TAMPA — Voters were staying away in droves from today's municipal election, the last chance they will have to choose the next mayor and four City Council members.
The runoff election for mayor pits former Tampa City Council member Bob Buckhorn and former Hillsborough County Commissioner and Tampa City Council member Rose Ferlita in what is expected to be a close race.
People began trickling into polling places shortly after sunrise Tuesday, but the number of voters didn't spike the way the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections expected.
By 4:45 p.m., a sample of 10 precincts found about 9.05 percent of city voters had cast ballots, according elections officials said. No problems were reported.
Before Tuesday, 18,460 voters cast early ballots, nearly half the total cast during the first round of voting March. 1
Travis Abercrombie, a spokesman for Elections Supervisor Earl Lennard, said the low turnout so far left him at a loss for words and hoping it would improve in the late afternoon after people leave work.
"It's a beautiful day. All the elements are set in place. We have excellent candidates, whether it's for mayor or City Council," Abercrombie said. "I'm perplexed as to why the turnout isn't higher."
A little after 10 a.m., Ferlita said she was surprised at the slow morning of voting — especially given how nice the weather was.
She hoped the lower turnout would help her out, but said she didn't think it really mattered.
"If there is a low turnout and my guys do what they always have done before, I'll be very lucky," she said.
South Tampa voter Robert Fallis said he has lived in Tampa for 25 years and is unhappy with the direction the city has taken. He didn't like either mayoral candidate but voted for Buckhorn.
"He's the lesser of two evils," said Fallis, 57.
The owner of a dental center in Bradenton, Fallis considers Ferlita a "career politician."
Voters expected a close race.
Frank Moseley, 65, who voted early on Friday, said he voted for Ferlita but suspects the two candidates are neck-and-neck.
"I think she's the better choice," he said.
Diane Durys, 70, agreed that it probably was a close contest, but said she ended up casting her ballot for Buckhorn at the Jan Kaminis Platt Regional Library.
Cathy Bartolotti, 65, retired after working 40 years for the city purchasing department, voted for Buckhorn.
"I know both of them and Bob has more administrative experience with the city of Tampa," Bartolotti said. "Plus, he worked under Sandy Freedman, and she was a very good mayor."
At the West Tampa Convention Center, supporters holding campaign signs outnumbered voters.
Drivers honked at a man holding a bright green sign for Ferlita.
Supporters waved yellow signs for Buckhorn. A sign in the back of a pickup truck urged voters in Spanish to vote for Buckhorn. The other side of the sign read, "West Tampa is Buckhorn country."
Ramon Cuesta, born and raised in West Tampa, disagreed with the sign. Waving a sign for Ferlita and wearing her green campaign T-shirt and bracelet, he said he appreciates Ferlita's roots in city. He said Ferlita knows what Tampa residents want and need.
"The race will be close, but Ferlita's experience here is what will make her a great mayor."
Judy Guevara also voted for Ferlita at the convention center.
"She'll be forthright. I think she'll be more confident," Guevara, 65, said. "She knows what she's doing. When she speaks to you, she speaks straight. She's of the people."
At the Palma Ceia Baptist Church site, Dennis Murray, 51, said he didn't know much about either candidate, having voted for Ed Turanchik on March 1. Turanchik's endorsement of Buckhorn decided Murray's vote.
"If (Turanchik) feels like he's a solid candidate, then I'm going to support him," said Murray, a civil engineer living who has lived Tampa for 27 years.
Despite outgoing Mayor Pam Iorio's endorsement of Buckhorn, some voters likened Ferlita to Iorio.
"I voted for Rose Ferlita because last time we had a female mayor, and she did very well," said Aldo Ciccarello, 67, at St. John Presbyterian Church on MacDill Avenue in West Tampa.
In east Tampa, turnout appeared slim at a polling place off Hanna Road and 22nd Street.
Sherrell Oliver, 50, held a Buckhorn sign next to Charles Kyles, 26. Both said they thought Buckhorn would do more for the black community than Ferlita.
"Bob is about diversity," Oliver said. "He's creative, and he will create jobs for us."
Citywide council races have Curtis Stokes against Mike Suarez for District 1 and Yvonne Yolie Capin against Chris Hart in District 3.
In District 4, Harry Cohen competes with Julie Jenkins to represent South Tampa. In District 7, Lisa Montelione faces Charlie Perkins for the New Tampa seat.
Polls opened at 7 a.m. and will remain open until 7 p.m.
On Kennedy Boulevard, some people planned to show fellow residents that voting is dead by dressing up as zombies, according to a press release from Half Cool Half Crazed Advertising.
The Hyde Park advertising firm planned a 5 p.m. demonstration to raise awareness about low voter turnout.
Ileana Morales can be reached at (813)226-3386 or email@example.com.