TAMPA — Robert Francis Buckhorn Jr. takes the oath of office at 2 p.m. Friday to become the 58th mayor of Tampa.
Buckhorn, 52, has dreamed, planned and worked toward this day since he went to work as a special assistant to then-Mayor Sandy Freedman in 1987.
Now, nearly 25 years later, he says it's humbling.
"You are now blessed with the responsibility you aspired to," Buckhorn said Thursday. "It's one thing to prepare and to train and to be ready. It's another thing to realize that there's a lot of people counting on you to get it done."
Buckhorn is ready, says Freedman, largely because of his experience in her administration and his two terms on the City Council.
"He's been on both sides," she says. "He's as well-prepared as anybody has been before him."
He'd better be.
The first item on his to-do list is putting together a budget, and Tampa faces what could be a budget deficit of $20 million or more next year. At the same time, the city's economy is struggling to climb out from under the wreckage of the housing crash and recession.
Still, don't look for Buckhorn to make any dramatic changes right away.
"We're going to approach this very methodically," he says.
Buckhorn has that luxury thanks to outgoing Mayor Pam Iorio, who is leaving office because of term limits.
"What strikes me more than anything is the high quality of managers that have been assembled here," says David Straz Jr., the retired banker and philanthropist who is helping with Buckhorn's transition. "I, frankly, in a municipal environment, didn't expect the kind of wonderful quality that we've seen here."
During the campaign, Buckhorn talked of consolidating several positions to create two new deputy mayors — one for economic opportunity and the other for neighborhood and community empowerment.
First, however, he must replace three key employees: chief financial officer Bonnie Wise, who is headed to a similar job with Hillsborough County; retiring chief of staff Darrell Smith; and city attorney Chip Fletcher, who has said he will delay his return to private practice until a successor is named.
So far, Buckhorn says he has no one in mind for any of those jobs. That hasn't kept at least 80 job-seekers from calling or sending in resumes.
Tampa's city charter gives Buckhorn 30 days from taking office to name department heads or anyone with authority that is equal to or greater than a department head. All such appointments are subject to City Council approval.
Buckhorn's inauguration will take place at the Tampa Convention Center. The ceremony is free and open to the public, though there is a $2 charge to park in the convention center garage.
Also taking their oaths of office will be four new members of the City Council:
• Harry Cohen, 40, a lawyer and former top deputy to Hillsborough Circuit Court Clerk Pat Frank.
• Lisa Montelione, 49, a former Hillsborough County planner and analyst who now works in the construction industry on green-sensitive and energy-saving building projects.
• Frank Reddick, 55, the president and CEO of the Sickle Cell Association of Hillsborough County.
• Mike Suarez, 46, an insurance agent who worked as an aide to former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.
Immediately after the ceremony, the council will hold a special organizational meeting to elect a new chairman or chairwoman.
Through early Thursday afternoon, Buckhorn and Straz had spent about 30 hours this week meeting with city department heads in a sparsely furnished office at City Hall.
The goal, Buckhorn says, has been to get a grasp of "what the departments are doing, what the land mines are out there, what the opportunities are, challenges, manpower, revenues."
"It's less about change," he says, and more "about absorbing the information and getting a feel before we start moving forward."