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Bob Buckhorn apologies for military conference joke

Over the course of six years as mayor, Bob Buckhorn has said things that have offended some people, but he has rarely (if ever) been forced to apologize.

Until now.

Unless you’ve been avoiding local (now national) press over the past couple of days, you know the mayor has been (metaphorically) under fire since the Tampa Bay Times’ Howard Altman reported Friday afternoon on a number of reporters who took offense with a crack Buckhorn made at a military conference last week at the Tampa Convention Center.

As Altman originally reported, Buckhorn told the crowd about his experience as a hostage during a demonstration of special operation rescue tactics:

The highlight, he said, was when he was aboard a Navy special warfare boat, firing blanks from 50-caliber machine guns. “And so, the first place I point that gun is at the media,” he told the crowd.

“I’ve never seen grown men cry like little girls, for when that gun goes off those media folks just hit the deck like no one’s business. It’s great payback. I love it.”

Altman reported that the audience — approximately 1,000 people — mostly laughed at the remark. But some in attendance, specifically military reporters who have had live guns pointed at them for real, found nothing humorous about the comment.

Initially, Buckhorn blew off the furor.

It was “a silly reaction,” he told the Times.

But after the story got legs in the national media over the weekend, Buckhorn spokesperson Ashley Bauman responded Monday afternoon.

“This was a story that he had told for three consecutive years,” she said in a statement to FloridaPolitics.com, “and at no time was it ever construed to be serious or an accurate portrayal of what occurred.”

“It was merely a humorous tongue-in-cheek description. Clearly, that does not translate on Twitter and in light of the current rhetoric at the national level aimed at the media, inadvertently served to reinforce some of those sentiments. That was not his intention, in fact, as the son of a former wire service reporter he has nothing but the highest regard for the work of journalists and their profession and he apologizes to those he offended.”

The mayor also offended the sensibilities of some local residents when he typed, “whatever” on Twitter over the weekend in reaction to a tweet by Tampa Heights activist Rick Fernandez on his concerns with the Tampa Bay Express project.

Kathy Castor dismisses talk of her running for Tampa mayor

Kathy Castor is not interested in running for Tampa mayor in 2019.

Elected in November to a sixth term in Congress representing Hillsborough County, the idea that Castor was contemplating leaving Washington to succeed Bob Buckhorn was floated by Patrick Manteiga in his La Gaceta column late last month.

On Tuesday, Castor dismissed such speculation.

“You know, I love my hometown, and I’m in a fabulous position to be able to advocate for my hometown,” she told FloridaPolitics.com. “And that’s what I intend to do — stay right where I am, if the voters will continue to have confidence in me.”

Castor was elected in the Democratic wave of 2006, when the party stunningly picked up 31 seats, putting them back in charge of the House of Representatives for the first time since the Newt Gingrich-led Republican party took over the House some 12 years earlier.

Castor won the open seat left vacant by Jim Davis’s decision to run for governor by winning a primary over four Democrats, including current County Commission Chairman Les Miller.

Florida’s 14th Congressional District seat is considered to “lean strongly Democratic,” though the most recent redistricting before last year’s elections reduced the Democratic advantage in Florida from roughly 14 percent to 7 percent.

Republicans retook the House in 2010, but with Democrat Barack Obama in the White House, Castor was able to maintain some influence, most notably in the president’s decision in December of 2014 to reestablish relations with Cuba. That effort was paved in part by Castor’s 2013 announcement that it was time to end the economic embargo against the Communist island nation.

In doing so, she became the first elected official in Florida to make such a declaration since sanctions took place more than fifty years earlier.

Castor currently serves as the Vice-Ranking Member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, one of the first committees to review the first iteration of the American Health Care Act, the House GOP health care plan designed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The AHCA passed the House earlier this month.

Buckhorn’s second and final term in office as mayor is slated to end April 2019, with nearly two years until Tampa voters will be asked to decide on his successor.

Bob Buckhorn, Andrew Gillum among the 100 mayors calling on Congress to fix immigration system

Reacting to the Donald Trump administration’s hardline policy on immigration — which has included threats to withhold federal grants from jurisdictions that act as “sanctuaries” — more than 100 mayors from around the country signed onto a letter to Congress calling on it to revisit and pass comprehensive reform legislation.

