Friday, September 21, 2018
Politics

Carlton: Tampa does Democrats, but how about architects?

Hard to say what's most surprising about Mickey Jacob's name being added to the list of rumored contenders to replace Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn when he term-limits out in three years. (A departure that, by the way, may require a SWAT team, given Buckhorn's fondness for the job.)

So is it most surprising that:

1. Jacob is very much not-from-here — an immigrant, as he likes to say, Canada-born and naturalized 16 years ago?

2. He is not a seasoned politician who held a previous office like City Council member, which is how we tend to elect our mayors around here? And that he is instead a tassel-loafered, pocket-kerchiefed … wait for it … architect?

3. Or, perhaps most shocking of all, that Jacob, 59, is a Republican, a political stripe this city has not made its mayor in decades?

"We never have, have we?" Jacob says when I mention this bit of history. "Maybe it's time."

You can officially add Jacob to the thinking-about-it roster of rumored candidates that includes Tampa City Council members Harry Cohen, Yolie Capin, Mike Suarez and — a name freshly making the rounds — Frank Reddick. Also in there are Hillsborough Commissioners Sandy Murman and Ken Hagan, plus the interesting addition of Jane Castor, Tampa's former police chief, who notably pivoted from Republican to Democrat last year.

Jacob is bespectacled, friendly and, he says, rarely without that pocket hanky, a legacy from his clotheshorse father, who worked for Chrysler.

The firm he works for, BDG Architects, worked on Tampa's high-end Epicurean Hotel and St. Petersburg's beautiful Birchwood. Here he would probably want me to tell you he's also done housing for the homeless and veterans, too.

He landed in Tampa 35 years ago after an uncle on a Florida vacation tore the "architects" page from the phone book, brought it to him and said start calling. (Let's pause a moment while someone explains the term "phone book" to our younger readers.) He was enticed by a place you could play golf pretty much every day. Now he takes winter selfies in golf shirts to send to Canadian friends. (He won't say what they send back.)

Why (maybe) run for mayor? He has been president of the American Institute of Architects, which he says gives him political chops. He likes what Buckhorn, cheerleader for the post-recession boom, has done. Maybe someone from the business community should take it from here, he says.

"I've never been more optimistic and excited about where we're going with the city," he says.

Tampa's biggest challenge? "Transportation, transportation, transportation," says Jacob, who sits on the HART board. He and his wife, Dianne, who downsized from South Tampa to Harbour Island when their sons were out of the house, are increasingly visible on Tampa's social scene. He is a Riverwalker and a Lightning ticket holder from day one, reads Carl Hiaasen for fun, admires Colin Powell and says — even after this week's epic presidential debate — he's still undecided on whether he'll vote for his party's pick, Donald Trump.

But mayor? In a town where politics are never dull, it will be interesting to see what Tampa looks like next.

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