I know you're out there, somewhere, but I've definitely made mistakes before, and I keep making them. I'm looking for people of principle, who care as much about the quality of life in this town as they do about how much money you can make from a particular action. People who understand that public ownership of land gives the least of us and the most of us access to the wonders of this town, and that it's one of the basic principles of democracy.
In some things we're all equal. Surely the lady who called me and said, "If people want a view of the river let them buy land on the river like we did, and pay the taxes that we do," was wrong. Is she right, that the least of us has to buy a view of the river, and it's reserved for the most of us?
It's really why I decided to run for office, for the seat on the Bradenton City Council. I dislike what politics has become, a public exercise in getting the most and making the most at the expense of the most of us and the least of us.
Is it true, as I’ve been told, that the person who got the land where the old city hall stood paid $5 for it, and sold it back for megabucks for the Ware’s Creek project? How about that contracts have been awarded to the same people over and over, and there’s no longer a bidding process.
If you ask to see the bids, you’re told that that’s private. When they gave away the last piece of open public land on the river to a developer, permitting 456 dwelling units, stores, offices, a restaurant, and a bus stop, one city council member recused herself from the vote. Did she do that because she felt it was wrong, or because she and her husband have an economic interest in the project?
“Oh Binnie, you’re so naïve,” they tell me. “It’s always been this way – this town is run by a small group of people who make money from everything that’s done here, and they’re the ones making the decisions here.”
I do remember when Tony Rossi of Tropicana bought that last piece of open waterfront land and gifted it to the city, so all of us would have access to the waterfront. They called it Rossi Park, and there was a gazebo where families went to free concerts on Sunday afternoons. That’s where the newest development is going up.
I didn’t remember the first time the city gave a 99 year lease for $1 to a developer to put up the first living units on that public land on the waterfront. I guess I was trying so hard to make a living and support my household (my husband is a disabled veteran), and fighting for a youth center in Rubonia where there were open drug deals happening on the streets, and fighting with the School Board over the high pregnancy rate, the high dropout rate, and the low graduation rate, that I wasn’t paying attention, and I never realized it was only the first step in taking over the riverfront and selling it to the highest bidders.
“It’s about the economy,” they tell you. “We need that public land for things that will bring people downtown with dollars in their pockets, and they’ll spend them downtown, at Manatee Players, and the Village of the Arts.”
I know that some of them own waterfront property and downtown property – how come they’re not promoting the economy on their own property and need public land to do it? Is there to be no balance between a vibrant economy and the quality of life in this community? Do they really have to have it all?
I’ve lived in Bradenton for 27 years, but I grew up in Chicago where the waterfront belongs to the people. There’s a twenty-mile stretch from the far south side to the far north side where every inch is public beaches, public parks, and public marinas. The only structure on the waterfront is McCormack Place, a convention hall and auditorium. And in what was often one of the most corrupt cities in the country, with powerful corrupt politicians, not one of them ever succeeded in taking away one foot of public land and selling it to anyone to develop anything. And Chicago has always had a vibrant economy despite not having any commerce on their waterfront.