Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. I covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. I also was the City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. I served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. I have numerous local, state and national writing awards. I have been married to my wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and have two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

Joe Henderson: Could this be the time gun debate sparks action?

Something seems different about the gun debate this time, and Tallahassee lawmakers ignore it at their peril.

The young people who marched on the state capitol and demanded to be heard on the issue of gun control are extraordinary by any measure, but it’s more than that. They are the faces of change.

They are determined that the 17 deaths of their classmates and teachers last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland will not be in vain. They are demanding something the Legislature has not been willing to give — restrictions on weapons like the one used in the slaughter.

I believe they’re going to get what they want, either that or we’ll see the balance of power shift in the Legislature as some of the NRA hard-liners get voted out as voters decided they’ve had enough of this no-compromise nonsense on these weapons of mass death.

Many of those kids who made the trip to Tallahassee aren’t old enough to vote yet, but their parents are — and millions of them who are fed up with the notion that the Second Amendment to own a gun trumps the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Such talk usually gets a dismissive wave from lawmakers who continue to endorse the NRA’s inexorable push for guns in every place, on every hip, on every street corner — all in the name of safety.

It took these kids to shout BS loudly enough to echo across the state, and I think it is starting to penetrate the force field that keeps out sanity in the House and Senate – particularly the House.

The commentary offered Thursday on Florida Politics by Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob White might have passed for normal gun-rights rhetoric a few weeks ago, but now seemed way out of touch with this new reality.

He hit all the NRA talking points about good guys and bad guys, keeping guns away from the mentally ill (while his party has blocked such restrictions) and offered prayers and support for the victims. But held tightly to the absurd notion that more guns make us safer, and it’s just not so.

For me, this was his money quote: “What a travesty that it took this tragic loss of life to begin this discussion.”

Well yeah, but Republicans are the ones who blocked this discussion – over, and over, and over again. That seems to be changing.

Adam Putnam has at least delayed his controversial measure to allow concealed weapons permit to be issued without a complete background check. It would be hubris on an unprecedented scale for him to try and sneak that provision back through.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, an outspoken NRA supporter, told students that gun control measures are “on the table.” We haven’t heard that come out of Tallahassee in a while.

You know all those mailers we get during election season from Republicans showing off their NRA endorsements? In this climate, I doubt we’ll see as many of those.

GOP state Rep. Chris Latvala even bragged to CNN that he had a D rating from the NRA, the lowest of any Republican.

President Donald Trump has gotten into it as well. After a meeting Wednesday with students, parents and teachers affected by the shootings filled with raw emotion, he vowed to take real action.

I hope so.

The cynic in me notes how many Republican legislators in Tallahassee managed to dodge meeting with students and protesters. We can assume NRA lobbyists are working overtime to sure nothing of substance gets done. They’ll fight a delaying game, like they always do. They’ll rely on their strongest voices in the House and Senate to do their bidding.

They’ll hope people will eventually get on with other parts of their lives.

That’s how the gun debate has always worked.

This really seems different, though.

For one thing, the Pulse nightclub slaughter in Orlando happened in mid-June, 2016 — after the Legislature had adjourned.

The slaughter in Parkland happened right in the middle of this year’s Session, in a public high school that could have been anywhere in the state.

It tore open the question of how it could have been avoided, and the old argument that having more guns in the school would have made it safer sound ridiculous.

The fact it took a tragedy on this scale to make that point is beyond awful. Meeting in the middle has never been part of the NRA’s game plan, but that may be the best it can hope for this time.

These kids aren’t going away.

They are determined. They are smart. They are compelling.

And they are right.

Joe Henderson: Only lowest of low would spread lies about Parkland students

What kind of vermin would say two Parkland students grieving from last week’s massacre at their high school were really actors who were being paid to make gun owners look bad?

I think we can all agree this represents the lowest of the low. Well, apparently not “all” of us. Helping spread that lie is why Benjamin Kelly lost his job Tuesday night as an aide to Republican state Rep. Shawn Harrison of Tampa.

Kelly sent an unsolicited note to Alex Leary, Washington correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times, that said, “Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.”

