Bob Buckhorn Archives - Florida Politics

Tampa’s mayoral race will be the next election pivot

With the 2018 midterm elections (mostly) over, candidates for Tampa Mayor will likely start amping up their campaigns for what is likely to be a competitive and possibly tight race to replace outgoing Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

So far the field includes a wealthy philanthropist, two Tampa City Council members, a former police chief, a former Hillsborough County Commissioner, a small business consultant, and a community activist.

David Straz, whose namesake graces Tampa’s performing arts venue, is self-funding a campaign with coffers padded well beyond that of any other candidate.

Straz has kicked in more than $1.5 million to his campaign — nearly all of his total $1.6 million haul so far. Of that, his campaign has spent $1 million on digital and television ad buys — something his competitors have not started doing.

His spending could be a game changer in a race in which he would otherwise likely not be very competitive. Straz, an independent voter turned Democrat, is a former Donald Trump supporter. Straz has since said he regrets his support, but it’s still a big ding on his resume in a city that favors Democrats.

Far behind in the money race is former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor. Castor has raised far more than any other candidate, except Straz. Her $177,000 in campaign contributions come from some Tampa Bay area power hitters that show an early edge in the name game for Tampa’s top elected seat.

Two volunteers for the successful All For Transportation referendum have kicked in money supporting Castor. Campaign Chair Tyler Hudson cut a check for $500 and Tampa lawyer Brian Willis donated $250. That support taps into the robust transportation activism community that rallied behind the 1 percent sales tax increase to fund transportation and transit improvements throughout Hillsborough County.

Castor pulled in more than $7,000 from the Barkett family that owns Amalie Oil, the company whose name headlines the arena where the Tampa Bay Lightning play. She also got support from businessman Chuck Sykes and his wife totaling $2,000 as well as $1,000 contributions from the Morgan & Morgan law firm, Pepin Distributing, and philanthropist Frank Morsani, among others.

Castor’s reputation as a high-performing police chief is likely lending to her name recognition. And, as the only woman in the race, she could benefit from the wave of women rising to political power throughout the country.

But she’s in a crowded class of political superstars who, together, will give Straz a run for his money.

Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen has raised just shy of $100,000 for his campaign. That haul includes a $1,000 contribution from former Tampa Mayor Sandra Freedman and another from her husband, Michael Freedman.

He also has support from Hillsborough County Clerk of Courts Pat Frank, who kicked in $500, and from Hillsborough County Public Attorney Julianne Holt.

Tampa lawyer Ron Christaldi, who is helping to run the Rays 2020 initiative supporting bringing the Major League Baseball team to Ybor City, donated $500. That suggests there might be more money to come from the Rays and other supporters of the team’s quest to relocate to Tampa from St. Petersburg.

Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik isn’t far behind Castor in fundraising. He has brought in $167,000 as of the end of October. Turanchik has built a name for himself as a ferry advocate since his days on the County Commission.

But Turanchik could lose some support after publicly rejecting the All For Transportation plan. Turanchik said he didn’t think there was enough detail in the plan to ensure the money was used for transit projects that would benefit the region.

Tampa City Council member Mike Suarez is trailing the list of current and former Tampa Bay politicians with just $50,000 raised. Considering his name recognition from his terms on City Council and as a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit board member, Suarez might not be playing at full charge.

Suarez has pulled in less money than political newcomer Topher Morrison who runs a Tampa-based Key Person of Influence Franchise. His work focuses on helping small businesses succeed.

Morrison is an interesting underdog in the race. His work puts him in prime position to run a solid grassroots campaign. Morrison also has an interesting professional past that includes having previously worked as a hypnotist — a feature that has already landed him some headlines in the media.

Morrison has raised $57,000 so far from mostly local individual contributions. But he’s going to have to tighten up his spending if he’s going to keep up with the rest of the mayoral field. Morrison has already spent $40,000 of his total haul — most of that on campaign consulting.

Also running are community activist LaVaughn King and Michael Anthony Hazard. King hasn’t raised any funds but appeared in the first mayoral debate last month. Hazard has raised less than $300 but hasn’t appeared at any public forums.

