Speaking in front a shabbily constructed house that he would soon help demolish, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said, "Houses like this are a cancer in our neighborhoods. And if you don't eradicate them, that cancer spreads to that house (pointing across the street), and to that house, and to that house, because these derelict houses become not only eyesores, but places where drug dealers and prostitutes and gangs move in and take over the neighborhoods. And we're just not going to tolerate that."
Maximizing the photo opportunity, Buckhorn stepped away from the podium and into a front end loader and, with some coaching, proceeded to help raze the property where the news conference took place.
The city will raze 51 properties, six north of Busch Boulevard, the rest directly in Sulphur Springs.
Joining the mayor at the podium was Reeshemah McCoy-Green, accompanied by her baby daughter Legacy.
"I've seen so much crime around here," she said, adding that her house — located across the street from the razing — has been broken into several times. But she was all smiles today.
"Right now I'm seeing so much is being done. And I'm seeing hope in this area ... it makes me feel proud to be a resident of Sulphur Springs."
Joseph Robinson of the Sulphur Springs Action League offered some remarks, but went slightly off script when he suggested that the next issue Mayor Buckhorn deals with is absentee landlords.
"We need the absentee landlords taken care of so they can address the needs of the people in these tenements ..." Robinson said.
As I walked away from the formal press conference on North 16th Street and toward my car, a young woman who was watching the proceedings offered her opinion.
"It's bad," Rachel told CL (she requested to be quoted by her first name only).
Rachel complained that when something gets fixed, local vandals "tear it down." She said drug dealing is a regular part of neighborhood activity, as are the helicopters flown by Tampa Police Department officials in the wee hours of the morning.
Pointing out an abandoned house across the street that didn't look too dilapidated, Rachel said, "See that alley up in front? They crawl through there and get inside and sell drugs. Even though it's boarded up."
Mayor Buckhorn said the origins of the name "Nehemiah Project" derived from Chloe Coney, a former neighborhood activist who currently works with Congresswoman Kathy Castor. He said she took it from the Book of Nehemiah in the bible regarding a man who after having seen Jerusalem destroyed by marauding armies, was dispatched to build the walls of Jerusalem in 51 days.