When Leary asked for proof, he was provided with a link to a YouTube conspiracy video. Not long after, Kelly was out of a job.

Yes, Kelly got what he deserved for spreading crap even as funerals are being held for victims of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. But I ask again, what kind of horrible human being tries to turn an unfathomable tragedy into a personal attack on two students because they dared to speak out in the first place?

Well, someone did. They must be very proud today.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio summed it up as well as anyone by tweeting this was the work of a “disgusting group of idiots with no sense of decency.”

I got into a long back-and-forth on Facebook Tuesday night about that subject with a guy I knew back in high school a long, long time ago but hadn’t kept up with. He was adamant the story was real and that I was a big part of the problem because I didn’t believe it.

He noted, “Yesterday CNN was caught using professional actors claiming to be Parkland students demanding gun control. My question is, when can we expect to read your column condemning CNN for this shameful and unprofessional journalistic practice.”

I could almost hear him stomping his foot. He wouldn’t accept overwhelming evidence that the story was fabricated. He wouldn’t accept the word of the Broward County school superintendent that the two people in questions were students.

He had read it somewhere on wing nut media, and it had to be true.

This is what we’re up against.

Back in the day, I can remember having a good chuckle at headlines on tabloids like the National Enquirer as I stood in the grocery store checkout line. That was about as crazy as it got.

Now, there is a whole industry devoted to tin foil hats and deranged conspiracies. This might be a good time to remember that then-candidate Donald Trump helped further that when he told chief kook Alex Jones that his reputation is “amazing.”

The president also has regular attacks on individuals, the foundations of government, the media (of course) and, well, you know.

Separately, the nonsense is easy to dismiss. But then something like this happens and we can see how it all comes together. We can’t even take comfort (if comfort is to be found) that it’s all just Facebook babble, not when it reaches into the office of a Florida state representative and belittles two Parkland students who just lived through a horror.

There have always been people who believe 9/11 was an inside job and that we faked the moon landing, but usually they were contained in their own little bubble.

No more.

In their world, truth is whatever they want it to be. Facts are lies. Everything is a cover-up.

And the crazier it gets, the more likely they are to believe.

That’s no lie.

Joe Henderson: It’s fitting to name St. Pete’s library after Barack Obama

You can make a strong case that it is appropriate the city of St. Petersburg decided to rename its main library after President Barack Obama.

Oh dear. What did I just do?

I said something nice about Barack Obama. Release the trolls! Or at least the Russian bots.

While those hounds are picking up my scent, consider this: Cities name stuff after former presidents all the time. In California alone, there are six schools named after President Ronald Reagan. When I go to Cincinnati, I drive on the Ronald Reagan Cross County Highway.

In Washington, travelers fly out of Reagan National Airport.

Right here in Florida, the Legislature named the state turnpike the Ronald Reagan Turnpike 1998.

Jimmy Carter had a nuclear sub named after him.  Lyndon Johnson has the space center in Houston named in his honor. And, of course, there is the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. Even Richard Nixon had a couple of schools named after him – before he resigned in disgrace.

But, you know, this is Obama – so, as they say, haters gonna hate. If you doubt that, just read many of the comments on the bottom of a story about the news on TampaBay.com.

They overlook that a huge part of his legacy is the work he and his wife, Michelle, did to promote childhood literacy in this country. He started the open e-books program for special education and Title I teachers, giving access to $250 million worth of books.

The “Let Girls Learn” program was designed to help 62 million girls worldwide receive access to books and education. He promoted literacy programs to help pre-schoolers become better prepared to enter kindergarten.

So, this is just me, but I think naming a library after a president who was a relentless champion of learning and raising literacy rates, particularly in the neediest areas, is a fine thing to do.

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is getting knocked around by some about this. Critics are calling it a thank-you to Obama after he campaigned for Kriseman’s successful re-election campaign. They’re asking what Obama has ever done for this area.

Well, you could ask the same about a lot of those other dedications across the country to former presidents. Obama was a frequent visitor to the Tampa Bay area and carried Florida in both of his campaigns, so it’s not like he was a stranger to the people here.

