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Buckhorn evinces a mayoral ambition

Bob Buckhorn hasn't opened a checking account for his campaign yet. The posters and buttons haven't been ordered. No television time has been booked.

But don't think the Tampa City council member is letting those particulars get in the way. Three years before the next city election, Buckhorn already is running for mayor.

At a New Tampa Community Council meeting Thursday, Buckhorn planted the seeds for a much-expected run at Tampa's top job, giving a sweeping speech about the state of the city that included subtle references to the "next political generation."

Buckhorn's vision for New Tampa included a booming technology corridor centered around the University of South Florida and University Community Hospital, similar to the high-tech Research Triangle in North Carolina.

While he lauded Mayor Dick Greco's impressive development efforts around downtown, Ybor City and the Channel District, Buckhorn pledged the "next political generation" would refocus its priorities toward New Tampa.

He also said improved roads and highways would be a linchpin for the area's growth.

"You cannot throttle the goose that laid the golden egg," Buckhorn said.

The political overtones of Buckhorn's speech were not lost on New Tampa Community Council president George Faugl, who playfully ribbed the councilman after his oration.

"I just have to ask Bob after listening to him speak, did you ever think of running for mayor?" Faugl said.

While Buckhorn has refused to openly proclaim his candidacy, he has been positioning himself for the 2003 election.

Greco was unopposed in 1999 for a second term in office.

But political analysts expect a packed field in 2003, when term limits will prevent Greco from seeking a third consecutive term. Potential candidates include Buckhorn, Tampa City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda, and perhaps Pam Iorio, the county's supervisor of elections.

A former deputy to Mayor Sandy Freedman, Buckhorn has made a name for himself on city council by vigorously fighting drug use, prostitution and the sex industry.

He recently championed the controversial effort to ban lap dancing in the city's strip clubs. Thursday, Buckhorn said he went after the clubs because they were flouting obscenity laws.

"What was going on at these clubs was a race to the lowest common denominator," Buckhorn said. "We literally had become the red-light district for the entire country."

The natty politician received a strong round of applause after his 20-minute, off-the-cuff speech.

"I think he's a polished politician," Faugl said. "I think he would make a very good candidate."

_ David Pedreira can be reached at 226-3463 or pedreirasptimes.com.

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