Daniel Ruth

Turanchik's big dreams for Tampa

Politics makes for strange bedfellows — and some goofy math, too.

Ed Turanchik was practically giddy with good cheer.

The former Hillsborough County Commissioner Choo-Choo, who recently threw his virtual professorial mortarboard into the race to become the next mayor of Tampa, was waxing poetic over a recent poll ranking his opposition.

And there it was. The poll suggested vast numbers of the electorate in Tampa had no clue who Ed Turanchik was.

The candidate, exuding more optimism than the Bucs' Josh Freeman lining up against Our Lady of the Lost Lambs, was whimsical over the fact that the body politic couldn't pick him out of a one-man lineup. He regarded his nonrecognition factor as nothing more than a mandate to carry on.

This is a good thing, the candidate insisted, and allows him the opportunity to introduce himself to voters with a clean slate.

If you are a campaign junkie, this is the kind of stuff that makes you love politics. It is the art of the possible — until election day arrives.

Turanchik has been out of public office since 1998, but hardly out of the public eye. He spearheaded the quixotic effort to woo the 2012 Summer Olympics to Tampa, which was a bit like trying to lure the America's Cup yacht race to Lake Thonotosassa. He also was involved in a failed effort to redevelop the Central Park public housing complex.

And Turanchik has been a longtime advocate to bring light rail to Tampa, a notion that went over about as big with the electorate as proposing outlawing the tossing of beads during the Gasparilla Parade. More recently, he promoted building low-cost, environmentally friendly housing, focusing on West Tampa, a project eventually stymied by the real estate implosion.

You could make a case that Ed Turanchik has backed more losing causes than the Washington Generals. But you can't deny the man doesn't think about the future. There are worse political sins.

In the run-up to the March mayoral elections, Turanchik is part of a herd of handshakes vying to succeed Pam Iorio. It includes former City Council member Bob Buckhorn, current council Chairman Tom Scott, former Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita and, of course, the Big Daddy of Tampa politics, former Mayor Dick Greco, who is old enough to have shown Lord Hillsborough the proper way to stuff a garter belt at the 2001 Odyssey, serving Tampa's coo-coo-ca-choo needs since 1763.

Greco is seeking a fifth term as mayor. The conventional Tampa political wisdom argues the chorus line of candidates is vying to deny Greco a clear victory March 1 and force a runoff election between the former mayor and the second-place finisher.

For Turanchik, out of the business of retail politics for 12 years, the decision to run was influenced by what he called his "Popeye Principle."

"You get to a point of intellectual frustration and emotional engagement that leads you to do something like this," he said, sitting in his campaign headquarters across the street from the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory.

The impetus to run for Turanchik was triggered by the real estate bust as he watched his own fortunes decline as well as those of the companies he had worked with on various projects. In 2006, a cabinet supplier to Turanchik had 46 employees. By 2008, the business was down to a single worker. Another vendor prospering in 2006 was out of business two years later.

"It was like someone turned off the faucet," Turanchik said.

Spend time with Turanchik, and you get the sense he's running because of his setbacks, because he sees himself much like so many other people in Tampa who have also experienced hard times the past few years.

And that largely informs his platform: transforming foreclosed homes into affordable housing for families earning less than $25,000 a year, an effort that would employ people to rehabilitate the properties.

Of course, there is transportation. With Turanchik, there is always a clattering rail track somewhere in the discussion.

But there is a third rail of Tampa political life that Turanchik was more than willing to step on. "A couple of years ago when I was laying off three-fourths of my work force, the firefighters were getting an 8 percent raise," Turanchik said. "Something isn't right."

As mayor, Turanchik would cut the city work force by 13 percent and end the unlimited accrual of sick leave and vacation pay. "We can't have public employees who are making more than the people they serve," noted Turanchik.

John Dillinger would have an easier time getting the police union endorsement.

At the moment, the odds of Ed Turanchik ascending to the mayor's job are probably somewhere between attracting the Winter Olympics to Tampa and Dick Greco entering a seminary.

But Ed Turanchik has always thought big. Why not one more dream?

Turanchik's big dreams for Tampa 01/06/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 6, 2011 5:51pm]

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