If there is one thing Tampa’s mayoral candidates seem to agree on, it’s that they love Ybor City.
Meeting together at a forum held in Ybor City’s picturesque Columbia Restaurant, the six candidates played up the historic district’s importance to the future of Tampa. Many of the goals for the area were the same: encouraging people to ride the new streetcar system and cleaning up the streets in the surrounding area.
The event was hosted by the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce and moderated by the Hillsborough County League of Women Voters. Each candidate spoke for exactly four minutes. They were given a minute each for an opening and closing statement, and a minute for apiece for two questions. Both of the questions centered on how the candidates saw Ybor fitting into their plan for the city.
The candidates were called to speak in alphabetical order. That meant that the first candidate to take the microphone was Don Ardell. A fitness buff, Ardell has based his candidacy not on politics but on community health and wellness.
Ardell, who has called himself the “prettiest candidate,” said he wants a “fit, fun, free and functional” society. He said, if elected, he would appoint such people as his fellow candidates to handle the political aspects of the job while he actively goes into the community to promote a good lifestyle.
“I want Ybor City to join in leading the way in helping Tampa to become recognized as the fittest city in Amerca,” Ardell said. “If kids are growing up fat because the mayor and others are not actively promoting healthy lifestyles, (something is wrong).”
Ardell, in addition to his concentration on healthy living, said he also wants to eliminate controversial free speech zones. These are areas set aside in which people can gather to express their opinions. This phenomenon occurred at USF during the visit of President George W. Bush. Protesters were moved into specific areas from which they were not allowed to leave. Law enforcement asserts that these areas are necessary to maintain order and public safety.
“I want to see one big free speech zone in America,” Ardell said. “That would extend all over Tampa.”
Another relatively unknown wildcard candidate who appeared Tuesday was aviation enthusiast Neil Cosentino, who said he settled in Tampa after retiring from the military. Cosentino’s major platform isssue is his desire to transform Tampa International Airport into a “mega” airport.
Cosentino said he feels that TIA needs to be able to accept the largest commercial planes. By doing so, it can become a major destination, not a place that is reached after stopping in other cities.
“If you want a significant change, you have to do things that are significant,” Cosentino said.
In addition, Cosentino said he will encourage transportation in the city under one body, similar to the New York Port Authority in New York City.
“The streetcar is a wonderful idea, but it is going to lose money,” Cosentino said. “The way you salvage that is by connecting the bus system to the streetcar system … In our (current) system, you have fractionalized transportation.”
Consentino also believes Tampa should not have lost its bid for the 2012 Olympic games. He said he has begun to write letters and investigate the subject.
Candidate Frank Sanchez characterized himself as a businessman more than a politician. But, in his four minutes Tuesday, he waged war on a stigma that has, and probably will, haunt him throughout the race. Sanchez worked in the White House during the Clinton administration. His competitors have characterized him as an outsider.
But, Sanchez pointed out, he was born in Ybor City. In fact, he said, his family had a business right down the street.
“After being born here, I went away and did a lot of things,” Sanchez said. “(But) I have a vision, and I have those skills (I learned). And I look forward to working with each and every one of you to make Tampa and Ybor City everything it can be.”
Specifically, Sanchez said the skills he learned working for the nation that will benefit Tampa are in the business field. He said he has learned how to be a strong business negotiator, and that he is the only candidate who will bring those skills that are necessary to run a big city.
Sanchez said he will use that experience to help improve Tampa’s economy. Central to that, he said, will be linking Ybor with downtown and the Channelside district, and encouraging a growth in tourism.
“We need to make the Port of Tampa not just a port of embarkation but a port of call,” Sanchez said.
Tampa’s other three mayoral candidates can be defined as more traditional politicians.
Bob Buckhorn has worked in the Tampa City Council since 1995. Running on a campaign he calls “Buckhorn Plan — Building a World Class City Neighborhood by Neighborhood,” he told the audience of about 140 people that he was the only candidate to have walked from his campaign headquarters to the restaurant.
Buckhorn said he wants to “connect the dots” between Ybor and the rest of the city. He said he wants a master plan.
“Downtown cannot survive without Ybor City. Ybor City cannot survive without Tampa Heights,” he said
But, Buckhorn said, there are great improvements still to be made.
“Ybor City cannot survive unless we do something about crime,” Buckhorn said. “Two blocks from here, (you can) buy crack cocaine … It doesn’t get anymore fundamental than that, folks. You cannot survive if (your city) is not safe.”
Buckhorn said this election is the most important Tampa has faced in a long time. He said he wants to be the leader who makes Tampa the next great American city.
“Talk is cheap,” Buckhorn said. “We cannot afford to lose any time.”
Pam Iorio has served as Supervisor of Elections in Hillsborough County for the past 10 years. She oversaw the implementation of the new touchscreen voting system, which has been hailed by many as a success.
Iorio entered the race last week, leaving her less than three months to campaign before the March 4 election date. Iorio joined her competitors in proclaiming the importance of Ybor City to Tampa.
“Changes in Ybor City and the economic focus of Ybor City really set the tone for the city of Tampa,” Iorio said.
Iorio said she, too, wants Tampa to be one of the United States’ best cities. She said she will encourage residential development and changes in transportation.
“We need to get the trucks out of Ybor City,” she said. “We have to use that new streetcar.”
Iorio said she will also encourage Ybor to rely on its history. She said it’s the rich cultural heritage of the district that sets it apart from other places in Florida.
“Our history is a selling point,” Iorio said. “That’s what makes Ybor different than Orlando. It’s not artificial.”
The final candidate at the Columbia Restaurant was Buckhorn’s fellow city councilman Charlie Miranda. Miranda is running on a platform that calls for voters to consider their “Miranda Rights.”
Miranda told the audience about how he was born in Ybor. He described his days of bussing tables in the Columbia Restaurant.
Miranda describes Ybor as a large investment for the city of Tampa. He said he will continue to work hard to make that investment mature into a vibrant economic center.
Miranda said he is a supporter of the streetcar, and he wants to see it extended through downtown.
“Yes, we’ve grown. Yes, we’ve become better. But I think we’ve still got a long way to go,” Miranda said. “I think Ybor City is a gem, has been a gem and should always continue to be a gem.”
Miranda said he will cite his record in his campaign. He said, as councilman, he has been responsible for several strong growth measures in the community and expects that to speak to his abilities as voters decide.
“Firm and fairness, those are the two things I go for, and the ability to get done things the first time right,” Miranda said. “People ask me do I get nervous running for mayor. (I say) why should I get nervous, you’re the one making the decision.”