Tampa City Council's District 3 race goes beyond partisan ideals

TAMPA — To some voters, the choice is clear: Yvonne Yolie Capin is a Democrat; Chris Hart, a Republican.

But when it comes to the issues, the candidates in Tuesday's runoff for the citywide District 3 Tampa City Council seat stray from partisan platforms.

Yes, the 66-year-old Hart supports streamlining government and holding tax rates steady, but he also pledges to build more sidewalks and examine if the city should lift its pay freeze.

And as expected, Capin, 61, stumps for light rail. But with her top priority — sparking Tampa's economy by developing its neighborhoods — her trust is in the people, not the government.

The city, she says, just needs to make neighborhoods safer — more patrols in problem spots, more police substations, and more neighborhood watches. The rest will fall into place.

Once a neighborhood is safe, "people move in and revitalize and start to fix up the homes," said the retired jewelry store owner. "The private investment comes from the homeowner and from the businesses — the restaurants, the coffee shops, the clothing stores. Local businesses start to open up because there are people there for customers."

Capin, who was appointed to the District 4 South Tampa seat last year, highlights Sulphur Springs as a natural extension of its neighbor to the south, Seminole Heights, which has undergone a revival in recent years.

She also wants to promote more international flights to Tampa International Airport, prevent any cuts to the city's tourism budget and target tourists in town for cruises to stay an extra day or two in Tampa.

Hart's plan for the economy is more targeted, and it also uses more government. The former Hillsborough County commissioner supports tax rebates for businesses and expedited permitting for builders. He wants to break up city contracts so multiple small companies can get a slice. And he says the city needs to connect its resident leaders in technology and biomedical research, like the University of South Florida and MacDill Air Force Base.

"My role is bringing the people together, facilitate those introductions," said Hart, a retired Army lieutenant colonel. "The people at MacDill that decide to stay here, in many cases they're bringing an educational and technology background that we desperately need in this community."

Hart also touts his "fiscal responsibility." He wants to install penalties in city contracts for finishing late and incentives for finishing early. He promises to inspect the city budget for bloated expenses, including salaries, benefits and sick days. But he says it's not all about cuts, and supports merging the city and county health care plans for a discount and looking hard at what the city gets with a pay freeze.

Capin says, if necessary, she would look at consolidating police administration and restructuring the department's pension plan. She's also in favor of across-the-board pay cuts before layoffs.

However, the party lines darken when it comes to one of the area's most contentious issues: rail.

Hart has bid good riddance to high-speed rail. He concedes that he would listen to plans for light rail, but says that, too, is financially irresponsible.

Instead, he pitches a bolstered HART bus service. He wants more sidewalks, bus routes and buses. And for faster service, he supports special bus lanes on state roads and high-occupancy vehicle lanes on the interstate.

"For those who want to focus all their time on rail, if we don't have these things in place, (rail) will never be successful," he said. "These are the fundamentals."

Capin supports more buses and routes, but only as temporary fixes.

"The buses are fine now, but we need to look way into the future," she said, "and that's where light rail comes in."

Following Orlando's lead with its SunRail plan, Capin says she would lobby local lawmakers for state funding for a light-rail system. She envisions a line that connects North Tampa to downtown and, if possible, to another commuter line to St. Petersburg.

Jack Nicas can be reached at (813) 226-3401 or jnicas@sptimes.com.

Tampa City Council's District 3 race goes beyond partisan ideals 03/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 19, 2011 12:37am]

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