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Archive for March 2018

Silhouettes Profiles Peggy Land

Peggy and her champion, Majestic Delight.

This article originally appeared in the March. 9, 2018 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

As far back as Peggy Land can remember, she’s been driven by two things: justice and kindness.
“So many people are not getting justice,” she said. “If you don’t have justice, what do you have?”
Growing up in Virginia, she was “a melancholy child. I couldn’t believe how people treated one another. They didn’t take care of children; they didn’t take care of older people. They’d call it depression now, but I thought then, how can I stay in this old world?”
Her grandmother helped shake her from this melancholy. “She’d always tell me, ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained,’” Land said. “She’d say, ‘Honey, what difference does it make 20 years from now or 10 years from now? Just don’t let things bother you.’ That made a real difference for me.”
Eventually, she became empowered enough to realize she could have an impact the world “even just smiling at someone or being kind to someone makes a difference.”
She added, “As time went on, I found my voice and realized I could make a difference.”
Today, though she’s never run for office herself, Land is a force on the political scene and serves as a staunch ally to Democratic leaders at the local, state and federal levels.
She first moved to Tampa as a junior high school student. Her father’s health was poor and her parents thought the warmer climate might help. So they moved the family to Temple Terrace.
For high school, she and her twin sister, Patricia, moved back to Richmond to live with her older sister and brother-in-law. But after graduation, they returned to Tampa, though, turning down their aunt’s offer to fund their education at Sullins College, a women’s junior college in Virginia. “My twin sister said no way she was going to a girls’ school,” Land said. “So she decided to take a business course at Tampa College. I came back down with her.”
Uncertain about what she wanted to do, Land became focused on finding work, and, at first, took a job with William’s Pharmacy in Tampa. Eventually, she enrolled at Tampa College to study business, as well. While she was still in school, she was hired as an executive secretary at a new branch of the First Federal Savings & Loan opening on Dale Mabry Highway.
She met her eventual husband, John Land, at Tampa College. “Though I didn’t even notice him at first,” she said. “All I wanted to do was get a job. I was so focused on working and career that I did not notice him.”
He kept calling her, though, and eventually her mother suggested that she ought to call him back.
After they married, he formed a real estate development company, John Land Builders. He told his wife, “If you’re going to work for anybody, you’re going to work for me.”
“I told him, ‘I think you mean with you,’” Land said.
Their first project was an affordable housing subdivision near Robinson High School. Eventually their portfolio grew to include a range of housing types from affordable homes to high-end townhomes. She worked closely with interior designers to ensure each home was customized to their clients’ tastes and requests. “I handled all the details,” she said.
Eventually, she and her husband became involved in politics, though they never desired to be candidates themselves. “[John] never wanted to run for office. He just wanted good government,” she said.
He was president of a local homebuilders association, and eventually was appointed by three different governors to the state’s construction and licensing board. This was at a time when the construction industry was ripe with corruption, and state employees were selling licenses, she said. He tried to clean up the corrupt ways, “and I thought he was going to be assassinated.”
Longtime Republicans, the couple changed their party affiliation to Democrat in 2000 in support of Jim Davis’ run for Congress. Land’s family had been Republicans – her grandfather a Teddy Roosevelt Republican, she said. “Though I don’t think he carried a big stick. He just wanted to help people.”
So when she moved back to Florida after high school, she followed her family’s lead and registered to vote as a Republican. “But as time went on, and I saw the greed and the self-serving, I thought, ‘I don’t think I’m a Republican now,’” she said.