Among those signing the letter are Tallahassee Mayor and 2018 Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

The letter calls on Congress to enact legislation that would strengthen the country’s borders while assuring that local and state law enforcement remains focused on community policing; establishes a streamlined visa process to bring in seasonal, agricultural, lesser-skilled and high skilled workers; provides a uniform system of employment verification and implements a framework that allows the undocumented to come out of the shadows.

“In the absence of federal immigration reform, mayors and their cities continue to seek strategies to protect the safety of all of their residents while ensuring that local law enforcement is focused on community policing,” reads the letter, dated Friday, April 7.

In his first week in office, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at creating more detention centers, added thousands of Border Patrol agents and promised to withhold federal funds from what are known as sanctuary cities — municipalities which do not comply with federal immigration laws.

Neither Tampa nor Tallahassee are officially considered “sanctuary cities,” but both Democratic mayors have criticized Trump for his stance on how local law enforcement should handle undocumented they come in contact with.

“We are not Customs; we are not I.C.E. We are not searching people who have chosen to live here and have not yet got citizenship,” Buckhorn said after the president’s executive order was declared. “That’s not something that we believe in, and not something that I support.”

Gillum also lashed out when informed about Trump’s executive order, saying it was “not a projection of strength, but a reflection of weakness” and calling it “inconsistent with our highest values.”

Florida sheriffs are also fighting back against claims by the Trump administration that they are not cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Recently, the Department of Homeland Security published a list of Florida counties accused of refusing to detain undocumented people.

But the sheriffs say that ICE officers have sent requests for detainers to sheriffs and jails asking them to hold someone in custody after their local criminal cases are closed.

“While the illegal immigration debate is complex and emotional, I swore to follow the law, even when it’s inconvenient,” Pinellas County Bob Gualtieri wrote in an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times last week. “The federal government also must follow the law even when it’s inconvenient, and it is wrong for the federal government to ask sheriffs to ignore the U.S. Constitution and the law that we are sworn to uphold by illegally keeping people in our jails.”

The other Florida mayors who signed on to the letter are Joe Kilsheimer from Apopka; Derrick Henry from Daytona Beach; Joy Cooper from Hallandale Beach; William Capote from Palm Bay and Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis.

Their signatures on the letter come at the same time that there is a bill floating in the Florida Legislature this spring that would compel local goverments to support enforcement of federal immigration law or face stiff penalties.  The bill sponsored by Groveland Republican Representative Larry Metz (HB 697calls on state and local entities, as well as law enforcement agencies to comply with the enforcement of federal immigration law 90 days after the law goes into effect.

If they don’t comply, among the penalties include  the threat of automatic suspension and removal from office for elected state officials accused of violating sanctuary prohibition policy.

At economic lunch, Bob Buckhorn blasts ‘Koch Brothers led ideology’ in Tallahassee

Bob Buckhorn announced last month that he won’t run for governor next year, saying it wasn’t worth separating himself from his family over the next couple of years. It’s certainly not for lack of how he would run his campaign, based on remarks he made on Monday in Tampa.

Appearing with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, the two mayors of the Tampa Bay area’s two largest cities took turns bashing the state Legislature at the Florida Economic Forum Luncheon.

Hundreds of local members of the business community gathered at the Brian Glazer Family Jewish Community Center in West Tampa for the lunch, and with the local business leaders in the audience, Buckhorn used the opportunity to advocate for the continuing existence of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, the two state organizations in the line of fire this legislative session due to the influence of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Earlier this month, the House passed a bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and nearly two dozen tax incentive programs. The House passed an additional “corporate welfare” bill that would subject Visit Florida, the state’s taxpayer-funded tourism marketing corporation, to higher accountability standards that any other state government agency while cutting its annual funding from $76 million to $25 million.

“All of you need to get your phone and call your legislators and say, ‘stop this foolishness. Stop it now,'” said a disgusted Buckhorn.

When only a few people in the audience began clapping quietly, Buckhorn exhorted them to clap louder. “You eliminate those organizations, and you’re going to put all of us at the local jurisdiction at risk.”

But Buckhorn was just getting warmed up. A little later in the Q&A (hosted by Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper), the Tampa Mayor tore into the libertarian oriented Americans for Prosperity, though not by name.

“What you’re finding in the Florida House is an ideological attempt, driven by the Koch Brothers and paid for by one of their think tanks, to reduce government down to virtually nothing,” he proclaimed. While acknowledging that offering tax incentives to lure businesses “don’t always make the case,” he nevertheless insisted that it would be universal disarmament for cities in Florida not to have that tool available to work with.

