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Suncoast Tiger Bay’s annual ‘Night with the Tigers’ was kind of a bust

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Suncoast Tiger Bay is known for its politically raucous meetings in which the nonpartisan political club’s motto, “carving a politician up for lunch,” really comes to life.

Whether the politically novice crew is grilling the mayor, police chief or candidates for state office, members and their guests (and often the press) are usually in for a treat.

Non-answers don’t fly. Talking points are checked at the door. It’s a relentless bunch on a mission for juicy new info in tired old topics.

That wasn’t the case at the club’s annual “Night with the Tigers” Thursday evening in Treasure Island.

The VIP reception and cocktail hour boasted all the familiar faces – County Commissioners Ken Welch, John Morroni, Janet Long, Pat Gerard and Charlie Justice. School Board member Linda Lerner was there in all her feisty glory. The Tampa Bay Times had a table, but this time its writers weren’t shoved behind in a corner with their laptops.

Leaders in the business community were out in full force, including some folks from the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce.

This is a bunch that expects intellectual stimulation and they thought they were going to get it from renowned author Tim Dorsey.

On paper Dorsey seemed the perfect fit for a Tiger Bay audience. His books are smart, witty and packed full of plenty of Florida satire. He’s written 18 Florida-centric novels all following the love-to-hate serial killer Serge. A. Storms and make fun of things like cantankerous gubernatorial candidates.

With all that’s floating through Florida government these days – banning words, arguing about beer, rednecks with backyard gun ranges — it seemed he may be the perfect personality to send a fairly serious bunch into the throws of laughter.

Nope. That didn’t happen. Despite Dorsey’s success as a comedic novelist, he crashed and burned as a public speaker. He didn’t complete sentences, he stuttered through the parts of the sentences he did complete and he rambled on about stories only people intimate with his writing would understand.

He spent more time talking about Serge than about Governor Scott or the wayward Legislature or political scandals or anything the whole of the room would have related to.

Within 10 minutes a good half of the ballroom was eyeballing their phones. Friends were texting across tables. And when the night was over, members and guests crowded into the elevator and made their way to the valet, many in disbelief that the evening had gone so wrong.

The dinner was pretty good though. Juicy cuts of filet mignon cooked to a perfect medium-rare for the carnivorous in the crowd. Tropical chicken for the poultry-lovers. The dessert was an assortment of mini-cakes that were easy to scarf down in three or four quick bites.

There were also a couple of awards handed out worth seeing. Longtime activist Dr. Yvonne Scruggs won the Susan B. Anthony Grassroots Award. Scruggs, who helped create St. Pete’s 2020 plan for Midtown St. Pete, made mention of her brother who spent two weeks in jail prior to Selma during the civil rights movement. It was touching and she was glorious and well-spoken as always.

USF St. Pete professor Darryl Paulson was handed the Thomas Paine Common Sense Award. He delivered a riveting and humble speech about the importance of stirring controversy. The somewhat conservative political scientist joked that in the 2014 governor’s race he talked about Rick Scott being a criminal. But he also pointed out Charlie Crist wasn’t a great choice either.

Though the evening’s keynote speaker may not have been the best public speaker in the world, after much reading around about his work, I’m definitely going to be checking out his books.

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 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

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