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2 southwest Florida cities among nation’s fastest-growing

Two southwest Florida cities were among the nation’s fastest-growing last year.

The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday said Bonita Springs and Fort Myers respectively had the 8th and 15th fastest growth rates in the nation.

Both cities are located in the Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro areas, and both had growth rates just under 5 percent.

In pure numbers, the city of Jacksonville and the city of Miami were among the nation’s leaders in population gains from July 2015 to July 2016.

The city of Jacksonville increased by almost 13,500 people, and the city of Miami increased by almost 13,000 people.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Dr. Beach names Florida’s Siesta Beach best beach in U.S.

The sand on Siesta Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast is as fine as powdered sugar, a pure, sparkling white and soft as a kitten’s fur – all because it’s comprised of 99 percent pure crushed quartz.

For that reason, and many others, it was selected this year as the best beach in America by a professor who’s made a career ranking and studying beaches around the United States.

“The sand is outstanding,” said Stephen Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, a professor at Miami’s Florida International University. “Every time I go there, I’ve got to take a bag home with me. It’s almost sacrilegious to walk on it with shoes on.”

Other beaches that made the list this year, in order of ranking, are: Kapalua Bay Beach in Maui, Hawaii; Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach on the Outer Banks of North Carolina; Grayton Beach State Park on the Florida Panhandle; Coopers Beach in Southampton, New York; Coast Guard Beach on Cape Cod in Massachusetts; Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida; Hapuna Beach State Park, Big Island, Hawaii; Coronado Beach in San Diego, California; and Beachwalker Park on Kiawah Island, South Carolina.

On a recent workday, Siesta Beach was packed with people, even though it wasn’t particularly sunny. The turquoise water was still gorgeous, the sand still fine. The beach is about 200-300 feet (60-90 meters) wide in some places, which means people can stretch out and not feel crowded. The beach was last year’s runner-up and one of three in Florida on this year’s top 10 list.

“It’s nice and clean, that’s what I look for,” said Jamie Gaskin, a 59-year-old retiree from Lakeland, Florida, who was scoping out the beach for a family Memorial Day party. She especially liked the two-story pavilion, which boasts a snack bar and restrooms. It’s only two years old and even offers sweet crepes for breakfast and tapas dishes in the early evening.

“There’s plenty of tables to barbecue and to hang out. And the restrooms were nice and clean. I’d definitely recommend this,” she said.

Siesta Beach is on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, and is located just southwest of downtown Sarasota. The water is placid on most days – Leatherman says you can measure the waves “in inches” – and is shallow and safe for swimming, with no sharp drop-offs. Added bonuses include lots of parking, a trolley service to and from the island’s adorable downtown area and plenty of lifeguards. The beach also has natural dunes, which is a bit rare for Florida, and the fine sand is excellent for building sand castles.

“I look for kind of a balance between nature and a developed environment,” said Leatherman, who lives on the other side of the state, closer to Miami Beach. “Fourteen million people go to Miami Beach every year. There’s just too many people there. I think a lot of people are looking for more of a getaway.”

Leatherman, who is director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University, uses about 50 criteria to assess and rank beaches across the country. In recent years, he has given extra points to beaches that prohibit smoking, saying cigarette butts are not only environmentally damaging, but can ruin the experience for beach-goers. Safety and environmental management are other major factors, he said.

He’s rated beaches since 1991.

The Maui beach that came in at No. 2 on the list, Kapalua Bay Beach, is smaller than Siesta Beach. It’s crescent-shaped and flanked by palm trees. Unlike lots of Hawaii beaches, there aren’t many waves at Kapalua, he said, making it perfect for safe swimming.

“The coral reefs almost go right to the beach. There are tropical fish swimming all around.”

The third beach on the list, Ocracoke, is unique in both history and location. Leatherman points out that it was once the pirate Blackbeard’s old haunt. And it’s only accessible by a state ferry.

“The only negative I have, it seems like too many cars,” he said. “I wish they would turn car ferries to pedestrian ferries.”

Leatherman says he tries to select locations that are a bit off the beaten path, yet immensely rewarding once visitors arrive. Siesta Beach, he points out, is an outstanding place to watch the sun dip below the Gulf horizon – one more reason why it made the top of this year’s list.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Craig Waters: Florida’s courts lead in use of social media

Long seen as the quietest branch of state government, Florida’s state courts have emerged in the last year as a national leader in social media use.

Craig Waters
Waters during the 2000 election challenge. (Wikimedia)

In fact, we are leading the nation with 20 out of 26 court divisions using Twitter to reach the public right now. That’s an astounding number.