“If there’s problems with Enterprise Florida, they’re fixable,” agreed Kriseman.

Buckhorn later unloaded to this business-friendly audience that Tallahassee Republicans were hypocrites for their zeal in trying to take away control from cities, mostly controlled by Democrats, he asserted.

“I have never seen the assault on local government on all fronts,” the Tampa mayor said, insisting that his comment wasn’t political in nature. Buckhorn accused states like Florida that have both a Republican governor and Legislature of “cutting and pasting” state legislation that preempts local governments ability to do anything on issues like gun violence, LGBT rights and immigration.

“It is a frontal assault on us, because we happen to be Democrats and because many of these legislators are rural and they don’t get votes in the city. So they are punishing us,” Buckhorn said, adding, “Leave us the hell alone.”

Kriseman said he feared that the Legislature will eliminate Community Redevelopment Agencies, governmental bodies created to promote affordable housing, economic development, health and safety in under-served neighborhoods. St. Petersburg is devoting major resources to a CRA in the city’s Southside.

Buckhorn later blasted the fact that the Legislature is no longer in the business of offering tax incentives to lure film productions to Florida, specifically lamenting the fact that the Ben Affleck/Denis Lehane adaptation of Live By Night was filmed in Georgiaeven though the novel was set in Ybor City, where Affleck and the producers wanted to film parts of the movie, but chose not to when there weren’t any incentives available.

On transportation, Buckhorn said that Hillsborough County may be ready to put up another half-cent sales tax referendum on transit in 2020, but not anytime sooner, a notion that Kriseman agreed with. As he has done in the past, Buckhorn blasted the critics of any such referendum, labeling them either as largely limited to living in the eastern provinces of Hillsborough County or as “disaffected former washed up politicians and PR firms who will try to throw any amount of sand in the gears to distract people from the fundamental question, which is, we need more mobility options.”

Kriseman again brought up the notion of the Legislature changing state law that would allow big cities like St. Petersburg and Tampa to hold their own transportation referendums, a familiar complaint that has gone nowhere for years in Tallahassee. In fact, he admitted that it wouldn’t happen in the near term, and said that meant St. Petersburg and Tampa need to get creative for themselves.

“Whether it’s grant funding for state and federal governments or it’s governments coming together and working together and saying, ‘we’ve got to try something.'”

That then provided Kriseman with one of his passion projects – the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project which runs boats daily for passenger travel between Tampa and St. Petersburg, and which has seen an uptick in business in the past few months. “We’re going to have to bite off pieces that we can do on our own until we get significant funding.”

Whenever you get the two mayors together, inevitably the conversation moves towards the Tampa Bay Rays and their continued search for a new location in the Bay area. Buckhorn gave major props to Kriseman for coming to terms with the franchise to allow them to sniff around for possible sites in Hillsborough County, adding that “I don’t have a couple of hundred millions dollars laying around to pledge for a baseball stadium.”

“I have confidence in Pinellas County and in particular, St. Petersburg,” said Kriseman, who continues to advocate that the best place for the Rays to play is back at the Tropicana Field site, though with a different stadium and more development at that site.

Longtime friends and disciples of the centrist leaning Democratic Leadership Council of the 1980’s, the two  spoke often about how they are not in competition with each other, but are working together to make the entire Tampa Bay area a better place for the business community.

“You will never hear us disparage each other, you will never hear us disparage our respective communities,” Buckhorn said. “We’re here to grow together.”

It was all Kumbaya on Kriseman’s part as well, saying that if a company he is recruiting ultimately opts not to do business in St. Petersburg, “I want them to go over to Tampa.”

Kathy Castor fears how NIH budget cuts will affect USF, Moffitt Cancer Center

President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget cuts funding calls for a sharp increase in defense spending while making significant cuts to a variety of domestic programs.

When asked Monday what might be the worst part of the plan in her eyes, Congresswoman Kathy Castor said it might just be the proposed $5.8 billion reductions in funding to the National Institutes of Health (18 percent of its total budget). Most of the NIH’s budget goes to funding research in health care in universities across the country.

“It’s hard to pick out the worst part,” the Tampa Democrat replied when asked what concerns her most about the preliminary budget, which is expected to be revised when after the Congress gets involved.

“For this community, I would hate to see us take a step backward at Moffitt Cancer Center and USF on medical research, because they’re finding the treatments and cures for the future,” she said.

