This is, admittedly, still difficult to accept.
I will, for now at least, no longer be a journalist in Florida. Most probably don’t care, a few people might celebrate it, fewer still will miss me and I thank them dearly.
As of June 13, I’ll be joining the Trending and Features team at Hearst Connecticut Media Group.
I turned 36 last week. The last full third of my life has been in Tampa Bay. I became an adult here. I found my passion and career here and I am deeply invested in this community. I am, however, also quite concerned.
I am a bit frightened for the future of Tampa. It’s only the second place I’ve truly felt was home and want to see its prosperous future.
What’s wildest to me is that, in theory, a city led by a Democratic Mayor and entirely Democratic City Council — one would think — would run smoother than a well-dressed lane with a slick house shot at your favorite alley.
Instead, it’s quite f**ked.
It’s not a secret that there’s been a little ship jumping when it comes to political alliances in City Hall.
But the first thing Tampa needs to make peace with is the fact that it has two Police Chiefs. Mayor Jane Castor — in spirit — did not stop doing the job of the city’s top cop, she just added duties.
Even if she might not believe that herself, it needs to be understood that large swaths of the local community perceive it as such and optics matter too. The civil unrest of 2020 would’ve been a prime moment for Castor to show the city and the rest of the country that holding law enforcement to a higher standard and showing compassion to a beaten down, marginalized community don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
She was uniquely qualified to make that statement. Instead, she thickened slightly that thin blue line and all the photo ops with all the protesters in all the world wouldn’t make up for the physical and psychological damage suffered at the hands of those sworn to serve and protect.
That was only exacerbated by the hiring of a woman who received barely a slap on the wrist for an offense that would saddle others in a lower caste with a felony and prison time as the Chief of Police.
That’s not even touching on the fact that two programs operating under Castor’s watch led to the city being investigated by the Department of Justice for potential civil rights violations.
Those decisions and more have only added to the conspiracy theories that the Mayor is out to get dissenting City Council members.
Sure, there might not be much love lost at times. But the ire for Castor has boiled over and washed away even the slightest semblance of conviction and common sense in too, too many people.
And residents have become so blinded by hatred that cognitive dissonance has quickly and furiously gotten a shocking number of community members to reject an independent investigation where 20 people corroborated abhorrent behavior by Orlando Gudes — behavior you could follow his entire career — and victim-shamed a Black woman who struggled with the courage to come forward because of this exact reaction.
The sickness that inspires me is more toxic than the water Bill Carlson thinks we’re going to be drinking.
Gudes needs to go. He’s hurting his community, his city and the sanctity of the Democratic process.
The media, myself included, is complicit in establishing and lending credibility to that — at first. But when presented with a series of facts and timeline that challenged a growing narrative with an air of retaliation, many local media institutions refused to correct the record.
That was irresponsible. We all failed on that and must now do our best to correct the record.
What doesn’t help are conspiracy theories coming from the dais. Charlie Miranda has been great for this city, but his obtuse slights directed at other members of Council in rambling, winding monologues suck any substance from his statements.
And falling to the level of Carlson calling out the former Mayor and accusing him of being “friendless” and sitting in his underwear while tweeting about City Council members is beneath us all.
The best thing Joe Citro has done this year is tell Carlson to take his accusations of corruption to the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement instead of ranting on a dais or ambushing a press conference.
Citro is also one of only two Council members to call for Gudes to resign in an (unfortunately) unexpectedly bold move. He’s capable of more and should show it.
So should Guido Maniscalco. He’s become City Council’s Silent Bob, often saying the least, if anything at all, until releasing a personal and profound deluge of anecdotes just at the close of an issue’s second act.
He’s a leader on the Council and cannot continue to take the dangerous path of playing it safe.
Luis Viera, calling for Gudes to accept responsibility, has avoided trouble and brought a good-natured, folksy vibe to the Council. But it’s time to get more aggressive all around and in the right ways.
New Council member Lynn Hurtak has an opportunity to herald change.
The City Council needs more autonomy and oversight of the Mayor’s Office and vice versa. Tampa needs the proper checks and balances between bodies to ensure stability and pushback against all the noise that clouds the headlines lately.
And we in the media need to get more serious about our mission for accountability and cut narrative-focused agendas at the expense of necessary facts. We must hold ourselves accountable too.
We are, after all, professionals. It’s time to drop the bs and start acting like it.