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Charlie Miranda's 'old school' campaign leads to another City Council win

Charlie Miranda celebrates Tuesday night at Arco Iris restaurant in West Tampa with granddaughters, from left, Megan Chapman, 13, Erika Suarez, 14, Morgan Suarez, 17, Miranda Chapman, 19, employee Mary Bryan (in red), and Jillian Suarez, 11.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Charlie Miranda celebrates Tuesday night at Arco Iris restaurant in West Tampa with granddaughters, from left, Megan Chapman, 13, Erika Suarez, 14, Morgan Suarez, 17, Miranda Chapman, 19, employee Mary Bryan (in red), and Jillian Suarez, 11.

TAMPA — A divisive race led to decisive results for incumbent Charlie Miranda, who returned to the City Council for a sixth term.

"I don't say anything," Miranda said. "I let the voters do the speaking and they have spoken."

Miranda throttled his lone opponent, neighborhood activist and teacher Kelly Benjamin, winning 62 percent of votes.

The polarizing battle for West Tampa and parts of Seminole Heights that made up District 6 had such clear differences that hecklers at candidate forums shouted "old school" when Miranda spoke and "new school" for Benjamin. Miranda accepted that label on Tuesday, saying "old school" meant voters thought he had done a good job in the past.

"My priorities are looking out for, not yesterday, not tomorrow, but for the day when I'm gone," Miranda said, before joking, "and I'm still 22."

At 70, he was twice the age of Benjamin, and the contrasts between them came out in many ways.

Miranda had served on the City Council for 17 years on and off since 1974, while Benjamin had never held public office.

Miranda didn't have a campaign e-mail address, while Benjamin's campaign took to all social media fronts. Miranda's platform focused on fixing things under the ground — road infrastructure, sewers and water pipes.

"The people just want a decent government that can do things, the basic necessities so they can go on with their lives," he said.

Benjamin appealed to voters who wanted surface amenities such as light rail and bike paths.

Miranda refused to criticize his opponent, while Benjamin attacked Miranda on issues and style.

Both hail from early Tampa families, but Miranda seemed to represent the older residents of West Tampa who order beefy plates of boliche. Benjamin was the voice of young professionals transforming Seminole Heights into a gentrifying neighborhood of independent beer pubs and restaurants.

But it was Miranda's record and reputation as a cost-conscious council member that voters validated. He voted against council pay raises, gave himself a voluntary pay cut, refused to use his city travel budget and never set foot in Raymond James Stadium since voting against public funding more than a decade ago.

"I always listen to the public and sometimes I agree and sometimes I don't agree and sometimes I disagree but you at least listen," he said. "You got to look people in the eye and tell them how you feel and how you think and that's what I've done my whole career."

He said his top priority for the next term will be to secure more water to meet Tampa's growth.

On Tuesday, the campaigns for both candidates ended fittingly.

Miranda's victory party was at the Arco Iris Restaurant in West Tampa that serves the same Cuban-Chinese fare it has for decades.

Benjamin was at the Refinery, a celebrated year-old Seminole Heights restaurant with a menu that changes weekly.

Times staff writer Shelley Rossetter contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

Charlie Miranda's 'old school' campaign leads to another City Council win 03/01/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 12:57am]
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