In talk with USF students, Tampa Mayor Buckhorn at loss for his opinion on DREAM Act

10/11/11 Janelle Irwin
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In an attempt to raise political interest among college-aged voters, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn answered questions from students at USF Tampa last night. He said young adults should get more involved in politics, but fumbled over one of their questions about the DREAM Act.

As the Mayor of a city with a major university – one whose economic contribution is substantial – you would think Buckhorn would make sure he’s up on all of the issues affecting its university students. But the DREAM Act that would allow undocumented students to benefit from in-state tuition might not have been in the Tampa Mayor’s study notes.

“Panel moderator Susan McManus: How do you feel about the DREAM Act and the State of Florida and at USF Tampa?"

"Buckhorn: Did I miss something?"

"McManus: The Dream Act, the instate tuition, for people…."

"Buckhorn: No, everyone was snapping their fingers, I’m trying to figure out, are you calling me, do you need me to do something? Am I supposed to be in favor of it? Ok, I’m in favor of it. No seriously, the one thing about being mayor is I have very little involvement in the education system at all. So, I’m not involved in the day to day maneuvering of the legislature or the Governor or what he’s doing or not doing. My involvement with the education system - either K-12 or the university system – is largely to use my pulpit. I mean, I probably have the largest pulpit and the largest microphone in the Bay Area. So, to the extent that I can advocate for education or advocate for USF or Moffitt or HCC or some of our other educational opportunities or our K-12 system, I do it, but I’m not involved in passing education policy.”

And his blunder didn’t go unnoticed. USF senior Rachel Kaylor said she thought Buckhorn did a good job, but was surprised he didn’t know more about a topic that would benefit so many people in Tampa.

“I thought it was a little weird that he didn’t know what the DREAM Act was or didn’t seem like he knew what it was. He just looked very confused when it happened. He was like, um, yeah, I don’t know.”

Buckhorn was also asked about public safety. He said the city will be hiring 3,000 more officers for the 2012 Republican National Convention to ensure residents remain safe. Some people are concerned that protestors at the event might face problems from police. At a Tiger Bay meeting last month, Buckhorn said law enforcement would use “brutal efficiency” when dealing demonstrators. But last night he said the only people who should fear law enforcement presence are those who cause mayhem.

“Those who choose to break the law will be dealt with, and be dealt with efficiently. Those who choose to exercise free speech will be welcomed, they’ll be accommodated and assuming they abide by all the laws, they’ll be fine.”

Improvements to mass transit in Hillsborough County were stalled after a transit tax referendum failed and Governor Rick Scott refused funds intended for high-speed rail. Buckhorn said the Governor gave $2.4 billion in funds back to the feds because the project still would have cost tax payers, but transportation always costs money. He added if this Governor were in office before the interstate system was built, it would have never happened.

“The inability of this Bay Area - and I stress the Bay Area, it’s not just Hillsborough county – to provide multi-modal transportation system puts us at a competitive disadvantage. We are the only jurisdiction – and I was just with the Mayor of Detroit and I used to say other than Detroit – that didn’t have some type of mass transit system. Now Detroit has a mass transit system. We are the only jurisdiction of our size in this country that does not have some type of multi-modal or mass transit system. We have got to change that.”

A topic that was not brought up at the meeting but that is on the minds of many students was tuition rate hikes. Just this year students suffered a 15% increase in the cost to enroll. USF Student Government’s Abdool Aziz said questions about tuition may have been postponed for a more appropriate forum.

"Those are the State Reps, the State Senators that will be directly involved in that. That will be a better time to ask them those questions directly. Because the Mayor is not really involved like the University is, BOG and stuff, stuff like that."

The Mayor ended by telling students it was important to stay informed with both local and national issues and encouraged their continued involvement. But he cautioned politics is like malaria; there is no cure.

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