Bob Buckhorn won a decisive victory in the Tampa mayor's race Tuesday on the strength of his solid experience, positive vision and broad appeal. He will have a strong base to build upon as he succeeds Pam Iorio, who guided the city well during the topsy-turvy economy of the past eight years. Voters sent a strong message that they wanted another mayor with substance, a reputation for reaching out and a temperament to handle any crisis of the day.
Buckhorn easily defeated Rose Ferlita after finishing just behind her in the first round of voting earlier this month, winning handily in virtually every corner of the city. Throughout the campaign, the 52-year-old former City Council member and aide to former Mayor Sandy Freedman sketched out the most compelling agenda. He vowed to create good jobs through innovative public-private partnerships with biotech and defense industries at the University of South Florida and MacDill Air Force Base. Iorio endorsed him because she saw Buckhorn as the most able to carry on her effort to make City Hall more efficient and accountable. He also spoke more convincingly of the need to invest in transit and other major infrastructure projects, and of the need for local governments to collaborate throughout the Tampa Bay region.
Ferlita, a 65-year-old Tampa native, ran a strong campaign and served her community well on the City Council and the Hillsborough County Commission. She built a dedicated legion of supporters through her work as a pharmacist and neighborhood activist even while failing to offer a specific agenda. She gracefully conceded and acknowledged "this campaign went a little south'' with negative attacks before she abandoned that approach.
Buckhorn has won the job he has wanted for two decades — and the expectations and burdens that come with it. He should round out his agenda by drawing on the good ideas of those candidates he defeated. Ed Turanchik said the city needed to do a better job of packaging land and tax incentives to lure clean, high-paying jobs to the urban core. Tom Scott had a strategy for using federal redevelopment funds to boost employment and incomes in the poorest parts of town. Turanchik and Scott are young, experienced leaders who attracted thousands of voters, and their endorsements of Buckhorn before the runoff helped push him over the top. Their ideas should be taken seriously by the incoming administration. Dick Greco also had a valuable message about the need to raise the level of civility in public life.
"This campaign was about building a bigger tent,'' Buckhorn said at his victory party Tuesday night. "We can be that city in America that everybody talks about.''
Buckhorn's biggest advantage is that Iorio is leaving him with a solid foundation instead of a rebuilding job. She brought in a competent staff, put the city's finances on sound footing and invested in the basics. Buckhorn was the strongest candidate for mayor, and his election bodes well for the entire region. He is a mature, pragmatic and ethical leader whose progressive agenda and positive message put Tampa on a sound course. If Buckhorn governs with the same inclusive style that marked his campaign, he will find plenty of help in establishing an agenda that moves Tampa and the entire region forward.