Brash as a candidate, Bob Buckhorn is more low-key as mayor

TAMPA — Bob Buckhorn could be outspoken and brash as a candidate, but so far as mayor, he governs quietly.

"The rhetoric of campaigning is not necessarily the reality of governing," said Buckhorn, who marks his 100th day in office today. "Governing is a much more methodical, much more deliberative process."

Buckhorn's low-key start has surprised a few people who know how long he has wanted to be mayor, how hard he worked to win the job and how ambitious he is for the city.

"He's not moving quite as quickly as I thought he would," said former Mayor Sandy Freedman, a mentor and confidant to Buckhorn since he worked as her special assistant in the late 1980s.

But Buckhorn, who served two terms on the City Council after working for Freedman, said he has "the luxury of wisdom, if you will, from having been around City Hall for a long time."

"I don't feel compelled to do it all in a week," he said. "I want to do it right."

Buckhorn has delighted some people and annoyed others with his off-the-cuff remarks about the future of the Tampa Bay Rays. He expects the Rays to leave St. Petersburg eventually. If so, he would like to see them in downtown Tampa. But he says he won't be the boyfriend in St. Petersburg's divorce with the team.

That boyfriend quip is classic Buckhorn, says University of Tampa political scientist Scott Paine, who served with Buckhorn on the City Council in the 1990s.

"You have a hard time picturing Pam Iorio saying something like that," Paine said. "Right there you have the sharp contrast in style. Bob is well-schooled in the language of politics and is skilled in the sound bite, in creating the moment that gets a reaction. Pam was much more of the administrator, coming in and straightening up a house that was pretty out of order."

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Mostly, though, Buckhorn has kept his head down and not been in a hurry.

After being sworn into office April 1, Buckhorn made three key appointments: Jim Shimberg Jr. as city attorney, Sonya Little as chief financial officer and Santiago Corrada as chief of staff.

But two deputy mayor jobs that Buckhorn promised to create, one for economic opportunity and the other for neighborhood and community empowerment, remain unfilled.

Buckhorn said he doesn't plan to hire a deputy mayor for economic opportunity until he hears from a committee he appointed on economic competitiveness. He plans to use its recommendations to reorganize City Hall.

And he'll look for a deputy mayor once he knows more about what the re-organization will look like.

"This may take six months, but I think at the end you'll see a radically different permitting and regulatory process," Buckhorn said after chairing the competitiveness committee's first meeting this week.

But that's not all Buckhorn has done to promote economic development, said attorney Rhea Law, the chief executive officer of the Fowler White Boggs law firm and chairwoman of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.

Buckhorn flew to Panama to promote trade with Tampa, participates in public-private efforts to coordinate economic development and works well with other Hillsborough mayors and the chairman of the County Commission, she said.

And Law praised Buckhorn's work to make the city's permitting and development review more business-friendly.

"If you look at the communities around us and many of the states, cities and counties that we compete with for new jobs, you will find that they have gone through this process or are going through this process," she said.

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Buckhorn's work on the city budget is another reason he hasn't made a bigger splash.

There, he has to close a revenue shortfall in the neighborhood of $30 million. That will make it harder for him to deliver on campaign promises to, for example, maintain the size of the police force and support step increases for officers.

Buckhorn said he thinks the city will avoid a worst-case scenario outlined recently: an across-the-board 15 percent cut to city departments, which would eliminate about 700 jobs.

"That would have decimated city government," he said. "I think we will be able to do far less painful cuts than the 15 percent, using a combination of eliminating vacancies, not just not filling them but eliminating them. There may be some potential layoffs. I'm trying to minimize that as best I can."

Buckhorn does expect to recommend an increase to commercial garbage collection rates, which have not been raised in years, and outsourcing some city services.

Faced with $7 million in operating deficits and debt payments in the parking division, Buckhorn said he's considering his options, including selling garages. But he doesn't sound keen on it, even though eight of the city's 11 parking garages lose money,

Buckhorn notes that "most of those garages will be paid off in six or seven years, which would be akin to selling your house after you've paid the mortgage off, particularly if you have to sell at less than what it's worth."

But there's another reason the budget has monopolized Buckhorn's time: He has committed to deliver it to the City Council on July 28.

That's nearly three weeks earlier than the city charter requires and is sooner than previous mayors have presented their budgets.

"I sat there for eight years," he said. "I know what they go through every day. They are often times the point of contact for constituents, so I want them to be as informed as they can be so that they can make the case for why we're doing what we're doing."

Council Chairman Charlie Miranda gives Buckhorn credit for reaching out to the council sooner rather than later. Last month, the mayor went to a council workshop to discuss possible solutions to panhandling.

"He set an earlier tone than most," Miranda said.

Brash as a candidate, Bob Buckhorn is more low-key as mayor 07/08/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 9, 2011 1:24am]

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