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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Another Day, Another Indictment

If I didn’t follow the news so closely, I might be tempted to agree with The Donald that his own Justice Department is out to get him. But I do follow political issues closely and believe that the indictments are legitimate – and if not, that the accused will get their day in court. But of all of the shady people Donald Trump has chosen as associates, I am particularly gratified by the indictment of Miami’s Roger Stone. You may remember I’ve said before that I think he is key to everything. Like the biggest of current big guys, Stone loves to be key to everything – or at least would have you think so. I’ve detested him for decades, ever since he was proud to lead CREEP, the Committee to Reelect the President, who at the time was Richard Nixon. I didn’t know until recently that Stone has a tattoo of Nixon on his back, a truly eerie example of devotion to dirty tricks.

That kind of person scorns idealists as naïve and never notices that in the long run of history, it is only the idealists who win. To be sure, it can be a long, long run, but ultimately the good guys win. If you disagree, please read history, especially American history. Over and over again, those with liberal ideals about expansion of civil rights and economic opportunity have been scorned and ridiculed – but eventually won. That will be the case again, as shown by last year’s election. There are peaks and valleys, but we liberals nonetheless ascend the mountain range, even as the Stone types throw rocks.

But he is personal with me. The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) organized in 1998, after a small group of Washington women succeeded in resurrecting a statue of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott. (If you don’t recognize Mott, look her up; she’s my favorite. And you can look up Adelaide Johnson, too; she carved the statue.) House Speaker Newt Gingrich intended this to be temporary, with the statue returning to basement storage after Mother’s Day. But led by pro-choice Republican Ann Stone, Roger’s ex-wife, the NWHM women outmaneuvered Newt, and the statue now is a popular feature of the Capitol.

NWHM then set a goal of creating a museum of women’s history on or near the National Mall, and I joined its board soon after the millennium. The first physical site we aimed at was the Old Post Office, a magnificent building at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue that then was largely vacant, despite its proximity to the White House. But things happened that I could not understand, and I eventually dropped off the board. I think the original leaders were happy to see me go -- especially after it became clear that the Old Post Office would become Trump Tower.

Yes, long-term idealist though I am, I also can be cynical about things like this. The good ole boys network remains alive and well, and occasionally is joined by self-interested women. There still is no museum dedicated to women’s history in the nation’s capital. Yet even during the shutdown, federal employees continued to escort Trump Tower guests to the clock on its roof. From there, the rich literally can look down on the rest of us.

Meanwhile, Here in Florida

Governor Ron DeSantis recently removed Susan Bucher as Supervisor of Elections in Broward County because, he said, her office was too slow in counting last fall’s ballots. Now the story has degenerated into another tale of Tallahassee’s underfunding of essential government services – but it should be a broader discussion. This is the second recent case of a governor displacing an elected Supervisor of Elections, as Rick Scott did that to Palm Beach’s Brenda Snipes in December. I don’t want to get bogged down in the details of these cases, but I do want to point out that these two big counties have the most reliably Democratic voters in Florida, and in both cases, an elected Democrat was replaced by an appointed Republican. If you are suspicious that the intent is to lay groundwork for 2020, I can’t argue with you.

But the more important point is that regardless of partisanship, it should not be so easy for a governor to replace a local elected official, especially someone who has not been charged with a crime. And if there is legitimate reason for removal, a special election should quickly follow so that voters can decide who they want. That is the essence of democracy – and that is the constitutional mandate with state legislators. Local officials should be no different: voters should be given the opportunity to choose who holds these positions, especially in the case of election supervisors. It’s not as if Florida hasn’t had a scandal or four in that area. Someone should take this to court.

Another scandal: administrators at the University of Central Florida in Orlando conspired to hide their spending choices from both the public and the UCF Board of Trustees. Having been a trustee at Hillsborough Community College during a time when we ousted similar administrators, this was of special interest to me. First, please know that everyone involved in educational funding knows that the greatest piles of money are operating budgets and PECO budgets, the acronym for Public Education Capital Outlay.

PECO money can be spent only on construction or purchases of lasting value, while operating budgets are more ephemeral, especially emphasizing salaries, insurance, utilities, and other expenses that recur year after year. Apparently these administrators moved $85 million in operating funds to capital outlay so that they could build some physical monuments to themselves – and more seriously, they hid this from the board that is supposed to be the final authority on how tax dollars are spent. It’s true that the trustees should have been paying better attention, but my experience tells me that some administrators can be very good at making things obscure.

And too often, the media backs the well-paid administrators, not the volunteer trustees. After enduring great stress and undeserved criticism from the old Tampa Tribune, we HCC trustees in the 1990s finally were able to get a valid look at the budgets we were supposed to sign off on only after we forced the president to resign. He and his cronies were so contemptuous of us that they even put the sale of the Ybor campus on the consent agenda – the non-controversial agenda that usually is adopted without review. So I hope that UCF trustees impose more than a slap on the wrist for this $85 million that should have been spent on people, not things. This is an affront to honesty and democracy, and everyone involved should be fired. Pronto.

Goodbye to Lee DeCesare

Lee DeCesare, an English professor at HCC Dale Mabry, was the primary reason that I asked Governor Lawton Chiles to appoint me to that board. Lee and I were as close as sisters for many decades, and the reasons why I haven’t seen her lately are too complex and too painful to discuss here. She died last week, and I’m going to honor her memory by quoting what I wrote about her in Real Women of Tampa and Hillsborough County, which was published in 2004. It begins: “Lee Drury DeCesare founded the chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in May of 1972, only a few years after NOW began nationally. She had grown up in Tampa and recently had returned from New York City….

“NOW did many things that were fundamental to the rights that Tampa women take for granted today. Some were relatively trivial – such as forcing Maas Brothers and other stores to stop charging for alterations to women’s clothing, but not for men’s – but most were tremendously significant to today’s employment scene. NOW’s actions involved risk and ridicule and worse, and only exceptionally courageous and/or foolhardy women joined NOW in the early days.

“One of the most important actions was meeting with executives of the Tampa Tribune and the now defunct Tampa Times to insist that classified ads for jobs no longer be segregated by gender. Instead of today’s listings by categories such as “Professional” or “Sales,” ads at that time read “Help Wanted – Male” and “Help Wanted – Female.” Once women did not automatically limit themselves to the jobs advertised for women and once employers did not automatically classify jobs by gender, many employment opportunities opened…

“NOW filed suit late in 1972 against Channel 13, then the area’s most-watched television station, because neither it nor any other local station had female news anchors or camera operators… Lee DeCesare created the grounds for a lawsuit by applying for a job as a newscaster, and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the station had discriminated against women. Channel 13 hired Leslie Schisell…as the first on-camera newswoman in the Tampa Bay area… After the Channel 13 settlement, NOW needed only one meeting with Channel 8 before it and every other FCC-regulated station in town began hiring women for visible positions… [At the time, Channel 13 was a CBS affiliate, Channel 8 was with NBC.]

“Tampa’s most controversial sex-discrimination cases centered on the hiring of female law enforcement officers and firefighters… The fight for equal opportunity in these cases was particularly risky, especially with sheriff’s deputies. Again, it is DeCesare who deserves most of the credit. She took the whispered calls from women who vainly aspired to these jobs, and when she decided to take on the City of Tampa, she had to look outside of town for someone to accompany her to the mayor’s office.

“She also irritated local law enforcement by protesting against their practice of arresting prostitutes, but not their clients. Endless meetings, demonstrations, and threats of legal action later, the city finally began hiring women on an equal basis. Today the Tampa Police Department has women in top positions, but that did not happen without a great deal of risk and sacrifice by women who had nothing personal to gain.” Thank you, Lee.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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