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Barney Bishop: Democrats finally have a stronger backbench

Florida Democrats have not had a winning gubernatorial candidate since the late Lawton Chiles won a second term in 1994.

Whether the outcome will be different next year is debatable because it appears the party will choose a candidate who is not a true Democrat but a former Republican-turned- Independent-turned-Democrat.

Suffice it to say that for Florida Democratic loyalists, they don’t really care who their candidate is so long as he (there won’t be a “she”) can guarantee a win.

But alas, what happens if the “chosen” one doesn’t win?  It’ll be back to the drawing board for the party.

The good news is that there is the beginning of a “back bench” of elected Democrats who can show that they can govern.  One is Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Buckhorn recently spoke to the Economic Club of Florida in Tallahassee and his message was that mayors have tremendous potential to shape the future of their cities.

Ironically, he touted that he was able to bring the Republican National Convention to Tampa.  He compared the convention to the Super Bowls that Tampa has hosted and he pointed out that there were thousands of reporters for the convention while only hundreds attend a typical NFL championship game.

He also mentioned, with particular pride – and well deserved – that even though there were anarchists in town to disrupt the convention, strong management and solid preparation resulted in not a single arrest!  That was quite a contrast to what happened in Minneapolis four years earlier.

He also weathered a controversy about keeping surveillance cameras in place that had been installed for the convention, despite the appeals of civil libertarians to take them down.  The result has been a safer downtown.

Buckhorn, a proud Penn State grad, came to the job with a great deal of experience.  He served eight years as the chief of staff for former Tampa Mayor Sandy Freeman and then in 1995 he began his first of two terms on the Tampa City Council. He won his second term with 75 percent of the vote.

Term-limited off the council in 2003, he ran for mayor and lost to Pam Irio.  After she was term-limited, he ran for the open seat in 2011 and in a field of five candidates, including the popular former Tampa Mayor-for-Life Dick Greco, he got into the runoff.

He then won the general with 63 percent of the vote.

Before getting elected mayor, he played a pivotal role in keeping MacDill Air Force Base open, saving 6,000 jobs and their $2 billion impact on Tampa’s economy.

He also co-chaired the state’s Base Closure Committee, which  kept all of Florida’s military bases open and even increased the number of military jobs in the state.

Because Tampa has a strong-mayor form of government, Buckhorn doesn’t sit on the City Council, yet he has the authority to manage the 55th largest city in America.  To date he has done that exceedingly well and it appears that he will handily win re-election.

Though he won’t tell you this because it’s not in his nature, this gregarious gentleman of Irish descent will be a credible Democratic candidate for governor in the future.

What will make him such a good candidate is that as a mayor, one has to be able to get along with the business community and  understand its needs and expectations.

It’s not easy, but if an elected official, especially a Democrat, can help a city grow and prosper – and Tampa is – then it portends well because most Dems are not considered friends of business.

A mayor can make things happen just like a governor.  Keep a sharp eye out for this young man; he has a great future ahead of him.

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