March column: Cohen faces challenge in plan to slow traffic on Bayshore

City Council member Harry Cohen has had a few hot potatoes on his plate recently, and he may be about to get another — proposed changes that would make Bayshore Boulevard more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly but less efficient as a commuter thoroughfare....

March column: Cohen faces challenge in plan to slow traffic on Bayshore

City Council member Harry Cohen has had a few hot potatoes on his plate recently, and he may be about to get another — proposed changes that would make Bayshore Boulevard more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly but less efficient as a commuter thoroughfare.

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The plan comes as Cohen, who faces a term limit in his south Tampa district seat in 2019, decides on his political future. He he may consider a citywide seat or the mayor's race, but is most interested in the 2020 Hillsborough clerk of court race.

Cohen has had to deal with the kind of issues that can make enemies for local government officials: a challenge to five-minute parking limits enforced by signs posted by residents, and disagreements over noise, parking and drinking in the South Howard night life district.

Bayshore could get narrower traffic lanes, pedestrian crosswalks requiring cars to stop, a speed limit of 35 mph instead of 45 mph; and "buffered" bike lanes for its full length.

The city prides itself on the Bayshore "linear park," but for commuters, it's one of a limited number of fast, north-south arteries. Previous changes, including eliminating lanes and adding bike lanes and stoplights, caused considerable controversy.

Handling such questions "is what I'm supposed to do," Cohen said. "We have a bike and pedestrian safety problem and as a local government it's our responsibility to do what we can to solve it. What's important is for people to see that you're trying to be deliberative and fair."

The Bayshore project is currently in design with construction scheduled to begin in the spring of 2017.

Packing the house at more town halls

Nationwide, liberals are showing up at Republican Congress members' town hall meetings to protest the Trump administration, but Hillsborough constituents got only one such opportunity during this week's recess — and that occurred in Clermont, some 80 miles from Tampa.

Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, who talks about his record of holding town hall meetings, held one Tuesday in Clermont City Hall at the northern end of his district, which stretches through Lakeland to Brandon and Temple Terrace. He faced a confrontational roomful of several hundred people, many of whom drove in from the more populous areas.

Meanwhile:

•Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, who represents south Hillsborough, handled the recess by leaving the country on a congressional delegation trip to Afghanistan and Israel. A spokeswoman said he believes town hall meetings are beneficial and plans one in April in Sarasota.

•Republican Sen. Marco Rubio also said he left the country, for Europe. A grass roots group formed on Facebook by Melissa Gallagher of Tampa, a working mother who said she's never been involved in politics before, sought to emphasize his absence by holding a meeting for him at a Tampa union office.The crowd overflowed the 600 capacity of the room.

•The two Democrats who represent the county, Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa and Sen. Bill Nelson, both had activities in Tampa during the week including Hillsborough Community College's Black, Brown & College Bound Luncheon Thursday. Castor recently held a day of one-on-one meetings for constituents with federal government issues in Tampa where a handful of Tea Party members showed up.

The area Republican most open to facing constituents has been Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, who's held three "listening sessions" for his Pasco and Pinellas constituents.

County Democratic Party official Russell Patterson of Temple Terrace made the drive to Ross's town hall in Clermont with other local Dems, but then couldn't get inside because the room overfilled.

"I give Rep. Ross kudos for holding a town hall and staying the full hour, but I'm disappointed he had it at the far end of the district," Patterson said.

Michelle Kenoyer of Riverview took personal time from her job for the two-hour trip aboard a bus organized by the Lakeland Indivisible organization.

"Clermont's in a more conservative area," Kenoyer said. "I guess he figured he'd get a lot of friendlies."

She said attendees included a group of Florida State University students who told her they've been attending similar meetings around the state; they couldn't be contacted for comment.

Patterson and Kenoyer said the crowd was mostly political opponents who at times chanted or booed. "Not hostile, but not friendly," Patterson said. "Certainly not like the Kathy Castor event I attended in 2010," which was swarmed with Tea Party opponents of the Affordable Care Act and made national news.

Maniscalco building an inclusive base?

Democratic political operative Kate Connolly, a veteran of the recent Pat Kemp and Lisa Montelione campaigns, has put together a Facebook group that she says includes more than 500 followers to support a Tampa city ordinance proposed by council member Guido Maniscalco banning "gay conversion therapy" for minors.

Connolly said this week that 25 supporters have committed to attend the March 2 council meeting where the ordinance will be considered, with 25 or so more likely to attend.

Comments from the council members this week suggest that barring unexpected objections, a vote on the ordinance could mirror the Feb. 16 vote of 6-1 in favor or having the city staff propose it for consideration.

"The best thing young people can have is their parents," said the dissenter, Charlie Miranda. "Government does not do a good job of raising children."

Connolly said she's trying to find out whether the therapy is actually offered anywhere in Tampa that might be affected by the ordinance, which would apply only to licensed professionals and not to churches.

Maniscalco said he's aware of only one possibility, Mark Culligan's New Hearts Outreach, which offers support groups and "one-on-one mentoring" and promises, "freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ." But Maniscalco said he's not sure whether it's a religious organization that likely would be exempted; Culligan couldn't be reached for comment.

His goal, he said, is partly to prevent the therapy from coming here, and to enhance Tampa's reputation as "inclusive and inviting."

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com

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