Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco's announcement on Monday that he will seek his old job fills out a 2011 field already crowded with the familiar faces of former officeholders. Each has a track record and particular strengths and weaknesses, but the city has changed enormously over the past eight years. The challenge for each candidate will be to push more than long resumes and old clippings to convince voters they grasp the new economic realities and offer a compelling vision for the future.
Greco, 77, was the last of the major personalities to make it official he is in the race. He already has served as mayor over parts of four decades, and his candidacy conjures up a nostalgia he is sure to exploit. It also sets up his opponents to contrast the Tampa of Greco's days with Tampa today. Bob Buckhorn, the former Tampa City Council member who lost the mayor's race in 2003 and is running again, calls the election "a very clear choice between looking back or looking forward."
In fairness, all of the major candidates have demonstrated their interest in making Tampa a more vibrant city. One of the defining differences will be who demonstrates the fortitude to make tough decisions in a tight economy. The next mayor also needs to put a transportation plan before the voters again. Hillsborough County voters may have rejected the tax for bus, roads and a light rail line, but the measure passed in most of the city. Services need to be further consolidated, and the fire, police and general employees unions need to understand the city must gain control of salaries, pensions and benefits. And Mayor Pam Iorio's successor needs to continue her efforts to work more closely with local governments throughout the Tampa Bay area.
All of the major candidates have their constituencies. Greco is the dealmaker. Buckhorn and Rose Ferlita, a former council member and county commissioner, are strong neighborhood advocates. Council chairman Tom Scott, an East Tampa minister, has strong support in the black community. Ed Turanchik, a former county commissioner, made inroads in the business community with his plans to redevelop downtown and for Florida to host the 2012 Olympics. These are all credible candidates who know the issues and can raise enough money to run meaningful campaigns.
The city is a far different place than it was in 2003, the last time the mayor's office was seriously contested. The city's population has grown 10 percent, but City Hall's work force has dropped 8 percent since Iorio took office. Property values have dropped three straight years — and with them, tax collections — and the immediate outlook for growth is negligible. But the next mayor also has new assets to work with, from new museums and parks to a rejuvenated downtown. Voters want specifics before the March election about how the next mayor would build on that progress, tackle transportation, improve neighborhoods and further control spending. These are serious issues that will require innovative approaches instead of the conventional thinking that may have worked in the past — and the clock is ticking.