Buckhorn and Ferlita go head to head for the first time

03/09/11 Janelle Irwin
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Last week, Rose Ferlita and Bob Buckhorn beat out Dick Greco and two other challengers for Tampa Mayor. They will face each other in a runoff in two weeks. The two candidates debated head-to-head for the first time last night at Blake High School and touched on some tough topics.

Job creation is on the minds of just about everyone in this struggling economy and Tampa is no exception. Tampa Mayoral candidates Bob Buckhorn and Rose Ferlita are promising to bring jobs to Tampa. Ferlita said she hopes to create a variety of jobs at all levels, an idea that supports her “For All of Tampa” campaign slogan.

"We have to take care of that for everybody. When we look at an elitist type attitude that says 'just the cluster businesses', well you know what? 30 percent, only 30 percent of our population has a batchelor's degree. I want to make sure that Tampa has jobs and opportunities for all of Tampa. Big businesses, small businesses, anybody who's qualified for the 6 digit figure jobs and some who are not. We're certainly not going to punish them because they're not qualified, we are going to support them by creating more job opportunities."

Adam Smith of the St. Petersburg Times moderated the debate and called attention to a harsh implication by Ferlita that Buckhorn had an elitist approach to job creation. Buckhorn did not refute his stance.

"Our kids are not going to come home to a call center job. Our kids, that we are raising and moms and dads all over this community are inspiring them to go on and do great things and get a great education, they want to come home to an economy that can support that and warrant that education. We need to do things differently. We do need to look at those clusters. We have some strategic advantages here in the Tampa Bay area that are unique to us."

Improving transportation continues to be a hot topic among residents. Both Buckhorn and Ferlita agreed that residents of North Tampa are desperate for improvements to their roads. Ferlita said those residents are tired of waiting in traffic for an hour in each direction for their work day commute. If there is to be another attempt at a tax referendum for transportation, Ferlita said she wants to make sure there is an increase in communication with voters.

"We need to be better partners with our citizens. I think we should look at it again, perhaps the percentage component is not correct. I know in Seminole Heights where I've practiced for many, many years as a pharmicist, the light rail is important, certainly, but they needed better, and more efficient bus systems so they could get to their jobs. It was a lifeline. I agree with Bob, we need to create a situation where we have regional partners and county partners. We will do it again and that will be in a different situation. I will not be one of 7 that's supporting it, I will be one of one and I will be front and center supporting a better transportation system for this city."

Buckhorn said transportation is a must if Tampa wants to compete successfully with other cities for overall growth. He said that last year’s transit package didn’t fail for a lack of trying. He said it is important to move from the airport to downtown and regionally as well as including carpool and bike lanes on roads.

"If we're going to compete as a region, transportation is a huge part of that now. We've got to be competitive. We are the only city, other than Detroit, that doesn't have some type of mass transit. I, as mayor, don't want to look at Detroit as a role model for Tampa, Florida. We can do better."

Both candidates demonstrated their plans for the city if elected, but they were also given the opportunity to question holes in each other’s platform. Buckhorn mentioned several times his concern that Ferlita lacks a detailed plan for the city. Ferlita said she has always had a plan.

Mr. Buckhorn:

"That after 12 years in office, 9 months on the campaign trail, that you ought to have a plan. We are 2 days away from early voting, you've talked about some things but, don't you think the voters deserve more specifics?"

Ms. Ferlita:

"Bob, in January sometime, I believe it was you that said, and I'm pretty much paraphrasing it if I'm not quoting it exactly, that you don't roll out things until people are listening and I think that they are now. I did have some details, I beg your pardon, in my 'building blocks' but now we're expanding them."

True to her promise, Ferlita released her plan this afternoon in a press conference at her campaign headquarters. She details plans for economic growth, job creation, public safety, transportation and growth and sustainability. The plan lays the ground work for tax abatements and credits, and low cost loans to attract new businesses as well as encourage existing businesses to expand. Her plan for transportation includes details on light rail initiative and the completion of road projects. Ferlita also calls for an energy management and sustainability task force and expansion of the reclaimed water system.

A poll of likely voters commissioned by the Tampa Chamber of Commerce has Ferlita leading 43 to 33 percent over Buckhorn with the remain undecided.

Previous WMNF news coverage of the Tampa Mayor's Race

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