Your eyes do not deceive.
That’s me on the left, looking relaxed and content.
On the right? Oh, that’s Citrus County Commission Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr. The one who, two years ago, said he would never speak with me again.
More accurately, he said he would never talk to the Chronicle again. He meant a certain number of people, and I was near the top of that list. Other than an occasional “good afternoon” as a Tuesday board meeting begins, he hasn’t said a word to me since November 2019 when the New York Times thing exploded.
Yet there we sat for nearly two hours, in his commission office, having a dynamic off the record chat that I count as an instant classic.
You may be saying, “Off the record! What good is that, you dummy?”
Perhaps you didn’t hear. I said TWO YEARS. I’ve never had a politician shut me out that long. I’ve known Ron for quite a while and we’ve had some conversations that went toe-to-toe, but I missed our chats.
Besides, I don’t need to write the “Ron Kitchen’s Agenda as Chairman'' story. We seriously need to look beyond that rhetoric and start setting the conversation standard a little higher.
And that is why Thursday’s time with Ron was so significant. He sees it too.
Without getting into the details of how the feud began, because we are NOT going down that road again, I cannot overemphasize the significance here. Ask around. It was a big deal at the time.
I attended the turnpike meeting Thursday night in Lecanto and told some people, who know ALL ABOUT IT, that Ron and I had healed that wound. They were genuinely shocked.
Without saying a word, I showed one guy the photo of Ron and me. He looked at it for a moment and blurted, “You are (bad word) me.”
Ron has long claimed he doesn’t read the Chronicle and he hasn’t read anything I’ve written since my retirement. After the dustup about whether he should be chairman or not, he seemed to have had a change of heart in one important area.
At his first meeting as chairman, Kitchen expressed his admiration for veteran Chronicle reporter Mike Bates, someone we all respect, who’s on the county commission beat. A few days later, I saw Kitchen quoted in a Buster Thompson story, the first time that’s happened in the Chronicle in, well, two years.
So I sent a note to Ron asking for a sit-down and he agreed.
No one should take this as a sign Ron Kitchen is softening. Ron will be Ron until he bangs the gavel for the final time in November 2022. And he knows better to think I’ll be his lapdog.
But we have a much deeper understanding of one another. As the clock moved closer to 12:30 p.m., I asked for one last favor: Could I get a photo and post it on Just Wright Citrus? He said absolutely and administrative assistant Doug Wright snapped a few pictures.
I don’t make a habit of holding politicians on pedestals and that certainly isn’t the case here. But boy it is sure good to know the county commission chairman wants dialogue with the public through, at least in some part, Citrus County reporters. Let’s hope it lasts.
And one more thing: If Ron Kitchen and Mike Wright can sweep away the past and focus on the future, even for one morning, it’s a huge victory. It shows what’s possible if we let old wounds heal and prepare for future battles, because they will come. Battles that don’t need to become wars. We don’t have time for that.
After the photo we stood and shook hands, each wishing the other Merry Christmas.
Old friends, old adversaries. A new day.