A trickle-down effect of reduced NIH funding, Castor added, would mean the exodus of “a lot of brilliant young people” who work at those institutions.

The proposed Trump budget would also cut the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent.

“Add in the devastating cuts to the EPA at the time where we’re trying to protect the health of Tampa Bay after St. Petersburg had some very serious issues with service overflow,” she said.

“This is a community that relies on clean water and clean beaches as the backbone of our economy,” Castor said, “and you begin to eliminate the commitment of the government to keep our air and water clean, that will only hurt jobs and the economy around here.”

During the transition period, Democrats in Florida and around the nation said that they could work with the new president on an infrastructure spending bill.

“If there ever were an opportunity for us to potentially find common ground with the new president, it would be over infrastructure,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said a few days before Trump was inaugurated in January. “Because for us, infrastructure is the lifeblood of what we do. We can’t grow this country’s economy, I can’t grow this city’s economy without adequate roads, bridges water and sewage systems.”

However, the Trump budget proposal unveiled last week includes a plan to eliminate a $500-million-a-year program that helps rural communities build and improve water, sewer, trash and street drainage systems. It also cuts a $500-million-a-year program that was created in the federal stimulus package of 2009 to finance a broad range of projects, from replacing bridges to building car lanes. And it would also cut funding for new rail or bus lines.

“I’m very disappointed,” Castor said about the lack of infrastructure spending in the proposed plan. “We have huge needs here in the Tampa Bay area.”

“Here’s a president who talks one thing — ‘oh, we’re going to have a huge rebuilding plan in America,’ and then the first budget comes out, and there’s nothing there. So his rhetoric is not matching what he promised,” she said.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney admitted last week that the preliminary budget might appear to contradict Trump’s statements as a candidate and as president

Mulvaney said the White House is targeting “inefficient programs” and will shift funds into “more efficient infrastructure programs later on.”

 

Dana Young says Bob Buckhorn should support utility legislation

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says a bill co-introduced by Tampa state Senator Dana Young would take away local control of public spaces, but Young says that the mayor has it wrong in his concerns about what the bill will actually do.

“Telecommunications companies are pushing SB 596 and HB 687, legislation that would allow them to place small refrigerator-sized equipment, and even towering poles, on public rights of way. If passed, local governments would have no control over where this communications equipment would be placed or how it would look,” Buckhorn writes in an op-ed published in the Tampa Bay Times. “This idea tramples on the authority of the very local officials you entrusted to make decisions about how your community, and all others in Florida, look and feel.”

The bill, named the “Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Deployment Act,” is being sponsored in the Senate by Palm Coast Republican Travis Hutson, chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries committee. It would prohibit the Department of Transportation and certain local governments from prohibiting, regulating or charging for placing small wireless facilities in rights of way. It also says that local governments can’t require applicants to perform services unrelated to the approval that’s being sought, like reserving fiber or pole space for the governmental agency. It also says that local governments can’t ask the applicant to “provide more information to obtain a permit than is required of electric service providers and other communications service providers that are not wireless providers.”

“When public officials consider where structures may be located, they evaluate many factors, including a community’s character, the safe installation of such facilities, and the cost to the taxpayers,” Buckhorn writes in his op-ed. “The proposed legislation directly negates this by allowing telecom companies to construct equipment with no concern about how they affect our neighborhoods, public safety, or local budgets.”

Buckhorn adds that the legislation also “diminishes communities. The legislation would interfere with a community’s ability to maintain its unique character, and would hand the telecom companies license to create permanent eyesores.”

But Young says that the legislation only addresses wireless equipment that would be installed in “existing right-of-ways where utility infrastructure exists today.”

“The bill does nothing to change a local government’s ability to preserve historic areas like our own Ybor City, nor does it affect the power of cities and counties to regulate siting of new infrastructure and equipment as they do now,” Young tells FloridaPolitics.

“This bill originated because once providers began to upgrade to 5G infrastructure some local governments put in place a moratorium to actually block innovation. If the mayors of our cities and towns want to stay on the edge of innovation and for their constituents to have access to the highest speed wireless services they will support this bill,” Young says in a statement. “This bill will bring our state into the next generation of wireless technology with many applications. To do this we must be flexible so Tampa can stay on the cutting edge of technology.”

The bill is being sponsored in the Florida House by Lake Wales Republican Mike LaRosa, where it was heard in the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee on Wednesday.