In a nation as divided as this one now, finding middle ground on these issues is impossible. It will be the same way a few years when some locales decide to name things after Donald Trump. (Note to self: resist the urge to say something snarky … must resist … must resist … keep it positive).

But Barack Obama was the president for eight years, and his popularity rating was 59 percent when he left office. He must have done a few things right.

You can look it up at any public library.

Joe Henderson: After Parkland shooting young people say ENOUGH!

To those young people who lived through the slaughter that was the Parkland shooting and vowed this will be the last time any school endures this: stick with it.

I hope you march on Washington next month, like many of you promise. I hope you inspire others to march in cities around the state and country.

I hope the raw passion of your words will be enough to shame the shameless sellouts who masquerade as lawmakers but are really just paid billboards for the National Rifle Association. That will be much harder than you think. These people are good at giving you a comforting hug with one hand while taking NRA cash with the other.

Those people don’t believe you will follow through.

They think after the echo of the bullets that flew through the halls and classrooms at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School subsides, most of you will return to a life of disengagement.

They think most of you will eventually get discouraged when lawmakers ignore and patronize you. Despite all their “thoughts and prayers” in this time of unfathomable tragedy, they don’t take you seriously enough to do something about the problem of too many guns.

That’s because they don’t believe that all these guns are a problem.

Prove them wrong.

They didn’t know your friends and teachers who were murdered. They probably weren’t paying attention to the rallies you attended in the aftermath of the killing. They were trying to figure out how to turn this tragedy to their advantage, or at least contain the political fallout.

President Donald Trump used the occasion to turn the focus on himself by blaming the FBI for investigating Russian trickery in the last election while fumbling clear signs that Nicklas Cruz was getting closer every day to inflicting horror on you and the nation.

While you were holding candlelight vigils and preparing to attend funerals, he was tweeting about Oprah Winfrey.

Think about that.

Many of you aren’t old enough yet to vote, but those who can should register and absolutely make your voice heard at the ballot box. And everyone should learn how the process works.

Learn the names and views of your state lawmakers — the ones who go to Tallahassee and keep voting to expand what is ironically called “gun rights.” They are the ones who want more guns in our state, not fewer. They don’t seem to care about the rights of those being shot in situations like what you just endured.

Learn who represents you in Congress. There is a wealth of information available online about how these people vote and who gives them money. Learn it, share it, and make your friends understand they have to care about this.

Rallies and vigils are fine, but the best way to fix the culture is to change the names and faces of those who make the laws.

You have vowed to make sure things will be different in the future, and I hope you do. The adults have certainly made a big enough mess of things. The anguish so many of you shared in the last week is evidence that you want change.

You deserve at least that much.

The adults who want to hold on to power are playing politics with a tragedy — your tragedy. Show them they’re wrong. Flood them with letters, protests, and the like.

Look up what happened in the 1960s, with the Vietnam War. A steady barrage of student-led protests against a useless slaughter of young Americans in a pointless conflict finally made a difference. Keep at it.

You can make a difference too.

After Parkland, America needs you to do just that.

Joe Henderson: Can we talk about gun control? Didn’t think so

We hear a lot of talk from NRA-backed lawmakers about protecting the Second Amendment rights of gun owners. As events in South Florida have shown though, they aren’t quite as bullish on gun control that might protect the rights of people to live.

Too harsh? Maybe.

But seriously, how should those politicians expect people to react? They have the power to change the law, but they don’t do it, won’t even seriously talk about it. Yes, many of them take a lot of money from the NRA, but there is another reason.

In 2014, Joe Wurzelbacher — you know him better as Joe The Plumber, the shill Sarah Palin used as an example of the common man — responded to a rampage that left six people dead in Oregon with these now-infamous words: “Your dead kids don’t trump my constitutional rights.”

That, folks, is the mindset that blocks any meaningful attempt even to have a serious conversation about guns.

The NRA has convinced too many of its members that any restriction is an attack on their right to be part of a well-regulated militia — sorry, I mean, own a weapon. They clap their hands and the lawmakers fall in line.

