ST. PETERSBURG — There's a reason why it's so easy for Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos to maintain a united front these days. They face a common foe: Tallahassee.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran's push to require cities and local law enforcement to comply with federal immigration enforcement requests earned the scorn of all three mayors.
A bill to outlaw sanctuary cities passed the Florida House on Friday. Its success in the Senate is unlikely. And judges have ruled such measures unconstitutional anyway.
Buckhorn said the legislation was an attempt to pit rural and urban voters against each other.
"There are no sanctuary cities in Florida," Buckhorn said. "That entire premise articulated by the speaker is a bunch of BS. It's flat wrong."
Corcoran has criticized Kriseman for advertising St. Petersburg as a sanctuary to illegal immigrants, a charge dismissed by the Sunshine City's mayor.
He said his police department has other priorities: "I'd rather have them out doing the job they were trained to do."
The three mayors spent about an hour for a "State of the Bay" talk and question-and-answer session in front of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater Hotel. The questions frequently returned to Tallahassee's attempts to pre-empt local lawmaking. Buckhorn said those efforts mirrored Republican-controlled state governments around the country.
It's an attack on cities, he said, that drive the economic growth of states.
"Why would you kill the goose that lays the golden egg?" he said.
Kriseman said a bill has even been filed to pre-empt the city's fledgling bike share program.
"The level of absurdity is amazing," said Kriseman, a former state representative. "I spent six years there. All I heard for six years was: 'Washington needs to stop telling us how to do our job. We know our state better than they do.' But yet they have no problem telling us how to do our job."
Kriseman and Buckhorn are Democrats. Cretekos, a Republican and a key aide to former U.S. Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young for 36 years, also weighed in.
"Republicans were taught from the crib that local government is the best government. The government closest to the people," he said to loud applause.
That doesn't mean they didn't take good-natured jabs at one another. Buckhorn poked fun at St. Petersburg's traffic while denying his city has any traffic. He told one waterfront 'Burger that she should urge her friends to move to Tampa.
The three mayors also pledged their commitment to regionalism.
"It's never about politics when it comes to moving this region forward," said Kriseman.
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Still, glimmers of the old rivalries, or perhaps just civic pride, surfaced occasionally among the three mayors, all of whom are in their second terms.
Cretekos said that though Clearwater is much smaller than St. Petersburg or Tampa, it has its own claim to fame.
"Clearwater isn't as big as St. Petersburg. It's not as big as Tampa," he said. "But I dare say that every one of you who lives in St. Petersburg or Tampa knows about Clearwater and its sugar sand beach that's rated No. 1 in the country."
While discussing the 50,000 tons of debris clogging Tampa's stormwater pipes, Buckhorn took a good-natured dig at his old rival, former mayor Dick Greco, whom he defeated to earn a second term in 2011:
The pipes were nearly "entirely filled with barnacles, junk, Dick Greco's former political enemies," said Buckhorn, pausing for the crowd's laughter.
"I'm just messing with Mayor Greco. He's a St. Pete resident now, he can't vote for me anyway."
Contact Charlie Frago at email@example.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.