The first round of voting in the race is March 5. If no candidate receives a plurality of votes the top two candidates will advance to a runoff election April 23. It’s also not too late for the race to get even more crowded. Qualifying for the election does not officially kick off until January.

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Ed. Note — Campaign finance activity does not include candidates’ affiliated political committees.

Tampa mayoral candidate Topher Morrison backs All For Transportation

Tampa mayoral candidate Topher Morrison says he’s backing the Hillsborough County transportation initiative that would increase local sales tax from 7 percent to 8 percent.

Morrison endorsed the plan in a nearly 7-minute video posted Tuesday.

(His campaign did not fund the video. He said he used equipment he already owned and there was no out-of-pocket expense.)

In the video, Morrison explains how he came to the decision to support the All For Transportation tax plan:

He met with both the initiative campaign and the opposing groups to hear all of the pro and cons and talked to transportation and budget officials from Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa to learn how the funds could be used.

“The plan is designed to be flexible enough to stand the test of time,” Morrison said. “What makes the community and the roads safe today will be different in the future. The plan recognizes that we will need to fund different projects in different places in our county that may not even exist today.”

The plan does not include specific projects or modes of transit, but offers a framework for how to spend the $280 million annually the tax would raise.

It would allocate 54 percent of funds to road and transportation safety projects. That could include anything from pothole repair and road resurfacing to bike lanes and traffic congestion relief.

Another 45 percent would go to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority for transit enhancements and the remaining 1 percent would pay for oversight to make sure funds are being allocated in accordance with the implementing referendum language.

Morrison is running next year against former Tampa Chief of Police Jane Castor, Tampa City Council members Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen, former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, philanthropist David Straz and community activist LaVaughn King.

Morrison also weighed in on arguments that the referendum is a shell game to bring the Tampa Bay Rays Major League Baseball team to Ybor City. He said based on his research and conversations, that’s simply not true.

“If our elected officials want to move the Rays to Tampa, they’re going to find a way to do it anyway and it has nothing to do with All For Transportation,” Morrison said. “If you don’t want the Rays in Ybor City than rather than vote down this referendum, just don’t vote for the politicians eager to move the Rays with city or county funds.”

The referendum language specifically bars using revenue from the tax on a new stadium.

Morrison is an underdog in Tampa’s mayoral race. He’s a small business consultant who has never run for office before and has made waves by introducing some unconventional ideas on transit, including gondolas across Tampa Bay.

While he’s not the first candidate or elected official to propose such an idea, it’s one that hasn’t gained much traction in the public.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman floated the idea in a failed effort to win a federal innovation grant for transit and urban design. Clearwater City Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell has also pushed the idea for connectivity in her city.

Morrison ends his video with a nod to the gondola idea saying perhaps the funds could help pay for it.

Bob Buckhorn: A strong mayor would bring greater accountability, progress to Clearwater

The Clearwater Referendum offers residents the opportunity to enable positive change in their government for decades to come. While the City Manager Bill Horne and your current Mayor George Cretekos have much to be proud of and will be remembered for ably steering Clearwater through the worst recession since the Great Depression, let me offer a perspective on the upcoming referendum.

As somebody who has served in both the legislative branch of local government and the executive branch, I cannot tell you how strongly I believe in the accountability and responsibility of a strong mayor form of government. The tangible differences that have occurred in my city, like significantly expanded city parks, improvements in workforce and affordable housing, a downtown that has transformed itself and new employers flocking to these cities are directly attributed to the ability of a strong Mayor to articulate a vision and the authority to carry out that mission.

The cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa both benefit from the “strong” mayor form of government. Full-time executive mayors are able to campaign on an issue and then lead city staff to bring that to fruition while at the same time knowing that they are accountable to the voters every four years.

We have a laserlike focus on things because we know our job will be hotly debated and on the chopping block in the ballot box in just four years.

Having a strong mayor in Tampa brought us the Riverwalk — an effort that took the focused attention of six Tampa mayors and more than 40 years of planning and construction. In St. Petersburg, the efforts of strong mayors are bringing a new destination pier and the world-class artwork of Janet Echelman.