The bill has the backing of telecommunications giant AT&T, among other pro business groups. Associated Industries of Florida called it “good public policy” in a statement offered Wednesday, saying that it “will spur increased investments in the state, attracting innovative and technologically advanced companies to Florida.”

Tampa a ‘final four’ city to host National Gay & Lesbian Chamber Convention

Tampa is one of the final four cities in the running to host the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Convention this summer.

Last week, a team of NGLCC officials visited Tampa to evaluate the location for the gathering scheduled for Aug. 7-10, 2018.

Visit Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce have joined forces to attract the conference to Tampa — competing against Austin, Texas; Philadelphia and New Orleans. The chosen city could see an economic impact of more than $2.1 million, with bookings for approximately 2,450 hotel rooms, including another 700 on the peak night.

If Tampa does make the final cut, local leaders say it would represent a significant nod toward Tampa’s thriving economy, inclusive policies, and regional support of LGBTQA issues. Both Tampa Mayor Bob Bckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, along with Visit Tampa Bay, have welcomed and supported the selection of the city as a host of the 2018 conference.

Nick Janovsky, a Board Member of the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber — the local chapter of the NGLCC — says Tampa hosting the convention would cap off series of successful scholarship programs and a record year for the annual Diamonds in Diversity gala, which honors local political and business leaders.

 “We at the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce are proud of our members and their companies for embracing diversity as a strength and the impact their small, medium and large companies are having to make our region a thriving economic hub — attracting a talented workforce,” Janovsky said in an email. “We applaud Mayor Buckhorn and Mayor Kriseman for their support and are confident Tampa is the best city in the country to host the 2018 NGLCC Convention.”

Visit Tampa Bay president and CEO Santiago Corrada says hosting this event will “elevate the entire Tampa Bay community in the eyes of the world as a major LGBTQ destination capable of putting on a significant, high-quality national event.”

Ashley Brundage, President of the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber added that the national conference “will put Tampa Bay on the Map with LGBTQ Conventions and the more than 200 major corporate partners of the NGLCC.”

Ashley, along with her wife Whitney, will serve as co-chair for local efforts in the event should Tampa be selected.

For more than 30 years, the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber has provided an environment for business owners and local organizations to “build an alternative community based on shared goals, friendship, and trust.”

More information about the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber is at https://www.diversitytampabay.org.

Bob Buckhorn says after Donald Trump, voters may not be interested in a ‘guy like him’

On Thursday, Bob Buckhorn explained why he chose not to pursue the Democratic nomination for Florida governor in 2018.

The Tampa mayor’s decision was mainly predicated on two factors: He did not want to be away as his 15-year-old daughter spends her last few years at home, and he loves being Mayor of Tampa more than he could imagine running for statewide office for the next 18 months.

But lurking below that was a realization; if he ran, Florida voters may not be interested in buying what he would be selling next year.

“I would have been running on the fact that I was qualified, that I had managed large institutions, that we had a track record of accomplishments, that we were not particularly partisan, but I don’t know if that really matters anymore,” the mayor told reporters gathered at City Hall Thursday morning.

“I don’t know what the American public is looking for in their elected leadership. It is a disconcerting time in our country, and for those of us who aspire to lead, it’s the most unusual time that I’ve seen in 30 years.”

Of course, Buckhorn was referring to the electoral earthquake leading to Donald Trump winning the presidency last fall over Hillary Clinton, the woman he campaigned hard for both in and outside Florida.

Although the mayor’s decision was expected, over the past few years, his trajectory about being a candidate had evolved.

Based on his successful leadership leading Tampa out of the Great Recession in the last decade — as well as his outsized personality — Buckhorn was a prominent part of the Democratic bench of candidates for statewide office, and had been for several years.

That speculation went into overdrive after he created his own political action committee (One Florida) in December 2014.

And while he won a huge re-election victory in 2015, the rest of the year was troubled, partly due to a negative newspaper report about the Tampa Police Department, which triggered the progressive activist community, demanding the city create a citizen’s review board. It was a proposal Buckhorn initially resisted.

As funding for his PAC began to dry up in 2016, Buckhorn’s gubernatorial aspirations resurfaced locally after he gave a fiery speech this summer to the Florida delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Buckhorn admitted Thursday his thinking about a run for governor “ebbed and flowed” over the past couple of years, something he said was probably the case with all the rumored candidates, except for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, “who has obviously been committed to this from day one.”

