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A spicy Cuban comment, but fewer sparks the day after Tampa's testy mayoral debate

TAMPA — The friction between mayoral candidates Ed Turanchik and Rose Ferlita continued at a League of Women Voters political forum Wednesday, though not on the scale of the night before.

Turanchik offered the sharpest criticism of the forum during a discussion about pursuing increased trade with Cuba.

Ferlita noted that she wants to encourage as much trade as possible, but "it's U.S. policy right now that we can't totally engage in relationships of that sort with Cuba."

"Right now I'm in a position where one foot's on the gas, one foot's on the brake, and soon as we're ready to go, we're there," said Ferlita, who served on the Tampa Port Authority while a county commissioner.

"I've got to tell you: Rose Ferlita's Cuba policy has us burning up a lot of gas, brake pads and going nowhere," countered Turanchik, also a former commissioner.

South Florida's political clout has long controlled U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba, but if the Tampa-Orlando corridor came together and demanded a change in Cuba policy, it would happen, Turanchik said.

"There's tremendous economic and political power in this corridor," he said. "As mayor, I will lead that effort, and we will open up the doors to Cuba."

With only about three weeks until the March 1 election, such jostling between candidates is not surprising. If no one wins a majority, the top two vote getters go to a runoff on March 22.

That makes the race between second and third place almost as important as the race between first and second. It also gives candidates an incentive to try to break out of the pack.

For the most part, however, Wednesday's forum was free of the kind of direct candidate-to-candidate confrontations that spiced up Tuesday night's debate, which was televised live from Blake High School.

During the St. Petersburg Times-Bay News 9 debate, several candidates zeroed in on former Mayor Dick Greco, the presumed front-runner. But Turanchik and Ferlita also traded jabs over transit and urban development.

On Wednesday, when asked whether the candidates would keep Tampa police Chief Jane Castor in her job, Turanchik and Tampa City Council Chairman Thomas Scott said yes.

Ferlita, Greco and former City Council member Bob Buckhorn all said they liked Castor and praised her performance.

"I couldn't think of a better candidate for chief," Buckhorn said during the forum, which was co-sponsored by the Kiwanis Club and the Livable Tampa Roundtable.

"She has done not just a good job, but an incredible job," Ferlita said.

But each said it wouldn't be proper for them to say during the campaign who they will keep or not.

If they answer that question about the police chief, Ferlita said, they'll have to answer it on other employees all the way down the line.

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

A spicy Cuban comment, but fewer sparks the day after Tampa's testy mayoral debate 02/09/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 11, 2011 11:27am]
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