Hard Candy: The Truth

Wengay Newton, you, sir, are a courageous man, and I commend you heartily. It takes a big man to tell the truth about south St. Petersburg’s drug problem, and I’m glad to see that didn’t stop you. You responded swiftly and without reserve to a recent plea for help with the cracktown lining St. Petersburg’s side of 49th Street. While other politicians dance around the subject and mumble about economics, enforcement and education, you wasted no time letting everyone know you have found the root of the problem: Gulfport.

It’s just so… brave… of you, sir. The way you laid the blame for the hollowed out souls who wander Child’s, Jordan, Campbell and Bartlett Parks at Gulfport’s very feet. Now, I know some might meet that suggestion with outrage, but I will say right now you are clearly being abused for your candor, clear-sightedness, and forward thinking ways.
I’m glad to see you’ve come to your senses. You see, I’ve known you for years and I was always a little disappointed in you, the way you blamed the crack dealers and the indifferent neighbors. When you campaigned for council and I lived in Bartlett Park, you promised me you’d work to solve the crime and drug problems and you’d push the St. Petersburg police for tougher enforcement.
Thank heavens you realized the folly in that, my good man. I mean, I didn’t want to say so at the time, but we all know that Gulfport is nothing more than a flophouse for meth heads and crack addicts. That’s why Gulfportians are so displeased with their local government that they elect a new mayor every three years and St. Petersburg has the longest-seated mayor in the state. It’s probably why the councilman who represents the area along 49th Street can’t field all the complaints he gets about those Gulfportians crossing through his ward to get to your city’s burgeoning drug trade.
You know, Vice Chair, now that I think of it, I can’t believe you had the wisdom to stand up like that. It must have been so hard for you to finally point out that Gulfport’s own crime statistics are clearly made up, that the real crime problem lies not at the feet of the men who patronize the “beauty shop” on 49th Street (with what your opponents would likely call suspicious regularity) but with the Gulfportians who have repeatedly asked for help dealing with those drug dealers.
I’m glad you said it, Mr. Newton, sir. You are absolutely right: Gulfportians clearly provide the economic engine that drives the drug trade on your city’s side of 49th Street. And how clever they are, acting like they’re scared to walk on the St. Petersburg side of the street, calling in drug activity when they see it, and demanding Gulfport make St. Petersburg do something about it. Why, if you hadn’t pointed out how Gulfportians could simply stop buying the drugs from the dealers in your city, I’d probably still be living under the (clearly false) notion that the crime I see outside our newspaper’s very window could simply be stopped by St. Petersburg stepping up its commitment to a drug free city.
I wish I’d had the benefit of your insight before I abandoned my home in Bartlett Park. I’m sure if I’d had you to help me see the light I would have realized the people buying crack from the guy in the duplex down the street from my home were all wearing their super-secret Gulfportian ID badges. Maybe St. Petersburg should think about naming the City of Gulfport in a lawsuit for punitive damages, because you’re right, our drug habit in Gulfport really is destroying Child’s Park and other fine neighborhoods.
I really am relieved that you spoke up about this whole crime on 49th Street thing. I’ll be honest, in my more ignorant days (before you told it like it is), I didn’t much care for the man in charge of St. Petersburg’s community enrichment, Goliath Davis. He seemed to be a gatekeeper, a black man who said he stood for what was going to help the black community but instead kept them oppressed and distanced from government. Maybe I was wrong, but I’m glad to see you’ve stepped in to take care of the poor black communities that – last I heard – were crying for help. I’m glad you’re there and instead of talking about getting better role models in front of fatherless black children or helping single moms in Childs Park find safe places for their children to congregate, you’re talking about how it’s Gulfport’s fault. I’m especially grateful you’re not supporting any initiatives that would give stiffer penalties to landlords who rent to convicted drug dealers, and I’m so damn happy that you aren’t looking at using some of that extra tax money to create programs for young black kids to break the cycle that makes them feel like dealing is the only option.
I thought for so long the problem belonged to St. Petersburg. But now I see the error of my ways: Gulfport is clearly to blame for the poor choices St. Petersburg makes. It’s obvious to me, too, that you’re going to stand behind your residents. The people on your side of 49th Street need you. I’m so happy you can be there for them.
Just damn thrilled.

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.