“For me this was not an easy choice,” Buckhorn said. “It was not a straight path. There were a lot of things that I have to deal with that a lot of the other candidates don’t.” He specifically mentioned his two teenage daughters and a full-time job as mayor in the Florida’s biggest media market.

“But at the end of the day, family being first, I just didn’t want the job as bad as I wanted to be the mayor,” he said. “And even though I recognize that two years from now I won’t be the mayor, I’m going to finish strong.”

Buckhorn has more than two years left on the job, which is why he was hardly in the mood to get too retrospective about his legacy. While he championed his role in leading what he called “the Tampa Renaissance,” he drew a blank when asked to acknowledge his greatest failing to date, saying only that whatever mistakes he’s made along the way were “not done with malice or ill intent.”

Buckhorn certainly has the ambition to be governor, and he believes it’s vital for a “regime change” in Tallahassee after two decades of Republican rule in both the Governor’s mansion and the state Legislature.

Speculation has been that while a run for governor wasn’t in the cards, Buckhorn could run for chief financial officer, a job with duties that would allow him more time to return to Tampa on a weekly basis. But he said that decision was always about whether to commit for a run for the top spot in state government, not another Cabinet position. That said, he won’t pursue a run for that office.

A disciple of the 1980s Democratic Leadership Council — the same one that spawned Bill Clinton — Buckhorn’s centrism was always an issue for progressives in Tampa and the state.

With other centrist Democrats like Alex Sink, Patrick Murphy and Charlie Crist losing statewide elections in recent years, there is a part of the party that wants to go further left in 2018.

Buckhorn acknowledges that is a fervent part of the base right now, but he insists that’s not the way to go.

“If we continue to run campaigns based on identity politics or cobbling together interest groups, we’re going to lose,” he said flatly. “We’re a Purple state, and my sense is, and I could be wrong, and certainly the party seems to be heading in a different direction than my governing style, is that if we can’t appeal to the middle, we’re never going to be successful in this state.”

The mayor’s most interested in seeing how other Democrats in the race will fare over the course of the next year and a half. He said that the success of Trump does pave a possible path for attorney and Democratic fundraiser John Morgan as a viable wild card in 2018.

“He could potentially be the Democrats Donald Trump in terms of style and his willingness to shake up political and conventional wisdom, ” Buckhorn mused. “I just don’t know what the voters are looking for. I always thought that experience matters, and that credibility matters, and competence matters and a proven track record matters, but I just don’t know anymore.

“Time will tell, as the country rights itself, if a style of a Donald Trump is what Americans are looking for. If that’s the case, a guy like me, you know, they’re not going to be interested.”

 

Joe Henderson: Bob Buckhorn made the right call not to run for Governor

Bob Buckhorn is a gregarious, ambitious and determined man, and I think he would have made a fine governor for the state of Florida. He certainly ranks among the best mayors the city of Tampa has ever had.

But I also believe he made the right call when he announced in an email to supporters Thursday morning that “I am not planning to be a candidate for Governor in 2018.”

Now, saying “I am not planning …” does leave a little wiggle room in case Democrats come storming to his door, but that is not likely to happen. There could be several viable options for Dems in 2018, including Orlando attorney John Morgan, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham.

But Buckhorn wasn’t kidding in that email when he said, “I have a job I love.” In his case, that was not the usual politician-speak for “I’ve sized up the field and decided I have no chance.”

Tampa has had some fine mayors dating back more than 40 years — people like Dick Greco, Bill Poe, Sandy Freedman, Bob Martinez, Pam Iorio — and none of them wanted the job more than Buckhorn. He loved saying that Tampa had its “swagger” back. Trust me on this; no one has more swagger than he does.

And Buckhorn came along at the right time, too. When he assumed office in 2011, the city’s knees were buckling from the Great Recession (Iorio deserves credit for how she guided Tampa during that time). But Buckhorn moved ahead with an ambitious plan to reshape downtown from a dead place where the streets didn’t wait until 5 p.m. to roll up.

There are so many things going on now that the biggest downtown problem is a lack of parking.

That’s not to say the mayor hasn’t had issues. Not everyone approved of the military-style security Buckhorn championed that turned downtown into a fenced-off encampment during the 2012 Republican National Convention. And when Buckhorn decides he wants something, he tends to bulldoze any opposition that raises a peep of protest.

