Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn used his state of the city address Tuesday to cast a vision for the region far beyond the end of his first term next year. In plain but powerful language, he presented an aggressive agenda for improving Tampa's urban core, connecting Hillsborough and Pinellas counties with light rail and transforming the area with higher-paying jobs. Buckhorn's energy level elevated an annual ceremonial moment. He set the right goals and offered a fitting sense of urgency.
Buckhorn's third and final such address before his 2015 re-election campaign combined the proper mix of looking backward and forward. To his credit, the mayor focused most of his attention on the future, painting a picture of a city on the move and a region working together. He called for new housing and antipoverty initiatives in struggling east and central Tampa, promised nearly a half-dozen residential towers would break ground downtown, and vowed to move forward on several redevelopments already under way in west Tampa and the downtown-area neighborhoods.
In long-awaited news, the mayor also announced he would keep Tampa police Chief Jane Castor in her post for one year past her May retirement date. Castor, due to leave under the terms of a deferred retirement program, has experienced a few recent bumps. But she has been solid over her tenure, presiding over a steady drop in crime, a trouble-free 2012 Republican National Convention and a department recognized for its openness and professionalism. Bringing Castor back under contract provides the mayor with certainty and stability in the agency as he assembles a leadership team and agenda for a second term.
Buckhorn, though, cast a larger net Tuesday that spoke to the broader challenges of the region. He urged Tampa-area leaders to support the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum in November and called for Hillsborough to schedule a referendum of its own by 2016. He spoke of the need to bring the universities and medical centers across the region together to carve a niche in academic health care. And he underscored the increasing role that urban areas are playing as regions compete nationally for jobs, markets, talent and capital investment.
Buckhorn's message was that cities and mayors are the ones worth watching. That show of confidence should help as Tampa works to complete high-profile redevelopment projects from the downtown riverfront to Ybor City. Buckhorn has also shown that the city can juggle several priorities at once. That is a mark of stable, competent and committed leadership that the private sector likes to see. His remarks Tuesday on regionalism and transit were his most bullish yet, a welcome sign he intends to lead on two pressing local issues.
These annual addresses are a rah-rah occasion. But Buckhorn wisely used his as a launching point to frame where the region needs to go to become a top-tier destination. Tampa still has many challenges, particularly in jobs, wages and housing. But Buckhorn has used his real and rhetorical power as mayor to cast Tampa in a new light. He needs to connect the dots on the parks and other projects he started, and continue to keep his sights on the larger goal of making the region more competitive.