Two weeks ago, six of the candidates for Tampa’s mayoral race took to the podium at Ybor City’s historic Columbia restaurant in a public forum.
But the forum was obviously frustrating for the candidates. Each had four minutes total to speak and only answered two questions. Serving the buffet lunch to the crowd took as long as the question session.
Yesterday, five of the candidates were present at the same restaurant for a similar forum. But this time, with each day drawing the race ever closer to its March 4 finish, the stakes were obviously higher. Each candidate was more intense and more polished, they also had an extra question and a bit more time to speak.
In addition, there was the added element of live television coverage of the event on ABC Channel 28’s lunchtime news report.
Most comments from the candidates late in the forum reinforced the campaign platforms they have discussed for weeks and months. The most telling part of the forum came during its opening stages when each candidate was randomly given a question and had to answer it on the spot.
The event was sponsored by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the first question, asked by candidate Charlie Miranda, reflected one of the largest issues of concern for Hispanic-Americans. Miranda was asked if he has plans to trade with Cuba. Miranda’s response was firm.
“No. I will not make any move to deal with murderers like Fidel Castro,” Miranda said. “See, (Castro) is to Cubans like Osama bin Laden is to the United States.”
But, Miranda said, he wants to garner a feeling of respect toward Cubans.
Candidate Frank Sanchez, who has repeatedly cited his business experience as his greatest strength, was asked about technological growth and what it would mean to Tampa. Sanchez answered by talking about the need to use USF as an economic asset.
“USF is one of our strongest great economic engines,” Sanchez said. “Up to this point it hasn’t really had a seat at the table.”
Sanchez said he wants to take developments made at the university and commercialize them. Doing so, he said, will be good not only for the university, but for the Tampa economy.
“We need to connect our business with (USF) scientists and researchers,” Sanchez said.
Pam Iorio, the former commissioner of elections, was asked to describe how she plans to improve Tampa’s economy during this current recession. Iorio said that in order to make Tampa’s economy grow, the new mayor will have to reach beyond the city’s borders and utilize the entire Tampa Bay area.
“It’s not just the city but all the counties (are needed),” Iorio said. “That’s how we create the kind of synergy that’s needed.”Later, Iorio reaffirmed this statement.
“Tampa is not an island,” Iorio said. “It’s an entire region.”
The candidate who has seemed to change the most during the two weeks since the first Columbia restaurant forum is fitness guru Don Ardell. Ardell, who is considered a long shot, is running a platform based on developing a fitter Tampa. However, his shoot-from-the-hip style in recent debates has allowed him to become a viable candidate.
Now with a shot of making some noise in the election, Ardell’s demeanor seems to have changed. While maintaining his separation from the “true”politicians running for the mayor’s office, Ardell presents himself in a way that shows he has learned how to play the game.
During the forum, Ardell compared his situation to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who won their first Super Bowl Championship Sunday after being one of the worst teams in the National Football League for years.
“It took them a few decades to do it,” Ardell said. “I have just six weeks.”
Ardell was asked how he would help the city of Tampa work seamlessly with Hillsborough County.
“I believe it must be a cooperative situation,” Ardell said. “(It’s) exciting. (I) want to work.”
The final candidate was long-time city councilman Bob Buckhorn. The question asked of Buckhorn was of benefit to the candidate. It addressed one of his core platforms, the revitalization of poor and struggling neighborhoods.
“If we don’t deal with the issue of neighborhoods it doesn’t matter what we do downtown,” Buckhorn said. “If we don’t make neighborhoods safe, no financial investments (into the local economy) will occur.
“People don’t go home to a convention center. They go home to a neighborhood.”
Buckhorn said he will, if elected, create a deputy mayor for neighborhoods position with that single goal in mind.
Later in the forum, each candidate responded to questions taken from the audience. The most noteworthy topics of discussion were Tampa’s economy, its role in the national scene and the problem of poorer neighborhoods.
Iorio said she wants Tampa to be a more livable city and will push for improved neighborhoods. She cited her experience in county government and said that she has a larger view of the importance of the city.
“I’ll take an analytical look (at policing),” Iorio said. “I want every neighborhood protected.”
Miranda said policing needs to be improved and people will now be held accountable.
“I want the job done right the first time,” Miranda said.
Ardell said his solution is to excite citizens about government. He said citizens who feel they have a voice will take a more participatory role in government.
“(I want) citizens feeling as if they invested in local government,” Ardell said.
Sanchez said he will use his business experience to make solid decisions and pay for what needs to be improved. Doing so, he said, will benefit all of Tampa.
“If we want to grow the economy, we need to improve quality of life,” Sanchez said. (I want to) attack the drug holes.”
Buckhorn said he sees Tampa as a “gateway to the Americas.” He said he wants people graduating from area colleges and universities to stay in Tampa and fill area jobs.
But to do so, Buckhorn said the city needs to rid itself of crime and poor neighborhoods.
“There is no excuse for (walk) literally three blocks from here, and I can take you and buy crack cocaine,” Buckhorn said. “What’s more important (for police)? Babysitting 15-year-olds drinking behind 8th Avenue or cleaning (up drugs)?”