1. Florida Politics

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn working to raise statewide profile

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is a shoo-in for re-election on March 3.
Published Feb. 16, 2015

TAMPA — City elections are less than three weeks away, but Bob Buckhorn is looking a lot farther into the future than March 3.

The first-term mayor faces only token opposition for re-election to the nonpartisan job — a write-in candidate who once tried to run for the Legislature while in prison. Still, he has burned through half of the $396,000 his campaign has raised by running television ads and funding robocalls.

But the real campaign-style work the moderate Democrat has been engaged in is outside Tampa, including a regular gig on a Miami talk-radio station and a new political action committee with a decidedly statewide name, One Florida.

Buckhorn, 55, insists he'll wait at least two years before he decides whether he'll seek a statewide candidacy, governor or something else, though he joked about running for governor the morning after the Nov. 4 election. Yet there's no doubt he's hedging his bets. The PAC will provide resources for travel, to support allies for other political offices, maybe even launch an issue campaign.

Registered with the state on Dec. 10, One Florida raised $16,550 through the end of January, most of it from donors in or with ties to Tampa, including lawyers, building contractors, the police union and the PAC for Fifth Third Bank.

"It's actually what a guy who doesn't have a statewide profile should be doing four years out," said Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who has run and been a senior adviser to statewide campaigns for Barack Obama and Charlie Crist, among others. "The only way to get known really well is to spend money."

• • •

The son of a wire service editor in Washington, D.C., Buckhorn has been a fixture in Tampa politics for more than 25 years. He started as a special assistant to Mayor Sandy Freedman, served two terms on the City Council and ran unsuccessfully for three offices — state representative, mayor and county commissioner — before winning a five-way mayor's race in 2011.

But outside the city, that narrative is largely unknown and Buckhorn is only one potential Democratic candidate for governor in 2018.

Other names that get mentioned include mayors — Buddy Dyer (Orlando), Jack Seiler (Fort Lauderdale), Alvin Brown (Jacksonville) and Philip Levine (Miami Beach) — as well as members of Congress like Kathy Castor from Tampa and Gwen Graham from North Florida. And there's even speculation Crist would try again.

But unlike some other Democrats, Buckhorn's profile as mayor has carried a notably bipartisan tone. He praises Gov. Rick Scott's efforts to recruit new companies to the bay area. He has also supported Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi, a longtime Tampa friend, even co-hosting the controversial Bondi fundraiser for which Scott postponed at her request an execution scheduled for the same night.

In a general election, it could help Buckhorn tell a compelling story about leadership and building successful coalitions, but if he competes in a primary, it could be a liability as the small minority of partisan voters who show up for primaries for either party tend to be more strident.

Yet the challenge Buckhorn is clearly tackling now is the need to increase his statewide name recognition. The annals of Florida politics are littered with highly successful local, state and federal politicians who aim statewide only to lose. Two local examples from 2006: former Democratic Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa, who lost to Crist, then a Republican, in the gubernatorial race; and then-state Senate President Tom Lee of Brandon, a Republican, who lost a bid for chief financial officer.

"It's hard to get your arms around just how big and complicated the state is," Schale said.

At last count, Florida's population was 19.9 million; greater Tampa Bay's, 4.3 million.

• • •

On Wednesday, Buckhorn spent 15 minutes touting his city and talking state politics on The Gray Zone, a Miami AM-radio program.

He riffed on the forced departure of Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner Gerald Bailey.

"A bad decision to fire a guy who had a 30-year record that was impeccable … and directed an agency that should not be political," Buckhorn said.

"How it was all handled really reflected poorly on the officials that were involved," he added, getting in digs at Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, both of whom could be Republican candidates to succeed Scott in 2018.

He criticized medical marijuana.

"I am married to a physician," said Buckhorn, who did not support last fall's referendum to allow medical marijuana. "I know that there's nothing medicinal about marijuana."

And he sidestepped a question about a Miami legislator's public restroom bill that critics said would discriminate against transgender people. Buckhorn said he had only seen a news story but had not read the bill. He did not mention transsexual or transgender people in his answer.

Instead, Buckhorn chose a more general theme that would be familiar to his audiences in Tampa.

"As a mayor, as a community and as a state, you can't afford to discriminate against anybody," he said. "In my community, I'm never, ever going to allow us to divide or demonize people based on race or creed or color, ethnicity, the God you worship or who you love. We are far more competitive as a community in Tampa because we treat everyone with dignity."

Buckhorn said he has done the radio show for two or three months at the request of producer Fred Menachem, a friend of 20 years.

Isn't it a way to build name recognition in Democrat-rich South Florida?

"That obviously happens to some degree," Buckhorn said, "but that's really not what the intent was. I'll go anywhere and talk to anybody about Tampa."


  1. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is proposing $1 billion in increased teacher pay as part of a $91.4 billion state budget he put forward on Monday. CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    The Florida governor also wants to hire hundreds of new corrections officers and spend $1.4 billion on hurricane recovery.
  2. FILE - In this Aug. 1, 2019, file photo, Donald Trump Jr. speaks before the arrival of President Donald Trump at a campaign rally at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File) JOHN MINCHILLO  |  AP
    University of Florida student body president Michael Murphy received a resolution for his impeachment Tuesday. Then the state’s Republican Party started an online petition and fundraiser.
  3. Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, filed a bill, HB 1161, to implement online voter registration in 2018.
    This week, GOP senators rallied support around Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, to become Senate president for the 2023 and 2024 legislative session.
  4. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, right, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Friday, in the second public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. SUSAN WALSH  |  AP
    Experts on foreign policy said it was ridiculous to think that one person could turn a country “bad.”
  5. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., left, talks with ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., during a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, during the first public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP) SAUL LOEB  |  AP
    Almost 9 in 10 think the House impeaches Trump but the Senate won’t convict.
  6. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker speaking during 2016 graduation ceremonies at the Florida State University College of Law. [Florida State College of Law] Florida State College of Law
    The ruling, if it’s not overturned, means that President Donald Trump will not automatically be first on the 2020 ballot in Florida.
  7. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Pensacola.
    Prosecutors say Farm Service Agency director Duane E. Crawson, 43, of Bonifay, led a conspiracy to get his friends, family members and acquaintances to recruit others to submit false applications for...
  8. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Panama City City Hall on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. His wife Casey DeSantis is pregnant with the family's third child. He joked that the family will have to transition from "man-to-man to zone defense." (Joshua Boucher/News Herald via AP) JOSHUA BOUCHER/ THE NEWS HERALD  |  AP
    The federal judge had ordered that 17 felons not be removed from the voter rolls before a lawsuit goes to trial next year.
  9. In this Nov. 12, 2019 file photo, Roger Stone, a longtime Republican provocateur and former confidant of President Donald Trump, waits in line at the federal court in Washington. MANUEL BALCE CENETA  |  AP
    Roger Stone, a longtime friend and ally of President Donald Trump, was found guilty Friday of witness tampering and lying to Congress about his pursuit of Russian-hacked emails damaging to Hillary...
  10. The Capitol is seen in Washington on. Impeachment hearings for President Donald Trump come at the very time that Capitol Hill usually tends to its mound of unfinished business. J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP