BayWalk Diversity Weekend
and the Ultimate Honor for Mel Sembler

by Wesley Fager (c) Feb. 27, 2004

We're color-blind. Look, I've got teenagers, and it makes no difference to me - black, white, red. We want people of all sorts to be there.
Sembler Company CEO Craig Sher commenting on Uhuru claims that Sembler-built and operated $40 million BayWalk shopping mall and entertainment complex in St. Petersburg is racial.

If you take the kids to Mel Sembler's $40 million BayWalk shopping extravaganza on a Friday night they will see people picketing the place. If you live next door to him or across the street you might see picketers protesting there too. Why all the fuss and what's Mel doing about it? Well, to answer the last question first, one thing you can say about ole' Mel Sembler is that he is predictable. When syndicated cartoonist Gary Trudeau did a spoof in Doonesbury on Sembler claiming Mel bought the ambassadorship to Australia so his kids would have a place to surf, you can rest assured that Sembler would have an Australian Consul-General like Robert Whitty go to Florida to blow his horn for him. And who didn't predict that the Australian government would grant Sembler the Order of Australia proclaiming Mel Sembler to be one of the niftiest US ambassadors to that country ever. Or when the Democrats laughed at Sembler's nomination for ambassador to Australia because it was so obvious he had bought it, wouldn't you expect Mel the Republican to hire the likes of Democrat lobbyist Jerome Berlin to tell his fellow Democrats what a great humanitarian Sembler really is. Take Sembler's Straight program. There are many professional people who have spoken out against Straight. But what does Mel Sembler care as long as he had Dr. Robert L. DuPont, Jr., the second White House Drug Czar and founding director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as a paid consultant for Straight who could always be counted on to counter Straight's critics. Today Dr. DuPont is a member of Straight's Advisory Board under its current name: Drug Free America Foundation.

When criticism of his Straight program got too great, Sembler predictably went out and hired himself a beautiful public relations assistant named Joy Margolis to diffuse the newspaper reporters.
When Straight was sued for child abuse, former drug czar Robert DuPont was called in as an expert witness. When critics complained about his program, the beautiful Joy Margolis addressed their concerns. But when Princess DI, Nancy Reagan, Roger Starbuck, a Congressman or George Bush was in town, it was always Mel and Betty who wined and dined them.

More recently Sembler Company has had zoning problems and design problems with the $100 million Atlanta Gas Light shopping complex it's building in Atlanta, Georgia. A lot of people don't want it; many more wanted major changes if it were to be. [See opposition 1, opposition 2, opposition 3, opposition 4, opposition 5, opposition 6, opposition 7, opposition 8, opposition 9 and so forth.]

With all this opposition you know Sembler, the man of habit that he is, is just going to go out and hire the likes of a Georgian public relations specialist like Angelo Fuster to lobby his position. Mr. Fuster has worked communications for former US representative to the United Nations Andrew Young in his US Senate bid and has lobbied for three Atlanta mayors. Today Fuster is in partnership with Kevin Ross who did the publicity for Georgian David Scott's successful bid for US Congress. It was Scott's wife Alfredia, along with Andy Young's wife Carolyn and Hank Aaron's wife Billye (three charming black women) who were able to coax heavy weight boxing champ Evander Holyfield to host a political rally for David Scott at his spacious 55,000 square foot bachelor mansion.

One Saturday evening last month a group of citizens concerned with the infiltration of former Straight officials like Mel Sembler into the Florida Holocaust Museum staged a protest of that museum's "To Life" Awards Banquet. Brent Sembler, son of Straight founder Mel Sembler and vice president of the board of Sembler Company, received one of the two "To Life" awards for, among other reasons, his role in combating racism. How ironic it is that the previous night the Uhuru, a political group seeking social justice for blacks, were protesting Sembler's BayWalk for alleged racism and that very night the awards event itself was being protested for Sembler's racist, civil rights-violating Straight program! (The museum was founded by Straight Foundation president and current board member of Drug Free America Foundation--Walter Loebenberg.)

