Bob Buckhorn won Tuesday night's debate — whoops, "conversation" — among the five candidates to be the next mayor of Tampa.
He won partly by default and partly by merit. Also, he won by about half a length.
Yeah, it's totally subjective and biased. If you like Rose Ferlita best, or Dick Greco, or Tom Scott or Ed Turanchik, you certainly can make a case.
And the truth is, it's an experienced crop. Not a dummy in the bunch.
So why say Buckhorn was the "winner" of the St. Petersburg Times-Bay News 9 event, televised live from Blake High School?
First, the by-default part:
For starters, there was Greco's crack that the 1960s racial disturbances in Tampa were the equivalent of a "panty raid," a comment that seemed downright garish.
In the light most favorable, he was trying to say that Tampa has a sense of community and that clash should be put in that context. But his joke didn't work. Panty raid. A guy got killed.
Greco later drifted off into outer space trying to defend, in a roundabout way, his blind eye to ethics scandals in his last stint as mayor. This was in the form of a rambling question to fellow candidate Tom Scott that invoked the suicide of former State Attorney Harry Lee Coe, injunctions about forgiveness, and the concept of innocent until proved guilty.
Rose Ferlita is great. Deep Tampa roots. Small business owner. Knows her way around government as a longtime City Council and County Commission member. Tough, smart, friendly, open to everybody. If you want to make her mayor, fine by me.
Can't talk her way out of a paper bag, though. Can't say what she wants to do as mayor. Articulates no vision. When asked for accomplishments, she answered that she started a "bully-busting" program in the public schools. A good cause, for sure. A little small-bore for being mayor.
Ed Turanchik is the opposite of Ferlita — he is Mr. Big Idea. Getting the Olympics. Rebuilding central Tampa with a project called Civitas. High-speed rail. He even did some of it, getting into the private sector and redeveloping housing. He is a smart and thoughtful man. He is full of ideas about energy efficiency and getting more people into houses. Ferlita and Buckhorn jabbed him for having more ideas than accomplishments.
Tom Scott, a former county commissioner now on the City Council, and a minister, is mindful of what Tampa needs, all of Tampa, not just certain parts. Who knew he would turn out to be the biggest bureaucrat? He spouted initials like "CRA" and "MPO" as if anybody knew what they meant. For the record, "CRA" means "community redevelopment area" and "MPO" means "metropolitan planning organization." Yawn.
Which brings us to Buckhorn. He really did help save MacDill Air Force Base back when Tampa was in danger of losing it. As a former mayoral aide and then a City Council member, he knows how the joint works. Next to Greco, he is the best politician, which I mean as a compliment.
Lord knows he can be unctuous. He is too practiced and unfortunately looks a little fake even when he's not. On the City Council he pandered on strip clubs, teenage raves and anything else he could get people whipped up over. He would be better as Mayor Future than Mayor Prig.
Like I said, a biased take. Complaint line forms to the right.