The majority of larger cities in America are represented by the strong mayor system because executive full — time mayors are able to drive progress. Progress could be anything from incorporating analytics in city government to make it more efficient to investing more funds in public safety to make streets safer for residents.

Strong mayors give citizens a clear choice on Election Day — and also have the authority to direct staff to get the job done. You the voters have the ability to discern who is prepared and capable of leading your community as Mayor. It is not a vote to be taken lightly for you are investing much authority and an awesome responsibility in this person. I urge Clearwater residents to vote Yes on the Clearwater Referendum.

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Bob Buckhorn is Mayor of Tampa.

David Straz unveils job growth strategy for Tampa

Tampa mayoral candidate David Straz outlined a three-point job creation plan Tuesday that includes attracting entrepreneurs, engaging universities and recruiting new companies.

Straz plans to use his experience in business to reach out to companies worldwide to make sure Tampa is on their radar for potential growth or relocation by tapping into his global network of business leaders.

But those companies need talent. The Tampa Bay area has a robust network of colleges and universities, including the University of South Florida, which earlier this year made its mark in the state as one of three pre-eminent research universities.

“We need to make sure the universities are turning out graduates that have the skills that new, high tech companies need to grow and thrive,” Straz said.

In addition to churning out qualified graduates to fuel Tampa’s workforce, Straz also wants to import entrepreneurs from outside the area by making sure the city has tools they need to grow new business and amenities they want to fuel their lives outside of the office.

“Our young people shouldn’t have to go to Atlanta or the West Coast to get support to start a business,” Straz said.

He did not mention it explicitly, but transportation has been one of the top issues targeted to attract young professionals. Tampa’s transportation infrastructure is lagging, creating traffic congestion on roads, and its transit network is underfunded. The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority’s bus network lacks the frequency and routes to make owning a car an option rather than a necessity.

Straz is also outlining his plan to create a “working group on codes and development.”

“We all want Tampa to grow, but we want it to grow the right way to protect our quality of life,” he said. “I will provide leadership to make sure the future of development in Tampa is proactive, not reactive.”

That group would include representatives from the business and development community.

“My goal will be to streamline the system, make it more efficient and make sure we can grow the right way while protecting our quality of life,” Straz said. “I want to get all the stakeholders together in a room and open the lines of communication. If we do that I believe we can make the system more efficient.”

That plan would build on current Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s efforts to streamline city services. In 2015 Buckhorn implemented the electronic permitting system Accela Automation, which provided businesses with access to online permitting, licensing and asset information.

As of last year, Tampa had processed $11 billion in permits during Buckhorn’s term.

Straz is running in a crowded campaign against some well-known candidates. He faces a tough battle against former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, city council members Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen and former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik. Also running are small business consultant Topher Morrison and community activist LaVaughn King.

Joe Henderson: No tax for tracks, or anything else in Hillsborough

No tax for tracks. No tax for anything.

What else is new?

The grumpy demographic in Hillsborough County has weighed in on the All For Transportation referendum and guess what? They’re agin’ it!

I know you’re shocked.

The first mailer appeared in my mailbox Monday. The old “No Tax For Tracks” group reformed about three weeks ago to fight the Nov. 6 referendum to raise the sales tax by a penny for transportation needs.

It was predictable.

It was adorned with a picture of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. Both men heavily support the referendum, so they were trolled with the label of Bob “Billions” Buckhorn and Jeff “Vision” Vinik.

Ouch. That hurts.

They didn’t mention the more than 77,000 people who signed petitions to get this issue on the ballot because a majority of the county commissioners couldn’t bring themselves to do it.

But the punch line was a sentence that flat-out said a rail system would be part of the tax plan, along with an out-of-left-field jab that said tax money would be used “to finance another billionaire’s stadium.”

I guess they mean the Tampa Bay Rays. And where did they draw the connection between the stadium and the referendum? The mailer doesn’t say. All it screams is TAX!!!!!

Oh, and TRACKS!!!!!!

“This tax increase is unnecessary as Hillsborough County commissioners re-prioritized $800 million of existing revenue for transportation funding over 10 years that, along with our existing gas taxes, funds needed maintenance and safety issues,” Karen Jaroch, co-founder of the Hillsborough tea party and a former member of the county’s bus board, told the Tampa Bay Times.

That money is a spit in the bucket for the transportation needs now, let alone what will it be like in 10 years.

If approved, the tax is estimated to generate about $280 million a year for 30 years, although that figure likely will grow because the county is growing rapidly and that means more people – and cars – on a road system that can’t handle what it already has.

More than half the money is targeted for congestion relief in the form of road repairs, smart traffic signals, sidewalks, and other upgrades.

About 45 percent of the money would go to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority for expanded rapid bus service and possibly, yes, some sort of rail system.

The notion that a rail system might be years down the road (so to speak) sets opponents’ collective hair on fire. Their answer is to build more roads, including an expansion of toll roads, and, um … THOSE AREN’T FREE.

A long-range Florida Department of Transportation study estimates that it could cost $7,448,544.36 for a single mile of new four-lane urban roadway with bike lanes. You never hear the “No Tax” hounds barking about that.

Junk like this has kept Hillsborough stuck in the slow lane for years because these people, tea party types mostly, have a phobia against rail and are determined to apply it to any new transportation idea.

They have gotten away with it because lawmakers, Republicans mostly on the County Commission, are scared that the next mailer will be about them.

So, we sit, as Tampa’s traffic situation grows worse by the day and the “No Tax” crowd celebrates the malaise.

Mind you, as usual, No Tax For Tracks supporters offer no solution. They never do.

They just scream no, and they keep repeating it and throwing out juvenile insults against anyone who tries to say they are wrong.

They may be over the edge of their skis trying to turn Buckhorn and Vinik into bogeymen though.

If Buckhorn wasn’t term-limited, I doubt he would even have an opponent if he wanted to run for a third term as Tampa’s Mayor. And Vinik’s “vision” that the mailer mocks will result in a completely rebuilt Channel District after decades of floundering.

No one likes paying taxes but it’s part of the deal to pay for things that benefit the public. People have identified our lack of decent transportation as a major issue and it won’t get better by screaming “NO!”

Bob Buckhorn goes all-in with ‘All for Transportation’ plan

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is going all-in for the All For Transportation plan, which seeks to raise sales tax 1 percent to fund transit and transportation improvements.

“The lack of investment in our core transportation infrastructure has reached a crisis point,” Buckhorn said in his endorsement Wednesday. “We need funding for projects that reduce congestion, make our streets safer and provide new and reliable transit options for people to get to and from work.”

The All For Transportation plan would raise $280 million annually. Of that, 45 percent would go to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority for enhancements to Hillsborough County’s existing bus service and for new transit options.

One percent would fund oversight on how revenue is spent while the rest would go to the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City for road and bridge projects including new roads, pothole repair, repaving, traffic congestion relief as well as pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

The referendum would raise about $9 billion over its 30-year life.

Money raised cannot fund new highways, however; those projects that are typically funded by the Florida Department of Transportation.

Buckhorn joins a long list of endorsements from community leaders that includes Tampa City Council members Harry Cohen, Charlie Miranda, Mike Suarez, Yolie Capin and Guido Maniscalco in addition to Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller and Florida State Senator Darryl Rouson.

Several local chambers of commerce have also backed the plan including the Greater Tampa, Upper Tampa Bay and South Tampa Chambers and the local tourism arm, Visit Tampa Bay.

Through a recent op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik also endorsed the plan. 

All three local major league sports teams, the Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tampa Bay Lightning, each contributed $100,000 to the campaign in favor of Hillsborough County Referendum No. 2. The teams noted transportation was a vital part of ensuring the quality of life for employees and provide better options for fans attending games.

David Straz comes out with four early endorsements for Tampa Mayor

Tampa philanthropist David Straz nabbed four endorsements from a business group and three workers unions, the Tampa Mayoral candidate announced Monday.

The Northwest Florida Chapter of Black Women in Construction, United Food and Commercial Workers 1625, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 487, District 925 and Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 123 have all offered their nod to Straz, whose name graces downtown Tampa’s performing arts center.

