The Potters: "Ashamed of some of the people we have in office."

click to enlarge CLEAN-UP COUPLE: Sydney and Thalia Potter have been recognized for their efforts to improve the environment of the Hillsborough River. - Alex Pickett
Alex Pickett
CLEAN-UP COUPLE: Sydney and Thalia Potter have been recognized for their efforts to improve the environment of the Hillsborough River.

Who? Thalia and Sydney Potter

Sphere of influence: The Potters are longtime environmental activists with deep ties to the Democratic Party. Thalia grew up in civic life — her father was James Joseph Lunsford, Hillsborough County's first law librarian — but immersed herself in politics during the late-1960s, when she became secretary (and later, aide) to Florida State House Rep. Ed Blackburn. Over the years, she worked for former Rep. Pat Frank and Rep. Jim Davis. (Thalia went on to work in Davis' gubernatorial campaign.) Active in the Democratic Party, the Potters have contributed to the political campaigns of prominent local Democrats like U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and city councilmembers John Dingfelder and Linda Saul-Sena. They are also longtime members of the Suncoast Tiger Bay club.

How they make a difference: After the Potters' retirement, they took up several environmental causes relating to the Hillsborough River, including fighting against malathion spraying and pushing local officials to allow more freshwater to flow from the upriver dam to replenish the river's ecosystem. In honor of their activism, the Potters have received several awards, including one from the League of Women Voters named after them. "The river is better," Thalia says, "and we've been a tiny part of that."

CL: What is the state of the Hillsborough River now?

Thalia: I think it's much improved since Friends of the River took a strong position and fought for more fresh water in the river. We're getting it, and it's making a difference.

Sydney: When we built [our house] here [in 1955], all of our children learned to swim in the river. It was that clean. Finally, we had to stop it, because [the river] was getting increasingly polluted, by runoff and so forth. Now, it's coming back. I don't know whether it's swimmable or not. I'm rather hesitant about that.

How do you feel about Tampa Bay Water's plan for "downstream augmentation," which would pour treated wastewater into the river in order to allow the water company to take out more fresh water?

Thalia: I'm very knowledgeable about that because on the TAC [technical advisory council] we studied that extensively. And I'm very, very opposed to it. People put many, many things into their bodies that there's no way to test for. There should not be water augmentation below the dam, because we don't have any idea what it would do to a small water body like that. It could be very destructive of the life that is beginning to be restored.

As a friend and political supporter of Jim Davis, how do you feel about Gov. Charlie Crist's record so far?

Thalia: I think the present governor has made a good impression, but if Jim had been elected we would be doing positive things about education and about insurance. Jim is very thorough. Jim is very deep. I think Charlie Crist defeated him with that one misleading ad with the chair. And he just kept barraging the public with that and enough of them didn't know and so they voted for him. Was that a lesson? It wasn't a surprise that money can do that; it's a concern that money can do that. Jim would've been an outstanding governor, and I hope he will serve again.

What can the next generation of environmental activists do to continue your work?

Sydney: I feel that really affecting our environmental concerns has to start at the very top. By that I mean the president of the United States. … I think it's very, very important in this coming election that we look closely at the environmental record of the people who are running for re-election. We need to get people into office who have a love for this country and for its wilderness areas and nature and don't believe drilling for oil and cutting down all the trees and mining and digging up everything serves the best interests of this county.

What is the most important thing we can do locally?

Thalia: Inform yourselves and speak out. The decision makers need to hear from people who care. … I'm ashamed of some of the people we have in office. Many times, we don't ask the tough questions when people are running for office. We listen, but we're not there [to] say, "How do you feel about wetlands protection? What do you think the value of wetlands protection?"

As members of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club, who would you like to see talk to Tiger Bay and what would be your "fang-and-claw" question?

Sydney: I would like to see a representative of the Tampa Tribune come and talk to us about [his or her] views on what the newspaper should be doing as far as dispensing the news, and why is it that they're diminishing both their [civic] power and their coverage of the news?

Thalia: It would be nice to have Brian Blair come in.

What would you ask him?

Why don't you realize that this area will be diminished if we do not protect its natural resources?

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