In addition to electing a new mayor, Tampa voters will elect four City Council members on March 22. Though Tampa's strong-mayor form of government leaves most power to the chief executive, council members play a critical role in bringing the issues of the neighborhoods to the mayor's attention.
District 1, citywide
Mike Suarez has a rounded perspective on how to make City Hall more responsive. The 46-year-old Tampa native worked for former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham before entering the insurance business. He knows what Tampa needs to do to improve the city's business climate and to keep neighborhoods strong during the economic slowdown.
Suarez has a responsible approach for using targeted tax incentives to attract jobs and industries. He understands Tampa's diverse neighborhoods and the imperative for a citywide council member to balance the needs of different parts of town. His common sense and likable demeanor would help bring real-life issues to the front burner at City Hall. He also appreciates the importance and the time required to do constituent work.
Curtis Stokes, 42, has served various causes through his work as a community relations officer at a local bank. He was appointed to a different council seat in July. His experience is too limited, though, to overcome the strength of Suarez's pragmatic agenda, people skills and broader grasp of the city and local government.
For Tampa City Council District 1, the Times recommends Mike Suarez.
Yvonne Yolie Capin
District 3, citywide
Both candidates in this race are competent and fair-minded enough to represent a citywide constituency. Yvonne Yolie Capin, though, is a better listener and would likely be more visible.
Capin, 61, is a retired small business owner who was appointed to a different council seat in July. She has not had the time to make much of an impact. But Capin has spent her months in office on substantive issues. She has tried to referee disputes between business districts and their adjoining neighborhoods. She also has reached out to civic groups in an effort to improve relations with the private sector. These efforts are necessary for local government in these tough economic times.
Chris Hart, 66, served eight years as a Hillsborough County commissioner. He understands local government and has the right focus on improving the quality of public services. Hart has served with decency and is committed to the city, but he can lose his audience at times. Capin has better people skills, and what she lacks in experience she makes up in energy. Her proposals to reform the regulatory process are more on point.
For Tampa City Council District 3, the Times recommends Yvonne Yolie Capin.
District 4, South Tampa
It says something that Harry Cohen is the standout candidate for the City Council this year. Among dozens of young candidates with something real to offer, Cohen stands apart for his experience, judgment and character.
The 40-year-old Tampa native and lawyer was until this year the top deputy to Hillsborough Circuit Court Clerk Pat Frank, where he managed 900 employees and a $60 million budget. He knows firsthand the challenges local government faces and how to save essential public services even in an era of declining revenue.
Cohen has the right agenda for South Tampa — better drainage, safer streets and investments in the city's aging infrastructure. He understands the strength that Tampa Bay's ports, airports and universities play in building the economy, and the maturity he brings to discussions on crime, transit and regional issues marks him as a problem solver.
Julie Jenkins, 49, who owns a marketing company, is thoughtful and energetic. She would be a strong advocate for neighborhoods. But Cohen's more rounded agenda makes him better prepared. He already has experience in leading local government through leaner times.
For Tampa City Council District 4, the Times recommends Harry Cohen.
District 7, North Tampa
The incumbent, Joe Caetano, lost in the first round of balloting, which means the next North Tampa council member has no institutional history or power base at City Hall. But for voters in this district, which stretches from New Tampa to portions of North Lowry Park, businesswoman Lisa Montelione, 49, would offer maturity and experience in the private sector, along with a keen understanding of the details of governance.
A former Hillsborough County planner and analyst, Montelione works in the construction industry, focusing on implementing green-sensitive and energy-saving building projects. As well, Montelione has served as president of Temple Park Civic Association and Crime Watch Association. She grasps the needs of not only her district, but all of Tampa.
From both her public and private sector experience, Montelione brings firsthand knowledge in dealing with permitting and regulatory issues.
Her opponent is self-employed businessman Charlie Perkins, 35, who, while personable, has little pragmatic understanding of how government functions or the role of the council in the city's life.
With her varied background, Lisa Montelione would best serve the interests of her constituents.
For Tampa City Council District 7, the Times recommends Lisa Montelione.