“I’ve been meeting with groups across the city, and I’m humbled to receive the early endorsements of these organizations,” Straz said. “When I meet with these groups, I speak from the heart about my desire to make Tampa a better, stronger place to live, start and run a business and raise a family.”

The four groups cited Straz’s work ethic and character as two of the defining reasons they chose to back him in the crowded mayor’s race.

“David Straz has a commitment to the people of Tampa that is unsurpassed and inspiring. Job creation and growth along with citywide improvements in areas where the residents need it most are a few of the priorities David communicated to us. We feel that David Straz has the experience, work ethic and vision needed to move Tampa forward,” said Todd Vega, business manager of Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union 123.

Straz has poured more than $1.5 million into his own campaign coffers and has spent a decent chunk of that on television ad buys introducing himself to voters as more than just a philanthropist.

The introduction to voters on issues will be a crucial endeavor for Straz who admittedly voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

The city of Tampa has historically favored Democratic mayoral candidates. Straz joined the Democratic Party in late April after announcing he was running to succeed incumbent Mayor Bob Buckhorn. He’s also since said he regrets voting for Trump and would not do so again.

Former Hillsborough Democratic Party Executive Director Mark Hanisee is running Straz’s campaign. Hanisee left his post with the local party to take the job with Straz.

Though Hanisee is a well known skilled fundraiser — he started with the Hillsborough party to raise funds after being voted out of office in Pinellas County — Straz has said he won’t accept contributions more than $500. As of the most recent campaign finance filings, Straz has held true to that promise.

Straz prides himself as a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” sort of candidate having built his fortune in the banking industry.

“We know David Straz will be a tremendous leader and steward of the working class. We offer our full endorsement and support to David Straz because of his honest character and incredible vision for the City of Tampa,” said Jim Junecko, business agent for IUOE Local 487.

At age 75, Straz also lacks the future political ambition other younger candidates in the race might have.

“We were very impressed with David Straz because he loves the City of Tampa and is not using the mayor’s office as a steppingstone to higher office,” Ed Chambers, president of UFCW Local 1625 said.

Straz will take on former Tampa Chief of Police Jane Castor, Tampa City Council members Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez, former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, small business coach Topher Morrison and community activist LaVaughn King.

As I-4 mayors endorse him, Andrew Gillum pledges interest in mass transit

The three mayors of major Interstate 4 cities came together in Orlando Thursday to endorse Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum‘s bid for Governor because they’re all Democrats, they’re all mayors, and they all want to see more investment in mass transit.

As Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman gathered with Gillum and his running mate Chris King beneath the seemingly never-ending I-4 construction in downtown Orlando, Gillum pledged he, too, wants what those three mayors have pushed for, to see trains running between their cities.

It’s an issue that unites Dyer, Buckhorn and Kriseman: a train that does not unite their cities.  Gov. Rick Scott canceled the planned Orlando-to-Tampa Bay high-speed rail system in his first year in office when he turned down $2 billion in federal stimulus funding.

Gillum got on board.

“They know as well as I do that when Barack Obama tried to send us more than $2 billion for high-speed rail, what did our current governor say? He said no. Can you imagine the number of people who could have gone to work, the jobs that could have been created across the I-4 corridor?” Gillum said. “We, instead of building more lane miles, could have moved thousands of people a day across the I-4 corridor to go to work, to play, to see friends, and to grow the economy of the central part of Florida.

“It’s my belief we deserve a governor who is going to act in the interest of all the people in the state of Florida, and it would have been in the best interest of the people of our state to build high-speed rail in this corridor,” Gillum said.

The press conference led the mayors to discuss the reasons they believe mayors would make good governors, notably that they work close to the citizens, that, as Kriseman suggested, they have no place to hide, and that they are, virtually by job description, problem solvers, and that they are more likely to collaborate and fight for local control. They also shared the basic Democratic tenants on such things as gun law reform, LGBTQ equality measures, Medicaid expansion, and dramatically increased spending in public education, as well as their own records of business development.

