Tampa voters have too much at stake to sit out Tuesday's city election. As bad as the recession has already been, the next mayor and City Council face extraordinary challenges balancing the budget and maintaining services in an era of declining tax revenue. Tampa's next leaders must also position the city and the region to move forward. This is no time for voters to be apathetic or to delude themselves into believing there are not real differences among the five candidates for the Tampa Bay area's most prominent elected position.
Bob Buckhorn has clearly established himself as the most qualified candidate for mayor. He knows what the neighborhoods need and what Tampa must do to draw new industries, employers and residents. As the youngest candidate for mayor, Buckhorn, 52, has framed the election as a choice between the past and the future. His bigger selling points are the thoughtfulness and sound instincts he would bring as mayor.
Residents can hardly stand to have the new mayor spend the next four years in a ceremonial role. While Mayor Pam Iorio has slashed spending and jobs, her successor will need to further streamline the bureaucracy. Dick Greco and Rose Ferlita ducked questions in this campaign about how they would reform City Hall, saying they would sound out the private sector. The next mayor won't have the luxury to farm out tough decisions. Tampa needs a mayor with a sense of urgency if the city and the region hope to grow and compete.
The council, too, will need to be proactive and not a meaningless sounding board. The council chairman, Tom Scott, who is running for mayor, is right to insist that the next mayor involve the council earlier in the budgeting process. With more spending cuts expected next year, the competition for city services will only heighten. The council needs to play a larger role in ensuring that all parts of town are treated fairly. Several council candidates — Mike Suarez, Seth Nelson and Harry Cohen — understand how to make the legislative branch more relevant even under a strong-mayor form of government.
The field of candidates is one of the most crowded in recent years. But these are not dizzying choices. Buckhorn, Suarez and others stand out for their vision and abilities to move an agenda. Voters should spend time before election day on Tuesday considering Tampa's challenges and who would be the candidates best prepared to face them. Then get out and vote.