African-American community leaders meet with Rep. Kathy Castor in East Tampa, talk jobs
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06/09/11 Kate Bradshaw
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East Tampa's Cyrus Greene Community Center, where Thursday's roundtable event was held.


photo by Kate Bradshaw, WMNF

East Tampa is an area that’s been hit disproportionately hard by the recession. Today US Representative Kathy Castor met with African-American leaders from that community to get a feel for the needs of her constituents there. Education, jobs, and foreclosures were among top concerns.

One of the key talking points that sparked a political sea change across the U.S. in 2010 was that of government involvement in individuals’ lives. It’s an idea civil libertarians loathe, but Carolyn Collins, presidents of the Hillsborough County NAACP, said if a program help can help a community as a whole, then the ends justify the means.

"The belief that the government should not be in the lives of individuals, that is a belief that we need to get away from."

She said some degree of involvement could help save some from the sense of doom that’s associated with lack of opportunity.

"We have lost a lot in the minority community with young people going from the school to prison pipeline."

US Representative Kathy Castor said she was in East Tampa to see what issues she might help address as a member of Congress. She said organizations like the Community Development Council are doing quite a bit locally at a time when jobs are scarce.

"The middle class has just been smashed so we talked about what we need to be doing right now on the ground to create jobs. We highlighted a number of initiatives that the CDC of Tampa and what's going on at Hillsborough Community College with the new initiative for auto mechanics and auto body repair that's creating jobs but we've got to do so much more."

For months Castor has been a vocal critic of Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, which passed in the House and last month failed in the Senate. Among it are cuts to education programs many believe have a clear impact in underprivileged areas.

"We talked a lot about education. How important Upward Bound is, the ability for young people to attend high school, get their GED to finish and then move on and get their college degree and right now this new Tea Party infused US Congress is cutting Pell grants, they want to cut Head Start, they want to cut back on resources that are coming to our schools. It's a real double whammy after Governor Rick Scott and the Republican Legislature in Florida took a hatchet to our public schools."

Yesterday Governor Scott said the opposite. During a press conference in Montreal, Scott blamed Florida’s education funding woes on the feds ending stimulus grants. Before this, the governor had been a staunch opponent of stimulus dollars.

"Our federal government has given money to education then cut it back so any reduction in education was money that our federal government cut back through their stimulus package. They gave the money and then took it back."

Scott and other Republicans believe that making it cheaper for companies to do business will spark job growth, but many community activists say in times like these, jobs come when the government invests in a community. Jerome Ryans, president of the Tampa Housing Authority, said economic development can solve most of the problems in any impoverished area.

"It's a no brainer. I mean, economic development is a no brainer. If you've strong economic development then people will have jobs and they can solve their problems."

Ryans said he was there today because he’s concerned about issues ranging from education to jobs, but affordable housing is a complex issue the feds need to take a closer look at.

"There's a tremendous need for especially rental housing, affordable housing in this community. Workforce housing, I think there's a tremendous need for that because what's happening is you're having all of these major foreclosures all over the place so people have got to have other options. The only options that they have is affordable housing. We've got to build more and more affordable housing in these communities. Then the other question you have to ask yourself, there's always that question I have in the back of my mind, 'Should everybody be a homeowner?' I'm not convinced that everybody ought to be a homeowner. I think that you ought to have a decent place to live in and if you're not able to be a homeowner you ought not to get yourself caught up into that kind of a deal."

Castor holds roundtable events like this regularly throughout her district, which for now includes parts of Manatee, Hillsborough, and Pinellas Counties. She is one of few Florida Democrats who ran in 2010 still in office, and faces a tough uphill battle in the GOP-led House on certain issues. Ryans said state and national politics don’t really matter as long as representation on the local level is good.

"Politics are local. I think you can solve a lot of the issues at the local level and I really believe that having Congresswoman Castor in Washington and having the new mayor here and having people in leadership positions, I think that solves a lot of our problems."

Former Tampa City Council Chair Thomas Scott said Castor is one of the few members of Congress who’s actually interested in hearing the concerns of constituents – even those who can’t so easily write a sizeable campaign.

"I think it's important that she represents her constituents in the House. I recognize that Republicans are the majority but it's important that Congresswoman Castor represent and hear the voice of her constituents."

Castor is one of many Democrats calling on New York Representative Anthony Weiner to resign in the wake of his Twitter sex scandal. As of yet there has been no discovery of illegal activity on the part of the embattled representative, but Castor told WMNF that he violated the public trust, and needs to move on.

Previous WMNF news coverage of Kathy Castor

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