Say It Ain’t So, Charlie Gray


An unidentified man looks over a map of the proposed high speed rail project.

Growing up with a lawyer and onetime environmental enforcement bureaucrat for a father, I came to know by reputation a Central Florida lawyer named Charlie Gray. My dad held Mr. Gray in great reverence, admiring his combination of public-mindedness and shrewd nose for money.

I’ve come to know Mr. Gray even more by reputation — only met him once or twice, I think — as it became clear over the last few years that he’s essentially the shadow governor of the I-4 corridor and greater Central Florida. I detailed his myriad involvement–and his firm GrayRobinson’s–in advancing the CSX deal and J.D Alexander’s interests in this post particularly.

More recently, his push for the USFP site has successfully managed to get a major newspaper to conflate J.D. Alexander with Lakeland–as if they’re on the same side. That takes skill and ruthlessness, and I admire it.

(Memo to the Orlando Sentinel, the “group proposing to site its station in what the city planner there calls a vacant cow field” is the same precise “group,” led by J.D. and Charlie Gray, that brought us Sunrail in opposition to that same city planner–not that you care.)

Anyway, Charlie Gray is a stud. If you want to make something happen, call him in. As one person affiliated with the CSX deal — on the CSX side — once told me: Charlie Gray changes communities over lunch.

All of this serves to highlight my amazement that the powers-that-be got Charlie Gray — who is no spring chicken — to drag himself all the way to Lakeland Wednesday evening to make the case — in person — for building the High Speed Rail Stop at the USFP.

Tom Palmer’s remarkably obtuse story about Wednesday’s rigged meeting neglects to mention Le Grande Charles, which is a mistake. But I am told Gray arose to compare the cowfield that is USFP now to the cowfield that was UCF then, which Gray helped turn into the behemoth it is today. Whatever. That’s the argument I would make, too, were I him, particularly if my clients or affiliates had various ego and business interests associated with its development.

I’m more interested in the strange personal dynamics at work here.

It’s fascinating to me that Charlie Gray is going to end his long, distinguished career of making things happen by serving as a henchman for a spoiled inheritance baby.

Really? This is his final act? Helping J.D. use his inherited landholdings to shape Florida to his whims and antagonize every environmental and planning organization not called DOT in the process?

Seriously, Charlie, J.D. Alexander should be your henchman — not the other way around. John Updike once wrote about Ted Williams — “Gods don’t answer letters.” You’re not only answering letters, you’re running J.D.’s errands, carrying his water at meetings he can’t be bothered to attend himself.

For what?

Honestly, isn’t it time to write your memoirs? You know where every body is buried in this state. I would pay to read it — at least in paperback.

On a somewhat related note, I understand that virtually every conceivable Polk economic development group, right down to the Associated Boosters of Wahneta. (That’s a joke, for the humor challenged.) spoke in favor of the USFP site. The Lakeland Chamber, which runs Leadership Lakeland (of which my wife is now a part), did not speak and offer a preference.

Could that be, perhaps, because a couple of high-falutin’ Chamber members have land interests near the USFP site? Or did the Chamber poll its hundreds of members on this highly important economic and infrastructure issue and conclude there was no clear position to take?

I wonder.

But, as my boys the Drive-By Truckers sing, I don’t wonder long.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Chuck Welch for Lakeland Local

4 thoughts on “Say It Ain’t So, Charlie Gray

  1. Billy:

    I thought it very interesting and wondered why the media did not pick up on it but the shadow went to the mic and offered a story of how a cow pasture grew into the 2nd largest university in the United States. It was a fascinating but quick story that started with a reference of a governor that the shadow assisted and the governor asked the shadow what he would like in return and the shadow said, “I want a university”. So, in the early 60’s Florida Technological University was born in what was once a cow pasture that has grown over time to be the University of Central Florida and home to over 56,000 enrolled students. While sitting in the audience I asked myself – did the shadow suggest on his own accord that he accepted a political favor? What do you want in return? I want a university! Did I hear that correct? What is fascinating is that the media did not pick up on it like I did or maybe favors, gifts, paybacks or decisions (you choose) to build a university in a cow pasture happens so often that it is not news. Up to this point a Polk HSR site seems to be emotionally and political driven with very little rationale based on the obvious such as infrastructure costs, mass transit and ridership population.

    Yes, UCF has grown into a very large and fine university but it took almost 50 years from its inception to get where it is today. Can the state of Florida or better yet can HSR vendors afford to build a train station and wait 50 years for a return on investment? According to our newly elected Governor, there will be no state subsidy but there are many knowledgeable people mumbling under their breath that the only way a stop can survive at the USF Poly site is through a subsidy of some type. And let’s not forget the site has no existing mass transit support in the way of bus service and not one vertical piece of construction currently exists. And, USF Poly does not have full funding at this time but the new Governor’s budget is due out soon. So, until then I keep waiting for someone to yell out that the emperor has no clothes.

  2. # Avoid exposure to environmental pollution. While further studies are needed, some research suggests a link between breast cancer and exposure to the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found in vehicle exhaust and air pollution. This is straight out of the mayo clinic.

  3. “Up to this point a Polk HSR site seems to be emotionally and political driven with very little rationale based on the obvious such as infrastructure costs, mass transit and ridership population.”

    Whew!!! I was beginning to think I was the only one that noticed.

    I don’t worry too much about jd’s grand plans. His ability to screw up everything he touches will probably give us little to concern ourselves with on that account. Paving the path for more dangerous sorts could be a greater issue in the future, though.

    I rode the train from Miami to Winter Haven a few days ago and noticed the east side of the tracks has been cleared about two bulldozer widths through most of Polk County.

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