Rose Ferlita called it a new day. Bob Buckhorn said he looked forward to "a competition of ideas."
And across town, Dick Greco, one of the city's best-known leaders, bid politics farewell.
From a crowded field of five familiar faces, Ferlita, the lone female candidate, finished first Tuesday night in the race to become Tampa's next mayor.
She will face Buckhorn in a March 22 runoff.
With all 121 of the city's precincts reporting, Ferlita had 25.9 percent of the vote, followed by Buckhorn at 23.5 percent, Greco at 22.6 percent, Ed Turanchik at 19.4 percent and Thomas Scott at 8.6 percent.
Voters are electing a new mayor to replace Pam Iorio, who is leaving office due to term limits, and a new City Council. They also voted to authorize a property tax break for new businesses or ones that expand.
Ferlita, 65, a former county commissioner and City Council member, said she looked forward to distinguishing herself in the now thinned-out race.
The working pharmacist had a message for the people who have criticized her for being too short on specifics during the campaign.
"This is a new day. This is a new race," she told a boisterous crowd at Timpano Chophouse & Martini Bar in Hyde Park Village. "Everyone will know what Rose Ferlita's about.
"Listen to this very clearly: Rose is ready to lead this city."
"Rose is ready! Rose is ready!" her supporters cheered.
At JJ's Cafe & Bar in Ybor City, Buckhorn, 52, turned to a recurring campaign theme, saying the race against Ferlita would be about looking forward or accepting the status quo.
"She is a worthy opponent," Buckhorn said. "I respect her. I like her a lot.
"But make no mistake, it's going to be a tough three weeks."
The former City Council member and special assistant to Mayor Sandy Freedman thanked each of the three candidates who failed to advance to a runoff and said he would actively court their support.
Greco, 77, told several hundred supporters gathered in Higgins Hall at St. Lawrence Catholic Church that he doesn't plan to support either candidate in the runoff because he wants to let people make up their own minds.
The four-time mayor also said he does not intend to seek office again.
"The way I look at it, God's will be done and I accept that," he said. "I don't feel good about this, but by the same token I feel it's what I had to be and what I had to do. And I believe in our system, and this is the way it turned out."
Turanchik, 55 and a former county commissioner, expressed no regrets about his fourth-place finish, saying a late entry and compressed campaign season made keeping pace with his rivals' fundraising a challenge.
"It was a good race," he said. "We are very happy with the campaign we ran."
Scott, 57, said he, too, was pleased with his campaign. The City Council chairman plans to chat with each of the remaining candidates before deciding whom to support.
"I'm going to rest and think about it," Scott said. "I need to see how their agenda fits in with mine."
Turnout on Tuesday was around 22 percent. The turnout in Tampa's last three city elections has averaged 25 percent.
In 2003, when Iorio emerged from a similarly competitive field to make the runoff, turnout hit 33 percent.
Many voters said they were basing their decisions on what candidates said during the campaign about economic development and creating jobs.
A recent St. Petersburg Times-Bay News 9 poll found that to be the most important issue in the mayor's race.
For two years, George Konald Jr. has looked for a new job to replace his home marketing business, and he listened for the mayoral candidate who talked the most about jobs.
At Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, he voted for Buckhorn.
"I heard some quotes on TV where he seemed to make a lot of sense," said Konald, 54.
Consuelo Alvarez, 78, came out to vote for her nephew, Michael Suarez, running for the City Council District 1 seat and for Ferlita.
"We've known her for a long time, so I gave her my vote,'' Alvarez said. "She's very nice, very friendly, and hopefully, she does a good job.''
Mario Quevedo, 65, voted for Buckhorn at Precinct 219 in the MacDill area.
"First of all, I believe he's the best qualified," Quevedo said. "Second of all, we believe we need to turn the page here in Tampa."
Times staff writers Ileana Morales and Phil Morgan contributed to this report.
Curious how your neighbors voted? See our interactive map at hillsborough.tampabay.com.
Reddick, Mulhern and Miranda win Tampa City Council seats. 1B
Voters approve offering property tax breaks to businesses that expand or move to Tampa. 1B