TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn is sounding more and more like a serious candidate for lieutenant governor, especially when he speaks about the prospect himself.
"There's nobody who has the track record that is as good as mine," Buckhorn said in an interview Tuesday, speaking of progressive causes like LGBT issues, the environment, unions and family leave, while also noting his history of working across the political aisle.
A Buckhorn candidacy also raises the prospect that he'll be leaving the mayor's job in September, eight months before his term ends — elevating City Council Chairman Frank Reddick to the position and giving Tampa its first African-American mayor.
Reddick said he's hearing more of the talk about Buckhorn as a running mate for the Democrats' gubernatorial nominee and sees his own possible elevation as symbolically important.
"It would be good for the city to bring about the diversity that we all talk about," he said. "And it may encourage other African Americans to seek the office."
Still, Reddick would "immediately make it known" that he wouldn't seek to extend his time as mayor beyond the end of Buckhorn's unfinished term on May 1: "I have no plans to run for mayor."
Buckhorn isn't talking about conversations he may be having with those seeking the governor's office — a run he had considered himself for a time. But he aligned himself closely with front-runner Gwen Graham during a Tuesday interview with the Tampa Bay Times.
"She's the perfect candidate," Buckhorn said. "She's measured. She's tempered. Relatively centrist in her approaches. I think she represents the opportunity to turn the page in this state that's been controlled by the Republicans for 20 years. I think she does it in the manner of reaching across the aisle to find solutions."
As the Aug. 28 primary nears, Buckhorn's name has risen to the fore as a running mate for Graham, along with Broward County State Rep. Shevrin Jones and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.
Buckhorn stands out for his own propensity to work with Republicans and has gained attention for a relationship with Gov. Rick Scott that has proven productive for Tampa.
"That has sort of been my style all along," Buckhorn said. "I think it's a style that delivers results for the state."
Are Buckhorn and Graham working from the same politically pragmatic playbook?
"Yeah, we are," the mayor said. "We recognize that you can't do a lot of the good things without creating jobs, creating opportunities."
In March, Buckhorn said the slate of candidates for governor left a political vacuum in the crucial Interstate 4 corridor, notwithstanding the presence of candidate Chris King, a Winter Park businessman.
King has also been mentioned as a lieutenant governor candidate, as has attorney Dave Aronberg of Palm Beach County, state Rep. Amy Mercado of Orlando, former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, and Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber.
Kriseman rates a mention because of his popularity among the progressive wing of the party. Still, Buckhorn considers himself a candidate who can appeal to all Democrats.
"Now, people don't always recognize that because they see me as a very pro-business person, practical," he said. "A pragmatic kind of mayor, not an ideologue. The accomplishments speak to issues that progressives care about."
State law requires the nominee for governor to select a lieutenant governor candidate within nine days after the primary. If selected, Buckhorn said, he'd step down as mayor to campaign for Graham.
That would leave the mayor's seat to Reddick.
The same calculus might be at work in St. Petersburg. If Kriseman were tapped and stepped down to campaign, Deputy Mayor and City Administrator Kanika Tomalin would assume the role of mayor. A special election would be held within five months, Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby said in an email.
Tomalin would be the Sunshine City's first African-American mayor.
Kirby would not say whether Kriseman had talked to Graham about the job, but wrote: "The inclusion of Mayor Kriseman's name on a candidate's short list is really a reflection of how well St. Pete is doing. He is flattered by his name being mentioned, but his focus is on being mayor and doing all he can to move St. Pete forward."
Meanwhile, Buckhorn said he's content to spend his final eight months at City Hall.
"I'm not auditioning," he said. "I've got a job I love. I still have things to do before I leave."