Council member Harry Cohen filed papers Wednesday to run for mayor of Tampa in 2019, promising more focus on neighborhood issues and action on transportation and infrastructure needs — including sea level rise.

"We need to capitalize on the momentum that we have but recognize that we have enormous challenges and they are mainly due to our successes," he said in a news conference outside the county election supervisor's office after filing his candidacy papers.

"We are challenged because we are growing."

Cohen had praise for term-limited Mayor Bob Buckhorn, whom he's seeking to replace, saying Buckhorn "has been an outstanding mayor and I think he's really positioned us very well for the future."

But Cohen said as mayor he would "shift focus moving forward to address things that may have been placed on the back burner," including shifting emphasis from downtown parks to improving neighborhood parks.

"I didn't develop my platform based on what consultants or anyone else told me to say," he said. "I based it on what I hear in the community day in and day out throughout the city of Tampa."

Cohen, 48, is an attorney and Tampa native who lives in the Bayshore Beautiful neighborhood and has represented the South Tampa council District 4 since 2011. He faces a term limit in his district seat.

Cohen served as a deputy to Clerk of Court Pat Frank from 2005-11, and continued to work in the office until he resigned recently for the mayor's race, he said.

Cohen joins a potentially large field of candidates in the March 5, 2019, election that already includes Topher Morrison, Ed Turanchik and Michael Anthony Hazard, and may eventually include former police Chief Jane Castor, architect Mickey Jacob, retired banker and philanthropist David Straz and council member Mike Suarez.

Asked what sets him apart from that field, Cohen said, "A very, very strong work ethic in my last seven years on the city council."

He noted that he was heading back to his council office after the news conference and planned to attend a neighborhood meeting Wednesday night.

"Every week of the year I'm out doing things throughout the community," Cohen said. "That does make me aware of what the needs and wants are within the neighborhoods," including traffic congestion problems, concerns about the city's tree ordinance, stormwater management and safe passage to schools  on sidewalks.

In a news release, Cohen listed four top priorities he would have as mayor:

  • “A comprehensive, multi-modal transportation plan.”
  • “Aggressively invest in and seek federal and state support for infrastructure improvements to deal with sea level rise, coastal flooding and the rise in the water table.”
  • “Broadening the focus from the urban core to the surrounding neighborhood parks, sidewalks, curbs and streets.”
  • “To promote civility and reasonableness in public discourse.”

Cohen said he talked to most of the current or likely mayoral competitors Tuesday night – Castor, Suarez, Turanchik and Straz – and that, "One of the things that I really hope is that we're going to have a friendly and issue-oriented race."

Asked about what he expects the campaign to cost, Cohen said it would likely be more than the roughly $500,000 spent by each of the top three candidates during the last open race, in 2011.