The not so glorious history of the Gasparilla parade

Share on Nextdoor

Meanwhile over at the Times, reporter Justin George has a piece regarding the fact that, not surprisingly, not everybody who lives in the Hyde Park portion of South Tampa where hundreds of thousands of people will descend tomorrow is in love with the party, though his story concentrates on what the event does or does not do for the city financially.

You may recall that prior to last year's festivities, City Hall officials finally began cracking down on alcohol violations and disruptive behavior, and, oh yeah, added 1,600  more outhouses after resident complaints of public urination finally got city officials' ears.

Or should I say their eyes.  Though some say the excesses of Gasparilla 2008 were particularly egregious, there was this little thing called YouTube, which first made it big in 2005-2006, that was the catalyst. Dozens of outraged homeowners and renters who live in Hyde Park turned on their flipcams and cell phones to record some of the more infamous shenanigans taking place.  City officials, who for years hadn't paid much attention to such criticisms, then reacted with alacrity.

The weather is supposed to be superb tomorrow, with a cool morning developing into a 70-degree day.  For all of you attending, have a good time.

I won't be anywhere near the place.

Today both the Tampa Tribune and St. Pete Times have stories in their news pages (the Times already went coverage-crazy in its weekend entertainment section Thursday) on the annual bacchanal that is the Gasparilla parade.

The Trib's story written by Donna Koehn delves into the fact that this will be Tampa Mayor  Pam Iorio's final parade as the leader of the Cigar City, and includes this quote:

"Gasparilla is the kind of thing you couldn't establish today, because people would say it is ridiculous," she says. "But it's so steeped in tradition here. I'll probably keep going every year from now on. But I'm definitely not going to be walking it."

Iorio is accurate in saying such a parade, started over 100 years ago, would have a hard time being created today.  But as she says, "it's tradition."

Of course, it was also "tradition" that for most of the 20th century Ye Mystic Krewe, the exclusive, all-male club that hosts the parade, refused to admit blacks.  Back in 1991, with the NFL coming to Tampa for the second time for the Super Bowl (which incidentally, was exactly 20 years ago yesterday), the Krewe was told they had to integrate, or the parade would be canceled.

Faced with that option, Ye Mystic Krewe opted to cancel the parade (later that year, they did admit some black members).

But Ye Mystic Krewe still refused to include women, which apparently was okay.

But eight years ago, one man, Frank Sanchez, said it wasn't okay.  The Tampa native, who had gone on to a successful career in Boston and Washington D.C. before coming back to run for local office, was running in a contested race for mayor, the last one this city has had until now.

Sanchez had the temerity to say that he believed the Krewe should admit women. But apparently in the realpolitik world of Tampa, that was the wrong answer in 2003. He was showered with criticism, which unfortunately led him to back off from that statement.  Then, when questioned at an art gallery event for City Council candidate Kelly Benjamin (then running against Rose Ferlita), Sanchez reversed himself, as recounted in the pages of CL by then staff writer Susan Edwards:

"The criticism is valid," he said. "I made an error in judgment. My statement didn't need clarification. Any discrimination by government or an important social organization is debilitating to a community. I do think the Krewe would benefit by admitting women. I stand by that statement."

Sanchez ultimately narrowly beat out Bob Buckhorn for 2nd place in the initial election, putting him into a runoff with Pam Iorio, who as the controversy was playing out stood by silently watching Sanchez sink himself.  She then beat him like a drum in the runoff on  March 25, 2003 (Sanchez is doing okay by the way, as he currently serves as Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade for the Obama administration).

Nobody's ever brought that issue up since, incidentally.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.