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Give up? They didn't at Iwo

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  • | 4:00 a.m. July 11, 2013
  • Sarasota
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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 celebration, were, as he admitted, aggressive. But they need not be cast in stone. If the public and the City Commission will is there, Savage and Ronson still may be able to persuade the monument’s seller to give them more time to raise the funds.

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.

+ We have our own Egypt

The American press dutifully has reported how ousted Egyptian President Morsi usurped his constitutional powers and acted as the tyrannical dictator he clearly wanted to be.

But where is the media outrage over President Obama’s brazen disregard for the U.S. Constitution?
On July 2, while Congress was on its holiday break, a Treasury Department staffer posted a blog on the department’s website announcing the Obama administration would not enforce an Obamacare deadline for employers even though it is stated explicitly in the law. The deadline, however, still would apply to individuals.

With that obscure announcement (where is the transparency?), Obama did what Morsi did in Egypt — ignored his constitutional oath and the law.

Article II of the U.S. Constitution says:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Article II, Section 3 further states, “He shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

Obama is doing neither with his unequal and discriminatory implementation of Obamacare that Congress passed into law.

Indeed, he acts — and often walks — as if he is the imperial king. The rule of law clearly doesn’t apply to his administration. The list of violations is long. A sampling:

• Launching military action in Libya without congressional consent.

• Violating religious freedom with his order requiring faith-based organizations to distribute contraceptives.
• Appointing agency “czars” without Senate approval.

• Forcing Americans to buy health insurance. (Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the power to regulate commerce and levy taxes. It does not force Americans to engage in commerce.)

• Refusing to enforce laws that he doesn’t like. Obama directed Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to ignore the Defense of Marriage Act and even work against it in the federal courts.

• Violating equal protection and voting rights. The 14th Amendment guarantees “due process” and “equal protection of the laws.” The 15th Amendment guarantees that “the right of citizens to vote shall not be denied or abridged … on account of race … ” Holder dropped pursuit of the New Black Panther Party members who were caught on video intimidating Philadelphia voters in 2008.

And these violations don’t even touch on the IRS targeting, NSA surveillance and FBI wiretapping scandals.
A serious question is: How much more are Americans going to tolerate before they bring this tyrannical, unconstitutional behavior to a halt?

It’s difficult to imagine a military takeover in the United States. It’s not so difficult to imagine the few constitutionalists in Congress (Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, to name two) bringing impeachment charges against the president. It’s a solid case.


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