There's a time and a place for everything, or so I've heard. But I'm pretty sure a candlelight vigil for murdered hate-crime victims isn't the time or the place for Bob Buckhorn.
How the intemperate mayor of Tampa got an invitation to be the featured speaker at Congregation Rodeph Sholom's vigil in memory of the 11 worshippers shot to death inside a Pittsburgh synagogue, I couldn't imagine ... until I watched the Monday night event live-streamed on Facebook.
Rabbi Joel Hearshen told congregants Buckhorn had pledged his full support early on, to provide whatever safety measures and police protection it would take to make the vigil happen.
And the mayor's 6-minute speech was stirring. "In our city, if they come for you, they’re coming through them," he said, pointing toward Tampa police officers, "and they’re coming through me."
"The mayor’s words -- a brief, powerful call for solidarity across Tampa -- brought the crowd to its feet," wrote the Tampa Bay Times.
"Baloney," responded one person of the Jewish faith who asked to remain anonymous. "Anyone counting on Bob Buckhorn to shield them from hate and violence is delusional. He is a self-serving opportunist. Just repugnant.”
I understand and, frankly, share the sentiment.
Rodeph Sholom means “pursuing peace.” But Buckhorn's name is synonymous with divisiveness and thoughtlessness. I truly believe those powerful words he spoke -- in fact, the whole standing-room-only candlelight vigil -- represented nothing more to him than a PR and photo op.
This is a man who loves the power a gun gives him -- a mayor who, in May 2016, fired blanks from 50-caliber machine guns aboard a Navy special warfare boat, who fantasized giddily about killing journalists.
“And so the first place I point that gun is at the media,” he crowed. “I’ve never seen grown men cry like little girls, for when that gun goes off, those media folks just hit the deck like no one’s business. It’s great payback. I love it.”
That's no misquote.
His spokesperson attempted to play down the debacle. Buckhorn certainly did not. Seemed to me and others from Tampa I talked to at the time, he actually was enjoying the publicity. God knows, he loves to see the cameras coming.
He dismissed all complaints as "silly" because what he said was "a joke."
But Buckhorn refused to apologize until several war correspondents who were there to hear his "killing rant" took to the Military Reporters & Editors Facebook page to say they were appalled.
Fourteen months later a gunman opened fire at the Capital Gazette newspaper office in Annapolis, MD., killing five people and injuring others in what police said was a "targeted attack."
As Jim Bleyer of Tampa Bay Beat was quick to point out about Buckhorn's divisive nature, "His harebrained comment was not his first foray into the national spotlight. Other widely-reported missteps: turning downtown Tampa into an armed camp during the 2012 Republican national convention (and) condoning the targeting of minorities by the Tampa Police Department ..."
What I'm writing here isn't a Republican comment aimed at some Democratic opponent. Buckhorn is a Democrat, but he could just as well have been playing for the other team. His kind of lunatic-babble doesn't wear a party label. And I feel no less aggrieved over President Trump's demeaning attacks on the media, repeatedly calling them the "enemy of the people."
Words are powerful, we should all know that by now. They matter. Especially in these incendiary times, in the angry world we live in today.
It seems to me all leaders, regardless of political position, have a moral responsibility to act within certain social parameters.
The most I can hope for in Buckhorn is that he realized -- at least for that six or seven minutes last Monday night -- what a privilege it was to speak before an overflow Rodeph Sholom congregation crying out for unity.