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Tampa mayoral candidates offer competing plans and visions

TAMPA — After all the talk about panty raids and the 6-foot rule, who earned the nickname "Choo Choo" and who was late for the train, it comes down to Tuesday.

That's when Tampa voters will make choices among the five candidates for mayor: Bob Buckhorn, Rose Ferlita, Dick Greco, Thomas Scott and Ed Turanchik.

With the race in flux, candidates are trying to sell the 30 percent of voters who are undecided on their ideas, experience, temperament and vision.

If no one wins a majority on Tuesday, the top two finishers meet in a March 22 runoff.

Here's a look at their plans:

Bob Buckhorn: City can't cut its way out

If elected, Buckhorn says, he would create two new deputy mayors — one for economic opportunity and the other for neighborhood and community empowerment.

The deputy mayor for economic opportunity would oversee programs and initiatives to attract new business, encourage entrepreneurship and retain existing businesses.

Growing commerce, he said, is the only way to revive the local economy and stabilize the city's budget.

"You can't cut enough city personnel to get us out of this ditch," he said. "The only way you get out of this ditch is to build and to grow and to add value to the tax roll."

So Buckhorn wants a public-private task force to look at streamlining city rules and permitting, and a master plan to guide urban growth in and around downtown.

A former aide to Mayor Sandy Freedman, whose Challenge Fund won national recognition, Buckhorn proposes creating a similar program to make low-cost financing available to first-time home buyers.

Buckhorn said his overall goal is to re-establish Tampa's reputation as a magnet for creative young professionals.

"I believe this community could be so much more," he says.

Rose Ferlita: changing culture, building jobs

Generally, Ferlita has said her administration would be built on public trust, integrity and transparency, and would be organized around the broad themes of fiscal responsibility and public safety.

She said she would not flinch from making tough decisions and would base budgetary decisions not on wants but needs.

She said her top priorities would be jobs, transportation and sustainable growth.

That means promoting Tampa, working with economic development partners, reducing red tape, providing incentives for new businesses that relocate to Tampa as well as for existing ones that expand, she said.

Asked at a Forest Hills candidates forum to say what company or industry she would pursue as mayor, Ferlita didn't name one, but said, "We need to bring in all kinds of jobs for all kinds of citizens."

Pressed by someone in the audience for a specific employer, Ferlita said: "When I'm talking about being broad spectrum, I don't think that that's one specific company."

Biotech and life sciences are an example of industry she would want, but even call centers would be on the list. Regardless of education, everyone needs a chance to find a job, she said, "so no specific area."

Ferlita also has said she is interested in offering property tax breaks to the owners of non-historic houses who expand their homes.

That would re-employ contractors and craft workers without dipping into the city budget.

To increase transparency, Ferlita said she would create a Tampa version of Hillsborough County's "PGM Store" — a county website that provides online free public access to applications, staff reports, correspondence and other documents that developers submit for rezonings and other land use decisions.

Ferlita also talks of changing the culture at City Hall and has floated the idea of creating a "mystery shopper" program so she would get feedback on, say, how someone approaching the city for a permit is treated.

City employees, she said, need to think of themselves as public servants, not civil servants.

Dick Greco: no need for on-the-job training

Greco says he's the only candidate who knows firsthand what it takes to bring jobs to Tampa.

"I don't need on-the-job training," said Greco, who is seeking a fifth term as mayor. "I've done it before."

In his first 100 days, Greco said, he would bring in top businessmen such as John Sykes, retired banker David Straz Jr. and former Walter Industries CEO Don DeFosset to scrutinize the city's budget. It's an approach he used in his first term as mayor, when he hired a retired general to be an adviser for $1 a year.

Greco has mentioned parks, local government-run television studios and insurance procurement as areas where the city and county could work together or merge operations to save money, but he stresses the importance of working with city employees to develop consensus on the financial problems facing the city.

Greco said he would enlist other business leaders to help strengthen business recruitment and make permitting easier.

Whether it is attracting security firms to the area around MacDill Air Force Base or working to bring more international flights to Tampa International Airport, Greco said, he would try to develop Tampa's assets and be the city's top salesman.

