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Tampa Bay Times column shows new potential for new tone on Rays – it’s time for team to compromise

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano threw out a fresh take on the long-neglected conversation involving the Tampa Bay Rays and the team’s tenure at Tropicana Field. This new(ish) tone encourages the Rays to accept one of two deals being considered by City Council.

That’s a giant step back from the editorial board’s oft-uttered postulations that the four City Council holdouts on a previous deal were obstructionists sure to bring strife and doom to a city on the rise.

The headline, “Credit council members for stepping up to the plate on Rays’ deal” sounds nothing like what we’ve been hearing from the Times up until Romano’s Monday column.

Though the timing of the column is key as council prepares to look into new proposals this week, it’s important to note that this isn’t the first time Romano has praised City Council members on the Rays deal.

Following the first vote that saw the original MOU go down in flames because the deal did not include a provision giving the city rights to development on the Tropicana Field site should the team decide to leave, Romano wrote that City Council members who voted no actually saved the City.

The editorial board, which Romano is not a member of, was so bent on seeing a proposal come to life, it endorsed newbie political wannabe Philip Garrett over veteran council member Steve Kornell who has a laundry list of wins in his district and throughout the city during his six years on council. The sole reason the editorial board listed for endorsing Garrett was his support of the previous Memorandum of Understanding brokered between the Rays and Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Kornell was one of four holdouts arguing the plan didn’t compensate the city appropriately should the team decide to find a new home in Hillsborough County.

The Times also endorsed Lisa Wheeler-Brown over Will Newton for the District 7 seat being vacated by Will Newton. Its reason – the Rays. Wheeler-Brown supported the Mayor’s MOU and Newton said it wasn’t quite there yet.

That endorsement came despite a series of scathing reports showing Wheeler-Brown may have illegally used campaign funding for personal dental work and failed to report or misreported several other items.

The news led to the Tampa Tribune rescinding its endorsement, but the Times dismissed the allegations saying instead Wheeler-Brown would have a “learning curve.”

It will be interesting to see whether the Times’ editorial board takes a page out of Romano’s playbook and dampens its tone against council members who wanted more for the city.

Because he’s not on that board though, Romano’s opinion doesn’t necessarily mean the paper as a whole as changed its mind.

Two new proposals laid out by two separate City Council members would require the Rays to theoretically pay out more money to the city should they vacate the Trop and ship it across the Bay.

Under the scenario described by Romano, if the Rays left at the end of the 2020 season, an admittedly aggressive scenario, Charlie Gerdes’ proposal would cost the Rays about $22 million. Another deal on the table from Jim Kennedy, one of the four holdouts, would require about $33 million. The original MOU agreed to by Kriseman and the Rays would have cost the team about $15 million.

It’s likely one of those two proposals will garner enough support from council to move forward, thus putting the ball in the Ray’s field. It would then be up to the Major League Baseball team as to whether or not to accept it.

The onus would have then shifted.

Should City Council move forward with one of the plans, or a variation thereof, the Times should take a long, hard look at how they treated individual council members, particularly Kornell, over a sole issue.

As a driving force in local media, the Times could have framed a discussion that encouraged this exact conversation much, much sooner. Instead they stood firm as forged steel against council members whose sole concern was protecting taxpayers.

The fact that a viable deal now exists, on paper, is proof that the Times was too hard on Kornell, Kennedy, Wengay Newton and Bill Dudley. Kornell took the brute force of the paper’s ire because he was the only one seeking re-election. Dudley and Newton are termed out of office and Kennedy is not up for re-election for another two years.

It’s also curious whether the paper will have egg on its face if a deal is approved concerning its coverage of the Wheeler-Brown/Newton race. With an official elections complaint now filed with the Florida Division of Elections, the paper’s decision to dismiss that charge may have all been for naught.

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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