A man, his bike and our stadium

Tallahassee is truly a beautiful place to live and raise a family. While at first glance it may seem like a sleepy town surrounded by governmental structures and three universities; once you dig a bit closer it’s obvious just how many amazing things take place in our fair city. It is a place of community engagement and activism. It’s a city of conservation and small business commerce. A place where a person can meet young college football heroes just inches from a congressman while you all wait for your takeout order. It’s always been a city of connections, associations, and local icons. In recent years there has been one figure whose constant visibility, kind nature, endless advocacy, and trademark t-shirt asking “Are you Bike curious?” has made him a citywide treasure. If that wasn’t enough, Tallahassee is long known for its love of cycling, the fact that this specific person Mike Goldstein rides a bike seems to only add to his appeal.

Mike Goldstein has been a fixture of Tallahassee living for nearly a decade. The owner and operator of Capital City Pedicabs LLC for the past few years, Mike has gained a degree of notoriety, peddling all manner of college students, tourists, tired locals, and school athletes across college town throughout the day and night. With his positive manner and dry humor, he has formed a solid network among the community’s various small business owners and can always be expected to promote the capital city to visitors. Once the town begin its recent political renaissance resulting in the election of many young progressive candidates, Mike was a regular presence at numerous rallies and events. You know it’s campaign season when the back of his popular pedicab, always filled with local bumper stickers; begins to display the campaign banners of various candidates.

“I volunteer my time to people who volunteer their time,” Mike says modestly. As a long-time business owner and resident of the capital city, he has developed an ability to sense who is promoting their agendas and who is promoting this emerging city. If you are earnest and genuine, he’s usually going to be your most dedicated supporter. Besides being the most fearless person in social situations this writer has ever encountered, Mike has an almost superhuman ability to remember the goals and aspirations of every person he meets. He is the chief active listener in a town of impassioned chatter.

He’s the kind of Tally fixture that people want to engage with, and they do. They always find him! Doesn’t matter if it’s a party, on the street, or in the middle of a baseball game, smiling faces will turn up and engage with the ball cap-wearing Goldstein. It wasn’t until recently that people began to see a different side to Mike’s kind exterior, as he went in direct opposition to the institution that he has been most closely associated with, FSU.

Tallahassee has expanded at an enormous rate over the past decade, and the level of development is exciting and promising. But, like with every other minor city venturing into eventual mega city status, it’s come with an expected level of growing pains. More people has led to more opportunity for future projects, and more exposure to past habits of questionable practices.

A new city tax led to extra funding for social services in this year’s budget, and a potential magnetic field lab within city limits. All of this went out the window when FSU boosters approached the county to fund its $27 million worth of improvements. It was an unprecedented move on the university’s part to ask for such a total, and it led to a bitter battle that divided the city. One of the most surprising developments of the debate was how vocal Mike would become in his opposition.

Goldstein’s view on the deal was striking. A popular local figure, long known for his enthusiasm and good nature, was now openly critical of a city issue. It honestly added to the seriousness of the matter and I’m sure supporters of the funding couldn’t have imagined he would have been so vocal about the issue. “I’m the FSU bike guy!” But the entire community seemed to be divided on the matter. It would lead to a firestorm for all the elected officials who voted for the measure, and a fair bit of responsibility can be given to Goldstein for working so tirelessly to defeat the vote and inform citizens about the situation. He wrote opinion pieces, spoke at meetings, slapped new bumper stickers on his pedicab, and kept prodding local figures. Overnight he had found himself in the middle of a very heated public debate.

“The simple fact is, either you are for FSU or you’re not!” said Mayor Dailey during the debate. Of course, it wasn’t that absolute and the reality was far more frustrating than a mere appeal from FSU for funding. It was a situation where FSU could and still can afford the improvements, yet carelessly asked the city and county, both with serious revenue issues, to overextend themselves and pay for it. Ultimately in the eyes of many the funds would equal more privilege for those that didn’t need it, while also producing more stress on the community’s social services and limits to the funding of new community development. The city of Tallahassee wasn’t even sure it had the necessary funds to pay for the improvements and will go into debt to ensure it meets its new responsibilities. All so a slim majority of commissioners could support an organization that cravenly didn’t want to pay for its own renovations.

Ultimately the funding was approved, the city went into debt, and the Meg lab development was placed on hold. The effects of this short-sighted favor to FSU have been immediate and no doubt shall be long-lasting. The Mayor and many commissioners who were supportive of the funding have received tens of thousands of dollars from boosters, and the City’s budget has suffered. Funding for the city’s treasured cultural arts program may be drastically cut and public regard for its institutions has reached a new low.

But, despite the outcome of the DOAK/FSU battle, Mike continues to voice his opposition. Having lost the battle over the funding, Mike and many others like him have tried successfully to not let the matter go, to spearhead it into a cry of civil engagement. Mike’s large bumper sticker “I want my $27 million back!” isn’t going anywhere. Mike has used his popular following and generous nature to continue his activism. He seems to rejoice in the fact that he has become a thorn in the side of city hall and Tallahassee’s powerful chamber of commerce.

“Local groups are meant as a free resource for people to generate leads locally,” said Mike as he spoke out over the Chamber’s most recent conference, held outside of Tallahassee; commenting that it would have been far more beneficial if the organization had spent that money in town. Given the fact that he is both a successful small business owner and a chamber member, his criticism is difficult to ignore or deflect. “Chambers as a whole need to rework sponsored events. It’s an interesting situation. I want to like them and what they stand for: as a member I feel like it gives me validation over those who aren’t, to be able to voice legitimate concerns about them.”

Hearing Mike speak so passionately it’s so easy to sense his deep commitment to this town and its populace. When a business in Railroad square, the city’s ambitious arts district; recently closed, Mike reminded friends to be generous with their tips. Asking people to “support local.” It’s part of Mike’s warm, caring nature that has made him such a wonderful asset to this community. If you are an underdog, a struggling college kid, a group in need of more public exposure, or a first-time candidate looking for a friend; Mike Goldstein and his enthusiasm is never far beyond…

The bike’s extra!

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