Highs And Lows Across Tampa Bay And Florida | Editorial

This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.

Not about you. The Academy Award for Self-Importance goes to Joseph Citro. The Tampa City Council member turned the confirmation process for Tampa’s new police chief into a low-budget informercial touting his alleged clout. First Citro claimed that Mary O’Connor, Castor’s choice, was not his first pick. “I wanted Butch Delgado,” he said, referring to the interim chief. On Thursday, Citro acceded, giving O’Connor one of the four votes she needed. But not before reminding everyone (again) that he should’ve been in the loop as chairman of the council’s public safety committee. News flash: Nobody cares. That committee is a cog in the city bureaucracy. It doesn’t run the police department any more than the public works committee runs the sewer plant. Its last piece of business included accepting a 5-year-old horse and a handful of Amazon gift cards as donations to first responders. If Citro thinks that qualifies for him being on O’Connor’s speed dial — well, okay. But wouldn’t his constituents have been better served had the council member probed O’Connor publicly on her vision of policing and plans for the department, especially in the wake of the protests in Tampa after the death of George Floyd?

Pot v. kettle. Miami Republican state Sen. Ileana Garcia faced national criticism last week by declaring that “LGBT is not a permanent thing” while debating the Legislature’s so-called “don’t say gay” bill. The measure, which Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign, would prohibit lessons in kindergarten through third grade about sexual orientation, or in other grades if not deemed age-appropriate. The backlash caused Garcia to apologize Thursday. Sort of. Well — not really. During debate on the Senate floor, Garcia had said: “I want to start off by delineating exactly what LGBT is — and by the way, gay is not a permanent thing. LGBT is not a permanent thing.” Her remarks drew criticism from LGBTQ advocates and Democrats across the country. In a statement Thursday, Garcia did not specify which comments she was apologizing for. “My comments in no way were intended to generalize,” she claimed, when indeed they did exactly that. And Garcia said she came forward because “I want to apologize to anyone I offended by my comments,” which apparently don’t include herself. This didn’t-mean-it defense has become the go-to for public officials who say offensive things to advance offensive causes. And now Garcia is playing the victim. “I’m aware that there are those who will use my words to advance a partisan agenda,” she said. Like the ones she used on the Senate floor.

Another pedestrian tragedy. There was another face, another name and another family tragedy behind another pedestrian death in the Tampa Bay area. Wynand “Henk” Kruining was focused on getting his three kids to succeed in school and go on to college. But the 56-year-old Tampa man won’t see his oldest daughter Dalena graduate from Blake High School in May. Kruining was struck by a driver and killed shortly after sunset Feb. 1 as he was walking his Labrador, Kona, close to his Egypt Lake home. The man who hit him, Oscar Gonzalez, was driving a 2015 Genesis between 48 mph and 53 mph, according to a search warrant affidavit filed Feb. 14 by the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office. That’s about double the posted speed limit for the area. Gonzalez, 23, also lives in the neighborhood. He was booked on a charge of vehicular homicide, and released after posting bail early Wednesday. Thanks to Kruining letting go of the leash, Kona wasn’t hurt. But this is a heartbreaking story in every other way. As of Wednesday morning, Kruining was one of 18 pedestrians and bicyclists killed in Hillsborough County during 2022, according to law enforcement data. What will it take for motorists to slow down? For governments to improve intersections, lighting and traffic enforcement? The crash has devastated Kruining’s family, financially and emotionally. A GoFundMe account in the Kruining name had raised $5,970 as of midday Friday. Every dollar here counts.

Save the manatees. And finally, a change of seasons could bring hope to the manatees. Wildlife officials who have scrambled to keep manatees from starving to death this winter hope that Florida’s East Coast has seen its last cold snap of the year, bringing an end to the latest surge in the continuing die-off. As of March 11, at least 420 manatees had been found dead in Florida, according to the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That was short of last year’s total through the same date, 456, but nearly double the 5-year average for the time period. As the Tampa Bay TimesZachary T. Sampson reported, the counts cover all causes of death, not just starvation, which has driven the unprecedented die-off since late 2020. But the epicenter of the crisis is in the Indian River Lagoon, where manatees gather every winter to shelter from the cold, and where algae blooms fed by pollution have killed off seagrasses in the area, depriving manatees of their main food source. Rising water temperatures, though, should move these manatees from their winter homes and toward places more abundant with seagrass. Authorities said an emergency feeding program to save starving manatees may wind down before resuming again next year. Restoring this habitat will be a long-term effort. But the warmer weather is good news, for now, nonetheless.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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