As election politics has increasingly divided Americans among several lines, not the least of which being between city people and those of small towns and rural areas, Buckhorn stated the case for cities like Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Orlando leading the state’s future, with progressive residents and progressive visions.

“It’s the cities of Florida that have pulled this state out of the recession,” Buckhorn said. “It’s the cities where the jobs are being created, where entrepreneurs are going, where high-tech is growing and being funded, where young people are flocking. It is the cities of Florida that are making a difference in this state. And what matters to us is we have a partner in the Governor’s office.”

They also took a couple of quick shots at Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, who Kriseman accused of showing no interest in mass transit.

“The big city mayors all agree that the more connected we all are, the stronger we all are,” Kriseman said. “Now Ron DeSantis has a different view. He said he is skeptical of state investment in mass transit, and that we need to work on expanding our roadways. That’s not exactly visionary, and that’s not what Florida needs.

The press conference outside of Orlando’s Amway Center was occasionally disrupted by Republican protesters shouting anti-Gillum chants and once by Orlando-area conservative activist Jacob Engels shouting at Gillum about one of his former staffer’s offensive remarks. Kriseman, Buckhorn, Dyer, and Gillum took turns both welcoming the protesters and suggesting they were part of a problem of divisive politics that Democrats seek to overcome.

“The other side is mastering in politics of division, of hatred, of derisiveness, and what we are majoring in is politics of the future, politics of the people, politics that put the regular working-day people ahead of everybody else,” Gillum said. “Not the high-paid interests, not the special interests, not even paid protesters.”

The first Tampa mayoral debate: Five take-aways

Candidates to replace Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn next year. Six of eight candidates running to succeed the two-term mayor faced off in the election’s first debate Wednesday night at Hillsborough Community College. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce hosted the debate and Politifact Executive Director Aaron Shockman moderated.

Attendees included former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, Tampa City Council members Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez, former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, business consultant Topher Morrison and community activist LaVaughn King.

Not in attendance were Michael Anthony Hazard and David Straz.

The little over one-hour debate touched on several key issues facing Tampa in the coming years including a looming budget deficit and how to manage the budget shortfall, but here are five take-aways that didn’t include a degree in accounting.

Transportation is the top issue – No matter what the question was, transportation somehow managed to creep into the answer.

All six candidates fundamentally agreed that transportation in Hillsborough County and Tampa is bad and getting worse and they all acknowledged the transportation system is woefully under-funded.

Most of the candidates support the All for Transportation referendum before voters this November that would raise about $280 million a year – $9 billion over 30 years – to fund both transportation and transit enhancements.

Turanchik was the lone dissent on that referendum. He said he might vote for it, but has serious concerns. He’s worried future leadership in Tampa and Hillsborough County could taint the referendum’s intent. Under the referendum, no specific projects are proposed. Rather, it creates a framework for how to spend the money and lets individual municipalities and the county decide how to use the funds. It guarantees 55 percent for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, but most of the rest is fair game.

“When there is a big pot of money and it’s not earmarked, special interests come in and gobble it up,” Turanchik said.

Morrison also expressed some concern over the plan noting there are solutions that might not necessarily require raising taxes, but he said it’s a good start and plans to vote in favor of it.

King said transportation is fundamental in supporting his No. 1 priority, the arts. He said if the city boosts its arts community it could be a citywide revenue generator that could fund transportation over the long haul.

The rest of the candidates support All for Transportation even if acknowledging the plan wasn’t perfect because, as they all surmised – no plan is.

A new Rays stadium was a close second – Where transportation dominated candidates’ talking points, a new Major League Baseball stadium in Ybor City wasn’t far behind. There was broad consensus on one thing – taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for paying for it.

But candidates offered a range of opinions on whether or not to build it and, if so, how to pay for it. The most innovative solution came from Morrison who managed to weave transportation into his answer.

“Hyperloop. It can get [to and from] Orlando in ten minutes. How many think that sounds a little more attractive [than an hour train ride,]” Morrison said.

He was referencing the private company All Aboard Florida’s plans to build a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando along Interstate 4. That trip would take about an hour. Hyperloop is a magnetic levitation tube that could make the trip in ten minutes by traveling at the speed of sound.