"I have always done that," he said. "That's what I'm good at."

Thomas Scott: engaging residents

As someone elected three times each as chairman of the County Commission and City Council, Scott said bringing people together is his strength. "That says something about my qualifications as a leader to build consensus, bring people together, find solutions, find answers to problems," he said. "That's who I am."

As mayor, Scott said, he would try to involve neighborhoods and residents in tough city budget decisions through what he calls a "service level analysis."

The idea, he said, is for city departments to identify the costs of the services they deliver, as well as what a lower level of service would save, or a higher level of service would cost.

Residents could then help city officials set priorities and decide what level of service the city could afford to provide.

Scott also calls for bringing together the city's partners such as the Port of Tampa, University of South Florida, Hillsborough Community College and the West Shore business community.

"I'm prepared to bring us together my first 30 days in office and talk about how we move this city forward," he said.

Ed Turanchik: 'vision that works' agenda

Turanchik has outlined the most detailed agenda of proposals in the mayor's race.

At the top of his "vision that works" agenda is an effort to turn foreclosed houses into family homes.

"Our recession started with housing, and it's not going to end until we turn around housing," he said.

Turanchik proposes a program to help residents buy and rehabilitate those homes, making them eligible for Federal Housing Administration financing and affordable for families earning $25,000 a year or less.

To do that, he would retool an existing city program to help buyers with the down payment and closing costs. In return, the city would have a second mortgage on the house. Buyers would hire a general contractor to do the work from a list maintained by the city.

Another job creator, Turanchik said, would be bringing Florida's new Property Assessed Clean Energy program to Tampa.

The program allows local governments to borrow money from the bond market and use the funds to pay the upfront costs of projects that include window replacement, insulation, and installation of energy-efficient air conditioning, solar energy systems, wind-resistant shingles and storm shutters.

Property owners then repay the cost of the improvements through an assessment on their property tax bills.

To help small businesses open on selected older urban commercial corridors, Turanchik proposes to eliminate on-site requirements for parking, storm water retention and green space.

Instead, the city would invest in creating common parking areas, storm water facilities and small "pocket parks."

Entrepreneurs could then directly lease these amenities from the city for less than it would take to comply with existing regulations on their own.

A longtime advocate for rail-based transit, Turanchik often makes light of his nickname: "Choo Choo Turanchik."

And he hasn't changed. Turanchik wants to create a regional rail system running hybrid commuter trains on existing CSX tracks between suburbs and downtown Tampa. The service would be faster, with fewer stops, than the plan voters rejected in November, and Turanchik said a bigger bus system could serve those stops and park-and-ride lots.

More expensive light rail service should be reserved for urban corridors that have potential for large-scale redevelopment, he said. "There's a more affordable rail plan than the one that was on the ballot last November," he said.

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

About the candidates

Bob Buckhorn, 52, was an aide to former Mayor Sandy Freedman and served on the Tampa City Council from 1995 to 2003. He owns a public affairs firm.

Rose Ferlita, 65, is a part-time pharmacist at CVS and a consultant for the Agency for Community Treatment Services. She served on the Tampa City Council from 1999 to 2006 and on the Hillsborough County Commission from 2006 to 2010.

Dick Greco, 77, served on Tampa City Council from 1963 to 1967 and as Tampa mayor from 1967 to 1974 and 1995 to 2003. After resigning the mayor's office during his second term in 1974, Greco went on to work as a vice president with the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp. for 21 years.

Thomas Scott, 57, is chairman of the Tampa City Council, to which he was elected in 2007. He served on the Hillsborough County Commission from 1996 to 2006. He is the senior pastor of the 34th Street Church of God.

Ed Turanchik, 55, served on the Hillsborough County Commission from 1990 to 1998. A lawyer by training, he owns a company that has built homes in West Tampa.

More about

the candidates

To read profiles of the candidates, go to links.tampabay.com.

Tampa mayoral candidates offer competing plans and visions 02/26/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 26, 2011 9:58pm]

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