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Pro-life activist pushing for flag over St. Pete City Hall has been answered: ‘No’

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

For the second year in a row a pro-life activist has started an online petition asking for support in compelling St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman to fly a pro-life flag above City Hall in September for the Forty Days of Life events planned to combat abortion.

Christian, pro-life activist Scott Mahurin has spoken at numerous City Council meetings, left messages for the mayor and City Council members, mailed letters and sent emails asking his request to be considered.

His latest petition filed in August has 99 supporters with a goal of 1,000.

Mahurin claims the flag should be flown in a show of diversity, arguing that since the city flies the Gay Pride flag for the annual Gay Pride Parade, so to should the city respect the views of those who abhor abortion.

Mahurin’s biggest spoken argument with the city and particularly the mayor is that he has not received a response to his request.

That can be taken with a grain of salt.

Indeed, of the six emails uncovered through a public information request sent to various city leaders including the mayor and City Council, none were responded to.

However, Mahurin was given an answer to his request last year and it was a resounding “No.” According to the city, Kriseman’s Chief of Staff Kevin King spoke at great length to someone from within the cause last year explaining why the city would not be flying his flag.

Asking about it again at a City Council meeting this summer, Mahurin received a less direct answer from Council members and city legal staff explaining why the mayor could choose to fly one flag, but not another.

Mahurin’s request was also answered quite publicly on Kriseman’s communication director Ben Kirby’s private Facebook page.

“Hi, Mr. Mahurin. Let me be clear: the City of St. Petersburg flies the Pride Flag in support of Pride Month, in support of the St. Pete Pride Parade, because Pride events have a more than $10 million impact on our city, and because we are, well, proud of our efforts at outreach and inclusion of the LGBT community. We fly that flag at the direction of Mayor Kriseman, who would say that it is the right thing to do — love is love,” the post read. “Another example of a flag we fly is the Grand Prix flag. Yet another is for the Tampa Bay Rays opener. The common thread, you might have noticed, is that these are large-scale events, or organizational events with a notable impact on the city. Specifically to your pro-life flag: your request to fly the flag does not met that high standard of supporting an impactful event. Last but certainly not least, the city has a right to free speech, as do you, and the Mayor directs which flags fly over city hall. It probably comes as no surprise to you that Mayor Kriseman is pro-choice.”

Kirby continued, “finally, we did respond to you. Either you or someone affiliated with your effort spoke with our Chief of Staff last year about this and received the same answer. If anyone wants to follow-up on this, or better understand why we *do* fly the Pride Flag and won’t fly Mr. Mahurin’s flag, please feel free to email me. Be assured that I will respond. Do not be assured that you will necessarily like or agree with the response.”

Kriseman has the authority to choose whether a flag promoting an event or cause is flown over City Hall. Flags promoting Gay Pride or pro-life are considered government speech. That means Kriseman gets to decide if it’s the type of speech he wants to promote.

That seems to suggest Kriseman’s unwillingness to promote a pro-life agenda is rooted in his opinion of that particular message. And that could very well be the case considering Kriseman’s documented history of liberal and progressive leanings.

However, there is more to it than that. When Kriseman raises the Pride flag, it’s not just because equality is on his list of no-brainers, it’s because that event floods the city with millions of dollars in revenue.

The city also raises a flag for the Grand Prix and the Tampa Bay Rays home opener – two events that also net the city a pretty decent revenue haul.

Flying the pro-life flag would have an insignificant fiscal impact on the city.

What this has become is an activist’s personal agenda being forced onto City Council and the mayor’s office over and over. The answer is not going to change. As long as Kriseman holds the key to what political speech is flown via flag over that historic building downtown, Mahurin’s simple baby blue flag with white “pro-life” lettering is not going to make the cut.

It doesn’t matter how many people sign a petition. Kriseman doesn’t have to listen. And surely, even 1,000 signatures wouldn’t force his hand.

So pro-life supporters can keep sending messages like, “let us speak for those who cannot speak for themselves” and it’s probably not going to do any good.

And to Kathryn Irby, whose petition signature indicates she’s from Missouri, your claim that “those who are the biggest whiners about abortion are men” isn’t going to do much good. For those who are curious, Irby continues that plea to Kriseman with this gem:

“If you don’t like abortion, THEN GET PREGNANT YOURSELF OR MIND YOUR OWN DAMN BUSINESS.”

One, last I checked, that’s not possible. Two, isn’t the “mind your own damn business” battle cry usually emanating from pro-choice groups fighting for a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions. Do the words, “get out of my uterus,” sound familiar?

The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter whether Mahurin and his 99 supporters want this flag raised. It’s not their choice. They can’t make the mayor do it. The question has been asked and answered.

If Mahurin and his pro-life backers want their flag flown, their best bet is to vote for a mayor who would support them.

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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