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Buckhorn and Ferlita trade jabs in live TV debate

TAMPA — She went after him on his business credentials.

He demanded details of her plans for the mayor's office.

And she said, wait till tomorrow.

Having dispatched three other candidates in last week's primary, Bob Buckhorn and Rose Ferlita had only each other to focus on in Tuesday night's live televised debate from Blake High School.

The two disagreed on some things, such as the best way to pitch to a CEO thinking of bringing a biotech company to Tampa.

They agreed on others, mainly that outgoing Mayor Pam Iorio has done a bang-up job.

And, with two weeks until the March 22 runoff, each tried to find the other's weakness.

Given a chance to ask Buckhorn a question, Ferlita zeroed in on how much he could help create a good climate for business if, as his financial disclosure shows, he reported only $7,000 income for 2010.

"Tell me why you feel qualified, with the experience you've had, to be CEO of the city of Tampa," Ferlita said during the debate sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9.

Buckhorn responded that he knows the city from 16 years as an aide to former Mayor Sandy Freedman and two terms on the City Council.

When he decided to run for mayor, Buckhorn said, he and his wife, Dr. Cathy Lynch Buckhorn, decided he would not take new clients in his public affairs consulting business who might have dealings with City Hall.

"We didn't want any conflicts of interest," Buckhorn said. "If I were you, I would be much less concerned about how much Cathy and I make and far more concerned about how little some of the constituents that I've met along the way make."

Given his turn, Buckhorn went after Ferlita's plans as mayor, which critics have said are too vague.

"We are two days away from early voting, you've talked about some things, but don't you think the voters deserve more specifics?" Buckhorn asked.

Ferlita, a former Hillsborough County commissioner and Tampa City Council member, responded that her "bold building blocks" did have some detail, and that she would provide more detail and contrast her plan to Buckhorn's today.

"I'm adding more detail tomorrow," she said. "When you look at the contrast between the two candidates, I think you'll be very surprised. Bob's plan is a plan to plan. My plan is an action plan."

The cornerstones of those building blocks are public trust, integrity and transparency, according to Ferlita's campaign website. The foundations are fiscal responsibility and public safety. The priorities are growth and sustainability, economy and jobs and transportation.

"Building blocks don't get us there without the substance that's attached to it," Buckhorn said. "With all due respect, Rosie, tomorrow is way too late."

Buckhorn's plan includes consolidating city jobs to create two deputy mayors, one for economic opportunity and the other for neighborhood and community empowerment.

He also wants a task force on streamlining regulations, a master plan to guide urban growth and a housing program similar to Freedman's nationally recognized Challenge Fund.

Asked how they would pitch Tampa to the board of directors of a major biotech firm, the candidates diverged again.

"I'm going to use any tool I can use," Ferlita said. "Certainly, there's a health care connection, and I'm going to use my experience and my expertise as a pharmacist to engage them in details that perhaps they would be interested in. Also when we do that we bring in, say, (University of South Florida president) Dr. (Judy) Genshaft to kind of make the deal for us."

Buckhorn said he would introduce the biotech prospects to his wife, who recently was named associate vice president for women's health at USF Health.

"I would talk to them about Moffitt Cancer Center and the spinoffs that come out of that," he said. "I would talk to them about the $300 million in applied research that flows through USF. … I would tell them I'm a mayor who will go in there and do density credits, will add land, will find a way to incubate not only your business but the jobs and that companies that will spin out of your business."

At times, Ferlita and Buckhorn seemed to be competing to see who could praise Iorio, who's leaving office because of term limits, the most.

Both said she did a good job in hard times.

"She didn't have as much time to work on economic development," Ferlita said. "But now that she's gotten that in order, and I applaud her for that, then we can go more in the direction of economic development."

"I think she's been a good mayor, and I look forward to building on her successes," Buckhorn said.

But maybe they were being extra nice because Iorio's mother was sitting right down in front.

Afterward, Dorothy Iorio said she was wearing a Buckhorn sticker because she thinks he's honest, smart, a hard worker and has a stake in the city's future because of his young family.

Asked whether the Iorio family votes together, Dorothy Iorio said not necessarily.

"I'm not saying that they don't," she said, "but I think Pam" — who has not taken a side in the mayor's race — "can speak for herself."

Times staff writer Ileana Morales contributed to this report.

Mayoral candidates Rose Ferlita and Bob Buckhorn meet Tuesday for a debate sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9 in Tampa. Voters will pick Tampa’s next mayor March 22.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Mayoral candidates Rose Ferlita and Bob Buckhorn meet Tuesday for a debate sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9 in Tampa. Voters will pick Tampa’s next mayor March 22.

Straz chooses to support Buckhorn

Banker, philanthropist and key Dick Greco fundraiser David Straz Jr. on Tuesday threw his support to Bob Buckhorn. "He has a clear vision and can articulate both broadly and specifically how he will lead our city," Straz said of Buckhorn. Straz has served on the boards of Tampa General Hospital and the University of Tampa, where a dorm is named for him. In 2009, his multimillion-dollar gift to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center led the center to rename itself the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. Buckhorn said Straz has agreed to chair his transition team if he wins. While Buckhorn also has picked up endorsements from two former rivals, Thomas Scott and Ed Turanchik, Rose Ferlita was unfazed. "We've got a great deal of Greco supporters that are already in our camp," she said. "I think we're going to get a very big portion of people who were in other camps. So we're going to do fine."

Buckhorn and Ferlita trade jabs in live TV debate 03/08/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 6:54am]
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