Morrison said that line could terminate at a new baseball stadium, turning it into a transportation hub that could then draw down state and federal transportation funding. Morrison admitted he wasn’t sure if that was an option, but said “it’s worth looking into.”

There’s another catch to Morrison’s stadium funding plan – Hyperloop might be way too far off to consider as a solution for today’s needs. Companies are testing the technology in Europe and in the Western U.S. and commercial routes are in the works, but there aren’t currently any proofs of concept to hedge any bets.

Castor said the Tampa Bay area “is too big to lose the Rays” and that the team simply won’t work in St. Petersburg.

“But the public is not going to pay for that stadium,” she said. “If the private dollars are in it than we’ll build the most palatial stadium the world has ever seen.”

Suarez and Turanchik both criticized the Tampa Bay Rays for lacking transparency in the stadium process.

“You don’t play poker with somebody you don’t what kind of hand they have,” Suarez said. “We need them to come forward and tell us how much money they’re going to put up.”

Turanchik gave one assurance.

“I know the difference between a bad deal and a good deal,” he said. “I’m careful with your money.”

No one candidate came away the “winner” – No one underperformed, but no one outperformed either. Each candidate displayed strengths that will likely be honed over the next several months of campaigning.

Castor’s experience as Tampa Police Chief shone in her answers. She was diplomatic and spoke with clarity and assertion. But she was also cautious. Many of her answers were vague and left broad room for interpretation.

Suarez and Morrison dominated the Buckhorn swagger game (the current mayor loves his swagger.) Suarez cracked jokes and drew laughter several times from the audience. His speaking style was conversational and relatable.

Morrison was similar, though a little less ‘grab a drink at the local bar’ conversational. He casually leaned on the table in front of him and showed careful consideration of his opponents ideas. He engaged with the audience by not just talking to them, but by talking with them.

That engagement showed. Even as the underdog, Morrison drew the most amount of applause.

Turanchik showed up with his own style of mayoral charm. He displayed confidence and used his experience as a Hillsborough County Commissioner and former mayoral candidate to show he has the policy chops necessary in an elected leader. But his confidence could come off to some as arrogance.

King asserted himself well into a race few even know he’s running. He came across as well-spoken and was particularly well-received when he spoke about under-represented parts of the city like West and East Tampa. But his campaign platform being so tightly wound around the arts seems too narrow and he often took issues mostly unrelated and used them to circle back to expanding arts and culture.

Meanwhile, Cohen did a good job of distancing himself from Harry Cohen the City Council member and Harry Cohen the Mayor. He was sharp on the issues and had well-thought out answers to anything thrown at him. And he wasn’t afraid to follow up with a little spunk, which brings us to the next take-away …

Harry Cohen nabbed the night’s best zinger – Cohen blasted Turanchik towards the end of the debate. Throughout the course of the evening Turanchik criticized the transportation referendum, opposed a 41-mile regional bus route between St. Pete and Wesley Chapel and spoke negatively about a new baseball stadium.

“I hear so much negativity up on this stage tonight,” Cohen lamented. “We gotta keep an open mind and we’ve got to keep ourselves open to new ideas and we have to embrace ideas that don’t just come from us. If the community has an interest in having a baseball stadium we should make it happen.”

Tampa has no brand identity, apparently – Bucking the traditional 1-2 minute introductory statements at the start of debates, Wednesday night’s debate instead opened with each candidate answering the question, what is Tampa’s brand identity?

Cue the crickets.

Turanchik said when he mentions Tampa to people who don’t live here their response is usually “that’s where Mons Venus is.”

“OK, but that’s not the brand we are thinking about,” he said.

Morrison agreed the knee jerk answer is cigars and strippers.

Each candidate did have a vision for what they want the city’s brand to be.

For Mike Suarez that’s diversity. For King, robust arts and culture. Turanchik – innovation.

“I don’t know what our brand is, but I can tell you this, people love living here,” Cohen said. “They love the relative affordability. They love the opportunities that exist in this growing and vibrant community.”

