Mulhern addresses Occupy Tampa activists for over an hour in Curtis Hixon Park

One member in the audience (CL was unable to get the names of most of those speaking) said the main concern was simply one of safety - that by demanding that the protesters sleep on the sidewalk, they were dangerously close to motorists going down Ashley Drive. "All it would take would be one driver to come on to the curb and cause a tragedy." He said that those sleeping over night should be allowed two feet more into the park behind the cement blocks.

But Mulhern was only so sympathetic to that concern.

"Our Police Department has been doing a very good and very fair job of enforcing our city's codes, and has been more than fair as far as people sleeping in the park, because it's not legal to sleep in the park. They have the discretion to allow it, " she said, adding, "I'm not talking about my opinion, or fairness...they have been very generous in their interpretation that you can sleep on the edge of the sidewalk."

Some of the activists (as well as the ACLU's John Dingfelder) have expressed concerns that the city might change their rules regarding public protests, but Mulhern assured them that such a change in an ordinance could only come through the Council, and nothing has yet to be proposed on that front (though the Occupy Tampa protests will be discussed at Thursday's Council meeting).

The night was dominated by questions about process about assembling. One woman said simply that Occupy Tampa activists "need a public space to assemble consistently so that we can actually develop deeper ideas and real contributions to our local community. We're just tying it on to the side of a sidewalk."

Another self-described 25 year-old asked Mulhern "If we are not given self governance here, where else would we seek it?" When the council woman said she didn't understand, the woman said her issues were with the Federal Reserve Bank. Mulhern said her concern sounded more like it was a federal issue and asked where the woman lived.

"I live on the sidewalk, " she replied to applause. Mulhern said she should speak with Congresswoman Kathy Castor.

Although Mulhern said several times that she would not editorialize about the movement, she did exactly that on a few occasions, urging them that they should "figure out how you want to get your message across."

But later on, one upset member said she couldn't care less about their image."We don't care about the press," she said, believing that most of society already think ill of them. Another speaker said for the first time he felt like he lived in a totalitarian state because of police officers filming him.

Black activist Connie Burton said that if "this group had gathered in the African community, around now the police would have really shown themselves to be who they really are...pepper spray, arrests, every form of brutality." She said she looked forward to knowing "what side of the line" Mulhern's colleagues on council were regarding Occupy Tampa.

Several people also said that they had got nowhere in trying to contact Mayor Bob Buckhorn. One member in the crowd said he had contacted the mayor's chief of staff, and from later was contacted by City Attorney Jim Shimberg. Another said her calls and emails had gone unreturned.

At times there was tension in the crowd, showing exasperation with Mulhern saying she was only a council member, not the Mayor or the Police.

Throughout the discussion Mulhern asked the activists that their best opportunity to have the mayor and others hear their message would be for them to speak during the public comment portion of the City Council's meeting on Thursday at 9 a.m.

Mary Mulhern
  • Mary Mulhern

In one of the more extraordinary appearances an elected official in the Tampa Bay area has conducted with the public in the past decade, Tampa City Councilwoman Mary Mulhern addressed between 120-150 members of the Occupy Tampa movement Wednesday night for over an hour near the new epicenter of the movement, Curtis Hixon Park.

The event, which occurred between 7:10 and 8:20 p.m., took place inside the waterfront arena in Kiley Gardens, just south of the park.

Accompanied only by Kelly Benjamin (who ran unsuccessfully for Council earlier this year and says he is now offering media support and acting as a liaison with the city government), Mulhern began by informing the audience that her job as a council member is to uphold the laws and the Constitution of the U.S., which meant she supported the activists peacefully assembling, but also said that her job means she agreed to uphold the laws of the city of Tampa.

Over the course of the next hour, some in the audience remarked that she was favoring the latter over the former.

For the first few weeks of activism in Lykes Gaslight Park and now Curtis Hixon Park, the protesters and the Tampa Police had gotten along relatively smoothly. But with those activists now being allowed to sleep overnight on the sidewalk at Curtis Hixon, they say the Police have been harassing them in the early morning hours, while police officials say they are trying to balance their concerns with those who live and work in the area.

Because of that tension, on Monday Benjamin asked Mulhern if she would address the group. Mulhern said she would, but had hoped to be accompanied by a member of the TPD as well as the city's legal department. But she told the crowd Wednesday night that both departments had declined to join her.

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