Mayoral candidates meet in Tampa

02/01/11 Janelle Irwin
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Five of Tampa’s mayoral candidates met today to win support from prominent business leaders and professionals. The Tampa Chamber of Commerce hosted the downtown forum.

Mayoral candidates no doubt expected to field tough questions handed to them by various members of the community today. That includes the issue of whether to ban panhandling along city streets. Current Tampa City Council chair Tom Scott, who previously opposed the ban, now says it will address resident’s concerns.

All candidates seemed to agree that a partial ban on panhandling, expected to pass in a final vote at Thursday’s Council meeting, won’t address the underlying economic issues but is a step in the right direction for the community. Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita said the city should work with organizations that raise money on busy street corners, but the ban should include them as well. Former Mayor Dick Greco agreed.

Candidates were also asked about their plans on local economic recovery and job creation. Each candidate presented ideas on lucrative industries ranging from IT to industrial. But Ed Turanchik said he’ll let the experts decide which jobs to go after.

Tom Scott said the Port of Tampa is an underutilized job market. He also said education is a key factor in effective job creation

Increasing and innovating mass transit is another issue these candidates believe will stimulate Tampa’s economy and create jobs. Everyone agreed that a better communicated referendum should be introduced to help fund transit projects. Turanchik hopes that would allow implementation as soon as 2015.

At one point candidates were presented with a scenario where they were stuck in an elevator with Governor Rick Scott. Each candidate said they would urge him to keep the money awarded for high speed rail. Ferlita said she’d find a way to buy some extra time in the elevator.

Ferlita also said the city has to evaluate and pursue free trade with Cuba.

But former City Council member Bob Buckhorn stood alone in disagreement with Ferlita on Cuba.

Just like state and national governments, Tampa is facing harsh budget concerns. One resident asked candidates if they would be willing to take a 10-20% pay cut as part of budget cuts. Each candidate said it was a possibility worth looking into. Ferlita was the first to answer.

All in all candidates agreed on many of the issues and engaged in what turned out to be a light-hearted sharing of ideas. Greco and Buckhorn even managed to poke a little fun at one another.

Write in candidate Arthur Richardson did not respond to an invitation for this event, but expected to attend tomorrow evening with other candidates for a debate at the Tampa Bay History Center. Early voting will be from February 19 through 26 and Election Day is March 1.

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