Tampa District 2 candidates focus on panhandling, transit

02/14/11 Kate Bradshaw
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The almost two-dozen contenders for Tampa mayor and city council have a slew of issues on their plate. WMNF spoke with two contenders for a an at-large city council seat, and files this report on how a key issue made its way to the forefront of a citywide race.

By all accounts, Florida’s new governor entered politics as a one-issue candidate. Rick Scott claims his outrage over Congress passing the Affordable Care Act compelled him to throw his hat in the ring. Nearly a year and tens of millions of dollars later, he’s Florida’s head of state. District 2 City Council contender Susan Long said a single controversy drew her into local politics. For her it was panhandling.

Long added that the city council seemed to be doing nothing to address the issue. Meanwhile, she said, it’s costing the city potential jobs.

She said banning panhandling compel those in need to seek out nonprofits like metropolitan ministries. There, she said, donated dollars are accounted for, unlike those people hand to strangers at intersections.

Long said she is concerned that being perceived as a one-issue candidate may hurt her campaign, and said there are several other issues she wants to tackle as a city council member.

There are three candidates for the citywide District 2 seat. Incumbent Mary Mulhern is hoping for a second term in the seat. Mulhern had been opposed to a panhandling ban, but supported a partial ban recommended by Council chair Thomas Scott. Critics, including Long, have said Mulhern’s reversal was a means of securing votes. Mulhern defends her support of a panhandling, saying that she was responding to her constituents.

She said the ban shouldn’t be treated like a silver bullet solution to homelessness, and that an anti-panhandling ordinance needs to be passed alongside a means of addressing the causes of homelessness and poverty.

Mulhern added that the issue was coming up at every city council meeting, often bogging down the agenda with lengthy and unproductive discussions. She said it’s council members’ job to compromise with their colleagues.

One thing on which at least two of the candidates agree is Tampa’s need for beefed-up transit. Both Long and Mulhern support light rail. Both hope the governor accepts federal stimulus dollars for high-speed rail linking Tampa to Orlando. That line’s Tampa terminus is slated for Downtown Tampa, but both say it should go to the airport instead. Mulhern said she was the only one on council to vocally support the airport location.

Third candidate, 32-year-old businessman Scott Strepina, did not return several interview requests. Tampa voters will weigh in on this race and several others on March 1.

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City council candidate, district 2

I never said Mary's reversal on the panhandling issue was a means of securing votes. Although, now that you mention it, i wouldn't be surprised if it is. Susan Long City Council Candidate District 2