In a report sent this week to Florida’s Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, our staff detailed the first year’s work in a state court communications plan adopted by the Florida Supreme Court in December 2015.

Labarga sent the plan for implementation to a professional association of Florida court staff called the Florida Court Public Information Officers, or FCPIO. I am the group’s founder and its current executive director.

The goal is simple. It’s not enough that courts do justice. They also must make sure people see justice being done.

It was a mission we quickly accepted. Originally set up by a post-9/11 crisis management plan in 2002, FCPIO has evolved into a group of court communications professionals unique in the nation.

No other state has anything approaching it – though many states now are studying FCPIO and the plan it is carrying out for Florida’s judiciary.

FCPIO incorporated itself as a federally recognized nonprofit in early 2007, right at the time events in Silicon Valley began shaking up the communications landscape. That was only a year after Twitter opened its doors and three years after the founding of Facebook.

But FCPIO also brings talent to the table. With representatives in every Florida state court, the group has been led by several media-skilled court officers that saw the need for statewide education and coordination with an emphasis on openness.

I am a lawyer and former Gannett newspaper reporter who has worked for the Florida Supreme Court for 30 years and started its public information office, its gavel-to-gavel oral argument broadcasts, and its website in the 1990s.

FCPIO’s current president, Eunice Sigler of the Miami courts, is a former Miami Herald reporter and winner of a Pulitzer Prize for team coverage of the Elian Gonzalez immigration case.

The report on implementing the plan addresses other issues that include:

Websites: Eighteen of Florida’s 20 circuit courts and all of the district courts of appeal currently are working toward redesigns of their websites because they are the judiciary’s most important communications tool.

Social media: The Florida state courts continue to debate the pros and cons of social media because of the strict ethical limits they must shoulder. While Twitter is now broadly used, Facebook has been more controversial – and only a minority of the state courts currently use it. However, FCPIO is studying ways to address concerns and identify best practices employed by courts now using Facebook.

Podcasts: Two courts in Orlando and Miami currently are using podcasts to communicate with the public, and the Florida Supreme Court soon will start its own podcasting program.

Media Relations: FCPIO will continue to educate courts personnel and judges in the methods needed to work in a cooperative and respectful way with news media. And Twitter has become an important tool for getting word out to the press and the public about breaking news.

Community outreach: Court outreach programs such as courthouse tours for schoolchildren, citizen forums, and public education programs remain important parts of the courts’ mission. They include outreach to elected officials, town hall meetings for residents, and innovative uses of Twitter to reach out to student groups and others.

Internal communications: Proper communications with internal court staff remain important so that everyone understands the overall mission, the need to speak with a unified voice, and the ways to address problems when they arise. One important example is crisis communications with staff during hurricanes or other emergencies.

The Florida state courts’ stress on good communications rests on a near-legendary history. It’s part of a longstanding commitment to transparency that began with Florida letting cameras into the courts in the 1970s.

It continues today thanks to several visionary judges leading the state system over the last half century. And despite doom-saying elsewhere in the nation, Florida’s courts really have had a very positive experience.

In other words: Openness works.


Attorney Craig Waters has been the public information officer and communications director for the Florida Supreme Court in Tallahassee since June 1996. He is best known as the public spokesman for the Court during the 2000 presidential election controversy, when he frequently appeared on worldwide newscasts announcing rulings in lawsuits over Florida’s decisive vote in the election.

Administrative judge says 2 should get medical pot license

An administrative ruling has paved the way for at least one more medical marijuana distributing organization in Florida.

Division of Administrative Hearings Judge John Van Landingham ruled on Tuesday that Plants of Ruskin and Tornello Landscape/3 Boys Farm are equally qualified to receive licenses, but if the state’s Department of Health would approve only one, then it should go to Tornello/3 Boys.

Department of Health spokesman Brad Dalton said they are reviewing the order and in the process of determining their next steps. There are currently seven distributing organizations.

This was the last of the administrative challenges since the five original licenses were decided in December of 2015. Two additional were awarded last year due to either settlements or an administrative ruling.

Hackers may have names of thousands of Florida gun owners

Officials say hackers may have obtained the names of more than 16,000 people who have Florida concealed weapon permits.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced Monday they had discovered a data breach of the online payment system that processes payments for applications and permits.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has ordered a review of the department’s cybersecurity measures. State law enforcement is investigating the breach, which authorities suspect originated from overseas.

The agency stated that no financial information was obtained.

