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Thrown into deep end, new mayor learns to swim quickly

At Tampa City Hall, a showdown loomed.

And it wasn't going to be pretty.

One of the first controversies of Bob Buckhorn's new mayorship looked like it would come down to black and white, to attention for one city pool in a more affluent part of town while another in a needier community sat dry.

The question was: How come the city had money to reopen a public pool in South Tampa while over in east Tampa, another badly needed pool sat empty with no immediate plans to fix it?

And without even a good estimate for how much it would cost.

So there was City Council member Frank Reddick drawing a line in the sand, implying he wouldn't vote to approve the mayor's budget unless there was money for Williams Park Pool, which serves the people of the area he represents. (Or doesn't serve them, since it's been closed for three years.)

It got even more interesting when council member Mary Mulhern made it known Reddick might not be the lone "no" vote on the mayor's budget, given poolgate.

And it was on.

During Buckhorn's scrappy campaign for mayor, people talked about how he had matured as a politician, crediting marriage and family. And in his first months running the city, the new mayor struck a decidedly thoughtful and deliberate tone.

So a line in his response to those not-so-veiled threats from council members made some people stop short. "I only need four votes," Buckhorn said, as in, he only had to win a majority of the seven-member council to get his budget adopted. Even if you are not the sensitive type, you might interpret this as: I don't need your vote anyway.

Egad.

The old, brash Bob, back again?

Those who watched his campaign also know that, unlike some who run for office here, Buckhorn paid particular attention to those east Tampa neighborhoods and their concerns. So it was a surprise to hear, "I only need four" rather than a more conciliatory, "We'll make it happen for Williams pool."

Was the new mayor turning his back?

As it turns out, no.

There's some nuance to the story: Both pools closed three years ago because they didn't meet a federal antidrowning law that required drain covers. But South Tampa's Interbay pool didn't have the same structural issues as Williams.

The mayor would later say there was always money to fix Williams Park Pool (and other pools in need), and once they got an estimate that turned out to be "doable" and "manageable," fixing it was a go. Which sounded like the mayor Tampa elected.

Reddick said that change in tone sent him from "disappointed" to "speechless." And good for him for looking out for constituents who need a public pool as much as anyone else in the city. For Mulhern, too, for jumping in with a quick I-got-your-back.

So political wrangling ultimately wrought reasonable response. Buckhorn was on course, turning a brash quip into a make-it-happen, saying he intended to address Williams Pool all along and cooling what could have boiled over. And no power play ruled the day.

All of which is not nearly as interesting as a City Hall showdown, I suppose, but definitely preferable for kids who could be cannonballing into their neighborhood pool come next summer.

Thrown into deep end, new mayor learns to swim quickly 08/11/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 11, 2011 8:27pm]

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