Generations

Trying to bridge the age gap; Redner's loss

Jack Levine loves the intergenerational nature of a ballpark. As he nears his front-row seat at Joker Marchant Stadium, he points out an elderly man in a straw hat, a young granddaughter dressed in pink on his lap, eating a hot dog out of his hand.

"Look at that," he says with awe. "I love spring training."

Levine is taking in a Detroit Tigers game in Lakeland, a city in which he is spending a lot of his time these days. For 25 years, he was a leading advocate for children's causes in Florida, as the head of Voices for Florida's Children. Now, in his life's third act, he is taking on an even larger cause: recreating the intergenerational ties between the elderly and the young that used to exist pre-World War II in this country, when grandparents passed down their years of knowledge and looked out for all the kids in the neighborhood.

With major funding from the Publix Super Markets Charities (hence his presence in Lakeland, where the privately held grocer is headquartered), Levine wants to re-craft community volunteerism along those bygone lines. He points to the reality that there isn't enough money in the state budget, or a willingness to raise more taxes, for social services. It's time for sweat equity. And who better to provide it than the retiree set?

"There's a psychology of that old style of community that we really need to rekindle," Levine says. And the need is there. "The demographics are absolutely incontrovertible."

He's talking about the huge number of baby-boomer children out there, twice as many under-25s in Hillsborough County as over-75s, he points out. Many of those kids, teens and young people need some type of help, from career mentoring to tutoring to more intensive assistance such as guardian ad litems in court cases.

Levine has formed 4Generations Institute, which launched last year but is still in its infancy. It is an advocacy and education group, not a social services nonprofit. He wants to connect the existing networks of providers to the masses of seniors who have free time on their hands and want a little "involvement philanthropy." His immediate goal is to get 10,000 seniors to give two hours a week of volunteer service to the cause of young people. That will result in 1 million volunteer hours a year.

Younger folks get help and wisdom. Older folks get the real benefit of reconnecting with generations other than their own in an age where seniors shut themselves away in over-50-only suburban communities and condos.

He's not ready for a full influx of help yet; 4Generations website is skeletal, at best. But to get an idea of the kinds of things he's supporting, go to sweatmonkey.com, which is hooking up teens who need community service hours for high school with nonprofits who need help.

Strippers + Politics = Bad: Yes, it's an old equation, but it is just as true today as it was for, oh, the last 200 years in American politics.

Joe Redner might have defied conventional wisdom, though, and Tampa might well have elected an outspoken strip club owner as a City Council member — if only he'd managed not to be quoted in the last two weeks of his campaign.

Yes, one reason he lost his bid for public office last week was directly related to his adult-business associations: his offer of free admission to Mons Venus for anyone wearing an "I Voted" sticker. But he also lost because he claimed that he was "blacker" than his African-American opponent, Gwen Miller. And because Miller out-hustled and out-grassrooted Redner in a low-turnout runoff election. And because Redner lost his cool in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times about accusations regarding his campaign's phone bank operations.

Before the vote, everyone I spoke to said they were voting for him; afterward, several progressive friends and politicos said they voted against Redner (even though they had voted for him in the past) because they feared he would melt down regularly the way he did in the last week or so of the campaign.

Redner's candidacy tapped into the anti-political sensitivities of many people in the city. He just couldn't hold it together long enough to convince voters wary of his temperament that he would be a serious councilman.

I'm sure Redner will want to run again. I'm equally sure that this campaign was his last, best chance at victory.

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