So many people have bought into that crap that even events like we saw at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School don’t penetrate deep enough to say, hey, maybe it’s not a good idea for an 18-year-old with multiple behavioral red flags to legally buy an AR-15 weapon.

Their response, instead, is that everyone ought to protect themselves by matching that firepower. That’s why we see continued pushes in the Florida Legislature to arm teachers and introduce more guns into schools, not less.

That’s crazy.

A big flaw in the NRA nonsense is the assumption anyone who can legally purchase a gun and take a class will be cool enough under stress to use it properly. Can they really tell the good guy from the bad when there is smoke, people screaming and the crack of a weapons discharge echoing through the halls?

I shudder to think how many more kids would have died Wednesday in the confusion if others started firing at anything that moved in the name of defense.

Fred Piccolo, communications director for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, challenged me Thursday after my column on the south Florida nightmare to come up with some ideas for gun control because he said I offered no proposals.

Fair enough.

Florida law prohibits the keeping of any database of individuals who own guns. Why? Privacy? Give me a break. The state keeps records of the houses we own and the cars we drive, but we can’t know if the guy next door has an arsenal in his garage? Change the law.

Florida doesn’t require background checks for private gun sales. Change the law. Period. If we find out someone violated that, both the buyer and seller go to jail and have all their guns confiscated. Permanently.

Florida doesn’t restrict magazine capacity. In mass killings like the one we just saw, that means a shooter can load up as many 30-round magazines as he wants. It takes about two minutes to empty that magazine before snapping in another in. Change the law to cut the capacity. I suggest no more than 10 because that would be sufficient in a self-defense situation.

Florida law allows Tallahassee to pre-empt local restrictions on guns. That’s ridiculous. Change the law. The concerns of a city like Tampa might not line up with those in the Panhandle.

I just named four common-sense changes that would not infringe on the constitutional rights of Joe The Plumber or anyone else. What it would do, though, is maybe pump the brakes just a bit on the madness.

It also might help us avoid more dead kids.

Can we talk?

Didn’t think so.

Joe Henderson: Gun control? Politicians make sure we don’t have a prayer

Gun control? That’s a laugh, given the culture of political complicity created by the National Rifle Association.

In the alternate universe in which NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre and his army of lawmakers throughout live, more guns  make America safe and free.

That’s what he said before the NRA’s 2013 meeting in Houston.

Safe?

I wonder how safe those who attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County will ever feel again. Tell the family, friends and neighbors of the 17 people who died there in Wednesday’s mass shooting that it’s all about freedom and gun control would only make a bad situation worse.

While he’s at it, ask those affected by the deaths of 229 people in 14 mass shootings in the United States since LaPierre declared us safe how they feel about things. Check out the Las Vegas hotel where a shooter murdered 58 people. Drop by the site where 49 people were butchered in Orlando at the Pulse nightclub. Let us know how they’re feeling.

Offer your prayers, President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, for the 74 victims who have died in Florida in five mass killings since the NRA boss declared us safe. Because that’s what you say when you don’t really want to have a conversation about what needs to be done. Thoughts and prayers.

 

Since Rubio likes to quote the Bible so often, I suggest his verse of the day should come from the book of James: 2:15-17. I’ll save him the trouble of looking it up.

“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?’ ”

The way I interpret that, Jesus is teaching that words are empty unless accompanied by action.

So, Rick Scott, please let us know what the appropriate “time to continue to have these conversations” would be, as you stated following the massacre.

I’m guessing it’s on the current governor and would-be U.S. senator’s calendar for the 12th of Never, but I could be wrong.

Um, no I’m not.

Rubio was in his full NRA damage-control mode by Wednesday evening, telling Fox News that we need to slow down, take our time, before we “jump to conclusions that there’s some law we could have passed that would have prevented it.”

Ah, Marco! Just like LaPierre would have you rehearse it. Don’t “politicize” a tragedy, especially when politics helped create it.

While we’re at it, thanks for the moment of silence on the state House floor over which Speaker Richard Corcoran presided as news of the slaughter spread.