How could a black group picket a Sembler venture for alleged racism while a Holocaust museum was giving a Sembler Company man an award for his fight against racism! Surely Sembler and the whole Holocaust crowd were apprehensive lest the Uhuru show up to protest the Holocaust Awards ceremony too. The ever predictable Melvin Sembler had an ace up his sleeve for that possibility. The museum had a special guest at the awards banquet. That's right--Evander Holyfield.

Melvin Sembler, The Great Coalition Builder
In 1989 President George Bush nominated Straight founders Melvin Sembler and Joseph Zappala for ambassadorships to Australia and Spain respectively. Like a mischievous school boy Sembler wrote in his Senate application form under the application block for languages, "English (fluent)". At another point on his application form Sembler, who is Past Honorary Chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition, had written:
"I have been known as a coalition builder, able to organize my colleagues and peers to action in support of worthy civic, charitable and political causes."
Meanwhile, on his form, Zappala had written almost the exact same thing. He wrote:
"I am known as a coalition builder. I am able to organize my colleagues and peers to action in support of worthwhile civic, charitable and political causes."

Maryland Senator Paul Sarbanes was not amused. "This is an absolute insult to the process," he told his fellow Senators from the floor of the Senate. "It's incredible. It's the sort of thing where a teacher in school would hand the exam back, or better yet flunk the student." The Washington Post editorialized calling the two forms "modular testimony" and asked the question, "Can the would-be ambassadors be trusted to enter into dialogue with their host governments if they, apparently, cannot be trusted to write a few lines on their own qualifications?"

The Uhuru have been protesting BayWalk on Friday nights ever since last October 9th after three black men had been arrested the previous Saturday night for allegedly being disorderly at Wet Willies Bar--a BayWalk venue. Ever sense Sembler has been working on a master damage control plan. Priding himself as a coalition builder since the day he bought the ambassadorship to Australia, Sembler has formed a partnership with a minority-owned business called Urban Development Solutions, Inc. to bid on construction of a small shopping mall in the predominantly black Midtown section of St. Petersburg. [See Sembler and the NAACP.] The coalition with UDS was a smart move for Sembler since UDS director Darryl Rouson is also head of the local chapter of the NAACP!

According to the St. Petersburg Times Darryl Rouson and Sembler Company have been planning a diversity festival at BayWalk ever since the Uhuru started picketing the venue last fall. The gala event was scheduled months ago for February which is Black History Month. And not a month too soon either because on the day after Valentine's Day (Feb. 15) the Uhuru protest broadened when Uhurus and members of the Straight Awareness crowd made a combined peaceful demonstration at the residence of Ambassador Melvin Sembler in St. Petersburg's exclusive neighbor, Treasure Island. The Diversity Event was held this past weekend (Feb. 20 - 22, 2004). It featured entertainment, including a choral group, and about twenty African-American vendors. [One wonders how many permanent store lessors at Bay Walk are African American.] Predictably the Uhuru protested and just as predictably Darryl Rouson gave a kick-off speech directed towards the Uhuru in which he proclaimed, "BayWalk does discriminate. They discriminate against rude, rowdy people who want to disturb the peace, and for that we are thankful."

The Treasure Island Causeway and draw bridge Every February the US Postal service unveils a stamp dedicated to a notable African American. Last weekend the Postal Service unveiled a stamp in honor of famous black entertainer and civil rights activists Paul Robeson. To understand the power of politics and how it came to be that this particular stamp was unveiled at BayWalk when it was, one needs only look at the Treasure Island Causeway and draw bridge. The causeway and bridge span Boca Ciega Bay which separates St. Petersburg on the right from a barrier peninsular named Treasure Island on the left. To the left of the peninsular is the Gulf of Mexico. There are many beach towns on the peninsular: Maderia Beach, Redington Beach, St. Petersburg Beach, Treasure Island and more. A driver can access these beautiful beach towns by driving north to Largo and then down the peninsular down Highway 699; but the Treasure Island Causeway, built in 1939, is more direct.

