Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is laying a solid foundation in his first year in office. Two-thirds of those responding to a new St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 poll say Buckhorn has done an average or better job since taking office in April. While Pam Iorio, his predecessor, polled higher in her final year, the numbers are a strong start for Buckhorn and a test for his agenda.
No one should read too much into the early figures. More than one-quarter say Buckhorn has been "average" so far, and nearly that number say they are unsure of his performance. Buckhorn is still largely untested. He spent his first several months combing the budget and getting his hands around the bureaucracy. Iorio left the city in strong financial shape, and Buckhorn kept most of her senior management team. Both helped the new mayor craft a budget for 2012 that included no property tax increase, layoffs or major cuts in services.
Still, Buckhorn deserves credit for deftly sparing police, parks and neighborhood improvement projects from the worst effects of the fourth-consecutive year of declining property values. He has been out and about, raising the visibility of the mayor's office and projecting a mentality that the city is moving forward. And he has followed through on two major campaign promises. The administration is looking at ways to make the bureaucracy more responsive to business and it is taking a comprehensive look at how to redevelop the downtown-area neighborhoods.
Buckhorn offered the most detailed agenda in the five-way race, and it is clear that residents are looking at him to meet their expectations. That nearly one in four are withholding an opinion on his performance shows that residents expect Buckhorn to make his own mark. His strong support for the police and for downtown redevelopment seem to have captured the public's attention. Buckhorn has moved quickly to solicit private-sector business proposals to reuse the historic federal courthouse and the city's waterworks park. Both projects have been talked about for years, and officials hope to use them as catalysts to rebuild older areas of downtown.
The poll numbers look like an accurate picture of a new mayor taking hold of his city and his office. But the real test could come in 2012 as Tampa hosts the Republican National Convention. Buckhorn made a play for young votes as a candidate, and he has talked movingly as mayor of ways to attract and keep young professionals. Tampa's appeal to this so-called creative class will be shaped in part by how the new mayor protects free speech rights during the convention. But it's good for the whole region that Buckhorn is off to a good start. And it's healthy for the mayor to have a sense of the expectations he raised.