Since 2000, she has dedicated herself to the Democratic party, co-chairing the Distinguished Democrats Advisory Committee with Bill McBride. She went on to assist with McBride’s run for governor.
In addition to numerous local campaigns, she also served on finance committees for presidential candidates Al Gore and John Kerry, and attended both of their Democratic conventions. “I still think now what a difference it would have made if Al Gore had actually won,” Land said. “It would be a different world.”
She’s also involved with the upcoming 2018 elections, assisting with the campaign of Florida House District 60 candidate Debra Bellanti, who is facing Jackie Toledo for the seat.
Land also plans to back a Tampa mayoral candidate, but hasn’t decided which one just yet. “I’ll say this though, I won’t support anyone who doesn’t support relations with Cuba, that’s one of my top things. That and wanting to help the homeless,” she said.
In October, she visited Cuba with a group of local leaders including Tampa City Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin and St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Darden Rice. Land said she has always been fascinated by Cuba’s history, and was excited to experience its culture firsthand. “I’ve never had the opportunity to go before. I was taken with the architecture,” she said. She noted that other countries, including Russia and Brazil, have fostered a relationship that she wishes the United States could have. She’s disappointed by recent backward steps President Donald Trump’s administration has taken in regard to opening travel and trade with Cuba. “We’re missing out because of this ‘cut off your nose to spite your face’ attitude. Cuba has so much to offer.”
She added, “I, as one individual, am going to do everything I can to promoted a closer relationship with Cuba.”
Outside of politics, Land gives back to the Tampa Bay community in other ways.
In the early 1980s, she was the first woman president of the Tampa Horse Show Association. She also went on to help found the Gasparilla Charity Horse Show.
Environmental issues have always been close to her heart, as well. She currently serves on the Feedback Committee for the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission. She also worked with the Sierra Club and 1000 Friends of Florida to bring the documentary “Troubled Waters” to the Tampa Theatre.
Homelessness is another issue of importance to her. She serves on The Salvation Army Tampa board, and has worked closely with Metropolitan Ministries for decades. She recalls receiving a call for help from Metropolitan Ministries in the 1970s. “Back when it was just a soup kitchen and the gap house across the street,” she said. Because of zoning violations, the soup kitchen was on the verge of being shut down, and the gap house needed a new roof and bathrooms, she said. In addition to helping fund the projects, Land also brought in volunteer workers to get the jobs done. The projects were completed during the holiday season “and that was the best Christmas I ever had,” she said.
She continues to work closely with Metropolitan Ministries, supporting their efforts to help create a facility similar to Pinellas Safe Harbor in Hillsborough County. “I don’t think people should be arrested for being homeless,” she said. “It’s expensive. At Pinellas Safe Harbor, you have a case worker, a clinic if you need medical help, and you have a safe place to sleep, eat, and store your belonging. And a case worker is helping you. You can go out in the day time and look for a job, and you come back at night. This all makes sense.” She hopes with a changing of the guard in November, with a new mayor and a new sheriff in place, this can become a reality.
Land is always on the lookout for Democratic candidates who embrace these issues that are so important to her.
She’s “fired up” for the 2018 midterm elections. “I’m so unhappy with our Republican leadership,” she said.
She’s excited by the Democratic Party’s building momentum. “Everyone keeps saying it’s going to be a blue wave in 2018,” she said. “I say, oh no, it’s going to be a blue tsunami.”
She’s amazed by the number of women running for office. In 2017, 25,000 women ran for political seats at different levels. “The two previous years, there were 5,000 combined,” she said. There are even more running this year.
“Women, we are the nurturers, and you don’t take advantage of our children. We just aren’t going to stand for it,” Land said. “So Republicans are in for a big jolt, if they’re not already feeling it. It’s going to be a tsunami, not just a blue wave.”

