Dear Mayor Henderson,
Welcome. Let me be the first weekly news columnist to congratulate you on your new position. I believe you will do your best to lead our city, stumbling as it may be at times, into the 21st century. I walked to your home to get an election night photo of you, and the sounds of jubilation coming from the mayoral residence filled me with hope. I walked in and your band was out back, playing under twinkly lights. Later, your wife - Gulfport’s first lady, some called her – belted out Black Sabbath. You greeted your new position wearing a guayabera shirt and a knit flat cap, a marriage of Cuban and Irish, a theme continued in your kitchen with Tullamore Dew and a spread of Cuban sandwiches from Sammy’s Citgo.
A new day in Gulfport indeed.
So let’s forget about who voted for you and who didn’t. You must lead them all. Me? I stand with you, sir.
You’re welcome. Now, here’s a little something you can do for me.
You can strap them on when it comes to 49th Street and east Gulfport. We’ve heard concerns from folks that as the Ward Four representative, you didn’t do much for people who have a horrible quality of life because they live near St. Petersburg’s least-sought-after neighborhoods. I see the failing as a larger one, stemming from a long-ago committee with great plans for pretty parks and not much else. I see the failing as a council that’s apathetic towards its least-active voting precinct. It’s not just you, Mayor – I blame the entire council. Y’all spend hours talking about Scout Hall, both its remodeling and current hatred issues, and workshop after workshop discussing RVs and who gets to serve on which board, but no time – not a single second – talking about residents who find bullets in their yard and feel scared to go outside at night.
49th Street feels like a war zone. We have bulletproof glass at the Gabber offices, and that’s not because someone might break a window and steal everything. It’s because someone has. The coin laundry next door? If you leave your keys in you car while you run inside to switch your wash over to the dryer, your car will disappear. Mid Peninsula seafood, on the St. Pete side, has great snapper, yes, but they also have a nighttime security guard. The Save-a-Lot does as well. People have tried to sell me pills while I was waiting in line one of the liquor stores there, and someone tried to sell me pot “or whatever” outside the gas station on 49th and Gulfport Boulevard.
Thus far, the city’s pretty much official response has been to throw its hands in the air and say, “Well, what can you do? It’s half Gulfport, half St. Petersburg” and gone on to talk about the Blues Festival and the new trolley landmark. Short of surveillance cameras and licensing landlords to keep them from becoming slumlords (both of which I support), there is, in fact, not much Gulfport can do, except stand up to St. Petersburg. You know, call them to task, not only for gross disservice to their own residents, but criminally apathetic inaction along the 49th Street corridor.
Stanislaw Lec said “The weakest link in a chain is the strongest because it can break it” and I say that our city’s future hinges on what we do now about 49th Street.
We need a leader who will take on St. Petersburg. They are Goliath; we need David.
Are you up for the challenge, Mayor?