TAMPA — Bob Buckhorn followed a popular two-term mayor, so he says he's not surprised that many residents have yet to buy into his agenda at City Hall.
In a new St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 poll, 66 percent of respondents say Buckhorn has done an average or better job since taking office in April. Thirty-nine percent rate his performance good or excellent.
But nearly a quarter, 23 percent, have yet to make up their minds about Buckhorn, while 8 percent rate him "not so good" or poor.
"Change is always difficult, and moving the city in a different direction is not without controversy," said Buckhorn, who has launched an ambitious and wide-ranging effort to make City Hall more business-friendly. "But for the most part, people are excited about that opportunity. Certainly I am."
And 66 percent is "a higher margin than I was elected by, which tells me I'm moving in the right direction," said Buckhorn, who won the runoff with 63 percent of the vote.
The telephone poll of 304 Tampa-area residents was conducted this month by Braun Research. It has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 5.6 percent.
In a similar Times/Bay News 9 poll last year, 79 percent of respondents rated Pam Iorio's job performance as average or better. A solid 52 percent said she did a good or excellent job.
While Buckhorn can be outspoken, during his first several months as mayor he has kept a low profile, focusing on closing a $34 million shortfall in the city's budget.
Now some residents want to see what comes next.
"Buckhorn hasn't been there long enough to see anything that he's done," said Bobbie Long, 86, a retired fifth-grade teacher who lives in Palma Ceia.
But Long knows what she wants to see: better street paving ("You think you're on a ride in a carnival it's so rough."); more inviting entrances to downtown ("On I-4 coming in, it looks like you're coming to shantytown."); and zero tolerance for corruption ("Tampa was a better place when the Mafia was running it.").
Others applaud Buckhorn's energy and focus.
"I think he's doing a great job from what I've seen so far," said Morgan Klein, 52, a furniture store owner who lives in Hyde Park. Among the decisions he likes: welcoming the food truck craze downtown.
"We want to be a hip city," he said, and "you've got to embrace these things that are happening around the country and bring them to the forefront."
Like the mayor, Klein has two grade-school-age children, so he approves of Buckhorn's efforts to finish the Riverwalk.
"I'm dying for it to become more of a city, and it's definitely heading that way," Klein said. "Mayor Iorio did a hell of a job and Mayor Buckhorn is following suit."
Downtown redevelopment is the individual issue where Buckhorn won the most approval from respondents. Of those polled, 59 percent said they were very or somewhat satisfied with his performance in that category.
Buckhorn's other somewhat or very satisfied ratings include:
• Crime (58 percent). With the support of inner-city neighborhoods, Buckhorn's administration recently persuaded the City Council to reinstate a $500 penalty for drivers whose cars are impounded after they are arrested for trying to hire a prostitute or buy drugs on Tampa streets.
• The Tampa Bay Rays (53 percent). Buckhorn says he will not interfere with St. Petersburg's efforts to resolve its differences with the Rays, memorably telling St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, "I'm not going to be the boyfriend in your divorce." But if the Rays do leave Tropicana Field and Pinellas County, Buckhorn makes no secret that he wants them in downtown Tampa. And in response to an inquiry from a Chamber of Commerce baseball study group, his administration has estimated that it could, in theory, contribute $90 million to $100 million for a downtown stadium from money now being used to repay Tampa Convention Center bonds.
• The homeless (47 percent). Buckhorn campaigned on a pledge to craft a ban that "eliminates" panhandling during his first week in office, but did not do so. Instead, he recently signed a ban for every day but Sunday initiated by the City Council.
But 40 percent of respondents said they were "not too satisfied" with his efforts on the homeless. That was his single highest disapproval rating on any issue.
Still, when the poll asked residents about the city's new six-day-per-week panhandling ban, roughly equal numbers said they either wished it were stronger or disapproved of it completely.
So you can't please everyone?
"No," Buckhorn said, "not on something like that."
Generally, Buckhorn's overall approval ratings break down evenly between men and women and between those 54 and younger and those 55 and older.
There were a couple of small exceptions. Men were more likely than women (29 percent to 18 percent) to be undecided on the mayor. And 16 percent of older residents said he's doing an excellent job, versus 6 percent of those under 55.
Anne Hageman, 72, a retired Robinson High School teacher, is in the group that says, so far, so good.
"He's very steady, and he's very careful," said Hageman, who hopes Buckhorn focuses on what she described as bread and butter issues: potholes, stoplights and sidewalks.
But Harbour Island resident Diana Winoker wants to see him broaden the conversation about the city's future.
"I'd like to see a better dialogue take place between the communities, the haves and the have-nots," said Winoker, 58, a career wealth management executive. "We've got a great number of students and young people out in the University of South Florida area who are part of the city of Tampa, but they don't participate, they don't vote and they don't take their energy and put it to work. That's a shame because these are bright young people."
Buckhorn spends a lot of time talking about making Tampa a place where young professionals want to move. Recently he visited USF to invite students to stick around after they graduate.
Going forward, he has no plans to change his goals, tone or emphasis. He said the poll's results are humbling, but also encouraging.
"What they tell me," he said, "is that the path we have chosen seems to be the right path."
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.