Bob Buckhorn lounges on a couch in his Ybor City campaign headquarters, a complete contrast to his surroundings.
The offices are old. They are filled with second-rate, loaned furniture and cluttered with “Buckhorn for mayor” campaign signs. The exterior of the building is plain, the doors covered by bars.
Buckhorn, on the other hand, always seems to maintain the appearance of a professional. He is well-dressed, well-groomed and well-versed, even as he sits on a dirty, aging couch. He apologizes for the appearance of his offices, explaining that most of the furniture comes by donation.
But the most notable feature of the man who has served for years on the Tampa City Council is a shiny white book he carries in his hand.
The book, a 27-page manual called The Buckhorn Plan for Tampa, has been a mainstay during the campaign. The plan describes itself as a “blueprint for building a world-class city … neighborhood by neighborhood.”
Everywhere he goes, Buckhorn waves the book high above his head and vehemently challenges his competitors to join him in making their platforms public.
“Politicians hate to put things into writing,” Buckhorn said. “Nobody else has done this.”
Buckhorn, throughout the campaign, has made his experience a rallying cry. He has pointed to his 16 years in local government and said no other candidate knows Tampa government like he does.
“We know this community,” Buckhorn said. “You can’t be mayor living off of cue cards.”
For Buckhorn, his current run toward the March 4 election is the culmination of a lifetime of politics. Buckhorn’s father was a reporter in Washington, D.C. Buckhorn said he grew up exposed to politics and followed Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign closely.
Hooked, Buckhorn said he went to college to study political science. Politics, he said, has always been his career goal.
And now, despite a large group of candidates, Buckhorn feels the time is right to become Tampa’s mayor.
“There is not a more exciting opportunity,” Buckhorn said. “(Tampa) is poised on the verge of exploding.”
No two candidates for Tampa’s mayor seem exactly the same. There are, in addition to Buckhorn, a few other career politicians. There are also businessmen and candidates with issues that run off the mainstream. Buckhorn said he is confident that voters will want a candidate with solid political experience.
“(They want someone) who knows this city and knows how city government works,” Buckhorn said. “That weeds out some of the candidates.”
But, Buckhorn said, he wants voters to also know that he is not cut out of the same mold as many of Tampa’s previous mayors.
“No. 1, the good ole’ boys can’t run this town anymore,” Buckhorn said.
Buckhorn said his vision of Tampa is for the city to resemble such communities as Raleigh, N.C. or Austin, Texas. Those communities have a national reputation as being models of fast growing, new urban environments. Buckhorn said, to accomplish that goal, there must be a solid relationship between the city and USF.
“If you look at cities (that are) the model for emerging cities, they all have first-rate research universities,” Buckhorn said. “(The key is) finding a way to take advantage of USF.”
Buckhorn said he also believes that downtown is the heart and soul of a community. He said Tampa has several strong communities, and that he would, as mayor, “connect the dots.”
Buckhorn said he could see Tampa taking a powerful role on the national stage. He said the location and the growth potential is right.
Buckhorn said, despite the stiff competition in his race, he feels his chances to become the city’s next mayor are good. He said he feels he is the best prepared candidate.
And while a loving wife and 20-month-old daughter provide him a strong support base, Buckhorn said he doesn’t want to think about losing.
“I’m an old athlete,” Buckhorn said. “There are no prizes for second.”