Castor said whatever the city is known for, it needs a strong leader to forge that path and to keep Tampa as a “big city with a small town feel.”

Tampa couldn’t beat St. Pete, so it’s bought it

Imagine moving to St. Petersburg in 2018.

You’d be forgiven to think that this — the incredible mix of living, working, and playing — has always been this way.

That there are always cranes in the sky marking the future arrival of some luxurious development. That there seems to be a craft brewery on every corner. That so many restaurants are opening an owners’ most pressing problem is finding enough cooks and waiters to staff them.

But as anyone who has lived in the town once known as St. Petersburg but now casually referred to as the ‘burg, it has most decidedly not always been this way.

Beach Drive was a misnomer more appropriately designated “Crappy Motel Drive.” Proper citizens did not stroll along Central Avenue unless they did not mind being propositioned by a lady of the night. The Vinoy, a crown jewel of downtown St. Petersburg, sat shuddered while the homeless employed the space currently occupied by Marchand’s as a makeshift indoor volleyball court.

While there is some debate about when the first renaissance of St. Pete began — was it when the Vinoy reopened or when the city decided to build a baseball stadium? — there’s no doubt that the city has gone through not one, not two, but at least three booming periods of development. The only factors slowing down growth were the Great Recession of 2008 and the not-so-great tenure of former Mayor Bill Foster of about the same period.

If there is one consistency throughout this entire quarter-century run, it has been Tampa’s envy of St. Petersburg. That place on the other side of the bridge, once designated America’s next great city, has spent the last three decades sending delegations to St. Pete to “learn” what made St. Pete so great while Tampa continued to struggle.

None other than Patrick Manteiga, one of Tampa’s most prominent boosters, wrote in a column published at about the same time of his daughter’s wedding about how he saw 10,000 people walking around downtown St. Pete for no other reason than what was usually there — museums, the Saturday Morning Market, and dog-friendly restaurants.

To draw visitors, St. Pete did not need a sports team or a special event.

In other words, St. Pete did not build it, and they still came.

Tampa’s fortunes began to turn under the back-to-back mayorships of Pam Iorio and Bob Buckhorn. The former filled a lot of potholesfixed a lot of sewers and other such mundane things (that City Hall is supposed to do), laying the groundwork for the swagger Buckhorn has brought to the city.

Yet despite all of the best efforts of Buckhorn and other Tampanians … despite all the ground ceded by neo-regionalists, including the newspaper that changed its name in an attempt to sell more Sports Authority ads in Hernando County … despite the losing campaign of Rick Baker, St. Pete’s most ardent defender … despite all of this and more, St. Pete was still the Athens to Tampa’s Sparta.

Until this year.

2018 will go down in regional history as the year the Tampa-St. Pete rivalry finally ended and not in a way anyone could have foretold when Dick Greco and David Fischer were mayors of their respective cities.

The truth is Tampa could not beat St. Pete. So it bought it. Or acquired it. However you want to say it.

Consider the most recent developments:

— The USF St. Pete campus reintegrated into the mother campus in Tampa.

— The Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club purchased by Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Bryan Glazer.

— The Tampa Bay Rowdies sold by last-man-standing-up-for-St. Pete Bill Edwards to the owners of the Tampa Bay Rays, who salivate about moving to Ybor City the way a graduated high school senior can’t wait to move to a college dorm.

These are the big, headline-grabbing stories. Undoubtedly, there are countless smaller stories in which Tampa money bought St. Pete resources.

All that’s left of an independent St. Pete is Jeff Vinik purchasing Sundial and Richard Gonzmart opening a restaurant in the Grand Central District.

Face it, St. Pete, this was the year Tampa came over to St. Pete’s house and grabbed its remote control.

We’ve been owned.

Believe it or not, I, for one, welcome our Tampa overlords.

If you travel enough to visit other mid-major American metropolises, you quickly realize how far the Tampa Bay region is in categories that don’t include “days of sunshine” in their criteria.

We need the Viniks, Glazers and Gonzmarts to do more business and to invest in St. Petersburg.

Them doing so is probably the best way to make sure St. Pete’s renaissance continues.

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