The department also warned that the breach may have revealed the social security numbers of 469 customers. The agency plans on offering free credit protection for one year to these individuals.

The Florida Legislature in 2006 passed a law that made the names of concealed weapon permit holders confidential

Florence Snyder: In memory of Roxcy Bolton, #EndTheBacklog

In 1960s Dade County, men who were privileged to be newspaper columnists could — and did — mock “women’s libbers” like Roxcy Bolton in the pages of the Miami Herald. Department stores could — and did — have fancy private dining rooms open only to men. Banks could — and did — deny credit cards and loans to women who did not have a husband or father willing to co-sign. If police and prosecutors thought about rape at all, they thought of it as a property crime against the man to whom the victim “belonged.”

That’s just how it was, and how it might still be, but for Bolton, who died last week in Coral Gables at age 90.

Bolton was Florida’s First Feminist and a one-woman consciousness-raising group. She managed to stay happily married to her lawyer husband and raised four children while raising hell about indignities and injustices that others ignored. In a land before drive-thru burger joints, Bolton cooked up food for the family and her special firebrand of advocacy in the kitchen that doubled as her Situation Room.

Bolton outlasted the Herald guy who dismissed her as a “doll” with “silly ideas.” It took three Herald reporters to catalogue her long list of lifetime achievements in an obituary that made the front page.

Before Bolton, Florida had no battered women’s shelters, and there was no rape crisis center in the entire country. After years of personally assisting women in distress, Bolton founded Women in Distress, which continues to operate in Broward County. The rape crisis center she founded at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital was christened in 1993 as the Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center, and has treated thousands of victims spanning an age range from two weeks to 98 years.

Bolton’s passing reminds us that Florida continues to have a disgraceful backlog of untested rape kits. It would be a fitting memorial and tribute, at long last, to #EndTheBacklog.

Fans thankful to see ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ one final time

Lions, tigers and clowns, no more. Oh my. It’s curtains for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

This weekend is the final chance for fans to see death-defying acrobats, exotic animals and flashy costumes as the circus ends its 146-year reign as one of the world’s biggest big tops.

Ringling’s parent company, Feld Entertainment, announced in January that it would take its final bow this year. On Saturday afternoon, under cloudy skies, fans streamed into the Nassau Coliseum in suburban New York to pay their last respects to the iconic show.

“I’m becoming an adult today,” said 46-year-old Heather Greenberg, of New York City. “I can’t go to the circus with my daddy anymore.”

Greenberg and her parents, and her three children, along with her sister and extended family — 12 in all — clowned around, laughing and joking, as they walked into the show.

Her sister, Dawn Mirowitz, 42, of Dix Hills, New York, sobered as she pondered a future without the Ringling Brothers circus.

“We’ll never get a chance to take our grandchildren to the circus,” she said.

Feld executives say declining attendance combined with high operating costs are among reasons for closing.

Ringling had two touring circuses this season, one ending its run earlier this month in Providence, Rhode Island.

The final shows of what was long promoted as “The Greatest Show on Earth” are being staged at the Nassau Coliseum in suburban New York. There are three scheduled shows Saturday and three on Sunday. For those who can’t make it, the final circus show on Sunday night will be streamed live on Facebook Live and on the circus’ website.

Clarissa Williams, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mom from West Hempstead, New York, was taking her 8-year-old daughter, Nylah, to the show.

“I’m thankful we get to see it before it leaves,” she said. “I pray that when they end, they take the animals and put them in a safe, sacred place.”

A spokesman for the circus says homes have been found for the animals that were owned by Ringling, including the tigers, horses and camels.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

Blake Dowling: Who knows what innovation will bring next?

Have you checked out the latest version of the digital personal assistant, Alexa, that is specially designed for Senior Citizens? It’s called Alexa Silver.

It’s super loud and you can only order it by check.

It also has an “uh huh” function that it says when you are telling rambling stories.

Fake news alert, it’s actually from an SNL skit. Awesome to see Lorne Michaels and his team still cranking out gold after all these years, watch it here. (Shoutout to Normie for sharing this with me.)

Speaking of new ideas and innovation, in business and politics, the past decade has been piled with new ways of doing things. How we campaign, work, lobby, organize, motivate, influence all has a digital twist to it.

So many devices; all working together seamlessly, most days.

I now have reached device overload with my tech: Desktop PC (multiple monitors), iPad, 2-in-1 tablet/laptop, and phone. Plus keyboard, speaker, and lots and lots of wires.

