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Advice to Pier activists: Round two

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, opponents of the city’s Pier selection process and subsequent decisions need to chill out.

This isn’t a matter of who is right or who is wrong. People on both sides of the issue – those who hoped to preserve the inverted pyramid and those who support Pier Park – are passionate about the city and its immaculate downtown waterfront.

Both sides’ opinions are rooted in genuine love and a desire to do what they see is best for the city. Unfortunately, on any major decision facing changes to the city, sides are not always going to align.

That does not have to mean the sides resort to name calling, vulgarity, exaggerated claims or genuine beating of a dead horse.

I’m choosing to put my emphasis on the Pier Park opposition here not because I disagree with their sentiment. My personal thoughts on the fate of the St. Petersburg Pier are entirely irrelevant and deserve no place in this argument. Rather, I’m highlighting their comments, arguments and overall behavior to illustrate a much broader problem that could just as easily be applied to supporters of Pier Park. I choose inverted pyramid preservationists because, as is often the case in these sorts of arguments, opposition seems to be the loudest.

Back in May I penned a column entitled Inverted Pyramid lovers: You’re doing it wrong. The piece received 47 comments. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I’m reasonably confident that’s the most any of my coverage on SaintPetersblog has ever been commented on.

The piece lamented harsh comments made on social media toward elected officials, name calling toward people who did not share the same views as Destination St. Pete Pier supporters longing to refurbish the existing Pier, posting embellished photographs overly dramatizing the issue and even calling respected journalists nasty names.

My commentary, which was nothing more than an observation and a friendly piece of advice, earned me my own name calling fiasco in which I was called an effing C – U -next – Tuesday (I cleaned that up a bit for the benefit of our readers) and my writing a “piece of dog sh*t.”

While the shocking language directed toward the messengers seems to have toned down – SaintPetersblog has received praise for covering the Pier issue from both sides of the debate and offering a voice to any angle newsworthy – some of those still bruised from a loss, those watching in agony as the 40-year-old Pier slowly gets reduced to rubble, are still failing to deliver a sound message that will be heard by those who need to hear it.

There is a time and a place for in-your-face activism. The Occupy Wall Street movement needed to be shocking to gain any sort of traction. But even that was taken with a grain of salt among most.

When supporters of a petition that would require voter approval for downtown waterfront demolition or construction projects post comments like, “there are plenty of perfectly legal ways that we can f*ck them over too,” it’s not sending the kind of message anyone is going to take seriously.

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Sure, it may rile up the people already on your side, those who already want to do some messing about of their own, but it only makes the people you’re trying to convince look on in disgust.

Calling on people to be voted out of office when there aren’t viable or even qualified candidates running against them is equally silly. The anti-Pier Park page “Wow the Lens Sucks,” (which seriously needs a more timely name, by the way) suggested voting for anyone other than Charlie Gerdes and Steve Kornell.

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Both City Council candidates have made remarkable strides during their time in office and both are running against no-name candidates who have done little to even promote their campaigns. Kornell’s opponent, Phillip Garrett, hasn’t raised a dime and his only campaigning thus far seems to include commenting on any story where his name is mentioned. (Hey there, Phillip!)

Then there’s the video where longtime inverted pyramid supporter and Lens and Pier Park critic Nicholas Weathersbee called former St. Pete public works administrator Mike Connors a “f*cking a**hole.”

Worse, the man behind the petition that could potentially halt plans to build Pier Park commented on the video giving him kudos.

“GREAT job Nic! NEXT – we need to take this lying a**hole down – and WE WILL!” wrote Voteonthepier founder and chair Tom Lambdon.

The video and comment were subsequently taken down by Voteonthepier. The video was taken during the Pier history celebration earlier this month.

There is no use in arguing against the group’s overall argument. I could cite concerns shared with me by Pier Park supporters that Lambdon’s petition could come with some very detrimental unintended consequences (or perhaps intended consequences), that the effort is a continued effort to support the “my pier or no pier” notion or that the group is simply stifling progress and stuck in the past.

But that’s not the point. As I said in May, you’re doing it wrong. If there are legitimate concerns over permitting, address those. If there are potential environmental impacts, seek solutions. But when you get answers, don’t continue harping on the same tired points over and over again.

The bottom line is, this is a process. The city fully understands there is a difference between a design concept and a final design. Your time for input is not over. Those environmental concerns and worrying about structures being covered in bird poop or the Pier being used as “Potty Park” for anyone needing to relieve themselves – those can and will still be addressed.

But I get it; you’ve lost faith in the administration. That’s fine. You can have your vote soon enough to get rid of the mayor you so loathe. You can even suggest to your friends they do the same.

But when you spread exaggerated claims and grasp at any argument there is, you look like you’re just desperate and maybe even something of a conspiracy theorist.

This is not a slight to you – Destination St. Pete supporters and Kriseman despisers – it is a friendly suggestion on strengthening your message.

Having a woman interrupt a press conference to lambast the mayor when he’s not even the one talking, that’s not effective. Cursing at people won’t work. Name-calling won’t get the job done.

I’m going to write about potential lack of transparency where it may be present. I’m going to tell my readers all about potential design flaws and environmental impacts. But I won’t talk to those of you who can’t behave as adults.

There are plenty of opponents to the new Pier who are on the right track. Lambdon, though his message can be slightly abrasive and often times exaggerated, is a reasonable man. I’ll talk to him anytime he wants.

Robert Neff, another prominent activist with Lambdon’s group, has also been mostly eloquent. And there are many others. Even Weathersbee, whose comments toward Connors were bombastic, vulgar and out of line, has been a reasonable voice in this movement. He even condemned the comment calling me the most unspeakable of all names.

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But guys, get the rest of your group in line. Send a positive message, not one filled with exaggerations and histrionics. Think I’m the one exaggerating? I’ll give just one example. When I wrote earlier this month that demolition of the Pier had indeed begun, a reader named Charlotte Lucier wrote, “there goes my childhood.”

Really? Your whole childhood? This is dramatic. This does not work. It’s like my 12-year-old insisting her life is literally over because I won’t buy her the newest, hippest shoes. I promise she’ll survive and Charlotte, sweetie, I’m sure there’s more to your childhood than the Pier. And, by golly, you’re still going to have those memories!

It’s the second time I’ve had to share this message. I do hope it’s received for what it is and not taken as a slight to those I’ve covered so extensively. As I said earlier in this post – both sides do what they do because their hearts are in the right place. Hopefully even those who disagree can appreciate that.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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