Appropriate, eh? A moment of silence. The Legislature has been nothing but silent for years when it comes to even addressing the concept of tougher gun control laws to regulate the weaponry.

But go ahead.

Lower flags to half-staff.

Declare a day of mourning.

Or two. Or seventeen.

But just understand, we get it. We know who owns you. We know you all are, as gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam so artfully declared himself, proud NRA sellouts. At least he had the nerve to admit it.

We know that down inside, none of you will do anything to meaningfully address this madness.

 You’ll fall back on NRA talking points about freedom and safety, and you’ll keep putting out boogeyman ads like Corcoran’s reprehensible TV spot that basically says all undocumented immigrants are out to kill you.

Many of you will keep pushing the expansion of places where guns can be taken, displayed, and theoretically used because – as LaPierre said after children died at Newtown, Conn. Elementary school, only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.

Keep telling yourself that.

Keep on sending your thoughts.

But if that’s all you’ve got, we don’t have a prayer.

Joe Henderson: Sanctuary city debate probably didn’t change minds

I expected House Speaker Richard Corcoran to be cool and smooth in the great sanctuary city debate Tuesday night, and he was.

I thought his opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, would bring the fire from the other side of the issue, and he did.

Winner?

That probably depends on your politics. Both men made their points about Corcoran’s controversial HB 9, which would ban sanctuary cities in Florida and punish officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration agents.

Corcoran punctuated his closing statement with three knocks on the podium, symbolizing the knock on the door that he said a parent could receive from law enforcement officers telling them their son or daughter had been murdered by an illegal immigrant.

Theatrical? Obviously. But it did make Corcoran’s point about harboring the undocumented.

But Gillum made his point, too, that the bill (and TV ad) is tantamount to racial profiling, noting that the killer in the ad was dressed in a hoodie like Trayvon Martin.

I think Gillum almost fumbled a wide-open chance to attack the ad much earlier though on that key point, though.

Late in the debate, co-moderator Gary Fineout in a question to Corcoran reminded viewers that the controversial ad misrepresented what actually happened.

The shooter was acquitted and the death, while tragic, was ruled an accident.

Only then did Gillum begin to press Corcoran about the aspect of profiling and the other dog whistles implied in the ad. He should have been pounding that point from the start.

But Corcoran swung and missed too, and not just with the disingenuous TV ad, which he tried to explain was merely asking if the victim, Kate Steinle, would still be alive “if not for the sanctuary policy?”

That killing happened in San Francisco. Corcoran used three other examples of deaths he linked to illegal immigrants. None of those occurred in Florida, either.

And Gillum claimed that there are no sanctuary cities in Florida anyway, so what’s the point of the bill?

There were several dog whistles going off during the debate from both participants. Corcoran kept ramming home the point of “illegal immigrants.”

He also tried to portray the proposed bill as a benign, commonsense measure that anyone should feel comfortable supporting. If that is so, then why has he been promoting it with a wildly inflammatory TV ad designed to scare your pants off if you meet someone on the street who doesn’t look like you?

Gillum dropped words like “police state” into his argument against the bill and noted that people of color could be the ones most likely to face demands to “show their papers” to prove citizenship.

Both men need the exposure this debate allowed. Gillum faces a tough challenge in his campaign to be the Democratic nominee for governor.

If Corcoran jumps into the race as expected for the Republican nomination, polls indicate that the majority of Florida voters don’t even know who he is – despite his high profile and controversial moves.

Face-to-face engagements like this sanctuary city debate are good. The fact it happened at all is the most important thing in an election year.

That was the real win for both men in this exercise because, truth be told, I doubt any minds were changed by what they said.

Joe Henderson: Deep budget cuts to NOAA? Of course!

Memo to all Florida coastal residents: You might want to stock up on canned goods, rafts, and life vests. There’s a big wind comin’ out of Washington and it is aimed right at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – you know it better as NOAA – and this state we all call home.

The Miami Herald reported that President Trump’s proposed 2019 budget slashes funding for the climate research budget at NOAA by 37 percent.

It also cuts the National Weather Service budget by six percent.