The functionality and mobility of all of this makes me extremely productive (on a good day) but, man, I could use some innovation in lowering my device count.

(from left, Denise Bilbow, Mrs. Dowling, some yahoo, and Leon County Commissioner Kristen Dozier)

Speaking of innovation, I had an opportunity this week to judge a regional SharkTank-like competition in North Florida. The competition is called the Innovation Park Tech Grant Program,

Applicants brought amazing ideas to the table regarding weather forecasting, video production, engine management and health care.

The local community really rallied around the event and the everyone got a chance to engage with the innovators before the actual judging began. This specific program has been around since 2005 and they have given out over $400,000 in grants to date benefiting the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Leon County.

I first met the Leon County Research & Development Authority when I spoke to one of their events on artificial intelligence.

They read one of my columns on this badass, award-winning political website called, FloridaPolitics.com (perhaps you have heard of it?)

When they mentioned the competition and asked me to judge, I agreed as they said the magic words: “Free beer.”

In all seriousness, though, it was an honor to review these companies (check them out here).

I asked the Director of Programs and Communications about her thoughts on the event; she said: “The Innovation Park TechGrant Program is open to all Leon County residents and offers a change to help local startups and early stage companies transform their ideas and hard work into commercialized products.  Funding is one of the largest battles these companies face and we enjoy helping companies in our community move forward.”

Pretty cool.

Where would we be without the innovators of today and yesterday, no Lobby Tools, no iPad, no Alexa Silver, no cloud, no WatchESPN app on my phone?

The world has certainly changed since I kicked off my career in the rock ‘n’ roll business — back in the Dark Ages of the pre-smartphone world of 1998.

Who knows what this local and global community of innovators will bring us next.

I can’t wait to find out, and hopefully, I won’t need the Alexa Silver any time soon.

Enjoy the weekend.

___

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

What Twitter’s privacy changes mean for you

Twitter’s new privacy policy suggests ambitions of becoming more like Facebook — more tracking of users and more targeting of ads to rake in more money.

Twitter recently reported its first quarterly revenue decline since going public. That should give you some clues about the reasons behind the policy changes, which take effect June 18.

WHAT’S CHANGING?

Twitter was already tracking users. For example, if you visited a webpage that had an embedded tweet or a button to share something on Twitter, you could be tracked and targeted.

With the changes, Twitter expands the pool of people it can track and lets the company collect more data about those people when they are visiting sites around the web, said Jules Polonetsky, CEO of the Future of Privacy Forum, an industry-backed think tank in Washington.

For example, the company will now keep data about users’ web activities for 30 days instead of 10, which allows it to create more comprehensive profiles of people.

In addition, Twitter will no longer honor the “Do Not Track” option that let people say no to being tracked by the likes of ad and social networks. Many such networks no longer honor that option anyway. Polonetsky said Twitter had been “one of the rare prominent brands that respected Do Not Track.”

WHY IS TWITTER DOING THIS?

The short answer is money. A longer answer? Targeted ads that are tailored to your whims and tastes are more lucrative than generic ones. That’s the selling point of online advertising, and the reason why companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter offer their services for free. The implied understanding is that they will make money off you by showing you ads.

Research firm eMarketer expects worldwide digital ad spending to hit $224 billion this year. Google and Facebook will command a combined $110 billion of this. Twitter, though, is estimated to get just $2.3 billion, or about 1 percent. Twitter’s investors are hungry for a larger slice of the pie.

IS THIS BAD FOR YOU?

That depends on whom you ask. Twitter, of course, is giving the impression that it’s a good thing, or at least not something many users will care about. In a pop-up notification telling users of the change, Twitter chirps that you will “soon start to see more relevant Tweets and ads based on your visits to sites with Twitter content.” It says that the tailored ads you already see will improve and that “we’ve given you even more control” over your data.

Your next option is to click a highlighted “sounds good” box, or choose “review settings,” which appears in less prominent type underneath. Sounds good? Not to privacy advocates.

“Twitter’s announcement is bad news for online privacy. The company dropped Do Not Track and gave advertisers access to more user data,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center. “Also, all of the settings now default to disclosure, which means users have to go in and change their privacy settings.”

YOUR OPTIONS

If you are in the U.S., move to Europe. Besides achieving your dreams of finally living in a tiny flat in Paris with a stray cat named Gaston and a mustached baker named Olivier, you will also have stronger online privacy protections.

Twitter will store data about your web activities for 30 days now instead of 10, but it won’t do this for users in the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), because it’s prohibited.

