TAMPA — Going into the last full week of the mayor's campaign, Bob Buckhorn and Rose Ferlita on Monday disagreed about everything from job creation strategies to aggressive campaigning to the amount of taxpayer support the city might offer to keep the Tampa Bay Rays from leaving the area.
None, Ferlita said in response to the Rays question.
Not much, Buckhorn said.
Both supported the efforts of a Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce committee that is looking at ways to bring venture capitalists into a stadium deal. Beyond that, however, they went in different directions, with Ferlita taking a harder line against Tampa taxpayer involvement if the Rays end their play in St. Petersburg and look for a new home.
"We cannot plan on spending any public dollars, " she said during an hourlong radio debate that was webcast live and will be broadcast on WFLA-AM 970 at 6 p.m. Monday. She said she would love to see the Rays play in Tampa, but "people are strapped now."
"You bet we want (the Rays) to stay here as opposed to going someplace else, but we have to be very creative: Work with partnerships, of course, to see if private dollars do it," she said. People "want to see if you have the expertise, the wherewithal, the negotiating power to make it very appealing for them to come here. Talk about some of the attributes that we have to offer as a city, but at the same time, absolutely right now, no tax dollars."
Buckhorn said there will never be a taxpayer-funded stadium deal like the one that built Raymond James Stadium for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But he noted that stadium deals over the last five or six years in places like San Francisco have included a combination of money from team owners, plus private equity, plus cities potentially doing infrastructure work around the new stadiums.
Cities also can create tax-increment financing districts to help repay some of the debt needed to build the project, he said. Tax-increment financing districts earmark the additional property tax revenue that is generated by new development within the district for specific uses, often for infrastructure or aesthetic improvements, within the district.
"There are all kinds of creative ways to do it," he said. If it comes to that, Buckhorn said he would like to see a new stadium go downtown, because of its potential to fuel urban economic development. "We need to find a way to keep them."
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On job creation, Ferlita said she supports a strategy focused on trying to create jobs citywide, including for the 70 percent of Tampa residents who do not have a four-year college education.
"You have to be very comprehensive," she said. She also supported offering incentives to businesses that want to relocate and efforts to market Tampa Bay as a place where construction costs and taxes are low. And she said that as a City Council member she supported partnering with the county on a Small Business Information Center that helps entrepreneurs with technical needs and marketing assistance.
Buckhorn advocated a diverse approach that starts with better defining Tampa's strengths and appeal to businesses that might be persuaded to move here.
"Our corporate identity outside of Tampa is really sort of nebulous," he said. "I think part of it is going out and sort of branding Tampa and the type of community that we are and the types of jobs that we are interested in pursuing."
Tampa has "strategic clusters," such as the biosciences, defense and financial services, where it has advantages, Buckhorn said.
"We need to grow those clusters," he said, because they will create wealth and "give our best and brightest kids not only the opportunity to stay here but if they have left to come home."
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Each candidate also said he or she is the victim of last-minute smears.
"It's been a good campaign," Buckhorn said. "Up until the last week or so it's been a competition of ideas."
But he said Ferlita is running a television ad that falsely accuses him of not supporting police. PolitiFact Florida, the political fact-checking arm of the St. Petersburg Times, last week concluded that the ad included a false statement, namely that Buckhorn supported requiring police officers to keep their guns in the trunks of their cruisers.
Ferlita said she stood by that statement as well as another one in her ad that spotlighted that Buckhorn reported only $7,000 in income from his public affairs firm for 2010.
"How can you say you've got this strong business expertise if that's all you made?" she asked.
Buckhorn said he and his wife, a doctor, decided that he was not going to take on any new clients last year while he prepared to run for mayor. The idea, he said, was to avoid creating a conflict of interest by representing someone who does business with the city.
"I made a decision based on my desire to maintain a high ethical standard," he said. "We made a decision that I was not going to make any money this year. That was our choice. We are lucky enough that we are able to do that."
Ferlita also said she's been smeared by a flier, which is labeled as the product of a Less Government Now, a Tampa-based third-party group not aligned with any campaign, that criticizes her as unelectable and unmarried, among other things.
"It was awful — awful — that we've come to the point that unmarried women are looked at as not qualified to run this government," she said. "That offended a lot of people."
At this point, Ferlita said she has to take Buckhorn at his word that he had nothing to do with the flier.
"When we talk about negative campaigning, there are accusations going back and forth, the difference being that I attach my name to what I'm saying and the ones that are coming my way are unidentifiable at this point," she said.
Buckhorn repeated that he had nothing to do with the anti-Ferlita flier, which has been passed by e-mail between campaigns, political activists and journalists for several days. But there were signs Monday that the flier was not something that has reached voters through the U.S. mail.
"This is not a valid mailing permit," U.S. Postal Service Tampa spokesman Gary Sawtelle said in an e-mail to the Times, which shared the flier with him.
In addition, Tracy Cintron, the treasurer of Less Government Now, told the Times Monday afternoon that the group had "absolutely nothing to do" with the flier. She declined further comment.
"We're not even sure the flier exists," Buckhorn said during the radio debate. "Nobody has gotten one. The mail ID number on it is a fictitious ID number. We don't know where this flier is. We had nothing to do with it. No one has seen it other than sort of mimeographed copies. Are we creating a Trojan horse here to react to an issue?"
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The runoff will take place on March 22. Although voter turnout often drops off between a first election and a runoff, that hasn't happened so far in this election.
On Saturday, the first day of early voting, a total of 1,622 people cast ballots, according to the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office. Of those, more than half, 859, voted at the Jan K. Platt Regional Branch Library in South Tampa.
By comparison, only 821 voters cast ballots on the first day of early voting leading up to the March 1 primary. In addition, a mere 621 people cast ballots on the first day of early voting in the 2007 runoff city election.
"We're really encouraged by the high turnout on the first day and hope it's a sign of things to come," Supervisor of Elections spokesman Travis Abercrombie said in an e-mail.
Early voting continues through Saturday. For information on polling places and schedules, visit votehillsborough.org and click on "Early Voting" near the top of the page.
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.