Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Will St. Pete taxpayers resume funding a revolutionary communist party?

If the three candidates backed by Mayor Rick Baker, his financial backers and the newspaper win next Tuesdays city election the city will be set to once again provide taxpayer support for this unique government sponsored movement. I am referring to the African People's Socialist Party and its various offshoots.

Candidate Gershom Falkner was specifically asked if he would support funding this group and said that he was not opposed to this.

The current council has blocked Baker’s attempts to reopen the city checkbook to his Marxist comrades. Support has been limited to staff assistance and very successful private fund raising. When council was asked to vote on a specific subsidy members got cold feet. The city was about to win a lawsuit from the TyRon Lewis family so naturally the Mayor asked council to offer a generous cash settlement. When this was denied the Uhurus staged a rally that turned into a riot. The mayor rewarded this conduct by arranging for private donations to the family.

Two years ago the city administration was back asking council to provide city land for a parking lot that was required for the Uhuru House to operate. Rene Flowers killed this by asking council to keep these vacant lots for future affordable housing. She described her move as dropping a “monkey wrench” into the city plans. When her term ends the balance will shift to the mayor on this issue. This meeting was not covered by the local media. During the debate former councilman Jay Lacita asked if the city had been providing these lots on the south side of 18th Ave. as a free parking lot to this group for many years. Apparently the city had quietly waived parking requirements for decades but could not get away with this now that the group was applying for building permits for a major building renovation.
Recently the local paper wrote a story about the renovation which proceeded without the city parking lot. Instead of thanking the city for giving them the VIP treatment the group actually complained about having to meet city building requirements.

After the ’96 riots the city found some backbone and refused to meet with the Uhurus. An editorial called them a hate group. HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros told the city to include this group and with the promise of $20 million in disaster relief funds he got his way. For a very brief time the Uhurus were leading a coalition of mainstream neighborhood groups. By the time residents were forced out of this coalition the city had given this group a prominent role in planning for south St. Pete.

Rick Baker had enormous influence from behind the scenes: Campaign manager to the mayor, leader of the Chamber of Commerce and part of the newspaper's law firm. When he personally asked council for a $100,000 gift so they could start an “African Market” the money came freely. The market had a great idea but without community support it wilted with the summer heat.

Other assistance included a computer lab that was to be part of one of Gov. Jeb Bush’s new charter schools. The school board was less than enthusiastic on this one and it never materialized.

A grant for a gym was diverted from the Community Development Block Grant that was intended to help the poor. This TyRon Lewis gym was not supported by the neighborhood so the city changed a requirement that it serve residents. Embarrassment over the center being named to honor a drug dealer did not stop council from handing them your tax money.

I mention the political ideology of this group only because it seems an unusual pairing with the supposedly conservative Republican mayor who has led the local campaigns for both Bush brothers. If they could demonstrate a public benefit for these expenditures I would defend them despite their unpopular views. This waste of scarce public money adds insult to the injury of their incitement of violence. I don’t agree with them but I respect their right to promote their views in a free market of ideas.

Where they loose me is with their close connection to throwing rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails at police, at law abiding residents and at businesses. Were they to renounce violence they could use their influence to help bring criminals into law abiding society and lift the curse of violent crime that holds the southside down.

What will next Tuesday’s elections bring? What will you do about this? You can ask the candidates where they stand on this issue, and tell them where you stand. You can support southside residents who want to be free of Uhuru violence. Take our poll at the top of the column on the right.

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