Tampa voters are electing a mayor at a critical time in the city's history, and the differences between the two candidates could not be clearer. Bob Buckhorn is uniquely suited to build on the progress that Mayor Pam Iorio brought during her eight years in office. His plans for jobs, neighborhoods, transit and regional development would bring energy and opportunity to the entire Tampa Bay area. He has a vision for moving forward, the experience to get it done, and a leadership style that makes him more effective than Rose Ferlita. Buckhorn is the clear choice for mayor in the March 22 election.
Buckhorn, 52, was an aide to then-Mayor Sandy Freedman and later served two terms in a citywide seat on the Tampa City Council. Of the five candidates originally seeking this office, Buckhorn established himself as the most thoughtful, rounded and transparent person. He would continue Iorio's focus on cutting the budget and streamlining the bureaucracy. Buckhorn also has been a strong supporter of police Chief Jane Castor, whose crime-prevention strategy has helped reduce crime by 60 percent during Iorio's term.
But Buckhorn is not simply offering to maintain the status quo. He has a thoughtful strategy for using land, tax incentives and other inducements to create jobs and development opportunities. As a former lobbyist for Tampa-area builders and other interests, he knows how to reform the regulatory process without stripping the city of important health and safety protections. Buckhorn would make the city a more responsible partner with the private sector. He also recognizes the city must invest in replacing its aging infrastructure to compete with other cities.
Buckhorn has a strong record of protecting the neighborhoods. He reached out as a council member to neighborhoods in the central and eastern parts of the city that had long been ignored, and early on promoted a crackdown on prostitution, vagrancy and other nuisance crimes. Buckhorn's call for a master plan to breathe life into the emerging residential areas of downtown, the channel district and Ybor City could transform the look and economics of the city center. And he is a strong proponent of parks, cultural institutions and other amenities that give cities charm, energy and appeal.
Ferlita, a 65-year-old Tampa native and pharmacist, served eight years on City Council and four on the Hillsborough County Commission. She understands the process of local government well enough. But Ferlita has not offered a compelling vision or specific plan for moving Tampa forward. The last-minute plan she launched with great fanfare this month — only days before the start of early voting — was largely a mishmash of unfocused ideas. Her inability to articulate a vision and a plan for carrying it out is relevant, because cities that fumble their way through the economic recovery are going to be left behind.
Buckhorn understands the gravity of the times, and his agenda rises to the moment. He speaks convincingly about how Tampa can better leverage its port, airport and universities and MacDill Air Force Base to attract jobs in the export sector, medical and defense-related industries and manufacturing. Buckhorn also realizes that the Tampa Bay area must market itself as a region — and work in concert to resolve major issues, from improving transportation and protecting water resources to preserving the bay area as a recognized market for tourism, culture and professional sports.
Buckhorn has shown throughout this campaign that he has matured into a thoughtful, pragmatic leader. He has long been a hard-working and ethical voice in local government whose competence to manage the city is unquestioned. But Buckhorn has been inspiring in this campaign with his positive message and outlook. He has shown poise, humility and a level head, which mayors need to deal with crises that come their way. Buckhorn is comfortable being challenged, which is routine in public life, and his confidence reflects well on his leadership abilities. In the March 22 runoff for Tampa mayor, the Times recommends Bob Buckhorn.