Tampa mayoral runoff hits final day - will it be Ferlita or Buckhorn?

03/22/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Tampa voters have just a few hours left to cast a ballot in the race for mayor and several City Council seats. Throughout town, candidates have amped it up for the home stretch despite a paltry turnout so far at the polls.

"Hi, we're calling on behalf of Bob Buckhorn. He's running for Mayor today."

With just hours to go, campaign workers at mayoral candidate Bob Buckhorn’s Ybor City election headquarters were still plugging away this afternoon, dialing everyone listed on the voters rolls. So far in the runoff, a Supervisor of Elections press release said ten percent of precincts are reporting a 7.02% turnout as of 2:45. Buckhorn said his campaign wouldn’t rest until the polls’ 7:00 p.m. closing time.

"You know I had an old mentor a long time ago who said that if it's not done by election day, it's not going to get done. So, we are executing our plan. Election day is a lot like being an athlete, you have to peak on the right time."

Buckhorn, a former Tampa City Council member, said that relentless approach has already paid off with support from a variety of places.

"Well, it's been hectic, obviously, it's been tiring. Everyone around here is pretty beat, but we're being propelled by an awful lot of momentum from an awful lot of people who believe in us and in our capacity to make change. It's been a good three weeks since the primary. Every endorsement that you could possibly get has come our way."

Buckhorn, who is running against former Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita in the mayoral runoff, lists current mayor Pam Iorio as well as former opponents Tom Scott and Ed Turanchik among those who’ve endorsed him. But while the city’s political insiders have lined up behind their candidate, voters appear to be showing much less enthusiasm. At a South Tampa polling place, Keen Ryan-Muldoon didn’t want to say who she hopes will be Tampa’s next mayor, but she did comment on the overall state of affairs when it comes to politics.

"I'm kind of ambivalent, I have to tell you honestly. I think because we're not seeing much changes after the big presidential elections."

More than 8,100 Tampa voters cast early ballots, compared to less than 6,700 in the March First election. In that election, nearly 42,000 people voted. Bill Johnston, another voter at the sparsely-attended South Tampa site, said it was tough to get any real information on the candidates.

"I think people get wary a little bit of how many campaigns there are and we get tired of, perhaps, the ads on tv and we get tired of all of the mail that we get and all this kind of thing, but really, I don't know whether it informs us very much, especially the ads."

Once they get sworn in, the new mayor and city council members will have a whole slew of tough issues to tackle. Many appear to stem from a few years’ worth of economic calamity, though some are neighborhood-level problems that can crop up even when times are good. A West Tampa voter identifying herself as Yolanda said she hopes city hall’s new lineup is equipped to tackle a wide range of troubles.

"I hope they get this water situation straightened out, that's the main thing and I would like the rail to come through but it doesn't look like it's coming through. I hope that Scott does a little bit better for us. He seems to be not doing what he said he was going to do, so let's see what happens."

East Tampa resident Raynaldo Watkins said the two standout candidates for him this time around are Rose Ferlita and City Council District 1 candidate Curtis Stokes, who currently occupies another seat on the council. Watkins said transit is a key issue for him.

"I'd like to see Tampa move a little faster. As far as the '..' train, the train that's coming here, I'd like to see that. I don't want to wait on the bus for hours. I miss the first bus, I've got to wait another 30 minutes to catch the next bus. If they can make me a better place so I can get to work and keep my job, that's what I would like."

At a sunny Seminole Heights polling place, resident Judy Gibson said she’s also opting for Ferlita, whom she called a “neighborhood girl.” As for city council candidates, she said it was tough to find information on what they stood for.

"I really don't know too much about them. I can't tell you, I don't follow that. I'm really not that political, you know what I mean? So, I'm not sure of the policies, I may have voted for the wrong one, I don't know."

Gibson added that she wants to see more women in power to combat what she called a “good old boy” attitude in city government. She said she’d also like to see city officials at least try to retain young people who grow up here only to leave in search of a better job market.

"Too many people are leaving, like I'm having a lot of customers that are leaving because of the jobs. Tampa was a great opportunity at a certain period of time but now things have changed because of the economy."

In addition to the mayoral runoff, Tampa voters will decide four city council runoffs. These include citywide district seats 1 and 3 as well as South Tampa’s District 4 and the seat for District 7, which represents North Tampa.

Previous WMNF news coverage of the Tampa Mayor's race

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