A Tale of Two Cities

This article originally appeared in the March. 23, 2018 edition of La Gaceta
Chairman of the Bored
A Tale of Two Cities
By: Gene Siudut
The prospect of the Rays coming to Ybor City is very exciting and may be the most significant move here since Vicente Martinez-Ybor left Key West. The groundswell is significant and all throughout Ybor City, signs welcome the Rays and proclaim “RaYbor City” the team’s new home.
But there are some who are not happy. Their unhappiness is not about the potential move, possible public funding nor the location of the stadium. It’s about the marketing.
First, a little history.
A little over a decade ago, a few community leaders, such as Carrie West, started the GaYBOR District Coalition in support of the LGBTA community in Ybor City and served as a way for business owners to express their support of equality for all, to paraphrase its mission.
There was a lot of blowback at the time because of the name choice. Many interested parties, including this newspaper, were not in favor of renaming a piece of the district. There wasn’t a problem with its mission, at least as far as La Gaceta was concerned, but changing the name of a piece of the district seemed a bridge too far.
Over a decade later, GaYBOR is still here, and while the coalition is not as visible as it was 10 years ago, it is still strong and relevant. There was never an official name change, but the hub around the corner of 7th Avenue and 15th Street is known as GaYBOR and is marketed as such.
That fact rubs some people the wrong way. They feel that the village in which they grew up has been renamed to serve one group when Ybor was, and is, representative of all cultures.
And now we have the RaYbor issue. There are those who don’t want the team here, don’t want public dollars spent and don’t want Ybor to become subservient to Major League Baseball.
Those are all relevant concerns, but without a funding plan, stadium design, choice of vendors, sponsorships or any other plans save for a site designation, people are trying to split up a pie that has yet to be baked.
Actually, it’s worse. They have no idea what flavor the pie will be, but they know they don’t want it, like a toddler who who’s never tasted broccoli but knows not to eat it.
The Rays chose Ybor City as the team’s future home and in turn, our community is showing the team love. Part of that love is marketing to locals that we are in support of the move. Tampa Bay Rays 2020 was founded to help facilitate that support and several locals have come up with ways to express that support.
One form of support has been with banners throughout the historic district with “RaYbor” emblazoned upon the welcoming messages.
Where RaYbor and GaYBOR diverge in terms of naming is that there is no movement to change the name of any part of Ybor City. They Rays haven’t asked for a change and the creators of the RaYbor name have no desire for any such change. It is just marketing and not meant to insult anyone.
La Gaceta is what some would call a liberal-leaning newspaper. With that moniker, we are often accused of being too sensitive and easily offended by slights that most people would not consider. Being the voice for the voiceless when we can, we take that as a compliment to inform the masses but this is different.
La Gaceta has Ybor’s past, present and future at heart. I hope people out there believe that if we are for this marketing term, the rest of you should take no offense to it as well. It’s no different than hearing people call the Hillsborough River the O’Hillsborough when it was dyed green over the weekend. It’s a fun play on words meant to drive discussion.
So please discuss.
Gene Siudut can be contacted by emailing gsiudut@lagacetanewspaper.com

Silhouettes profiles Owen Robertson

Owen Robertson


This article originally appeared in the March. 2, 2018 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

