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Ousted for speaking English: Floridian now national focus

STUART, Fla. – A South Florida man who claims he’s being evicted from his place of business because he speaks no Spanish – just English – says he will move out, as he’s suddenly become the focus of national debates over illegal immigration and property rights.

Two Hispanic men exit a Mexican restaurant adjacent to Seacoast Water Care in Stuart, Fla. The owner of Seacoast, Tom McKenna, says he’s being evicted because he does not speak Spanish (WND photo)

“I wouldn’t want to stay here among the current climate,” Tom McKenna, owner of Seacoast Water Care in Stuart, Fla., told WND.

The businessman is getting requests from media outlets across America to tell the story of how his landlord at the Ellendale Center wants him out of his office space by the end of the month, in order to “complete [his] vision of converting the center to quality tenants serving the Spanish need in the area.”

“I guess I don’t serve the ‘Spanish need,’ whatever that means,” McKenna told the Stuart News in a story published Sunday. Since then, the saga has been prominently featured on websites including WND and the Drudge Report, and now McKenna is making the rounds on the television-news circuit, both on Florida stations as well as national shows such as CNN’s “Glenn Beck.”

McKenna insists to WND he has been a good tenant for some seven years, always paying his rent on time.

“That’s just a kick in the face to me,” he told WPBF-TV, the ABC affiliate in West Palm Beach. “Because somebody comes in here and says, ‘Hey, you know I like that corner store where that Seacoast Water is there, and now we have a full-service plaza serving the Spanish needs in here, we need to get him out of there.”

McKenna’s water-conditioning business shares the same building as a check-cashing store and a Mexican restaurant, both of which feature signs in Spanish.

Tom McKenna’s Seacoast Water sign in Stuart, Fla., is the only one of three businesses in his plaza in English (WND photo)

The day after Independence Day, McKenna received a letter from landlord Ivan Munroe telling him to consider another location, even offering McKenna other space he owns.

Then in another letter dated Aug. 1, Munroe informed McKenna his rental contract was being terminated.

“Please remove all of your possessions by August 31,” the second letter stated.

When asked about his initial letter’s statement about his “vision of converting the center to quality tenants serving the Spanish need in the area,” Munroe told the Stuart News, “I can have a vision, can’t I? And his business just doesn’t fit there.”

Regarding prospective other tenants to replace McKenna, Munroe said, “Mexican people come in, you know they’re going to stay. You know they’re going to pay the rent.”

Tom McKenna (courtesy WPBF-TV)

McKenna told NBC affiliate WPTV-TV: “[Munroe] blatantly put down in [the letter] how he has two quality tenants in there that have several stores and he’s got another quality tenant that wants to rent my space here to complete his vision of making this a plaza that serves the Spanish community – it’s not acceptable as far as I’m concerned.”

He has been contacted by the American Civil Liberties Union and others ready to take up his cause, but he told WND he has no lawsuit pending.

Due to expected moving expenses and because the notoriety has taken some time away from running his business, he has established the “Thomas R. McKenna Assistance Fund” to which the public can contribute at any Wachovia Bank nationwide.

McKenna told WND he’s also looking into the possibility that the adjacent Mexican restaurant may have been given a lease on his space before he was ever notified to get out.

Spanish signage for a business in the same plaza as Seacoast Water Care in Stuart, Fla. The owner of Seacoast, Tom McKenna, says he’s being evicted because he does not speak Spanish (WND photo)

The story has ignited a firestorm of comments on the Internet. Many feel a sense of outrage that an American business owner could be ousted because he speaks only the native language of his country, but others think property rights are the issue, and the landlord can choose whomever he wishes to fill the space.

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