Paul Robeson, a truly remarkable man
Last weekend a US postage stamp was unveiled at Sembler's BayWalk in honor of Paul Robeson. If you're white you probably don't know who Paul Robeson was. Paul Robeson was the great baritone voice who popularized the song "Old Man River." He was sort of the James Earl Jones of the 1930s and 40s. Robeson was only the third black man accepted to Rutgers where he was not only a star athlete, winning 15 varsity letters in football, baseball, basketball and track, but he was a Phi Beta Kappa and valedictorian of the Rutger's Class of 1919. He earned a law degree from Columbia but stopped practicing law on his first day on the job when his stenographer refused to take dictation from him. He performed "Othello" on Broadway and became a famous movie star in the 1930s and 40s.

Paul Robeson was a civil rights activist who sought social justice for blacks just like the NAACP and Uhuru do. In 1933, he gave all his earnings from the film All God's Chillun Got Wings to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. He was once called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and asked why he didn't just move to Russia. His answer, "Because my father was a slave and my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay here and have a part of it, just like you. And no fascist-minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear?" Robeson even managed to slip a political message into "Old Man River," by changing the words from "I'm tired of livin' and feared of dyin'" to "I must keep fightin' until I'm dyin'." Paul Robeson was truly a remarkable man.

There are many man-made landfills around the city of Treasure Island giving homeowners water access to the bay. The town is slightly over 1.5 square miles in size and has a small population of just 7,500 citizens--97.7% of whom are white. The city of Treasure Island owns the draw bridge on the causeway but it is in dire need of repair. In order to fix it the city had originally planned to increase the toll on the bridge. It had also planned to seek $25 million in state and federal loans and borrow another $25 million to finance a new, four-lane drawbridge. That's when Treasure Island mayor Mary Maloof had a vision. She sent a letter to Ambassador Mel Sembler in Rome to "see what he can help us do with his contacts in Washington." After all, Mel Sembler lives in the city of Treasure Island himself.

US Congressman C. W. "Bill" Young is from St. Petersburg's neighbor Largo. In 1974 Congressman Young met with Robert DuPont to plead the case to get federal money for Straight's predecessor The Seed--St. Petersburg. In April 1978 Congressman Young revealed that he had received three complaints about Straight, one was a Congressional inquiry from fellow Congressman Robert E. Bauman, R-Maryland. When Congressman Young was sued for allegedly helping to cover up a story that his niece had been sexually molested by her grandfather, he was represented by Straight's attorney Anthony Battaglia. In 1989 Young gave an almost laughable endorsement for Sembler when Sembler bought his Australian ambassadorship. A reporter once asked St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker who's the most powerful man in St. Petersburg. He responded Bill Young followed by Mel Sembler. In 2002 Young visited with Sembler at Mel's Villa Taverna in Rome. Congressman C. W. "Bill" Young is chairman of the House Appropriation Committee.

Last year Young's appropriation committee put together a whopping $373 billion Omnibus spending bill that includes $50 million to replace the Treasure Island Cause Way draw bridge. Tolls won't be raised; they will be eliminated! There will be no loans. The federal tax payer (that means you and I) will pick up the tab. Seems to this writer that the Treasure Island Causeway and draw bridge is for the primary benefit of the folks who live on the peninsular and its exclusive man-made abutments. Why should Midtown's minorities have to pay to build a new bridge to Treasure Island when the only time they hardly ever use it is to protest Mel Sembler? Why should I have to pay for it when I don't even live in Florida? But that's politics. Which brings us to back to Paul Robeson and BayWalk. It doesn't take much to imagine Mel Sembler calling George Bush and asking him to get the US Postal Service to unveil the Robeson stamp at his smoke and mirrors, diversity weekend. It would just be good use of politics, that's all.