Of course it does. With apologies to Bob Dylan, we don’t need a weatherman to know which way this wind is blowing.

Why spend money icky things like trying to save Florida and other states from the ravages of climate change? It’s much easier to dismiss the science behind all that as junk when you’ve cut out most of the science.

What’s next? Blaming the rising sea levels already being felt in some coastal areas on a leaky faucet?

Maybe someone should have warned the president that cutting storm research like this is a bad idea because his prized Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach could be in the path of one of the monster storms like we had last summer.

Bring up this curious lack of awareness about the planet we occupy the next time your Republican friend turns red in the face and screams that the party is NOT anti-science.

Ask them to explain why spending $18 billion on a border wall in the name of security makes sense but combating the verifiable threat of climactic catastrophe is dismissed as wasteful.

This might be a good time to remind the president that he won Florida’s 29 electoral votes in 2016 by just 1.2 percent of nearly 10 million votes that were cast.

We know what can happen here when one of those big storms fires up and takes aim. We saw it last year and the odds are pretty good we’ll it again. Think of NOAA as our early-warning system, and that can literally save lives if a large-scale evacuation is needed.

Of course, the cuts still have to be approved by Congress and I would expected Florida’s representatives to put up a spirited fight. The proposed budget really speaks to the administration’s priorities, though – and apparently weather research and warnings don’t make the cut.

We’re supposed to believe illegal immigrants are roaming the streets in search of prey, but we can do without research on those big red blobs of Category 5 winds headed our way

In her blog on OceanConservancy.org, Addie Haughey, the associate director of government relations, called the cuts “shocking” and noted, “This budget abandons coastal states that are trying to prepare for a changing ocean and increased coastal risks to people and wildlife. If President Trump’s proposal goes through, it will impact hard-working marine mammal first responders that rescue dolphins and manatees.

“It will cut back potentially lifesaving tsunami warnings that alert all our coastal communities. It will impact the ability of coastal regions to seek and determine the best solutions to make them resilient in the face of a rapidly changing climate.”

Ah, if only dolphins and manatees could vote.

Joe Henderson: Public’s bill for Tampa Bay Rays stadium? How about zero?

The long-awaited announcement last Friday that the Tampa Bay Rays have chosen Tampa’s historic Ybor City as the place they’d prefer for a new stadium brought the inevitable question of how much the public should pay for the massive project.

I have an idea: How about nothing?

I am not against professional sports. I love baseball. I am a voter for the baseball Hall of Fame. While with the late, great Tampa Tribune, I covered the ups and downs of this area’s attempt to land a big-league baseball team. It took nearly two decades from concept to first pitch, while this area repeatedly got played by owners looking for sweeter deals from their own towns.

I covered the public fleecing known as Raymond James Stadium, and chronicled much of the pursuit that resulted in building what now is known as Amalie Arena.

It all taught me this: If there is a bad deal and taxpayers get stuck, don’t blame the team owners. Blame your elected officials.

The deal to build Raymond James Stadium for the Buccaneers was a wildly horrible deal for the taxpayers of Tampa and Hillsborough County, but that wasn’t the fault of the late Malcolm Glazer, who owned the Bucs at the time.

I always believed he finally signed a lease because he ran out of things to ask for. That’s not his fault.

St. Petersburg doesn’t get off the hook either. City fathers foolishly built what now is called Tropicana Field long before it had a baseball occupant because they were determined that Tampa would not get the team.

They were left with an eyesore at the far end of the Tampa Bay marketplace while taxpayers were handed the bill for a stadium that was passed without a referendum, and leaders had no leverage on a negotiating a lease.

After multiple failed attempts to lure an existing team or win the first round of expansion, the Devil Rays held all the cards when St. Petersburg was finally “awarded” a club.

That’s when all the warts at the Trop were exposed. I remember thinking “uh oh” when the second game the team ever played failed to sell out.

As seasons went by and the Rays continued to languish at the bottom of MLB’s attendance chart while TV ratings were strong, it was clear fans liked the Rays but were unwilling to make the drive through stifling traffic to catch a weeknight game.

