With the election three weeks away, Tampa's candidates for mayor have yet to fully address the challenges that Pam Iorio's successor will face. Their best opportunity to flesh out their plans for voters comes on Tuesday in a televised debate that should help sort out a field of familiar names.
The candidates have been cautious to avoid alienating any constituency that could cost them a spot in a runoff election between the top two finishers on March 1. With five well-known candidates, no one is expected to get more than half the vote and win the election outright. But the decisions facing the next mayor — from how to balance the budget and grow the economy to what personnel and services to cut — are too important to be left to cliches. Voters need a clearer picture of who has the vision, agenda and leadership skills to move Tampa forward in this postrecession economy.
Bob Buckhorn has offered one of the most compelling cases so far. His years on the Tampa City Council and as a mayoral aide give him a solid grasp of the job, and he has a fair approach to balancing growth with neighborhood needs. But Buckhorn is widely seen as too politically calculating. He needs to drop the packaging and continue to demonstrate that he has matured since he last ran for office.
Ed Turanchik has thrown out the most ideas, and his vision for making Tampa more livable and economically competitive could fill Raymond James Stadium. But the former county commissioner, developer, Olympics organizer and high-speed rail advocate needs to convince voters he can bring grand ideas to fruition.
Tom Scott may have a bully pulpit as City Council chairman, but as a district representative he is cast as a political voice in East Tampa. Scott has a broader range and should be more assertive about showing it. He also needs to show more of the sensible, fair personality that has helped him win both county and city office and transcend racial and partisan appeal. In a race that could be decided more on temperament and charm than policy distinctions, Scott needs to open up.
Former Mayor Dick Greco certainly has the perspective of watching Tampa grow, and it is no mystery why he is comfort food for those who are anxious about the economy and the nasty political climate. But he needs to show a relevance to his stories about the past. Greco's record is well documented; the question is what would he do the next four years.
Rose Ferlita has the most work to do. The former Hillsborough County commissioner and City Council member has yet to offer any rationale for running or specific agenda. Keeping one's head low might be a smart strategy for campaigning, but it also speaks to the leadership qualities Ferlita would bring as mayor.
Tuesday's live, televised debate at Blake High School in Tampa, sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9, will give the candidates a good chance to reshape the race in the closing weeks before election day. Airing at 7 p.m., the debate will give voters a chance to size up who has the skills, the know-how and the passion to build Tampa and the region into a more vibrant community. The job is a tough one in any era. But the next four years will be particularly demanding.