ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn have known each other since the early 1990s, bonding over policy discussions at the Democratic Leadership Council, a Bill Clinton-era bastion of the moderate, probusiness side of the party.
Buckhorn was an assistant to then-Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman. Kriseman hadn't been elected to anything yet.
"We sort of adopted him," Buckhorn said, shortly before appearing with Kriseman and other Pinellas County mayors at a Greenlight Pinellas forum Tuesday. "His career has been great to watch."
At one time, a Tampa mayor showing up in St. Petersburg to stump for a Pinellas County mass transit initiative would have raised some parochial hackles, but both mayors say cooperation is the only sensible future for their cities.
"The days of us fighting over bridges and artificial lines are over," Buckhorn told the crowd of several dozen people.
Kriseman said counting Buckhorn as a friend makes it easier to work together. But the reality is parochialism doesn't pay, especially when it comes to catching the attention of Washington, D.C., and corporate titans, he said.
"Business and the federal government are all looking for more regional cooperation," Kriseman said.
Kriseman sees better opportunities for Tampa Bay to snag federal dollars if Washington notices Tampa and St. Petersburg speaking with one voice.
"That's a little different from what you've seen in the past," Kriseman said.
If the cities work together, they'll be more effective on joint trade missions and luring corporations to relocate to Tampa Bay, the mayors said.
If a company relocates to St. Petersburg, many of its executives will live in South Tampa, Buckhorn said.
"We're competing against San Diego, Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte and Nashville," Buckhorn said. "Not each other."
Both mayors believe their cities suffer from a competitive disadvantage because of a lack of a mass transit system. Kriseman says he'll do whatever he can to help Buckhorn if and when Hillsborough County unveils its own transit plan.
Neither mayor had much to say about the future of the Tampa Bay Rays. Buckhorn hasn't hidden his desire for the Rays to move to Tampa, but hasn't meddled, Kriseman said.
"Bob, as much as he can, is trying to be respectful," Kriseman said. "He doesn't want to do anything to put his city in a position where they're violating our contract with the Rays."
Buckhorn said that the most important things is to "keep the Rays in the region."
Tuesday's event at the Freefall Theatre was the latest signal that Tampa Bay's largest cities are on the same page.
"These two guys get it. It's a critical element for our region moving forward," said Chris Steinocher, president and CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, who moderated the event.
Appearing together publicly and delivering the same message matters, Buckhorn said.
"There's nobody better to do that than the two mayors. If people see two mayors on the same page, people get a sense of how important this is, we're not fighting silly parochial battles anymore," Buckhorn said.
Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago.