TAMPA — A month from election day, Tampa's five candidates for mayor are offering increasingly detailed looks at their visions for the city.
How should Tampa nurture the arts?
Former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik suggests looking at young people who host small artsy get-togethers around town, often in historic buildings. Turanchik would consider offering those groups grants of $2,000 or $3,000, partly to ensure the gathering spots meet the fire code.
"The major cultural institutions are really cool and really important, but this organic, raw thing builds an arts culture that thrives," he said. "You've got to feed the organic stuff for it to permeate through our culture."
How will trade with Cuba affect Tampa?
It would be a good thing, former Tampa City Council member Bob Buckhorn said, but until the U.S. trade embargo with Havana is lifted, Tampa would be better off to work on its relationships with countries from Mexico to Venezuela.
"It would seem to me that we need to look at more mature economies and more mature trading partners," Buckhorn said. "Cuba is an option, but Cuba doesn't have credit to pay for the goods that they buy from us."
What opportunities should Tampa seize to create jobs?
Get ready for the Republican National Convention, former Mayor Dick Greco said, and assign teams of business people to welcome and court out-of-town executives. "Anybody who may move a corporate headquarters here, we sic 'em on them," he said. "We treat them differently."
Candidates offered those ideas and more Tuesday at a "breakfast with the candidates" hosted by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Tampa in advance of the March 1 city elections.
More than 300 people in business, education and government attended the event, which featured the most experienced and competitive field of candidates for mayor of Tampa in memory. All five candidates have significant experience both in local government and the private sector. Greco, Buckhorn, Turanchik and former County Commissioner Rose Ferlita have owned their own businesses or worked for major corporations or both. City Council Chairman Thomas Scott has led a church and its private school, which he said was hit hard by the recession.
"My vision is for Tampa to become the heart and soul of Florida, a diverse and robust community that's responsive to the concerns of citizens in addressing quality-of-life issues," said Scot. He said his three biggest priorities would be to create jobs, enhance transportation and address city budget issues.
On some things, all the candidates agreed: Ban panhandling. Make city permits easier to get. Try again on mass transit.
But their individual styles and approaches emerged at other points, such as when they were asked what they would do if they found themselves in an elevator with Gov. Rick Scott and could advise him on whether to accept the $2.3 billion in federal funds that the Obama administration has offered to create an Orlando-to-Tampa high-speed rail line.
Greco said he would pitch the governor in his office, not an elevator, and had already met with Scott for half an hour.
"He's a businessman, he's got a lot to learn about politics, which is like sailing — you tack, as opposed to going in a straight line," Greco said, adding that he would get a group of Democrats and Republicans together to work with the Mayor's Office. But he didn't say what he would tell Scott about high-speed rail.
"I'd say, governor, if you want to change Florida's future, here's how you do it," Turanchik said. "Tampa Bay and Orlando together equals the seventh-most populous super-region and the 10th-largest economy in this nation. We are a powerhouse that cannot be stopped. High-speed rail creates a functionally workable super-region that changes our destiny. Don't blow it."
Ferlita had another strategy.
"Maybe these guys talk faster," she said. "The first thing I would do is shut the elevator button off so I had more time to talk to him. … Engage the private sector to help us with our portion of the cost. We need that there while your mayor here works on light rail. Partnerships, partnerships, partnerships."
Given the chamber's focus on business development, its relationship with the mayor is vital, said Chuck Sykes, president and chief executive officer of Sykes Enterprises Inc. and chairman of the chamber's board.
"We have a very strong relationship with all of our city and county officials, but particularly with the mayor," Sykes said. "No matter who it is that's elected mayor, I can tell you on behalf of the chamber, we look forward to having that strong working relationship.
"It's going to be a very important one. It is a tough economic time."