Hillsborough District 7 commission candidates want diversified economy

TAMPA — Mark Sharpe may have faced his toughest challenge for re-election to the Hillsborough County Commission during the Republican primary.

Josh Burgin, a former party official, gave him a run, attempting to turn the election into a referendum on Sharpe's support of a penny sales tax increase to pay for transit and road work. Sharpe survived despite the national backlash against perceived runaway government spending.

Sharpe now faces Neil Cosentino for the District 7 countywide seat. Cosentino is making his fifth bid for elected office and is running without party affiliation.

As with prior campaigns, including one in which he ran as a write-in known simply as "Neil," Cosentino has raised little money beyond what he contributed to his campaign to pay a required registration fee and a few signs. Nor has he done much campaigning beyond showing up at a few events, the combined effect of which makes his chance of winning a long shot.

Cosentino, 73, a former U.S. Air Force pilot, said he got in the race at least in part to ensure that the incumbent didn't skate through to re-election without a challenge and a debate over ideas.

"If I didn't run, this guy would cakewalk," Cosentino said. "If I didn't run, the electors would not have an opportunity to choose."

He has spent much of his retirement years promoting ideas. Thematically they focus on improving the quality of life in Tampa, and Florida generally.

He was an early force behind promoting the preservation of the old Gandy Bridge for walking, biking and fishing.

He also is credited with planting the seed for Tampa to seek the 2012 Summer Olympics, though the city failed to make the list of finalists.

These days, he argues the need for Tampa to diversify its economy. His idea: promoting the area as a base for businesses in the transportation industry, because Tampa has a major port, airport and roads.

That said, he doesn't support the transit tax because he doesn't believe Tampa has the necessary population and business density for it to work successfully.

Sharpe, 50, a former naval intelligence officer, says his six-year tenure on the commission has focused on the big picture. He, too, has promoted the need for the county to diversity its economy.

That's a top reason he has said he supports the transit tax. He believes it will lure new and different sorts of business. In the least, it's one antidote to sprawling residential development.

Sharpe said his top priority has been re-creating a county government that is leaner and serves the public better. He was the board's most outspoken advocate for firing former County Administrator Pat Bean, who he felt was not up to the task.

"I'm trying to change the whole mindset of what it means to work in government," Sharpe said. "I've been challenging that from the beginning. I think we're finally starting to make some progress.

Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.

Hillsborough District 7 commission candidates want diversified economy 10/28/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 5:30am]

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