TAMPA — Public relations executive Bill Carlson was quick to make a bid for Harry Cohen’s soon-to-be-vacant Tampa City Council District 4 seat, representing much of South Tampa.
The 51-year-old’s enthusiasm, coupled with an extensive marketing resume dating back to childhood days spent working in his parents' hardware store, could have been the key to besting Lee Lowry and Sal Guagliardo Jr. for the seat. Carlson won Tuesday’s election with 51.05% of the vote after all 27 precincts reported.
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The final votes trickled in as Carlson, president of Tampa-based public relations firm Tucker Hall, searched for a parking spot outside his election night watch party at SoHo's Epicurean Hotel. It's a victory that can be attributed to a groundswell of support from local businesses, friends, neighbors and strangers who know him by his work.
"I've been deeply involved in the South Tampa community for a long time, especially when it comes to neighborhoods and community issues, and people know me because of that and they trust me," Carlson told the Tampa Bay Times.
"What I found is that through my volunteer activities and because of the commitment the firm has had over the years to contributing to local nonprofits, the community responded and helped my campaign raise five times as much as either of my opponents."
In fact, Carlson managed to net more monetary and in-kind campaign contributions than any of the 28 other candidates running for City Council — a staggering $158,127.49.
He pulled in donations from well-known names including District 3 City Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin, former Hillsborough County School Board member Candy Olson, former Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern, St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice, former state Rep. Will Weatherford, Jeff Vinik’s Strategic Property Partners and Creative Loafing publisher Benjamin Eason.
A first-time candidate for office, Carlson is perhaps best known as the co-founder of the community forum series Café con Tampa and his role in helping transform Tampa International Airport into a hub for international travel and trade.
Carlson plans to do the same on City Council and transform Tampa into a "global city," he said.
"I'm excited to start working," Carlson said. "If we want a new vision for Tampa, a bigger vision than we had, it has to go beyond downtown. We can’t accept that we’re the same as every other city. We have to think bigger."
Carlson holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Tampa and a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School. He has served in leadership positions at the Hillsborough Education Foundation, Leadership Tampa Bay, Rotary International and the Tampa and Florida chambers, and has served on the board of the Florida Chamber Foundation, Florida TaxWatch, Synapse and the Museum of Florida History.
The single-member district blankets the urban peninsula south of San Jose Street, encompassing MacDill Air Force Base and all of Davis Islands and Harbour Island.