TAMPA — The five candidates vying for the wide open District 4 City Council seat have similar ideas on trimming the city's budget and creating new jobs.
Most believe the city should consolidate some services, such as fleet maintenance and solid waste, with Hillsborough County or state agencies. Many talk about moving the city's retirement plan from defined pensions to 401(k)s for new hires. Several think permits and fees for new businesses need to be eased.
With no incumbents, South Tampa voters have to look deeper into the candidates' platforms to see clear differences as to whom they want to represent the district that includes Davis Islands, Historic Hyde Park and Palma Ceia.
Joseph Citro, 52, a hair stylist and magistrate on the city code enforcement board, believes Tampa doesn't have enough money to start new projects and proposes that departments cut 12 percent from each of their budgets to help stabilize the city's finances. He wants to entice light manufacturing and assembly companies to the Port of Tampa. Fixing street flooding problems would be a top priority for South Tampa.
"With me, there's not going to be any on-the-job training," he said, referring to skills gained on the code enforcement board. "There will be no learning curve."
Harry Cohen, 40, an attorney, said he has the experience making tough cuts, having helped slice a budget for court services by almost 15 percent during his tenure as the former Hillsborough Clerk of the Circuit Court's chief deputy.
"I think we're going to have to look at a lot of creative ways to look at things," he said.
He wants to recruit companies that would use Tampa as a home base for doing business with Central and South America and the Caribbean. Also, pedestrian and bicycle safety are his major neighborhood issues.
Tony DeSisto, 26, a private attorney, touts a 10-point "Tampa plan." He looked to the city of Pittsburgh's ability to reinvent itself in the 1980s as a path Tampa should follow. He thinks the city should use the Moffitt Cancer Center and University of South Florida to attract more "green" and biotechnology companies, which would bring in more young professionals who could shore up the depressed housing market.
While all the candidates want to diversify Tampa's economy, Julie Jenkins, 49, wants to promote its tourism industry better. Once a bread-and-butter sector, she calls it a neglected "stepchild" these days.
Jenkins, a former account executive for Virgin Atlantic Airways, wants Tampa to become a convention capital, which would be a first step in luring major businesses to relocate here permanently. With travel regulations to Cuba being eased, she said, Tampa should be first in line to forge new business relationships.
Dennis Meyers, 42, a private attorney, serves as chairman of the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance and helped restructure and reorganize the agency after it was accused of misspending federal funds. He's also the incoming president of the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce.
Like most candidates, he believes that permits need to be eased and incentives floated to recruit new businesses. But the Gulf War veteran has a unique idea that goes beyond that: recruiting veterans to start businesses in Tampa.
So many military members are coming back from overseas to a depressed economy and no jobs. The ardent military supporter believes helping them get their business ideas off the ground will make Tampa even more of a hub for government workers and contractors.
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or [email protected]