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Critics of Confederate monument: ‘Move the damn statue’

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Less than 24 hours before a vote to remove a controversial Confederate monument, a coalition of Tampa political leaders and activists is asking one member of the Hillsborough County Commission who voted last month to maintain the monument to change their mind.

“The bottom line to those three remaining commissioners … I just got one message for you,” Tampa City Councilman Frank Roddick said at a press conference in front of the monument on Tuesday afternoon. “Vote to move the damn statue.”

Making a similar argument — perhaps a bit more eloquently — was County Commissioner Les Miller, the lone African-American commissioner who introduced last month the proposal to remove the statue.

“I hope that one of the three commissioners will be there to vote against it, and have a change of heart, a change of mind, and do the right thing, and remove this monument off of Hillsborough County government property,” said Miller, referring to three of the Republican board members who voted to maintain the monument last month.

The fourth Republican commissioner who voted to keep the monument, Victor Crist, has said he has had that change of heart. But he won’t be voting Wednesday, because he is vacationing in California (Crist informed Chairman Stacy White about his absence and asked for the vote to be delayed, but the entire board must vote for that to happen).

Miller’s hope is that one of the three remaining Republicans who will presumably be at Wednesday’s meeting – Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman or White – will change their mind. If that’s the case, however, they’re keeping that information to themselves, as none of them have said anything since last month about the vote.

With White undoubtedly firm in his commitment to keep the monument in place, all eyes will be on Hagan and Murman – if the actual vote takes place tomorrow.

What also remains unknown at this time is where the monument could be stored, since by county law it must go to a non-profit organization.

The monument, called Memoria In Aeterna, was built in 1911 with funds raised by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The Florida president of that group recently told WTVT-Fox 13 that she supports removing the monument. Miller says he’ll ask that the group that they accept the statue.

A handful of politicians at Tuesday’s press conference discussed the pain that the monument brings out.

“This monument – these types of monuments – are anathema to people of color for very good reason,” said Tampa state Representative Sean Shaw. 

The press conference was occasionally disturbed by one supporter of maintaining the monument, St. Petersburg attorney Andy Strickland, who crashed the event and attempted to push his sign supporting the monument in front of the critics of the statue.

“Bring it to a vote,” Strickland cried out, prompting County Commissioner Pat Kemp to proclaim, “We will be bringing it to a vote, and that’s why it’s going to happen!”

“We have been overwhelmed and inundated by people in this county who want to see that monument removed,” said Kemp. “They’re ready to turn the page.”

Other speakers at the event included Nadine Smith from Equality Florida, Jerry Green from Vote Vets, Yvette Lewis from the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP, and County Commission Democratic candidate Sky U. White.

“Tampa is the third largest city in Florida,” said White. “We’ve hosted four Super Bowls, numerous college bowls, and currently preparing for the return of the Tampa classic. Because of the votes of County Commissioners Murman, Crist, White and Hagan, our tourists will continue to be greeted not only by the Confederate monument, but also what is hyped as the nation’s largest Confederate flag, flying over I-75. When is enough, enough?”

Wednesday’s meeting of the Hillsborough County Commission begins at 9 a.m. at the County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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