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Joe Henderson: Ed Turanchik is one candidate who knows what he’s talking about

By Joe Henderson, Special to the Times
Published: February 8, 2018 Updated: February 8, 2018 at 11:45 AM
Transit advocate Ed Turanchik has thrown his hat into the ring again in the race for mayor of Tampa. [Times file (2010)]

Ed Turanchik was talking about mass transportation. He is a bit of a wonk on this and any conversation with him usually ends up there. But he wants to be Tampaís next mayor and we should pay attention.

"Henry Ford said, ĎIf I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.í I think weíve been in a faster-horses moment here when it comes to mass transit," he said.

"The job of the mayor and civic leaders is to understand whatís coming and to get the city there before other areas."

That, ladies and gentlemen, will be the essence of Turanchikís push to succeed term-limited Bob Buckhorn as mayor in 2019.

Turanchik certainly will be familiar to voters, and it will be up to them to decide if that is a good thing. Tell you what though, one thing I always have liked about Turanchik is that he isnít afraid to fail.

Iím talking things like when he was a county commissioner and pushed for a commuter rail system in Hillsborough about 30 years ago. He earned the derisive nickname "Commissioner Choo-Choo" for that one.

He led an effort to bring the Summer Olympics to the Tampa Bay area. That didnít work either. He ran for mayor in 2011, but voters went in a different direction.

It would have been easy to crawl off the public stage and never return, but thatís not his style. We canít be surprised that he is back in the game again.

The field of candidates is still taking shape, but itís expected to include some high-profile names like former police chief Jane Castor and Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez. Local retired banker and philanthropist David A. Straz, Jr. is still making up his mind.

Strong group.

Turnachik believes he can make a case, though, that his time is now. He will keep repeating his three-pronged mantra: transit, housing and innovation.

They all go together.

It is worth wondering what Tampa and Hillsborough would look like today if people had paid more attention when Turanchik was arguing decades ago about the need for a rail system.

Critics would say, because Iíve heard them repeat it many times, that we would be stuck with an inadequate boondoggle that sucks up tax money. They overlook that building roads costs cost many, many millions of dollars and never seem to keep up with the demand.

Lately, officials are exploring whether to support a bus rapid transit program ó BRT, for short ó as a cheaper alternative to rail or similar ways to get cars off the street. It would run along a 41-mile stretch of Interstate 275 from suburban Wesley Chapel, though downtown Tampa, to St. Petersburg.

Good idea, Mr. Would-Be-Mayor? He certainly has studied these issues extensively.

"There are some good elements to that. But the biggest concern is that there is no vision or purpose behind it," he said. "The notion of regional transit is off base I believe. Most transit traffic is local, and you have to frame it that way."

By starting his campaign early, Turanchik will have plenty of time to meet with civic groups and the like. Then itís up to him to sell his ideas.

He believes he can.

"Bob Buckhorn lifted up a city and I want to build on his work," he said. "I know the direction we should take, and I know how to take it.

"The 21st century solution is to have a variety of ways of mobility that can be combined quickly and efficiently, solutions that didnít exist when I rolled out commuter rail in 1991. We have a whole bunch of new options."

In the coming year, he will be happy to explain every one of them to anyone who will listen.

My advice: Pack a lunch.