Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio leaves Bob Buckhorn with much to work with when he takes the oath as her successor Friday, from a sound budget and ample reserves to a competent staff. But one of the new mayor's biggest strengths will be the quality of the incoming City Council. Voters returned two able veterans and brought on several newcomers whose professional and private experiences will help city government deal with the challenges of the times.
The seven-member board will still be split 4-3 between men and women. But the group is younger by an average of almost 10 years, and its members have richer civic experience in a broader cross section of the city.
Harry Cohen, the 40-year-old Tampa native and lawyer elected to the South Tampa seat, will be a resource for both the mayor and the council on ways to streamline the budget. Before running, Cohen served as the top deputy to Hillsborough Circuit Court Clerk Pat Frank, where he managed 900 employees and a $60 million budget. When the recession hit, he and Frank cut the budget, consolidated some services and froze pay. Cohen understands the bottom line but also that citizens expect a decent service level.
Lisa Montelione, a 49-year-old construction firm manager, brings an eye for business and customer service, qualities the council will need as it seeks to balance which neighborhoods get what resources at a time of declining city revenue. Her energy level helped her beat the incumbent, Joe Caetano, who was virtually AWOL as a representative for this North Tampa seat. By being more engaged, Montelione could reverse voter apathy in some of the city's newest neighborhoods and bring more residents into the local political process.
Mike Suarez, 46, another lifelong Tampa resident, makes a good match for his citywide seat. The insurance agent has a broad grasp of Tampa's economic and social diversity, and his work in constituent services for former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham gives him a keen awareness of the need to be responsive. Suarez could be a key ally for Buckhorn as they proposed some of the same tax incentives and inducements for new or expanding industries.
Yvonne Yolie Capin, 61, who won a citywide seat, and Frank Reddick, 55, who will represent East Tampa, both have served on council as interim appointees. Neither has had an opportunity yet to make a mark, but both are dialed in to their communities and have served them for years. The veterans, Mary Mulhern, 52, and Charlie Miranda, 70, know how the city bureaucracy works. Their practice of asking tough questions and setting deadlines for the staff will help the newer members accomplish their goal of making council more relevant.
The new council has a better handle on budgeting, development and infrastructure needs, the very core of what Buckhorn talked about in his campaign for mayor. He should draw on the council members to be more than the usual eyes and ears of the civic groups.