—buoyed mostly by young people—increase at his church’s contemporary service.
Straz hasn’t escaped his cultural bubble despite owning six residences around the world. He made a fortune buying and selling banks in Florida and his native state of Wisconsin. His name is plastered on facilities at Marquette University, the University of Tampa, Berkeley Prep, and Tampa’s performing arts center. A former king of Gasparilla, Straz hobnobs with Tampa Bay’s elite.
He needs to get out more and meet some real people with real problems. Volunteering at a soup kitchen would be a start. They wouldn’t name it after him but his experience would put a dent in a steep learning curve.