TAMPA — Before a crowd of University of South Florida students and others, three of Tampa's five mayoral candidates detailed their qualifications Sunday afternoon and explained what they would do in the city's top job.
USF president Judy Genshaft, delivering the opening remarks, noted the school's significance as the third-largest employer in Tampa. Given its significance to the area, the city's next leaders must work to make the area surrounding USF more attractive to new visitors, Genshaft said.
"Quite honestly, if somebody comes to Tampa to visit Busch Gardens, the University of South Florida, MOSI, Moffitt Cancer Center, University Community Hospital, anywhere in this area, when they come off (Interstate) 275 on Fowler or Fletcher, what is the impression that they get of the city?" she asked. "The impression they get … is not very nice."
Mayoral candidates Bob Buckhorn and Dick Greco did not appear at the event. Buckhorn said the forum conflicted with a previously scheduled campaign event. Greco could not be reached for comment.
That left Rose Ferlita, Tom Scott and Ed Turanchik to address the young and diverse crowd on topics that included what they would do to keep USF graduates in Tampa, how to improve transportation and their reasons for running for mayor.
"We will make this economy grow," Ferlita said when asked about keeping students in Tampa. "We will limit the budgetary constraints. And we will make sure that we go one step forward — we will keep our students here, not go away and come back."
Scott spoke of the need for city government to reflect the diversity of the community.
"Diversity is our strength," Scott said. "I think it's important that my administration reflect the diversity of this city."
All three candidates pointed to their resumes and accomplishments as community leaders in addressing their qualifications.
During a later portion of the forum in which candidates were allowed to ask questions of each other, Turanchik lamented Buckhorn's and Greco's absence.
"Where is Bob and Dick?" he asked. "My questions are all ready to go and I'm speechless."
Though the event was mostly tame, a few heavier moments came when Turanchik attacked Gov. Rick Scott for not accepting federal funds for high-speed rail. He called on young audience members to become engaged in the political process to prevent such decisions.
"Your voice is important," Turanchik said. "We have a governor who should not be governor because you did not vote."
The forum, sponsored by the USF Student Government, United Voices for America and several other student groups, also presented attendees with the candidates for the seven Tampa City Council races.
Candidates answered questions from a panel consisting of a high school student, a USF student and a representative of the Hispanic Alliance of Tampa Bay.
"This is an active group of citizens at the table and they are bringing people to vote," said citywide District 3 candidate Chris Hart. "I've seen it (the forum) grow over the years and it's great how it's combined with the university and the students involved."
Times staff writer Shelley Rossetter contributed to this report. Dan Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3321.