TAMPA — For days, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn declined requests to weigh in on the scandal unfolding in one of his city's most fashionable neighborhoods, but that changed as City Hall released more than two dozen city emails from and to socialite Jill Kelley.
"What a circus this is," Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times, which requested Kelley's emails. "Hopefully, this thing will go away soon, and we can all get back to business."
The mayor, whose involvement with MacDill Air Force Base goes back two decades, said he feels for the people directly affected by the events that resulted in last week's sudden resignation of CIA director David Petraeus.
But Buckhorn said the bigger picture is less about the social overlap between base leadership and South Tampa's upper crust and more about the estimated $6.7 billion economic impact that MacDill has on the region's economy.
"It's probably the largest economic engine that we have in the Tampa Bay area, and we can't do anything that would weaken that relationship," he said.
And Buckhorn doubts that the scandal will change the big picture: "I haven't really paid a lot of attention to it, other than being a bystander. … I think this will have no bearing on that relationship at all."
Nor does the mayor expect that the scandal, with its tabloid overtones, will tarnish the city's reputation in the eyes of the nation.
"I think what they see is beautiful Bayshore Boulevard and a beautiful Hillsborough Bay," he said.
After Buckhorn was elected in March 2011, Jill and Scott Kelley offered to host a party to introduce him to officers from the nations that made up Central Command's coalition partners for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Three weeks after taking office, Buckhorn was the guest of honor at a cocktail party on the front lawn of the Kelleys' home on Bayshore Boulevard. In attendance were about two dozen coalition officers, plus CentCom brass and members of Tampa's business and political elite.
It was useful to meet the coalition partners, but Buckhorn said he had maintained his own relationships — even during the eight years he was out of political office — with top generals at MacDill. During the 1990s, he was then-Mayor Sandy Freedman's representative on a local committee that worked to persuade the Pentagon to keep MacDill open and active.
Buckhorn said he had not met the Kelleys before the reception they hosted in his honor, despite their history of hosting benefits and events in support of MacDill.
"My relationships with the CentCom people were my relationships, and they were longstanding," he said.