Bob Buckhorn was within 24 hours last week of being automatically re-elected due to a lack of challenger. But when it was revealed that a write-in candidate had surfaced in Jose Vazquez, the narrative didn’t really change all that much.
“With only a frivolous write-in candidate filing to run against him, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is essentially re-elected,” the Tampa Tribune wrote in an editorial last Saturday.
The dismissal of Vazquez may be disrespectful, but his background as a candidate has been erratic, to say the least. First and foremost in his background is his quixotic campaign as a write-in candidate running against Democratic incumbent Michael Scionti in the House District 48 race in 2008 — while still serving time in prison for a felony conviction of driving with a revoked or suspended license back in May 2007.
Vazquez later qualified as the Democratic candidate in that the 2012 race for the House District 58 race encompassing Plant City and surrounding Eastern Hillsborough County areas. But a dispute with party leaders led the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee to drop its support for him. Despite that diss, he ended up getting 42 percent of the vote. (Republican Dan Raulerson won with 58 percent.)
That finish gives him confidence that he could pick up support in the Tampa mayoral race, particularly with the city’s substantial base of Latino voters.
“Do you have a clue how many Puerto Ricans live in the city of Tampa limits?” Vazquez asks rhetorically in a phone conversation held on Monday. “You know how many Cubans?” He says he’s running in part because he wants the city’s Hispanic community to come out and vote, and all the better if they vote for him. “I’ve got people in the community who know me,” he says.
Vazquez worked in politics in Puerto Rico as the field and campaign manager for the New Progressive Party from 1989-1999. Much of that time he worked directly under that party’s leader, the former governor of the Commonwealth, Pedro Rossello. He says one of his main duties was to make sure everything worked well for Rossello during his public appearances. “I did that every week of my life for eight years,” he recounts.
The 40-year-0ld Vazquez currently works for Core Support, which works with recycled cars. He’s previously worked for years in Tampa as a security guard.
He acknowledges that Mayor Buckhorn is extremely popular, but says he’s not being a leader for the entire city, and is concentrating too much on redeveloping the downtown district to the exclusion of others.
“You’ve got neighborhoods like Sulpher Springs that are falling to pieces. You’ve got the homeless population. You’ve got a lot of things that are falling apart, and he’s only focused on only one little corner in the city of Tampa.”
In addition to his imprisonment in 2008, Hillsborough County records show past convictions that include criminal mischief and reckless driving, both misdemeanors, and carrying a concealed firearm without the appropriate permit. A charge that accused him of domestic violence in 2005 was ultimately thrown out of court.
It was a bizarre situation in the fall of 2012 when Vazquez, the Democratic candidate for the HD 58 seat against Dan Raulerson, was essentially booted out of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party.
At the time the party issued a press release:
The Democratic Party always desires to offer the voters of Hillsborough County a real choice in every election. To that end, the Party strives to recruit qualified, committed and ethical candidates. In Florida, though, any person who is a registered member of a given political party can pay the filing fee and run as a candidate in that party’s name. Because of this, the Party may not have knowledge of the individual, his qualifications, commitment to public service, or ethical orientation. Mr. Vazquez was not recruited as a candidate by the local Democratic Party; hence, we are unable to speak with confidence regarding his motivations for running — or for withdrawing — from the race.
Vazquez responded by issuing his own press release demanding that Mitchell step down. He did not.
“He was an unnecessary distraction then and unfortunately that remains true today as well,” says Mitchell when asked to comment on Vazquez.
Vazquez said that it was a group against one individual. “I’m running by myself with nobody’s support,” he says, reflecting back to 2012. “With no money. No donations, and I get 24,342 votes.”
He says he’s working on setting up a website and will soon be able to accept campaign contributions. He also says he intends to produce at least one campaign ad, saying, “I’ve got friends. I’ve got video equipment.”
And undoubtedly he’ll get votes, since not everyone in the city is enamored with the mayor, and at least want to have a choice.
But still unknown is how serious a campaign apparatus Vazquez is capable of putting together. Or even how much he’ll campaign.