Carlton: With Tuesday’s Democratic governor stunner, Buckhorn stays mayor a little longer. And he’s okay with that.

Published August 30 2018
Updated August 30 2018

Like many a political wonk, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was home Tuesday night tapping at his laptop as results for Florida’s primary election trickled in.

You could argue that the night’s stunning upset in the race for governor — when liberal Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum plucked the Democratic nomination from the candidate a lot of people expected to win, more middle-of-the-road Gwen Graham — affects the future of every Floridian.

But for a mayor about to term-limit out of the job of running Tampa, there was more.

Buckhorn was among those rumored to be picked as Graham’s lieutenant governor and running mate. Speculation had it that once Graham won the Democratic nomination, Buckhorn would pack his bags and leave city hall before the last eight months of his mayorship were up and run energetically alongside the milder Graham.

(He is, after all, the sort of mayor who, when he delivers a state of the city address, brings along a rousing gospel choir.)

Further speculation had it that a second-in-command gig for Buckhorn in Tallahassee could put him in position to one day run for governor himself.

But with Gillum’s remarkable victory Tuesday — one that would make him the first black governor in Florida if he beats Republican Ron DeSantis — the possibility evaporated.

And around town, people wondered how the mayor was taking it.

Yes, he was just as surprised as the rest of the state, he told me Thursday. But no, not disappointed in what it might have meant for him. "Because it was never mine to be disappointed about," he said.

"I’m doing what I love doing," he said.

It is true he keeps a digital clock in his office counting down to the second how much time he has left as mayor. But it’s also hard to imagine being completely Zen about that much opportunity gone.

He likes Gillum. He says they have been friendly co-mayors of Florida cities. He calls him a personable, compelling candidate with a great story to tell, someone with "a very bright future."

"He certainly has excited the Democratic base," Buckhorn said. "Now the job is to expand the universe."

Hey — might Buckhorn be under consideration as a running mate for Gillum?

The mayor points out that much goes into whom you pick to run beside you — the person’s ideology, life experience, their record. Do you tap someone from South Florida or the I-4 corridor to carry you in those places? Someone with legislative experience in Tallahassee? A female candidate to court female voters who had their sights set on electing Graham?

"There’s all kinds of calculations that go into that decision," Buckhorn says.

He won’t say what work he might do post-mayorship. But he is looking forward to a vacation — Ireland, maybe — without reporters tracking him down for a quote or a hurricane bearing down on his town.

But he’ll be back in politics, right?

The answer is another surprise: He doubts it. There’s not that many places for an ex-mayor to go. And in fact, he’s okay with not seeing his name on a ballot again.

"I got the job that I wanted," Buckhorn says. "I can walk away from the public life and say, ‘I had a good ride.’ "