Today's Tampa city election is not just the final test for the candidates for mayor and City Council. It also tests the commitment of voters to participate in democracy at the grassroots level and help determine the direction of the city. A low voter turnout can produce election-night winners who have committed but narrow support and do not reflect the sensibilities of the broader community.
Just 22 percent of voters cast ballots in the Tampa primary, down from the primary turnout eight years ago when Mayor Pam Iorio was on her way to winning her first term. And history suggests the runoff election tends to draw even fewer voters than a primary crowded with more candidates. Today is an opportunity for Tampa voters to reverse that trend, and the choices they make — including whether they go to the polls or not — will have a significant impact on how the city evolves in challenging economic times.
After eight years of steady, competent leadership from Iorio, the city cannot afford to slide backward. Bob Buckhorn, the former aide to Mayor Sandy Freedman and a former City Council member, has the blend of experience and vision to build on Iorio's accomplishments. His proposals to create jobs, improve neighborhoods and expand transit are thoughtful and progressive. He also understands the significant role the Tampa mayor can play as a regional leader who can help unite the area and build consensus in areas ranging from water to transportation.
Rose Ferlita, who has served on the City Council and the Hillsborough County Commission, has deep community roots and understands local government. But her campaign has relied more on broad themes than specific ideas, and she lacks Buckhorn's vision and temperament. It is no coincidence that Buckhorn has been endorsed by Iorio and two mayoral candidates who failed to make the runoff, Ed Turanchik and Tom Scott.
Turnout in the primary election was highest in South Tampa, with West Tampa slightly behind. But the mayor represents the entire city, and voters in East Tampa and New Tampa should not let their voices go unheard. Elections matter, and the outcome affects the entire city — not just those who take the time to cast ballots. The higher the turnout, the more likely the election will produce leaders with the vision and broad-based support to lead Tampa to an even better future.
Tampa voters will elect a mayor and four City Council members in today's runoff election. Here are the Times recommendations: