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Handicapping the Tampa mayor's race a little early

Sure, St. Petersburg's got a hot mayoral race going, but how about the one over in Tampa?

Oh, right. Tampa doesn't elect a new mayor to step into Pam Iorio's sensible pumps until 2011. Doesn't mean people aren't running anyway, if unofficially.

And already, rumors are flying about a stealth candidate, a big one, planning to pop in and steal the show. Brings back cruel memories of the 2003 race when contenders were happily duking it out until political powerhouse Iorio waltzed in and plucked the job from them as easy as a daisy from the dirt.

So who's the next potential heartbreaker?

First, the current contenders: Only Tampa City Council member Tom Scott and former police veteran Marion Lewis are officially official. The rumored and confirmed-to-be-considering include (deep breath) former council member Bob Buckhorn, Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita, former cop and code enforcement head Curtis Lane, Council member Mary Mulhern, Council member Linda Saul-Sena, former Commissioner Ed Turanchik and the homeless guy who plays cards outside the county courthouse. (Kidding on that last one.)

Then come names born of pure speculation. "You mean, mayor of the city of Tampa?" Commissioner Mark Sharpe says when I ask.

So here's some handicapping of those rumored names. Dick Greco, popular mayor first elected in 1967 and last out in 2003, sounds to me the most likely of them to run, though he declines to give a firm yay or nay. At 75, he's fresh from surgery for back problems that slowed him considerably and now seems spry enough to get back on the cheek-kissing circuit.

"I had more calls in the last few months than I've ever had in my entire life to run for anything, and it's nice," says Greco, currently in consulting and court mediation. "I would probably wait several months and look around, see who's running," he says.

Speaking of which, another ex-mayor's name keeps bubbling up. "As a former politician, I would never say never," says Sandy Freedman. My bet: probably not, though she'll always have a hand in politics around here.

How about the punch former U.S. Rep. and gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis could pack in a local race? Davis, who is working for Holland & Knight, says he has liked having more time with his family and that it's "way too early" to talk mayor. Notable: He and Iorio are longtime friends, and she wouldn't mind seeing him in her shoes. (Though he'd look kind of funny in those pumps.)

If by now you're thinking, for the love of God, someone say yes or no, here you go: Former county commissioner, state education commissioner and University of South Florida president Betty Castor's hat in the ring would surely cause sweat to break out on assorted brows.

Just off her last USF gig, Castor plans to be an advocate on public education policy and continue work with a group raising money for schools in East Africa. Speculation about her has been fun, she says, but "I really am not going to be running for mayor."

So there you have it. I call Buckhorn about the rumors, since he was running back when Iorio swept in. He answers like a man familiar with the whims and cruelties of politics: "A year from now," he says, "we'll know who's serious and who's not."

Handicapping the Tampa mayor's race a little early 07/23/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 23, 2009 8:14pm]
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