Tampa's mayoral candidates turned off the cruise control this week. Bob Buckhorn came on strong, Ed Turanchik came out swinging, and the three others tried to find their voices as early voting begins today. Undecided voters, especially, should see a much sharpened race and clearer choices on where these candidates would take Tampa and the region.
Buckhorn displayed a level of competence and maturity in four major candidate appearances this week that should go a long way toward dispelling the notion that he is too programmed and politically cautious. The former mayoral aide and City Council member has long had a grasp of Tampa and how city government works, but he also is outlining clearly how he would move the city and the region forward. In back-to-back appearances before neighborhood leaders and young professionals, Buckhorn demonstrated his ease on a range of front-burner topics. He looks and sounds mayoral, and he clearly has thought through the job and its challenges.
Turanchik warmed up, too, connecting well with audiences by answering questions clearly and directly. He made effective use of his playful side by drawing on the absurdity that a city the size of Tampa could not tackle issues like rail and jobs without overreaching federal aid. Turanchik spent the week answering criticism that he is more about vision than getting the job done. He made a splash by attacking Buckhorn, Dick Greco and Rose Ferlita as reckless spenders. Turanchik got some free media attention, but the attacks sounded odd from a candidate who has set himself apart for his ability to inspire.
Greco, the former mayor, has seemed lost in the unforgiving age of video. He has struggled to draw a relevance to his stories about bygone days, and sounded out of touch with several insensitive comments. He has faded at events when the moment called for strength and authority. Greco has a compelling story in his experience and an ability to bring people together. But his habit of throwing out the big names behind his campaign only feeds concerns that Greco would be an absentee mayor.
Tom Scott, the City Council chairman, has grown into a more thoughtful and strong-willed candidate who deserves another look. But he hurts himself with speeches littered with the alphabet soup of the bureaucracy. When he isn't talking about creating a service level analysis — a report that shows what stuff costs — he is championing his work with CRAs, TIFs, MPOs and TBARTA. Scott needs to decode his message.
Ferlita, a former City Council member and county commissioner, did a good job this week emphasizing her neighborhood work. She also did well by pointing out how her business success could help local government at this critical time. But Ferlita still has not made a strong case for being elected over several of her competitors.
Though early voting starts today, voters have time before the March 1 election to become more familiar with the candidates. This stage of the busy campaign offers a good perspective of how each would handle the stressful years ahead. For many voters, the choice could come down to temperament and vision. The differences among the candidates are becoming easier to spot as the campaign progresses.