Four Tampa mayoral candidates talk about their visions for the city

01/19/11 Kate Bradshaw
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This year’s Tampa City election has a crowded ballot. Even the mayor’s race has six qualified candidates. WMNF spoke with several of them today about what kind of Tampa they want to see, both short term and long.

The local election season may not be as long and drawn out as that of last year’s midterms, but they do share one similarity. That is, candidates still have to grapple with the question of how to make Tampa competitive on the global stage while dealing with high unemployment and a tough budget. Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco served four terms as Tampa Mayor and termed out most recently in 2003. He said he wants to take a tough look at the city budget while at the same time looking at ways to boost transit.

"The first thing that's got to happen is we've got to go from where we are money wise, exactly. We've been looking at that for some time. It's not a pretty picture. This is probably the worst recessionary period that I've seen in my lifetime and I've been around a couple of years. So there's a lot to be done and I know transit for instance, that you mentioned, is important and necessary. I'm going to have a group that works on that constantly from day one. We've got to figure out how to get from the high-speed rail where it dumps off to the airport and how that's going to work and we have to tell the public exactly how it's going to work and why. Then you've got to figure out how you're going to pay for it. Taxes are not in the cards right this minute the way I'm looking at it."

Ed Turanchik, a former County Commissioner said he wants to bring the housing market back and create a five-mile transit corridor connecting Tampa International, downtown, and Ybor City. In the short term, he said, he wants to look at the way the city compensates public employees.

"The immediate thing we need to do is get the construction and housing market turned around and create jobs. Transit's a real big piece of what we need to do. We really need to take a hard look at public employee compensation and benefits. A lot of people talk about we're going to do efficiencies here or there but the single largest cost is personnel costs and this year the city's going to spend $41 million for pension liabilities and that's 15 percent of the operating budget."

Bob Buckhorn, who served on Tampa City Council from 1995 to 2003, said he wants to make the city one to which his daughters would want to return after college, and that you do that by attracting businesses. Buckhorn has come out in support of a referendum on the March ballot that would create a tax break for businesses that launch in or move to Tampa.

"Clearly you can't cut your way out of this economic recession. The only way you get out of this recession is to grow the economy and the only way you grow the economy is to become more competitive. We've got to be a place where people want to come and do business. We are currently not that now. We've got to streamline the regulatory process, we've got to clean up the bureaucracy so it becomes an ally as opposed to an enemy. We've got to make the city hungry and focused on what I think are the two goals. One of which is job creation and the other one is how we treat our neighborhoods and create a great quality of life. But for the first six months to a year, as we bump along in this recession, my focus, my laser like focus will be streamlining the government."

Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita, a pharmacist by trade, said budget cuts will be a necessity for the next mayor, at least in the short term.

"We are focused. Certainly you're going to have a guiding principle. That guiding principle will be the budget. Certainly we're going to look at moving Tampa along in this down economy. It's nothing unique to Tampa. Every city in the nation has the same problem. What we have to do is go back to basics like a business that's trying to rejuvenate. Go back to basics and look at and focus on needs versus wants. The essential things not the pretty things and work from there."

The two other candidates that have qualified for the Tampa Mayor’s race, Tampa City Council Chair Tom Scott and businessman Arthur Richardson, did not return interview requests airtime.

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