Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn won't cruise unopposed to a second four-year term after all.
Write-in candidate Jose Vazquez, who once filed to run for the Legislature while he was serving time in state prison, qualified late Thursday afternoon for the city's March 3 election.
That means Buckhorn's name will be on city ballots for the election, which will include seven City Council races. Vazquez's name will not appear on the ballot. Instead, there will be a blank space for write-in votes.
"I decided to run for mayor because for so many years, I've seen what's happened in the city of Tampa with education, with homelessness problems, with housing problems," Vazquez, a 40-year-old Sulphur Springs resident, said Thursday night.
But when he tried to call City Hall about those problems, he said he was ignored. He assumes that's because he's Puerto Rican, so he decided that if he wanted to get taken seriously, he needed to run for a serious office.
Vazquez, who said he is self-employed with a business that provides security, advertising and recycling services, has run for office several times before, once while he was in prison.
That was 2008, when he tried to run for Florida House District 58 while serving time in prison for a felony conviction for driving with a revoked or suspended license. Officials said he was disqualified as a candidate because he didn't fill out his paperwork properly, omitting his last name on a signed oath. Later, he ran for the same seat in a special election as a write-in candidate, drawing 19 votes.
In 2012, Vazquez tried for the same seat again and qualified as the Democratic candidate against Republican Dan Raulerson. Vazquez lost with a little less than 43 percent of the vote, but still won more than 24,000 votes even after the Hillsborough Democratic Party pulled its support of his candidacy.
In 2006, Vazquez applied to fill one of two Tampa City Council seats that opened when Rose Ferlita and Kevin White left their posts to fill positions on the Hillsborough County Commission.
Vazquez said he wants to listen to city residents, look for solutions by bringing community groups together and bring in retirees and others who are ready to volunteer to make the city better.
"I'm going to be knocking door by door because I know where's he's weak," Vazquez said of Buckhorn. "I know where the help is needed."
Before Vazquez came along, Buckhorn stood to be re-elected automatically if no one else qualified for the mayor's race by noon Friday.
It would have been a near-historic feat.
In the last 75 years of Tampa politics, Dick Greco has been the only incumbent mayor to be re-elected without opposition. That was in 1999.
It also would have put Buckhorn in unfamiliar personal territory.
"My entire political journey has been one of having to fight for every step of the way," he said Tuesday. "I have never not had opposition."
But Buckhorn then added there was always a chance that a write-in candidate would emerge.
"We'll deal with that if it occurs," said Buckhorn, who has raised at least $360,000 for his campaign and spent about $160,000 of it running a television ad. "We're ready to run. We have the resources to run, and if we have a write-in candidate, we will run and run hard."