Most people are surprised to learn this about Owen Robertson – after all, he’s a college educator, in addition to theater producer, actor, director and playwright – but as a teenager he was “a very poor student.”
He said, “I’m an absolute advocate for students doing well in school. I’m an educator, but I also know all the tricks to get out of it.”
Growing up just outside Washington, D.C., he graduated from high school with a 1.9 GPA, ranking 512 in a class of 516. Though he tested well and scored high on his SAT, with his GPA, he wasn’t accepted into any colleges. The only option Robertson had was to enlist in the U.S. Army. “There was a lack of choices in my life,” he said.
This was the start of his “eclectic background” that eventually led him to pursuing theater life as a full-time occupation later in life.
First, though, he served in the Army. Stationed in Fort Bragg, he was part of the 16th Military Police Brigade. He was sent to Honduras, was part of the Panama invasion and assisted with relief efforts after Hurricane Hugo hit St. Croix. He went on to become a criminal investigator for the military, specializing in homicide investigation.
After his time in the military, Robertson enrolled at George Mason University as a criminal justice major. Eventually, he changed this to history. Then, a friend at his university who knew he had done theater in high school badgered him into auditioning for an upcoming show, The Two Gentlemen of Verona. “I remember, I was in astronomy class with 300 other students and a friend of mine in the theater program kept bugging me about auditioning and wouldn’t stop until I agreed,” he said. “So I did, and I was cast in a fairly sizable role.” After the show, he changed his major to theater.
But when his son was born, he left the program to focus on providing for his family. He took a job in retail banking and later bank security. Then he took a job with a third-party logistics company that eventually moved him to Tampa in 2003. He went on to start his own company in the same field. “But the timing on that was poor,” he said. “We opened up the doors in 2007, right before the market crashed. So that didn’t last long.”
This was a wake-up call for him. When his company shut down in 2010, he decided to turn his passion for theater into his profession. “I really wanted to follow my heart and my calling and figure out how to be a full-time theater artist,” Robertson said.
He’d been involved with theater since that first college performance in 1992, but never thought he could turn it into his career. “I had figured out how to do the day job business and my nights were spent in theater,” he said.
He began auditioning for more professional theater companies and did his first professional show at Tampa’s Jobsite Theater in a production of Quills.
Since then, he’s been involved with more than 100 shows in various roles – actor, designer and even director around 50 productions. “It’s kind of been my calling card to be able to fit into any aspect of theater,” he said. “The only thing I don’t do is sew. So I’m not a costumer. But I was smart enough to marry one.”
In 2010, Robertson also decided to finish his undergraduate degree at St. Leo’s University. He completed a bachelor’s degree in English with a specialization in dramaturgy in 2013. The following year, he was accepted into the New Hampshire Institute of Art’s Master of Fine Arts Writing for Stage and Screen program.
Writing and storytelling are nothing new for him. In fact, much like his love of theater, his writing roots go back to high school. “I’m one of the original Dungeons & Dragons kids,” he said. “I speak to the box set, which sadly speaks to my age. I remember the original box set, playing it on the back of the school bus, hunkered down so nobody could see us. As a game master, storytelling came naturally to me. But structured writing didn’t happen until St. Leo.”
In the fall, he’ll begin a doctorate program in literacy studies at the University of South Florida. An adjunct English instructor for Schiller International University and the Ultimate Medical Academy, so this “kind of ties my life together,” he said.
All of these experiences led to him creating the Lab Theater Project, based at Ybor City’s Silver Meteor Gallery, in 2015. Each season focuses on emerging playwrights. “It’s strictly new work,” Robertson said. “That’s all we do.”
Having written only five plays himself, he considers himself an emerging playwright as well. “That’s probably part of why Lab works so well, because I understand where [these new playwrights are] at and I’m able to speak to them as a playwright,” he said. “As a playwright, you’re very protective of your work, which is absolutely right and they should be. But most emerging playwrights haven’t been through the production process. It’s actually a really difficult path for new playwrights to get their stories told. Most [theater companies] won’t take a risk and give them a chance.”
His relationship with Silver Meteor founder Michael Murphy has been another key to Lab Theater’s success, Robertson said. “Mike Murphy is a giant supporter of the arts. Silver Meteor has been around as a performance venue for 26, 27 years, Jobsite [Theater] started there. Hat Trick [Theatre Productions] started there. I’m just the next company in line.” Eventually, as Lab Theater grows, he hopes to find a long-term home for the company, most likely in Seminole Heights.
The theater’s next production, Bibo and Bertie by Sarah Lawrence, about the final year of Albert Einstein’s life and his relationship with his African gray parrot, Bibo, runs March 1 through March 11. Its 2017-2018 season closes in July with the production of a play by Robertson – So Long Life, which he first wrote while at St. Leo and then completed as his master’s thesis project.
He’s proud that Lab Theater has found a home in the Tampa Bay area’s thriving theater community. “In terms of regional theater, this is one of the most exciting areas to be around in terms of diversity and the work that’s being done,” he said.
In addition to Jobsite and Hat Trick, there are a bevy of other theater companies producing inspiring work, he said – Stageworks Theatre, the Tampa Repertory Theatre, American Stage Theatre Company, freeFall Theatre. “All these companies, they continually strive to improve and to improve the theater scene,” Robertson said. “They find voices and work relevant to our community, relevant to who we are as people in terms of being residents of Tampa. They also find work that just speaks to us as human beings.”
In this mix of talented companies, Lab Theater fills a much-needed niche with its focus on emerging artists. “I really want to find new adult [writers] who want to be involved in theater,” he said.
He hopes his own story and his own meandering road to a theater career inspires other. “One of the biggest things looking at my background and who I am as an artist, it’s a very big deal to me to see people get an opportunity to follow their passion and follow their dream,” he said. “Nothing can stop you if you really want it and if you really want to try, and if you’re willing to try, you can make it happen. I’m proof of that.”

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