He didn’t make a lot of friends in the African-American community, either, when a Tampa Bay Times report about the disproportionate number of black bicyclists stopped by local police led to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation. Buckhorn defiantly supported the police on that issue.

When you’re in a job like this one, though, you’ll be judged on your overall score. On his watch, the long process of building Tampa’s Riverwalk finally went from concept to reality. It already is the signature landmark in the city.

He streamlined much of the bureaucracy on things like the permitting process. That helped speed his vision for transforming downtown into an urban dwelling center rather than just a place where people went to work.

He once famously quipped that infrastructure was the most important thing for city mayors, so while things like new firehouses and stormwater drainage improvements didn’t make headlines, those projects did make life better for citizens. He has been a champion for public spaces, and the Water Works park on the north side of downtown is a jewel.

He was an out-front supporter of Hillary Clinton for president, so there was speculation that he would have been off to Washington had she won. We’ll never know that for sure, just as we’ll never know if as governor he could have successfully worked with what likely will remain a Republican legislative majority in Tallahassee.

Here is what we can say, though. This decision not to run clears a lot of things off his plate and allows him to concentrate on the city he loves. I would imagine development on the west side of the Hillsborough River will be one of his priorities in the two years he has left in office.

And barring something unforeseen that can’t be controlled, he will hand the next mayor a city that has changed for the better. Not a bad legacy, eh?

The political class react to Bob Buckhorn’s decision not to run for Governor

Bob Buckhorn’s decision not to run for Governor is eliciting plenty of reaction in Tampa. Many people say they are not surprised Buckhorn has chosen not to pursue a path to the top political job in Florida.

“Am I the only one who felt he wasn’t heading in that direction?” asked City Councilwoman Yolie Capin.

“I truly believe that he made the right decision because he has not demonstrated over the past six months that he had a keen interest in running for governor,” said Councilman Frank Reddick.

Alluding to the fact that he has done little over the past year to travel around the state to get to know Democrats like potential candidates Gwen Graham and Philip Levine, Reddick said: “I think his chances of winning would have been very, very slim. So I think he did the right thing to wait this out.”

“While I absolutely believe that the State of Florida needs a course correction and a new direction, the timing for me and my family would be a challenge,” the Mayor said in his statement issued out shortly after 5 a.m. Thursday. “As the father of two daughters who are 15 and 11, the all-consuming task of running for Governor would cause me to miss the milestones in their lives that I could never get back.”

“Although I’m not surprised, I’m a little sad that we won’t have a representative from Tampa running for Governor,” said Councilman Mike Suarez. “I would have loved to have seen him go out and talk about the vision that he’s been able to put together in Tampa for the rest of the state.”

“I think that Mayor Buckhorn should be commended for putting the interests of his family and the City of Tampa first,” said Councilman Harry Cohen. “Being Mayor is more than a full-time job, and the continued success of much of what is happening in Tampa right now depends on having a strong and totally focused Mayor.”

“Bob Buckhorn is an extraordinary leader who has transformed one of Florida’s and America’s great cities,” Graham said in a statement. “His successful service in Tampa shows what Florida can accomplish if we work together and focus on creating economic opportunity and improving the quality of life for families.

“As a Tampa native, I’m incredibly thankful for his vision and leadership,” says Democratic operative Ana Cruz, a close Buckhorn ally.

A former official with the Florida Democratic Party, Cruz appeared wistful that Buckhorn will not be making a run for governor next year.

“Mayor Buckhorn has transformed our city, led with integrity and is exactly what we need in Tallahassee,” she said. “Bob Buckhorn will always be my favorite pick for Governor.”

“He would have been a strong candidate and a great governor, but can’t blame my friend Bob for putting his family and Tampa first,” said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.
“The withdrawal of Bob Buckhorn leaves the democrats without a critical I-4  corridor candiates who has won an election,” said St. Petersburg political strategist Barry Edwards. “The I-4 cooridor is critical to the success of a democratic nominee in a general elction and this further errodes democrats pathways back to power.”

“His legacy will be that of a truly great man who loved Tampa and elevated our city to the national stage,” said Tampa state Senate Republican Dana Young. “Although he will not run for Governor, Bob Buckhorn is not going away by any stretch — except him to be a major player for years to come.”

Reddick said the same thing about the mayor, who will turn 59 in July.

“He’s still a young man, and he got a great future ahead of him if the timing is right for him, and that could be in another four years.”

The mayor himself had a news conference later on Thursday morning, which you can read all about here.

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