Hard Candy: Join the Parade

The first time I ever saw Gulfport Mayor Mike Yakes was when he led the 2004 Gecko Parade. Our bespectacled mayor, clutching a strange stick, marched up and down Beach Boulevard, all the while entreating everyone watching to “come on and join the parade.”

Seeing our mayor acting like a goofball in front of a smallish, rain–soaked crowd of people – and so clearly loving it – told me everything I needed to know about living in a small town. I knew right then that I never wanted to live in a big city again.

This year, the mayor once again led the parade. If he stays true to his word and doesn’t run for mayor next year, Saturday marked his last go-round with the Gecko Stick. I have a fairly decent idea as to who might want to come up behind the mayor, and I have no idea if they’ll get the same charge out of the Gecko Parade as he does, but I hope they do. Say what you will about the mayor, but his love for Gulfport never shines as brightly as it does when he’s demanding we all “join the Gecko Parade!”

Even if his successor doesn’t love this part of the job, I hope they fake it. I hope they fake it so well we never know they don’t love it even more than Mayor Mike does. Because sometimes politicians have to do things they don’t want to do.

Case in point: our current council. They had what I would gently describe as “a rocky start” this past March, when they took almost a month to figure out who would serve as Vice Mayor. Emotions ran high and I figured we all had at least another year of hell in front of us.

Here’s the thing, though: the drama and conflict wears you out. I was exhausted just watching the council last year. So when a month or so after the mayor chose Sam as the new vice mayor, Sam extended an olive branch and Barbara grabbed on to it, I was delighted. I didn’t have terribly high hopes – the political division, at that point, had more drama and tension than a season finale of Dynasty  – but it was like unicorns: I wanted to believe.

Either I was wrong or both Sam and Barbara (and Dan, too, because he came into what I would call a “hostile work place” in March, and he’s risen above the nonsense to get things done) are so brilliant that they’ve colluded to fool us all, but either way they’re working together. I keep waiting for someone to snap at someone else or mock them (these things both happened with alarming yet sad regularity last year), but they’ve supported their words with actions.

Granted, they haven’t faced horrible decisions, but as anyone who’s ever worked on any sort of committee knows, it’s often not the big things that trip up humans. The nastiest thing I ever saw on council revolved around a Spirit of Gulfport award, which you have to be a totally miserable idiot to get upset at a council person over.

Small or big decisions aside, before elections ramp up and my editor tapes my mouth shut, I want to thank this council for putting aside the fact that you don’t relish spending your Tuesday evenings with one another and looking towards the good of the city. As a team you’ve managed to work together and get some things done – some little, some not-so-little – and that, more than any individual effort, makes the city a better place for everyone. It’s nice to see that no one gets territorial about who’s doing what in which area of the city; city council isn’t a glory grab. It’s an underpaid job where everyone with half the information you have thinks they can do your job twice as well as you.

On that note, I expect despite Barbara and Sam’s every attempt to lead by example, I’m certain that the closer we get to elections, the more we’ll see what one reader refers to as “the seagulls” flocking around town. The seagulls, he says, like to fly in, crap on everything, and leave. Not a pretty metaphor but a pretty appropriate one: to some, the conflict means more than the contest.   

So, council, my suggestion – and you’re doing it already – is to ignore the folks who just want to pick a fight because their own lives are just that empty. Pay attention instead to the people who want to help and who need your help. Ignore the “seagulls” because they will never be happy with a cooperating council, and they are not about to run themselves. If they’re legal residents of Gulfport, nothing’s stopping them, but it’s easier to armchair quarterback city council than it is to try and actually do the job. Think of it as criticizing the parade floats instead of marching in the processional.

After all, as the mayor points out every year, you can either sit by and watch the parade, or you can join in.

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.