1. Opinion

Daniel Ruth: Buckhorn is acting like a candidate for lieutenant governor

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, once mentioned as a candidate for governor himself, seems to be angling now for the No. 2 spot on the Democratic gubernatorial ticket. He needs a job when his term expires next year. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times (2017)]
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, once mentioned as a candidate for governor himself, seems to be angling now for the No. 2 spot on the Democratic gubernatorial ticket. He needs a job when his term expires next year. [DIRK SHADD | Times (2017)]
Published Apr. 19, 2018

Do you ever get the feeling Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn goes to sleep every night fully attired in a business suit, tie perfectly knotted, pocket square perfectly folded, wing-tips perfectly shined?

You just never know if at 3 a.m. he might be awakened with an emergency baby who needs to be kissed, a back to be slapped, a speech to be delivered. In politics, ambition never dozes off.

And perhaps that might explain hizzoner's not so subtle campaign to get the tap on the shoulder to become the running mate from whomever grabs the Democratic nomination for governor.

Yes, it is certainly true Florida has a fairly long reputation for picking potted plants for the lieutenant governor's post. The job pretty much involves, well, untangling paper clips, striding purposefully back and forth across the Capitol rotunda looking important and addressing the greater Two Egg Chamber of Commerce.

Still, even though the second banana spot comes with about as much clout as Barney Fife, it does keep whoever has the job in the political game. You never know. The incumbent governor may get eaten by the Florida swamp ape, opening the door for the lieutenant governor to step into the void. This is Florida after all. Stuff happens.

So it is hardly surprising that in recent weeks, Buckhorn has begun clearing the decks to position himself as just the man-jack to help deliver the governor's mansion into Democratic hands.

The first indication the mayor has begun to whistle "Hail To The Lieutenant Governor" every morning was his decision to reverse himself in the Tanja Vidovic controversy.

Vidovic, a firefighter, had sued the city and prevailed in a federal court battle over claims she had been the victim of undue harassment by the Tampa Fire Department. Buckhorn stomped and fumed and insisted he would appeal and appeal and appeal the jury verdict even though the city would still likely lose and run up millions of dollars in legal bills.

But it would seem the mayor had an epiphany, perhaps finally grasping the idea it would hardly enhance his standing among women, especially in this "me too" era, to be seen as being insensitive to workplace sexual harassment. And just like that, the city dropped its challenge to the Vidovic verdict. Check.

More recently, Buckhorn announced he wants to divest the city's nearly $1 billion pension fund of any holdings it has in companies involved the manufacturing of weapons and/or ammunition, which currently account for about $300,000 in the portfolio.

Now, it is certainly true Buckhorn has had seven years in office to work up a healthy aversion to weapons investments in the pension fund. But an epiphany is an epiphany is an epiphany — especially in an election year. Check.

As well, Buckhorn has indicated he is mulling over a decision whether to join a lawsuit by several mayors across Florida to challenge a draconian state law that prohibits cities from enacting their own local statutes regulating firearms in their jurisdictions.

It's merely idle speculation, but you have to suspect Buckhorn will jump into the lawsuit if for no other reason than to steal some of the political limelight away from St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who has become one of the leaders of the anti-gun movement. The mayor of St. Petersburg? Showing up the mayor of Tampa? This will never do. Never, never, never.

There is no question Buckhorn has been a good, able mayor of Tampa and he would make for a fine lieutenant governor pick for either Democratic gubernatorial frontrunners, the Panhandle's Gwen Graham or Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

Buckhorn is an energetic retail pol who loves pressing the flesh and he would offer geographic balance to the ticket as a candidate from the critical I-4 corridor.

It's not that private sector post-mayoral job opportunities don't exist for Buckhorn. But when you bleed ballots, it's hard to just fade away from the hustings.