Bob Buckhorn doesn't have any time to waste after being sworn in today as Tampa's new mayor. Pam Iorio is leaving office with the city in good shape. But Buckhorn should work quickly to make his own imprint and begin moving the ambitious agenda he laid out during the campaign. He should concentrate on five areas to get his administration off on the right foot:
Assemble a staff
Iorio spent her first two years replacing almost every senior administrator she inherited from Dick Greco. Buckhorn will have an easier transition; the staff is competent, and many want to remain. But he needs to hire his three most important aides — a chief of staff, city attorney and budget director. Buckhorn should choose carefully. These posts are high profile and will reflect the professionalism and tone of his administration. He needs an inner circle capable enough to run the place day to day so he can deal with issues beyond managing the bureaucracy.
Master the budget
Iorio cut hundreds of jobs and tens of millions of dollars from the city budget, but Buckhorn faces further pressures created by a declining tax base. Next year's $20 million budget gap will force him to cut more staffers or services, consolidate operations and consider increasing revenue. He also faces fundamental choices about what aging infrastructure to replace and how deeply the city should tap reserves to fund everyday operations. Buckhorn should freeze wages, pare back outsized benefits and look to privatize some back-office operations.
Buckhorn was right during the campaign that spending cuts alone will not propel Tampa into an economic recovery. He needs to follow through on promises to capitalize on trade and research opportunities with the area's ports and airports, MacDill Air Force Base and the University of South Florida. Buckhorn should form a group of political and business leaders to lay the foundation for a new industrial climate in the bay area. He has solid partners in Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe and Stuart Rogel of the Tampa Bay Partnership.
Court regional leaders
Iorio raised Tampa's profile by taking a lead in the region on building both local and high-speed rail. While those efforts collapsed, she laid a base for Buckhorn to build upon. He has met with St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, but Buckhorn also needs to reach out to Clearwater, Bradenton, Lakeland and Orlando. He should talk to county commissioners from throughout the region. Central Florida should cooperate on a range of efforts beyond transit, from creating clusters for high-tech and promoting tourism to keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in the bay area. Gov. Rick Scott has signaled that local governments are on their own, and Buckhorn will need to unify the region for it to become more competitive with South Florida and the southeastern United States.
Revive transit plan
Hillsborough County voters rejected the sales tax package last year for light rail and new roads, but the measure passed in the city. During the campaign, Buckhorn expressed passing support for reviving a transit plan in the future. He should offer a more specific proposal and a reasonable timetable for taking it to voters. Tampa cannot afford to build enough roads to deal with traffic congestion on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, Dale Mabry Highway and other clogged roads. Buckhorn's economic plan relies on improving transit, and he needs to put a meaningful package on the table.
Iorio's hiring, budgeting and investment in the basics give Buckhorn some breathing room in his first weeks as mayor to pursue his agenda without facing an immediate crisis. He should go about the transition in the same thoughtful, inclusive style that marked his candidacy. Buckhorn is following a tough act, but he demonstrated he is an experienced hand and a mature leader who can handle what comes his way. The opportunity that begins today may not come at the best of times, but Buckhorn has plenty to work with to move Tampa and the region forward.