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Easy marks


Hookers. Drug abusers. Juvenile delinquents.

The image of tattoo wearers by those claiming to have downtown Orlando's best interests at heart come from the dark corners of minds dusty with cobwebs. Their grasp at reality far exceeds the reach of their fingertips. Tattoos today are more visible than designer labels, worn as nonchalantly as pierced earrings.

But that hasn't stopped the demonizing of the culture, with eager ears and like-minded views popping up among the elected leadership. (One of the horrors of the proposed dance club branded as a "rave mall" by Orange County Chairman Rich Crotty was that it would include -- hide the children! -- a tattoo shop.)

In context, the city's push to limit the number of tattoo parlors downtown fits in with the ongoing generational clash that started with youth curfews and attacks on late-night dancing. But that's the short-sighted view. It's really about image, and imposed conformity.

"I find `tattoos` personally in bad taste," District 5 Commissioner Daisy Lynum said last June, when Mayor Glenda Hood announced a six-month ban so the city could "study" the negative influences of the stores on health and safety. (They couldn't find any.) Continued Lynum: "You can't even go `downtown` and get a beer without walking into all the little kids with their bodies all covered with what I call self-injurious behaviors."

Yes, downtown is ailing. But before they scapegoat tattoo artists and their clientele, the mayor and city commissioners should ask around at cocktail parties and PTA meetings. Never mind that tattoos -- celebrated with a display at the downtown Orange County Regional History Center -- have been worn in Central Florida since the time of the Timucuans, Indian tribes that pre-date European settlers. Tattoos nowadays turn up among the most prominent of white-collar professionals, people who have never gone to a rave but have lived through many of life's joys, sorrows and struggles.

People like Gina Bernardini, whose passion for art led her to have a heart pierced by a paintbrush tattooed on her upper back.

Or Jim Powers, a Realtor whose tattooed "trusted golden dragon" is steeped in American naval tradition. Powers points to the tattoo, an emblem of veracity, whenever he wants his 6-year-old son Forrest to tell the truth. "I think it's the greatest thing I ever did to bond with my son," says Powers, the former chairman of the Orange County Board of Code Enforcement.

Or Jim Daniel, a Rollins College administrator with a lifelong soft spot for Winnie the Pooh -- so much so that he had the cartoon bear tattooed on his upper left arm.

Unlike city leaders, who will vote Feb. 26 to cap the number of downtown tattoo shops at eight (there currently are five), they know the health of a city isn't realized by the number of those shops, but by how soundly public officials make decisions that affect our lives.

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