As a member of the Hillsborough County Commission, Jan Platt was best known for a single word: NO! Labels like that tend to stick, but this grand lady was much, much more than that.
She fought to protect our waterways and environmentally sensitive land, and she loved to be out on the Bay with a fishing rod. She was a champion of public libraries, and one of the Tampa branch buildings is named in her honor.She was honest, at times a little cranky, but she always – ALWAYS – did what she thought was right for this community.
She was that rare public servant who said what she meant, and meant what she said.
She couldn’t be bought, couldn’t be intimidated, and she wouldn’t be swayed to vote for something because it was smart politics. Janice Kaminis Platt always spoke from a heart that was 24-carat pure.
Yes, frequently she was the leading voice of dissent as developers pushed relentlessly toward their goal of paving over every bit of green space in the county. When quick-buck artists appeared before the commissioners, they knew it was going to be a long day if Commissioner No was in her seat.
That misses the point, though. More often than not, it about what she was trying to preserve and less about what she was against.
People loved her for that.
She died last week at the age of 81. Her funeral is Friday in Tampa, and her passing triggered an outpouring of tributes.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor called her “honest, ethical” and “steadfast in her leadership.”
Former Commissioner Joe Chillura told the Tampa Bay Times that he never should have run against her in a commission race because, “It was like running against Mother Teresa.”
She was never needed more than when three county commissioners were arrested in 1983 for selling their votes in exchange for bribe money.
It shook this community to its core, but I think we all knew that if Jan Platt was still on the board, we would be OK.
And we were.
That continued after she retired in 1994 following 24 years as a commissioner and four as a member of the Tampa City Council. She stayed relatively low key until a public hearing a little over years ago about a proposed 38-story residential and retail complex near the Straz Center in downtown Tampa.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn was pushing hard for approval, and things appeared to be going swimmingly until Platt made a surprise appearance at the microphone and spoke forcefully against the project.
She succeeded in getting the project delayed, because people figured if she was against it they probably should take another look. It was ultimately approved, but the delay infuriated Buckhorn and he had some pointed things to say to me later about her interference in his plans.
Buckhorn, by the way, got over it and in a statement on Twitter noted, “During a difficult time in County government, her integrity shined brightly.”
Several months after my column on that exchange appeared in The Tampa Tribune, I ran across Jan at a reception on Davis Islands. I hadn’t spoken with her since that column ran, and Buckhorn’s quotes were a bit personal and on the nasty side.
Still, she thanked me for the piece and said she thought it was fair and accurate.
I considered that especially high praise.
I’m not sure we’ll see anyone like her again. She was an original and a community treasure.
The measure of a life well-lived can be taken in what people say about you when you die, and the size of the footprints you leave behind.
Jan Platt’s will be hard, if not impossible, to fill.