Bob Buckhorn was sworn in as Tampa's 58th mayor on Friday in a rousing ceremony enlivened by a gospel choir, pomp and flashes of humor.
"It's April Fool's, we're only kidding," Buckhorn said after taking the oath of office and receiving a standing ovation lasting more than 30 seconds. "I'm not really the mayor. Sorry, honey."
Buckhorn, 52, went on to deliver an emotional speech embracing Tampa's diversity, celebrating its potential and calling on residents to make it stronger, more united and more caring.
"Today is not about the first day of a new mayor or the last day of another," he said. "It's about the next day for our city."
Few cities have Tampa's potential, he said, with the University of South Florida, the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa International Airport and the Port of Tampa.
"We have the potential to take our dreams and these unparalleled assets and construct great things," he said.
While Tampa faces a weak economy and a budget deficit of $20 million or more, Buckhorn said a city's destiny is made by its people, not determined by its circumstances.
"A mayor must be part architect, part negotiator, part cheerleader, coach, hand-holder, get your sleeves rolled up and get 'er done kind of guy, but always and always and always a full-time believer," he said.
Looking forward, Buckhorn said the city could stand still, it could tread water or it could fly, "the wind in our face and a clear view of the horizon out in front of us."
"That choice is ours. The time is now. Our destiny is of our making," he said. "Let's fly, Tampa."
Buckhorn also thanked outgoing Mayor Pam Iorio.
"In challenging times, she has been a steady hand on the wheel," he said. "She leaves as she arrived: poised, confident, secure, knowing that she gave this city her best."
Buckhorn took the oath in a Tampa Convention Center ballroom filled with more than 700 people, with another 100-plus watching on video monitors outside the hall.
The crowd was dotted with past and present public officials: former Gov. Bob Martinez; former Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and her husband, lawyer Bill McBride; Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard; former mayors Bill Poe and Sandy Freedman, former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker; former congressman Jim Davis; and county commissioners Al Higginbotham, Mark Sharpe and Sandy Murman.
Before administering the oath of office to City Council members, Hillsborough Chief Judge Manuel Menendez Jr. asked whether any members of the Legislature were present.
When state Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, stood up, Menendez said drily, "Chief, would you take her into custody?"
The ceremony opened with a spiritual, Order My Steps, sung by the choir from Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in East Tampa. The mayor-elect and members of the City Council, plus their families, entered the hall accompanied by a Tampa Fire Rescue bagpipe and drum corps.
"This is a time for tremendous celebration," said Judy Genshaft, USF system president and the master of ceremonies for the event.
What followed was thoroughly inclusive: an invocation by a priest from Christ the King Catholic Church, remarks from an imam with the United Muslim Association, more words from a rabbi with Congregation Schaarai Zedek and a benediction by a minister from New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.
If anyone ever wondered what makes Tampa special, Buckhorn said they should look around the room.
"Black, white, Hispanic, young, not so young, gay, straight, affluent, those who aspire to be, men, women, white collar, green collar, blue collar, Muslim, Christian, Jew," he said. "A city united by something bigger than just itself."
Friday brought Buckhorn to a job he has aspired to hold for more than two decades, ever since he was an aide to then-Mayor Freedman.
After he ran for mayor and finished third in 2003, then lost another race for County Commission the following year, Buckhorn was written off as a loser by much of Tampa's political establishment.
But on March 22, after a dogged, resourceful and well-organized campaign that lasted nearly a year, Buckhorn won the office in a landslide 63 to 37 percent victory over former Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita.
Several times, especially when he said he understood what it means to get up after being knocked down, Buckhorn's voice quavered with emotion.
An hour after the ceremony, he said it's hard to stay calm when "you look out at that crowd and you see how many people who have helped you get there and all they've gone through to do that.
"But it was good. It's a good day," he said.
"Now the work starts."
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.