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With a week to go, Tampa mayor's candidates try to close the deal

TAMPA — With less than a week until Tuesday's election, the campaign isn't over but the candidate forums in the mayor's race probably are.

The last one on the schedule — likely the last chance for voters to do some meet-and-greet comparison shopping with all five candidates — ended at 8:10 p.m. Tuesday at the Forest Hills Recreation Center.

Minutes later, as a volunteer gathered up red, white and blue bunting, former Mayor Dick Greco sat on a table and said it was hard to tell how much he and his opponents had engaged voters in 30 or more joint appearances.

"I think it's a little frightening that 30 percent of the people don't know what they're doing to do yet," Greco said, alluding to a St. Petersburg Times-Bay News 9 poll showing that undecided voters outnumber supporters for any candidate.

While the candidates discussed many familiar issues — economic development, city finances, the prospects of trade with Cuba — there were a few new twists.

Asked what specific vote or official action they wished they could take back, everyone but former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik ducked the question.

Speaking last, Turanchik recalled a rezoning case on Hills­borough Avenue where he and other commissioners tried to strike a compromise between a neighborhood and proposed apartment complex. He voted for the deal but now regrets it.

"It bothers me to this day," he said. Seizing his opportunity, he also said, as mayor, he would always meet with constituents and answer their questions.

With the fatal shooting of St. Petersburg police Officer David Crawford on everyone's minds, the candidates were asked if Tampa should require its officers to wear body armor.

(The Tampa department issues it to officers, who can wear it at their discretion unless they are at a scene with someone known to be armed, such as a barricaded subject.)

Turanchik said that's something for the chief and her staff to decide, not for the mayor to micromanage. Former County Commissioner Rose Ferlita said it's a good question and one that ought to be looked at again. City Council Chairman Thomas Scott said that if he were an officer, he would wear it. Greco said most officers do, and it may be a good idea to require it.

"They need to wear it," said former City Council member Bob Buckhorn, who noted that eight officers died during his 16 years as a mayor's aide and council member. "I want them going home to their kids. I'm tired of going to funerals."

Minutes later, Buckhorn showed just how local politics can get as he discussed fertilizer options for the Forest Hill golf course, noting the history of the course's problems with nematodes.

"Bob, I'm impressed," said Turanchik, who has a master's degree in zoology. "I didn't know you knew what a nematode was."

There was no discussion of parasitic worms at Tuesday's other candidates' forum, a lunchtime session hosted by the Tampa Latin Chamber. Instead, jobs, the economy and mass transit dominated questions.

Asked whether Tampa could compete globally without an effective mass transit system, every candidate wanted Florida Gov. Rick Scott to accept federal money for high-speed rail from Tampa to Orlando. Greco said rail would help, but Tampa is a great city that can compete without it.

All candidates committed to reflecting Tampa's diversity as the predicted number of minorities, especially Hispanics, grows. Only two candidates spoke in Spanish. Greco did so briefly on a question about Cuba. Ferlita did so more often, thanking Hispanics for their contributions.

Scott, Buckhorn and Ferlita said people in their administrations would reflect that diversity. Turanchik wants to promote diversity, starting with marketing the growing number of independent businesses on Armenia Avenue.

With a week to go, Tampa mayor's candidates try to close the deal 02/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 11:43pm]
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