The race for mayor is heating up. A certain tension is building among the candidates. The old mayor is a lame duck. And the election is spilling over to affect public policy.
St. Petersburg, which votes on March 27?
Nope, we're talking here about Tampa. The mere fact that Tampa's next election isn't until 2003 takes nothing away from the action.
Even the Tampa-phobic know that the current mayor is the ever-sunny Dick A. Greco Sr., who is midway through his second four-year term.
His reign may be described as the Pax Greco. Business has been good. Developers have developed. Hands have been shaken, and biceps felt. Say, fella, have you been working out?
Despite Greco's popularity, the voters of Tampa in November soundly rejected the idea of repealing term limits for the mayor. Instead of a threat to three-peat as mayor, Greco now enters his final two years.
Already, the effects of lame-duck-hood are noticeable. In earlier years, Greco's merest suggestion was the City Council's command. He could have proposed abolishing the council and ruling by fiat, and the council might have agreed.
But not now. One example of this new resistance is the mayor's plan to use a big chunk of the Community Investment Tax for a downtown arts district (read: a Greco legacy?) and new exhibits at the Lowry Park Zoo.
The council's reaction boiled down to, We'll Just See About That. There are speed bumps to be built, after all. "We have to do our homework," explained Rose Ferlita, who is one of three City Council members likely to be in the mayor's race. "We need to have community input."
Community input. Of course! Ferlita, along with colleagues Bob Buckhorn and Charlie Miranda, would not want to be labeled part of the Downtown Crowd.
Besides these three council members, there are several other names mentioned as possible candidates. One is Pam Iorio, the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections. For a while she kept pushing the question aside, saying she wants to focus on election reform in 2001.
When I asked her again Thursday at Valencia Garden, which is a place to go if you are not trying to keep secrets, she said she still is first focused on election reform in 2001, but she is "seriously considering" the 2003 race. Aha!
You also hear the names of Chris Hart, a Republican county commissioner (funny, since he's been darn sure not to let Tampa get too much power in city-county relations), Dennis Alvarez, the retiring chief judge (an excellent politician, perhaps just as well suited as a kingmaker than a king), and Francisco J. Sanchez, a Tampa native who worked in the Clinton administration.
Sorry if I left your name out.
Besides these suspects, some of my smart friends predict an as-yet-unnamed Chamber of Commerce candidate. This person would be in the role of, say, a Bruce A. Samson, the former University of Tampa president who was a candidate briefly in 1987. Another model: former Mayor and former Gov. Bob Martinez. Come to think of it, Martinez has been slowly rebuilding his profile these last few years.
The question is whether any of the City Council hopefuls can fend off these kinds of newcomers. Who can be both a Good-for-Business Candidate and a Neighborhood Candidate? Buckhorn has been running for years and is a by-default choice. But Ferlita, as a longtime business owner, also hopes to convince the biz-types she can be good for them.
So they all bump against each other. Ferlita recently invaded Buckhorn's turf by complaining about public nudity at the Gasparilla parade. As a creator of the city's ban on lap-dancing, Buckhorn is the master at decrying nakedness. She is, as they say, playing to his strength.
_ You can reach Howard Troxler at (727) 893-8505 or at troxlersptimes.com.