TAMPA — Topher Morrison used to make his living as a hypnotist. He helped smokers quit and people lose weight. He worked with Olympic athletes and studied with Tony Robbins.
Now he's running to be mayor of Tampa.
Will voters open their doors to Morrison, 49, only to close them a few minutes later with a glazed look, vowing to "vote for Topher?"
What are the chances Morrison turns former county commissioner Ed Turanchik into a crowing rooster during a mayoral debate?
Zero, Morrison says.
"If hypnosis was that powerful, do you really think I'd be wasting my time just being mayor?' he said during an interview last week. "No disrespect to my beautiful city. I love it. But I'd be ending terrorism, you know?''
Turanchik told the Times he has never been hypnotized. And he has no intention of letting Morrison be the first.
"If he asks me to look into his eyes, I'll avoid that," Turanchik said.
City Council member Mike Suarez, another mayoral candidate in the March election, said he had an interest in hypnosis as a seventh-grader, taking the bus to the downtown library to check out books on the subject. But he isn't worried about Morrison's powers.
"If I start barking like a dog, it won't be because I'm hypnotized. It'll be something else that's happened," Suarez said.
Harry Cohen, another City Council member and mayoral candidate, had this take: "Maybe he can hypnotize us into thinking we don't have any transportation issues."
None of his opponents need to be concerned, Morrison said. Hypnosis is a "perishable skill" that he hasn't practiced for years. Six or seven years ago, a Tampa friend asked him to talk to his son, a placekicker, who was struggling with field goals.
"I sat down with him and realized, "I've forgotten how to do a lot of this," Morrison said.
Tampa has had no shortage of colorful mayors. Nick Nuccio used to dole out rabbit feet to boys and paper fans and maracas to girls. Dick Greco never met a bicep he didn't want to squeeze or a cheek he didn't want to kiss. Bob Buckhorn loves to dye the Hillsborough River green.
But the city has never had a hypnotist (present or former) run for mayor. Neither have many other cities. Jay Stone announced a run against former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2010, but he didn't get enough petition signatures to qualify.
After that, the trail gets pretty faint.
Morrison learned his skills in Washington state, where he was born and raised. It was an unlikely route.
When he was 13, he said, a youth pastor introduced him to the self-help musings of Zig Ziglar.
A few years later, Morrison was a teenage night clerk in a computer keyboard factory near Spokane. He would pass the time listening to cassettes of Tony Robbins, the prominent life coach best known for his seminars and self-help books with titles like "Inner Strength'' and "Awaken the Giant Within.''
Within a year, everything had changed, Morrison said. He became a corporate trainer. He met Bill Gates before the Microsoft founder was a household name. He ended up training with Robbins and buying a franchise from him.
Soon, he was traveling 46 weeks a year teaching hypnosis techniques around the world.
Hypnosis involves a hypnotist putting a client into a receptive state — often called a trance — in order to access their subconscious. Often, a hypnotist will plant ideas into the subconscious to help change behavior.
You can still buy Morrison's "Journey of the Mind" hypnosis course for $51 online. One of its promises: "Start using the 2 most hypnotic words ever created that when used effectively put your client into a hypnotic state INSTANTLY!"
"Just. Imagine," Morrison said when asked what those two words are.
Hypnotism is just a willing suspension of disbelief, he said, like watching a movie or reading a good novel.
Morrison says he quit his hypnosis career more than a decade ago. His interests evolved, he said, to training professional speakers, then his current gig: small-business branding.
Along the way, he also changed his name, dropping his birth name of "Wayne" for "Christopher," which he picked because it means bearer of Christ.
Morrison isn't religious, but he said he admires Jesus' ability to craft a powerful message. He frames his name change as borrowing from Australian Aboriginal tradition where, as people grow and learn new skills, they take on new names.
While acknowledging that his past use of hypnosis may bring him some "ridicule and scrutiny" during the campaign, Morrison says he won't run away from it.
"Quite frankly, I'm proud of it,'' he says. "If anyone wants to criticize me for pursuing a profession that helps people to become better, I would question that person more than me.''
One of those people was former Olympic figure skater Michael Weiss, Morrison's client while winning world skating championships and during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
"Topher was just really positive energy around me," said Weiss, who has donated $1,000 to Morrison's campaign. Morrison helped him visualize success during the time he became the first American skater to successfully complete a quadruple toe, triple toe, double loop, said Weiss.
These days, Morrison, who never married and has no children, is seemingly at every public event. Buckhorn's State of the City address? Check. Charter Review Commission meeting? Check. Shaking hands on the corner of Twiggs and Franklin while wearing a Topher for Mayor button and accompanied, as always, by his Beagle-Brittany Spaniel mix, Macie? He isn't hard to find.
Morrison is confident that the more people he can connect to personally, the more his political star will rise. And he freely admits he uses some of the lesson he learned as a hypnotist — being present, active listening and empathy — in his retail politics.
"People just want to be heard," he said. "I've found when I just sit and listen to people, they walk away and say, 'Thank you. Thank you for just listening to me.' They want to know their voices are being heard."
Times Senior Researcher John Martin contributed to this story. Contact Charlie Frago at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.