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Buckhorn and Ferlita pivot toward a more compressed and focused race for mayor

TAMPA — After going to bed at 3:30 a.m., Rose Ferlita rose before 6 on Wednesday for a day of television, radio and print interviews, plus a shoot for a new campaign commercial.

"A wonderful, restful day," she joked.

A similarly sleep-deprived Bob Buckhorn reached out to both donors and former rivals, trading text messages with Ed Turanchik and arranging to meet Thomas Scott.

Both had the same goal: to convert a top-two finish in Tuesday's election for Tampa mayor into momentum for a dash to the March 22 runoff.

Ferlita and Buckhorn won spots in the runoff by winning 26 and 24 percent of the vote, respectively.

But doing so consumed most of the money they had raised.

Buckhorn, a former Tampa City Council member, said he hopes to raise as much money in three weeks — about $230,000 — as he did in the previous nine months.

"We threw everything we had to get here," he said. "Now we just have to sort of reload."

Minutes later, L. Garry Smith, the first chief of staff to former Gov. Bob Graham, walked into Buckhorn's headquarters with two $500 checks, one from himself and the other from his wife.

Leading up to Tuesday, Smith said he had given money to Dick Greco and Buckhorn, both longtime friends. Either would make a good mayor, he said.

Ferlita, a former Hillsborough County commissioner, likewise said she had thrown everything into making the runoff. But she had more to throw. As of Feb. 24, she had raised nearly $299,000 and still had nearly $80,000 left.

Both candidates suggested they expect the debate to sharpen.

Ferlita said she thinks voters will appreciate her business experience.

"People are very comfortable with the fact that they know I can control a budget," she told Bay News 9.

Buckhorn said voters want to hear specific plans from each candidate about what he or she would do as mayor.

"Platitudes are not plans," he said. Voters want "someone who knows where he wants to go and has a blueprint to get there. Not just happy talk."

A more detailed plan is coming, said Ferlita, who has been criticized for speaking too generally. But she added little else Wednesday, except to say that every city department would have to justify its spending.

"We've got our generalities in our bold building blocks," she said, referring to her campaign platform. "Now we're coming up with definitions.

"It's not a big secret that I'm going to divulge on a marquee."

Both are working to win over their former opponents and their supporters.

Ferlita said some Greco and Turanchik supporters had come to her headquarters Wednesday seeking her signs.

Greco said Tuesday night he is not supporting anyone in the runoff, and Turanchik and Scott said they have yet to make any decisions.

Buckhorn and Scott spoke by telephone about meeting today. By then, Buckhorn, who finished second to Scott in more than a half-dozen largely black east Tampa precincts, already had reached out to some of Scott's supporters.

"I think he is counting on that support," Scott said. "I think that's a mistake. I think that's an assumption that he should not make."

Buckhorn, who has regularly visited east Tampa's black churches for 20 years, said he plans to compete for every vote.

"I have a long, long history there, and an awful lot of relationships, and I'm going to work extremely hard," he said.

Buckhorn also traded text messages with Turanchik, who already had received a call from Ferlita saying she would like to have his support.

"I said I'd be happy to talk to her and meet with her," said Turanchik, who got sick just before the election and spent most of Wednesday in bed.

"I've had communications with both Bob and Rose," said a stuffed-up, coughing Turanchik. "And for obvious reasons I've put them off."

Turanchik, who came up with detailed policy ideas the way other candidates handed out yard signs, finished with more than 19 percent of the vote.

Not only that, he won some key precincts in South Tampa. The candidate who wins over his supporters stands to gain in high-turnout areas like Hyde Park.

Citywide, just 22 percent of voters cast ballots Tuesday, but turnout varied by area.

Turnout in South Tampa was 29.6 percent, followed by West Tampa with 25.6 percent, east Tampa with 16.9 percent and New Tampa with 14.2 percent.

About half of Tuesday's votes came from 30 of the city's 121 voting precincts, two-thirds of them south of Kennedy Boulevard. Of those 30 precincts, Ferlita won 14, Buckhorn took seven, Greco five and Turanchik four.

The 16 precincts with the highest turnout in the city all lie in South Tampa. Of those, Buckhorn won six to Ferlita's five. Turanchik won three. Greco got two.

If history is a precedent, Ferlita and Buckhorn will compete for a smaller pool of votes in the runoff.

In 2003, when Pam Iorio won her first term as mayor, turnout was 33 percent for the first election, 29 percent in the runoff.

Candidates to debate Tuesday

The St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9 will sponsor a live, televised debate Tuesday between Tampa mayoral candidates Bob Buckhorn and Rose Ferlita. The hourlong conversation with the runoff candidates begins at 7 p.m. at Blake High School for the Arts, 1701 N Boulevard. Moderators are Bay News 9 senior anchor Al Ruechel and Times' political editor Adam Smith. The forum will be broadcast live on Bay News 9 and available on Bay News 9 On Demand, Channel 342 on Bright House Networks, after the event. The event is free and open to the public, and audience seating is limited. To inquire about reserving seats, call (813) 225-3109.

And the loser is...

The lowest turnout in the city on Tuesday was on the campus of the University of South Florida. Of 1,422 people registered to cast ballots at the Marshall Student Center, just seven voted. That equates to turnout of less than one-half of 1 percent.

Buckhorn and Ferlita pivot toward a more compressed and focused race for mayor 03/02/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 10:11pm]
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