Tampa Mayor Iorio endorses Buckhorn in increasingly nasty campaign

03/11/11 Kate Bradshaw
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The showdown between the two remaining candidates in the race for Tampa’s mayor is heating up. The last 24 hours have turned up nasty advertisements, an endorsement from Mayor Pam Iorio, and more.

Shortly before a debate at City of Tampa Television headquarters Friday, Mayor Pam Iorio announced her endorsement of Bob Buckhorn for Tampa Mayor. In an email, Iorio told WMNF she wasn’t available for comment. However she did issue a statement that said staying neutral is no longer an option and Ferlita’s negative campaign turn causes her great concern. Buckhorn welcomed the endorsement.

"Everybody who has looked at the two candidates, with the exception of one organization, has endorsed our campaign. And I think she did it because we have a plan, we know what we're doing, we've run a positive campaign, and we intend to continue to do that. I'm honored to have her with me."

Ferlita said she was a little disappointed, but she believes the mayor’s endorsement has more to do with politics than policy in this nonpartisan race.

"She had said clearly to both of us, I believe, that she would stay neutral and of course, that would go to her committment as well, that she would do everything she could, and I believed her, to make the transition very smooth. This certainly brings partisan politics in the middle of it, but that's certainly her choice."

A former Tampa City Council member and Hillsborough county commissioner, Ferlita has held office in both nonpartisan and partisan seats. Ferlita is a Republican and her opponent is a Democrat. Shortly after Mayor Iorio announced her endorsement of Buckhorn, Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi announced her support for Ferlita. The candidate said she thinks politics at the local level should be nonpartisan.

"I think for local politics, anybody who looks at or creates partisan philosophies is really not being just to the citizens. When you have a mayor that needs to get a job done for you, you don't care if she's Republican, you don't care if she's Democrat, you don't care if she's non-partisan. You just need to fix the business of the city. Of the courts, sewer, pothole, et cetera."

The election started to get ugly yesterday when Rose Ferlita issued a statement suggesting that Buckhorn should run for mayor of Beverly Hills. It was based on his stated desire to bring high paying research and technology jobs to town. There’s also that Ferlita commercial implying that Buckhorn supported a policy requiring police officers to keep their guns in the trunks of their cruisers. Buckhorn said the ad is false.

"That ad infers that I am soft on crime. I can promise you that the Police Benevolent Association would not have endorsed me had I been soft on crime. I had nothing to do with any of those decisions, Mayor Freedman said that, the Politifact the St. Pete Times has indicated that it is false. False. There is no validity in that ad at all and Miss Ferlita, if you would do the right thing, ought to take it down. I have run a positive campaign."

During the debate, Buckhorn asked Ferlita if she would take down the ad.

"If it's in our program to pull it off, I will, but not based on any indications it is false. I did our homework, we have our sources, I refer to an article in 1996 that former Congressman Jim Davis put out saying that this was done under Sandy Freedman's watch and in that same article it said that you were her eyes and ears, you almost fought about what you each was going to say before she said it."

A nonprofit group that’s not known to be directly connected with the Buckhorn campaign has also launched into the negative. A recent mailer ad attacks Ferlita claiming that “Ferlita is an unmarried woman with a suspect commitment to family values.” Buckhorn said he didn’t know about the ad until it came out.

"I haven't been involved in it, our campaign has stayed on message the entire time. Everything that we have put out has been positive. It talks about our plan, it talks about Tampa's future. The answer is no, I don't know anything about it."

Ferlita said no matter who produced the ad, she’s appalled.

"You've got a huge percentage, I haven't had time to research it today, you have a huge percentage of females in this community that, by choice, are unmarried. Now that's an affront to them, to you, and to me. Does that mean that because you're not married you're a second class citizen? Does that mean that you don't have the same qualifications as a reporter here, here, and outside? That's..that's...that's not a nice thing and I think it certainly doesn't speak well to whoever's doing that."

Electioneering group “Less Government Now” reportedly sent the ad. The Tampa Tribune reports that the group a mailer attacking Republican state Sen. John Thrasher. Early voting for the March 22nd election starts tomorrow. The election will also determine runoff elections for several city council seats.

Previous WMNF news coverage of the mayor's race

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