Barring that, go to http://twitter.com/personalization on a browser; from an app, click the settings wheel from your profile, then choose “Settings” and “Privacy and safety.” You can go through the permissions piece by piece and decide, for example, whether to turn off personalize ads (but still get non-targeted ads).

Or, you can disable all, prompting a warning that “Turning this off may make the Tweets and ads you see less relevant.”

Is that what you really want? Click “Yes, I’m sure” and that’s that.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

The last days of the Ringling Bros. circus

An elephant stretches its trunk through a window to soothe a sick child. A woman gives birth and three months later is back performing on the high wire. A handler of big cats weeps as the beasts lope out of the ring for the last time.

These stories could come only from circus performers, and in particular one famous circus, the one immortalized as “The Greatest Show on Earth”: the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which is hanging its hat for the last time this weekend.

While the show goes on in other circuses around the world, Ringling is special. The size, the spectacle and the history – stretching back to P.T. Barnum and his traveling museum in the 1800s – set it apart.

One of Ringling’s two traveling circuses is scheduled to perform its final show Sunday in New York. The other closed this month, in Providence, Rhode Island, and with it, the end to a way of life few others have experienced. The Associated Press was allowed to observe it extensively.

Ringling is the last circus anywhere to travel by train, and while living on a train can be tough, the accommodations are considered a benefit that other circuses don’t offer. Perks include the “Pie Car,” the mile-long train’s dining operation, as well as a circus nursery and school for the many children whose parents make the circus what it is.

Some observations from the home the performers leave behind, from the unit’s last circus baptism, their final times goofing around on “Clown Alley,” and other moments the world will never see again:

THE BOSS CLOWN

One of Sandor Eke‘s earliest memories is of an elephant comforting him, stretching its trunk through his trailer window, while he lay recovering from illness.

Eke’s Hungarian parents were performing at a circus in Sweden, and Eke was just a toddler. A few years later, he’d be a circus performer himself, and aspiring to come to America to join Ringling.

He got his wish 20 years ago, as an acrobat. Five years later, his colleagues told him he was funny and would make a good clown.

Now, at age 41, he’s the Boss Clown, leader of the clowns on the unit. He’s also dad to 2-year-old Michael, and they are enjoying the waning days here together.

“You have your own zoo. You can pet an elephant; you can play with the baby tigers,” Eke says. “You have your own clowns. Everybody loves you. A circus is a very big family.”

Someday, he plans to teach his son juggling and other circus skills.

Even so, Eke knows Michael may never join the circus.

Eke’s wife, a former circus aerialist, has already established their new home in Las Vegas. When the circus closes, Eke hopes to get a job as a “flair” bartender there, doing tricks like juggling bottles.

He wonders how life will change.

“My normal life is this. My normal life is going on the train, going every week to a different city,” Eke says. “It’s crazy how much I love circus.”

Knowing it’s coming to an end has been difficult for his fellow performers and crew, and Eke been spending his time trying to make his circus family laugh.

“I don’t stop until they smile,” he says. “And I do everything. I don’t care if I have to dive into a trash can. That’s how I want to be remembered. And that’s how I want to remember myself. I’m going to go and cry. But I’m going to be happy.”

SEND OUT THE CLOWNS

Ivan Vargas likes to say his parents fell in love with the air.

He is sixth-generation circus. His mother performed on the high wire when they met, his father on the trapeze.

Vargas was born between two Ringling Bros. shows in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1990. His father managed to perform in the early show, then made it across the street to the hospital – in costume – for his son’s birth.

Vargas is part of Clown Alley. It’s not just a place. In one sense, it’s the private area backstage where clowns get ready to perform. But it’s also how the clowns refer to themselves, a mini-fraternity within the circus, and a microcosm of it.

There’s Brian Wright, a circus superfan, of sorts. He was 4 years old when he saw his first Ringling show, and he knew that’s what he wanted to do.

The Brooklyn, New York, native auditioned three times before finally landing a job as a clown. Now he keeps a book he likes to call the “Clown Bible,” which, after four years at Ringling, is now filled with memories, thoughts and jokes he collects when he meets a former clown.

And there are Nick Lambert and Stephen Craig, neither of whom gave a thought to joining the circus until they were out of college. They ended up here because of their love of acting.

Lambert has a plan for his last hours on the circus train, before he heads back to his hometown of Albion, Illinois.

The morning after the last performance, he’ll sit in his compartment on the train and open up a cabinet. There, clowns from years past have written their names, shows and years they performed with Ringling.

“I’ll get to add my name to the door,” he says. “I’m the last one in this room before it is all gone.”