Oh, and fun fact for those who say that won’t be different if a new stadium is built in Ybor (the geographic center of the market): The Lightning have sold out 133 consecutive hockey games (including playoffs) with 19,092 seats at Amalie Arena.

The Rays’ average attendance last year for 80 games at the Trop was 15,670. That was by far the worst in the majors and nearly 3,000 per game less than the next-lowest team, the Oakland A’s.

Do I really believe Rays owner Stu Sternberg will privately finance the whole stadium project?

No.

But he is going to have to do a lot better than his initial offer that amounted to about 18 percent of the estimated cost. After that, it will be time to turn to those in the business community who stand to benefit most. And don’t forget that all of MLB benefits by a healthy franchise here, so it ought to pay its share of the cost too. In 2017, MLB generated more than $10 billion.

Only then should public officials start thinking about ways to bridge the gap. If the gap turns out to be a gulf, oh well.

Officials must demand the Rays come into this deal with transparency and realism. If they are unwilling to do that, it tells us all we need to know.

Upset sports fans can always turn to the Lightning.

That is, if they can get a ticket.

Joe Henderson: April Griffin’s impact on Hillsborough schools has been immense

As she prepares to leave the Hillsborough County School Board after 12 often-tumultuous years when her term expires in November, April Griffin deserves to be remembered as one of the most impactful public servants ever in Hillsborough County.

That’s a bold statement, yes.

I stand by it though because it is true whether you liked her or not, and there are plenty of volunteers on sides. Most notably, she led the charge that ended with the ouster of rock star superintendent MaryEllen Elia a little more than three years ago.

It set off an emotional communitywide debate, and Griffin was the flashpoint for those who disagreed. Elia was the darling of civic, business and political leaders — including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. The vote to oust Elia was 4-3, but most of the opposition outrage was aimed at Griffin because she and Elia couldn’t get along.

Why? I think it’s because Griffin kept asking questions Elia didn’t believe she had to answer.

I was one of the few media members who supported Griffin and the school board insurgents against the popular Elia. I wrote numerous columns for the Tampa Tribune on the subject, sharing my opinion that Elia — a tremendously talented woman — had become autocratic and vindictive against those who dared oppose her.

For me, the crowning blow was the death of a special-needs child after an incident on a school bus. News of the death didn’t become public until several months later after the parents filed a lawsuit.

Elia said she didn’t release details of the death because there was no police report, but that sounded to me like an exercise in public relations. It doesn’t look good when children die. Among those speaking against Elia the night she was fired was the parent of another special-needs child. They never felt like Elia cared about them.

Elia supporters vowed revenge against Griffin at the ballot box, but they overlooked one thing.

Against a highly qualified opponent, Dipa Shah, Griffin was re-elected with 65 percent of the vote in a countywide election just two months before the action was taken against Elia — despite the fact the superintendent had a yard sign supporting Shah.

This result was after everyone knew she would try to get Elia fired. While she may not have been popular with the big-wigs, it looked like the regular folks had her back.

Griffin could be petty, like the time she let if slip over an open mic that Elia was full of cow droppings (figure it out). She could be cutting. Even now, she is accusing board member Melissa Snivley of being in cahoots with a Facebook page that has targeted her and board member Susan Valdes.

She wasn’t always the most diplomatic person either. That helped earn her and fellow board insurgents the nickname Mean Girls.

That is unfortunate. No one worked harder than Griffin and maybe part of the problem is that she didn’t take things at face value.

She asked hard questions. She didn’t play along to get along. She believed her job was to ensure all students got the best education possible, not just those ultrahigh achievers in advanced placement programs.

Something must be working.

Hillsborough’s graduation rate for 2017 set a county record at 82.9 percent — up nearly 10 percentage points from when Elia was forced out.

The change was even more dramatic at one-time problem high schools like Armwood (13 percent jump) and Chamberlain (12 percent).

That deserves to be part of April Griffin’s legacy as well. She is not solely responsible for that, of course, but she had a hand in crafting policies that made the improvement possible.

That’s what I mean about impact.

That’s also why I can this: Despite all the controversy, April Griffin will leave the board better than she found it.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons