It was almost exactly three years ago that Pastor T.W. Jenkins of the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church took to the podium at the Tampa Convention Center to deliver the benediction as a part of the oath of office ceremony welcoming new Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
Jenkins was only one of a group of religious leaders Buckhorn had brought in, including a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi and a Muslim imam. Following on the heels of a popular mayor and taking the reins of a big city just as the nation was trying to come out of a terrible recession, he must have figured he’d need all the help he could get.
I remember being awed at Jenkins, who is a mountain of a man and with one of those resonant voices that could summon thunder from the mountain.
Jenkins wasn’t about to let an opportunity of having a gaggle of politicians and muckety-mucks slip by and he launched into a litany of things wrong around here. His list included everything from the struggle to find jobs to young people wandering around with pants so low they were hanging off. After listing each ill he would come back with, “We’re in a fight!”
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Well, that was three years ago. On Tuesday he was back, this time as the mayor held his “state of the city” speech in the old Tampa Armature Works Building down on the Hillsborough River just across the water from Blake High School.
This time Jenkins had only good things to say, although I don’t think the city or anyone else has solved the hanging pants issue.
“Things are better,” Jenkins, whose church is between Hillsborough Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, allowed afterward. “Our streets have lights that weren’t there for years. Crime is down in our neighborhood. I believe our neighborhoods are becoming safer. It doesn’t mean we have solved everything, but we are moving in the right direction. This week the police chief is coming down just to sit and talk with the parents. Those are the kinds of things that are changing.”
The mayor, obviously feeling better about things, skipped the other religious leaders and let Jenkins do the invocation, skipping the benediction altogether.
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Actually, Buckhorn could have passed himself off as an evangelist for the city, giving a charged-up message that any of those TV preachers would envy.
You can read the details of his speech elsewhere, but generally he suggested that Tampa is now the center of the universe and that the millennial generation as well as everyone else wants to be a part of what’s happening.
He compared today’s Tampa to the one he moved to where there were only 600 or so people living downtown and half of them were in the Morgan Street Jail. Today, he suggested, we are busting at the seams.
His biggest applause line was announcing that Police Chief Jane Castor would be staying another year despite her announced retirement. Nobody in a city where the crime rate is down 69 percent is likely to complain.
I’ll tell you what, the mayor knows how to set a good stage. The old armature works is now in the hands of the same people who redesigned the Oxford Exchange. It is a great old building and it happens to sit only a few yards away from the under-construction Ulele Restaurant and the equally impressive new Waterworks Park.
The park and the restaurant appear to be heading for a June opening and will become the northern anchor of the city’s Riverwalk project.
The city is hoping the spring will eventually run into the river, and Richard and Casey Gonzmart from the Columbia restaurants, who are building Ulele, want to tap into the water for their craft beers.
All in all, the somewhat not-too-Rev. Bobby Buckhorn had a good day down by the river, converting a lot of new believers into his vision of his city of the near future.