All Tampa voters will cast ballots March 1 for three City Council seats that represent citywide districts. The city faces a number of challenges in tight financial times, from addressing homelessness and panhandling, to revitalizing neighborhoods, to improving transportation. Voters should look for candidates who offer pragmatic solutions and a sense of the city's over-arching needs.
Several candidates in this race have a good feel for Tampa, the issues and the governing process. Mike Suarez offers a compelling vision for the city and a level head that could be especially helpful in these tough economic times.
Suarez, 46, is a lifelong Tampa resident who worked for former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham before entering the insurance business. He has sensible ideas for using existing tax incentives to jump-start business relocations and expansions. He knows the value of responding to constituents, and he talks convincingly of how the council — even under a strong-mayor form of government — can move a meaningful agenda. Suarez would build on the strong ties that Mayor Pam Iorio has established with neighborhood groups. He sees the big picture, which is essential for a citywide representative.
Rick Barcena, a 47-year-old Tampa native and restaurant owner, understands the needs of small business owners. Guido Maniscalco, another Tampa native, is a refreshing face on the scene; the 26 year-old jeweler should involve himself more in the community and flesh out his political agenda. Tom Slaughter, a 52-year-old engineer, shows a sensitivity for balancing growth with neighborhood concerns. A fifth candidate, Curtis Stokes, 42, who was appointed to a different council seat in July, has a long record of community service. But he has not transformed that civic work into a compelling agenda. The only reason Stokes gives for running is that elected office is a good use for his time.
For Tampa City Council District 1, the Times recommends Mike Suarez.
Mary Mulhern | District 2, citywide
Mary Mulhern has done a good job in her one term on the council, and there is no reason to replace her. She brings light to issues that typically get lost in the hustle of everyday business, from historic preservation to the arts and the environment. She has consistently called on the city to make better use of its port, airport, universities and other major institutions. She wants to work with governments and industry across Tampa Bay to promote the entire region.
Mulhern, 52, has lived in Tampa for 13 years, and she has established herself as a strong proponent of mass transit, parks and more environmentally friendly growth and industrial development patterns. Mulhern appreciates the need to update some land development codes to accommodate denser urban development, but she would not seek to throw out the regulatory process altogether as some candidates have proposed.
Susan W. Long, 64, said she entered the race after the council resisted cracking down on panhandlers. Long, a neighborhood activist in Seminole Heights, seems well meaning, but she has the narrow appeal of a one-issue candidate.
Scott Strepina, 32, another first-time candidate, said he chose to run because he is frustrated with the city's leadership. But he talks in generalities and focuses on relatively small-bore issues.
Mulhern at times can alienate potential political allies with her condescending tone and habit of talking down the office she has and talking up the office she wants. But she is serious, focuses on the future and is reasonable and fair.
For Tampa City Council District 2, the Times recommends Mary Mulhern.
Seth Nelson | District 3, citywide
Seth Nelson sets himself apart from this crowded field of name-droppers. He understands what the city has done right in recent years, from cutting crime to developing downtown. And he sees how the city can improve by strengthening relationships with neighborhood groups and the business sector.
The 40-year-old lawyer has a solid grasp of city issues for a first-time candidate. He has a reasonable plan for streamlining some land development codes. And, like every candidate this year, Nelson promises to examine the budget for consolidation ideas and other cost savings. But he shows a more responsible approach by calling for continued investment in infrastructure and other capital projects. Nelson is right that the city cannot merely cut its way into a new period of economic growth.
Michael Ciftci, 27, a former Republican political coordinator, seems to have more energy than substance. He needs to spend more time learning the issues than championing meaningless endorsements. Chris Hart, 66, has previously served on the Hillsborough County Commission. He can be long-winded, but he has a sensible streak and knows the governing process. Jason Wilson, a 32-year-old physician, has sound ideas for balancing commercial and residential uses in neighborhoods. Yvonne Yolie Capin, 61, was appointed to a different council seat in July. She has been harmless in the interim. But Nelson has a broader skill set to serve a full, four-year term.
For Tampa City Council District 3, the Times recommends Seth Nelson.