The St. Petersburg Times' coalition with the Melvin Sembler Both the Uhuru and The Straight awareness crowd have beefs with the Saint Petersburg Times. The Uhuru feel that the Times favor the police in their reporting with the Uhuru. Last year Times reporter Bill Maxwell editorialized that, "The time has come - actually, it came years ago - for so-called black leaders, such as the ever-strutting Uhuru boss Omali Yeshitela, to shut up." The Saint Petersburg Times has been favorably biased towards Mel Sembler ever since its president and editor Eugene Patterson retired. The Straight crowd faults the Times for not reporting on its protests of Mel Sembler.

The time has come - actually, it came years ago - for so-called black leaders, such as the ever-strutting Uhuru boss Omali Yeshitela, to shut up.
Bill Maxwell, St. Petersburg Times staff writer

Look. Mel Sembler is having problems with a certain segment of the black community. They've protested BayWalk. They've protested his home. They've protested the Tiger Club. Mel has some explaining to do to his neighbors, to his shoppers, to the Republican party. What better way to explain the protests to his neighbors than by letting the St. Petersburg Times print that a small group of vocal blacks have protested him, but that the majority of blacks like him. And that is exactly what the St. Petersburg Times reported. There had been a diversity celebration at BayWalk, the Times reported, jointly sponsored by Sembler Company and the NAACP. The Uhuru had protested, the Times reported, in fact the Uhuru had even protested Mel Sembler's home in Treasure Island, the Times reported. That should satisfy Sembler's neighbors. He is being picketed by a small minority of vocal blacks. But look at the pictures below taken from the protest at Sembler's home. The photos clearly show that the protest at Sembler's Treasure Island home consisted of both Uhuru and Straight awareness people. Sembler knew this. The police knew this. But the St. Petersburg Times did not report it! Mel Sembler did not allow the Times to print the full story and in this way the St. Petersburg abetted Mel Sembler in his public relations ploy to downplay the incident just as the St. Petersburg Times had done in 2002.

Consider the protest of the Florida Holocaust Museum's awards banquet last month. It was the Straight crowd, not the Uhuru, that had protested the event as shown in this exclusive photograph below:

The Times had a reporter inside the hotel covering the awards and the Times had been informed that there was going to be a protest. But Mel Sembler who has formed a coalition with the St. Petersburg Times to sell exclusively only the St. Petersburg Times at BayWalk, had not given the Times permission to cover the protest outside. And since the press was not allowed to cover the protest, many of those wondering souls who attended the awards banquet are going to assume, incorrectly, based on what they have by now read in the St. Petersburg Times about the BayWalk protest, that the Holocaust protest was also conducted by the Uhuru--a group frowned upon by their own NAACP. What a brilliant coup by a master coalition builder--Mel Sembler!

Straight separates families. Wives divorce husbands. Some children remain estranged from their parents to this very day, but Mel Sembler had George Bush as a public relations specialist to make all seem well. Now Sembler has sought a coalition with the NAACP but can it cause a rift in the black community? Already the Uhuru are calling for the removal of Darryl Rouson.

Years ago the citizens of Tyronne Village condominiums in St. Petersburg signed a petition to stop Sembler from building yet another unwanted shopping center in their neighborhood. You could have bet your bottom dollar Sembler would hire some lobbyist like Attorney Roy G. Harrell, Jr., a past president of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, to pump the city council members until he got his way. Hell, one day Paul Getting, executive vice president of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and chamber member Howard P. Ross, business partner of Straight's attorney Anthony Battaglia, unveiled plans to build a marble shrine to Mel Sembler! Now there is even greater cause to cast the man in stone. Abraham Lincoln is known as The Great Emancipator. Melvin Sembler, AO, by his own boast, is known as The Great Coalition Builder. We therefore propose that the US Congress appropriate funds to make a marble statue of Mel Sembler to be patterned after the Lincoln Monument in Washington, DC. An artist rendition follows: