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Our View: Give up? They didn't at Iwo

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  • | 4:00 a.m. July 10, 2013
Iwo Jima veteran Harold Ronson, left: Should he give up? Sarasota Public Art Fund founder Thomas Savage, right: "You can't fight City Hall" in Sarasota.
Iwo Jima veteran Harold Ronson, left: Should he give up? Sarasota Public Art Fund founder Thomas Savage, right: "You can't fight City Hall" in Sarasota.
  • Longboat Key
  • Opinion
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What does it say about a community whose behind-the-scenes City Hall manipulators scotch an effort to bring to Sarasota’s bayfront one of the greatest American icons depicting one of the greatest moments in American history?

It’s so deflating. It says the political influencers are parochial; devoid of grand vision and aspirations to reach higher; devoid of determination to be more and better than what is.

And it says they haven’t a clue of or care so little about what happened at Iwo Jima and what it means in the greater context of our heritage and what we teach future generations.

We’re referring, of course, to Longboat Key resident Harold Ronson and Sarasota Public Art Fund founder Thomas Savage and their efforts to bring to Sarasota’s bayfront the original, 1945 steel-cast monument of Marines raising the American flag on Iwo Jima. Call it a masterpiece of sculptor Felix de Weldon.

But, thanks to Sarasota City Commissioners Suzanne Atwell (what happened to her in such a short time?) and Susan Chapman and Vice Mayor Willie Shaw, the commission voted 3-2 nearly three weeks ago to send plans for the monument and a bayfront plaza to accommodate the Iwo sculpture and the “Unconditional Surrender” statue through an extra public-hearing process of the Sarasota Art Review Committee. In other words, give it the kiss of death by sending it to the kangaroo court of Sarasota’s negative nabobs.

Savage, having endured this process for the Unconditional Surrender statue, recognized what the three commissioners did and decided to give up on what was to be a privately funded, $1.4 million project. Know when to hold ’em, and know when to fold ’em. Savage discerned the latter.
And that is a dilemma for Ronson.

Ronson is not a quitter.

For heaven’s sake, he was there — at Iwo Jima. He witnessed before his very eyes the carnage that occurred, serving then as a Navy sailor carting Marines from their ships to the Iwo beaches in landing craft. He participated in that famous campaign of grit and guts — and never quitting.

If you talk to Ronson, you get a sense of the magnitude of the Iwo Jima campaign. You get a sense of the horror those Marines endured. And that they did it for a cause worth dying for — to keep America free. To keep America free so even the nabobs have the freedom to be negative.

Iwo Jima has been etched in Ronson’s mind for nearly 70 years. Some of what he witnessed is as vivid today as it was then. And he truly believes the American people must never forget, as he puts it, “what they did there.”

For Ronson and Savage, de Weldon’s original casting of the famous Joe Rosenthal photograph — to be placed in a plaza on Sarasota’s bayfront — would serve as a constant reminder and lesson for future generations of American greatness; of how his generation preserved freedom and defeated tyranny; how his generation never gave up. It’s a symbol of American can-do-ism, and it should be in a place to be seen every day, not at a cemetery of solitude.

That’s why this is such a dilemma for Ronson. It’s not his nature to quit.

And then there is Savage, whose fight to bring “Unconditional Surrender” to Sarasota’s bayfront was almost the city-politics equivalent of Iwo Jima. A Wounded Warrior from that fight with City Hall, Savage has more wisdom now than he had before. So when Vice Mayor Willie Shaw switched his position — after telling Savage he supported the project — Savage believed the war was already over before it started. He knew the project would never make it through Sarasota’s nabobs. “You can’t fight City Hall,” he said.

Not in Sarasota anyway. We’ve seen it too many times.

This is what is so sad and frustrating about the politics of the city of Sarasota. There is an entrenched, behind-the-scenes group that undermines every effort to move ahead, that undermines the aspirations and efforts of others to make Sarasota more than a third-tier, albeit physically beautiful, bayside city. Ask Denise Kowal, originator of the Chalk Festival. Ask John Simons, who had a vision for downtown Sarasota. Ask Richard Dorfman. Ask City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo. Ask Wal-Mart. The list is long.

Yes, there’s a public process for public art. But what good is it when the chattering class undermines it? This is the nature of Sarasota civics: Rarely, if ever, does the process begin with the can-do attitude of “How can we make this happen?” In Sarasota, it’s all too apparent, the vision is small, and the process begins with the attitude of “no.”

Savage’s ambitions and aspirations of raising the funds and obtaining City Commission approval by November, in time for the Marines’ annual birthday celecbration, were aggressive. But they need not be cast in stone. If the public and official (i.e. City Commission) will are there, Savage and Ronson still may be able to persuade the monument’s seller to give them more time.

Against all odds, the Marines took Iwo Jima. Remembering how they persevered makes you want fight the nabobs of City Hall, to make this a city with high aspirations and big ambitions.

+ Educate Longboat voters
Longboat Key Vice Mayor David Brenner and Town Manager David Bullock are being realists, unlike the so-called leaders in Washington, D.C. Brenner and Bullock know Longboat Key taxpayers are facing two big financial obligations over the next five to 10 years, and they want to start accumulating the money now.
In that vein, Brenner supports a proposed 13% increase in the town’s millage rate for the 2013-14 fiscal year — from 1.88 to 2.13 mills — to begin raising funds for the town’s unfunded pension liabilities and another beach renourishment.

Bullock, meanwhile, suggests the town increase its millage rate one mill per year for the next five years to raise $25 million to fund the next beach renourishment with cash rather than with borrowing.

Both ideas have merit. And commissioners said last week they want to discuss them.

Here’s a suggestion:
Bullock should show the commissioners a big picture, literally, of the exact costs taxpayers will be facing over the next five years to 10 years and the options and consequences of funding those obligations. And then take the show on the road for the town’s taxpayers.

Brenner will remember this approach worked well before. In 2008, he organized a road show with the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce to educate town voters on two charter amendments. One permitted the creation of 250 tourism units, which hoteliers could use to expand their operations; the other allows all property owners to rebuild their structures back to existing densities in the event they are destroyed.

Educating voters on these two questions clearly led to their overwhelming approval at the polls.

Likewise, the Town Commission would do well to educate voters on the upcoming obligations before any definitive decisions are made.

+ Oust the otters
David Novak, the devoted caretaker of Longboat Key’s swans, often has received offers from generous Longboaters willing to support his efforts with monetary donations.

Heretofore, Novak hasn’t accepted them.

But, now it’s probably time to establish a not-for-profit foundation or organization to perpetuate the swans. Especially now that we know that an aggressive predator has surfaced — the river otter.

Novak believes this mean mammal has consumed three of the recently hatched cygnets. Foxes and raccoons are also natural predators of the cygnets.

Although it’s often not nice or right to mess with Mother Nature, Longboat’s swans have become so beloved — much like the peacocks in the Village — that residents likely would be willing to defend them. Indeed, the Bay Isles Master Association Board of Directors has directed its management company to capture and relocate any otters that intrude the neighborhood.

In other words, that process ongoing will take money, just as the caring of the swans does, a cost Novak has borne for six years.

Save our swans.


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