TAMPA — With thousands of people gathering today for Tampa's biggest event, and with city elections just a month away, revelers might expect an onslaught of "Vote for me!" appeals.
But hold the beads. Politicking among the pirates of Gasparilla is, for many candidates, just not done — despite the huge crowd.
"I would never hand out campaign literature at a parade," said mayoral candidate Ed Turanchik. "Don't mix politics with people's fun. You do so at your own peril."
Many — but not all — candidates running for Tampa mayor and City Council seats in the March 1 elections say they are scaling back their politicking for Gasparilla, with some even skipping the parade entirely.
For the candidates who will be at or in this afternoon's parade, many will be only stealth politicians. Even for bawdy Gasparilla, campaigning crosses a line.
"It's a sacred event," said Curtis Stokes, the citywide District 3 council member and candidate for a different citywide seat. Gasparilla is "not the proper venue. Everyone will be out there partying, not really paying attention."
Mayoral candidate Dick Greco, a member of the Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, will be at the yacht club breakfast and in the parade — but not as a candidate.
"I think he will be in pirate garb," said Matt Lettelleir, a coordinator for the Greco campaign. "Not sure if he'll be made up or not … scars and blood and makeup, as they do."
There are challenges to effective campaigning anyway. Like finding the likely city voters among 300,000 people expected to be lured by the clear skies and excellent parade weather.
"It's like going to a mall. You don't know who lives here, who votes," citywide District 3 candidate Chris Hart said. "You end up spending a lot of time campaigning when you really should be enjoying it with your family and friends."
Some others will even be heading off the parade route to make efficient use of the dwindling time.
"I haven't been to the parade in years," said Yvonne Yolie Capin, South Tampa's District 4 member and candidate for District 3. She said she'll watch the pirate invasion and then venture to knock on doors. "There are many residents that don't go to the parade, and that'll be an opportunity to say hello to them at their homes."
Mayoral candidate Bob Buckhorn has a similar plan: watch the invasion with his daughters, then head north for voters.
"I still have a lot of work to do and doors to knock on," he said. "I really don't have the luxury to take a Saturday to enjoy myself."
But the event won't be entirely empty of politics — some candidates said they plan to party hop in the morning; others will hand out fliers at after parties.
Citywide District 2 candidate Scott Strepina said after hitting the preparty circuit, he'll barnstorm on his "cooler scooter" — a motorized chest cooler.
"I break it out for the Gasparilla season every year," he said. "It's quite the head turner, so we figured we'd get some 'Scott Strepina' signs up on it."
District 2 opponent Susan Long, in her first parade as a member of the Krewe of Pair O' Dice, said she will walk beside her krewe's float, carrying a campaign sign and tossing beads, dressed as a riverboat gambler.
Greco and South Tampa District 4 candidate Joseph Citro said their krewes bar campaigning from the parade trail.
"I'm playing it straight … this is time to have fun," said Citro — who nonetheless will wear a campaign button on his Rough Rider uniform.
One candidate thinks he's found an unorthodox solution to finding the Tampa voters.
"Oh, absolutely we're campaigning, particularly to the folks that are in the parade," said citywide District 3 candidate Michael Ciftci, whose supporters will be giving away customized campaign pinwheels and beads.
"We're going after people in the krewes. As they're walking in the parade, we want them to see us," he said. The krewes are "all South Tampa power voters."
Jack Nicas can be reached at (813) 226-3401 or [email protected]