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  1. Florida Politics

Suddenly, Tampa City Council chairman's job gets intriguing

Published Mar. 16, 2015

TAMPA — For the last four years, there's been little debate over who would lead the City Council. Veteran member Charlie Miranda has won the seat each spring when his council colleagues were polled. But with Mayor Bob Buckhorn eyeing a gubernatorial bid in three years, that is changing.

Council member Frank Reddick has asked if the role might start rotating among members annually. And there's speculation others are interested in the job.

That's because under Tampa's form of government, if the mayor leaves office, the chair of the council moves into the mayor's office, where there's more money ($150,000 a year for the mayor vs. $42,078 for council members) but also more exposure. In 1986, when then-Mayor Bob Martinez resigned to run for governor, then-council chairwoman Sandy Freedman served out the rest of his term, then won the first of her two four-year terms as mayor in 1987.

"What will be interesting along those lines will be the jockeying for the council chair," Buckhorn said recently, quickly adding that he was not suggesting that's he's going to be leaving office to run for something else.

The council will be sworn in April 1 and the city charter says that immediately upon taking office, members must hold an organizational meeting to "choose a chairman" and vice chairman.

"I don't think you're going to see it this next election (of a council chairman) or maybe even the one after it," Buckhorn said. "But probably the one after that is when the young guns will start jockeying."

Among council members, Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez have been mentioned as potential candidates for mayor. So has Miranda, though he said Monday he has no plans to run for mayor in 2019, when he will be 78, no matter where he's sitting at the time.

Under Tampa's form of government, a special election will be called if there are more than 15 months remaining in the term of a mayor who leaves office early.

If there are 15 months or less remaining — essentially anything after about Jan. 1, 2018 for Buckhorn's second term — then the chairman or chairwoman of the City Council would serve out the outgoing mayor's term without a special election.

"One of two things will happen," Buckhorn said. "They'll start jockeying or they will realize that Charlie's probably not going to run for mayor, so he would be the safest bet as the chairman to step in in the event something happened. It's like one big chess game."

Buckhorn adds that Miranda, who has run for mayor before, "would be an appropriate choice, particularly if he wasn't going to run. That would keep it an even playing field and not give anyone an advantage."

Serving out an unfinished term also would be "an apt reward" for Miranda's service, which would include seven terms on the council, Buckhorn said, "and he wouldn't screw anything up. He would keep things running."

Meanwhile, Reddick last week asked for a report from the council attorney on whether the council can rotate the chairmanship.

Reddick said his suggestion has nothing to do with mayoral succession, and he's not angling for the job himself.

It's just that he has served for four years with Miranda as chairman, Reddick said. He said he has no complaints about that and means no disrespect to Miranda, but would like to see some variety in who chairs the council meetings.

"I just don't want to serve my next four years under the same chairman," Reddick said. "I think the opportunity should be open to all the other members of the council."

Miranda said every year there's "opportunity for rotation on the council."

"With four votes you can do whatever you like," he said.

The idea of rotating the chair has come up before. The last time, Reddick said, the proposal was rejected 4-3 with Mary Mulhern and Yvonne Yolie Capin joining him on the short end of the vote.

When he brought it up again last week, the council's vote was unanimous to schedule a discussion on the idea for Thursday.

But that doesn't mean everyone's ready to change — even if it's feasible.

"Out of respect for the council member's wish to get clarification on what's allowed and what's not allowed, I will vote to bring it back," said Cohen, the council's vice chairman. "I just don't want it to be implied that it's necessarily a vote to proceed down that road."

Richard Danielson can be reached at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times