RESTRICTED BY THE LIFE

Quarters on the circus train can be tight. Some cabins are so small, you can touch opposite walls with outstretched arms. Many travelers are stuck in their rooms while the train is moving because the only exit is to the outside.

Take Jeannie Hamilton. She has been with the circus 12 years, most recently as manager of concessions.

While people talk about running away with the circus as a way to break free, Hamilton said she sometimes felt constrained – either stuck at the arena or stuck on the train.

The train moves much slower than an Amtrak, or even a Honda. Its final run traveled a circuitous route from Hartford, Connecticut, through Springfield and Worcester, Massachusetts, to Providence, Rhode Island.

The trip took half a day. By car, the 65-mile distance could be covered in less than two hours. The train cars are, for the most part, being sold, and many have already been auctioned.

So, Hamilton decided to spend that last trip soaking it all in.

“Anytime the train was moving, I was on the vestibule,” she said, referring to the small standing area between train cars. “Now that it’s coming to an end, I was trying to enjoy every minute of it.”

Hamilton would smile, wave and take pictures as she passed by people who had come out to say their final goodbyes to the Ringling train, yell “thank you” and applaud.

“Got a lump in my throat,” Hamilton says, “every time I saw them.”

A CIRCUS BAPTISM

Behind Clown Alley, in the depths of the arena, a small group of performers and crew hastily assembles for a baptism.

Six-year-old Eddie Strickland is led in by his father, Jimmie, who has been with the circus for 20-some years.

The Rev. Jerry Hogan, of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Circus and Traveling Shows Ministry, is ready in his vestments, made by the costume department from old elephant blankets and decorated with sequined clown faces, crosses and animal prints.

Heavy equipment rolls by, and people walk through on their way to the bathroom, some pausing for a bit to watch.

Father Jerry, as he is known, blesses water taken from the tap a few moments ago, then pours some on Eddie’s head.

“Eddie, you’re going to be famous. This is the last baptism celebration on Ringling’s show in 146 years,” he tells the boy.

Father Jerry has been a mainstay for the circus family, marrying many of them in happy times and ministering to them through tragedy.

“I just wanted it to be done by Father Jerry,” Strickland says. “I’ve known him for a long time, and I’m happy.”

BIRTH ON A WIRE (OR CLOSE TO IT)

Being a circus performer takes commitment, discipline and athleticism, qualities Anna Lebedeva exhibits when she balances on the high wire with her husband, Mustafa Danguir.

She executes her tricks so effortlessly, it’s hard to believe she had a baby three months ago.

It was important to her to perform in Ringling Bros.’ last shows, she says, and she pushed herself to get back in condition after their son, Amir, was born.

“I’m really happy to have a chance to finish this. It’s been seven years for us,” she says. “This is just history, you know?”

Danguir is the first in his family to perform in the circus. He was discovered doing acrobatic tricks as a child in Tangier, Morocco, and invited to circus school. Lebedeva, originally from Moscow, is sixth-generation circus.

They married last year, 30 feet up on the high wire, while the show was in Houston.

Now, they’ll move back to Europe. Danguir will appear as a finalist Saturday on the TV show “Arabs Got Talent.”

The couple dreams of starting their own show, or maybe opening a circus school in Morocco to teach future generations. They’re optimistic something good will come along.

“We are artists,” Danguir says. “We are survivors.”

THE CURTAIN CLOSES

The tiger presenter weeps as he ends his act with the big cats.

The animals are owned by Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling, and Tabayara Maluenda has to say goodbye.

The animals will be sent to a center that specializes in tigers, according to a Feld spokesman. Years of protests by animal rights groups are among the things that took their toll on the circus in recent years, along with declining attendance and changing public tastes.

As Maluenda wipes away tears during their last appearance together, he thanks each animal individually as it leaves the ring. One, he embraces and kisses – the first tiger Feld got for him when he joined Ringling 13 years ago, one he raised it from its days as a cub.

Finally, after the aerialists, strongmen, the human cannonball and the BMX bikes have all done their tricks, it’s over. The ringmaster calls out the families of the performers and crew to join them on the arena floor for a final thank-you.

Among them are “Boss Clown” Sandor Eke and his son.

In a few days, the two will fly back to Hungary to visit family before their permanent move to Las Vegas. Eke is planning to visit a circus he has heard about there.

“Anytime I have a chance to see a circus,” he says, “I will be there.”

But tonight, he stands on the arena floor one last time, holds his son in his arms, and cries.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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