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The Longshots

During the past few weeks in the race for Tampa’s mayor, one candidate who decided to be referred to on a first-name basis. He is Neil Cosentino.

He said it’s just a matter of having a name people can remember.

“You spell it like Neil Armstrong, but I’ve never been on the moon, and like Neil Diamond, but I can’t sing,” Cosentino said. “I’m an aviation guy.”

And Cosentino’s plans for Tampa, if elected as the next mayor, display his love for airplanes.

For Cosentino, there is only one lonely place in Tampa. It’s an area along a highway where four counties connect.

It’s referred to as the “four corners,” but with a major airport and a victory that would make him Tampa’s mayor, Cosentino said he could transform the area into a booster for the Bay area’s businesses.

Cosentino said it’s time that Tampa has a “mega-airport” that could handle international trade relations. He would build this airport at the point where Manatee, Hillsborough, Polk and Hardee counties connect along Highway 37. Cosentino said this could bring business relocations and profits.

Cosentino’s love for airplanes began in the days of the Vietnam War. Cosentino, a retired fighter pilot, said it’s something he doesn’t plan to give up easily.

Cosentino, 65, president of Bay World Public Trust, has spent the past two years studying the designs of different airports to eventually bring in the new multi-level Airbuses to Tampa.

“There is no limit to business if you have the finest, most well-designed airport,” Cosentino said.

Tampa International Airport, Cosentino said, could never support trade relations for business because it’s not large enough. It’s the airplanes that determine the size of the airport, he added, and Cosentino is looking toward Airbuses that could bring in Fortune 500 companies and increase employment for USF graduates.

“Competition follows to compete with the best,” Cosentino said. “And any company looking to expand and relocate will first look at communities with mega airports.”

Cosentino said money for the airport would have to come from federal and state governments.

Cosentino said he went to almost every airport in Florida to collect ideas for an airport in Tampa. The Center for Urban Transportation at USF was awarded $80,000, Cosentino said, to help conduct the study.

Cosentino said the location at the “four corners” was chosen because it is a phosphate mining area. He said if an airport were located in that area, it would take pressure off the Florida coastline and could prevent damage to wildlife.

Cosentino said his think tank, which he founded in 1993, was also responsible for saving the Gandy Bridge and making it the Friendship Trail. Cosentino said his think tank helped create jobs during Tampa’s bid for the 2012 Olympic Games and will continue to do so.

Besides establishing an airport, Cosentino wants to change the rules in the mayoral elections. He said the poll tax for candidates excludes those who can’t afford the $8,000 registration fee.

“If a USF graduate doesn’t have the money but wants to run, they’re excluded,” Cosentino said. “Why exclude people? That’s not good for democracy. We should be able to understand that everyone should have the right to be a candidate.”

Before dedicating hours to his think tank in Tampa, Cosentino worked for the CIA. He was hired out of the military and sent to Iran as a consultant.

After that, he moved to North Carolina with his wife and built a log cabin along a pond near Appalachian State University.

Rachele Fruit has at least one bit of political experience that her fellow candidates for Tampa’s mayor do not. Fruit is a former candidate for governor of Florida.

Fruit ran as a write-in for the position last year against Republican Jeb Bush and Democrat Bill McBride. But the Socialist Workers representative was only able to garner 24 votes.

After the November election, Fruit turned her attention to Tampa, where she hopes to continue in an effort to spread the message of her organization.

“We’re a revolutionary organization, and we believe that the capitalist government needs to be replaced by a government of workers and farmers,” Fruit said.

Fruit said she believes that the current government serves only big business and not the working people. She said as the separation between rich and poor grows, a battle between the classes is inevitable, during which the current system could be replaced.

“I think the process of establishing a different social system, which in my opinion would be a socialist system, would be possible,” Fruit said. “This will take a revolutionary movement, a mass movement. I think it will happen.”

Fruit said once social battles begin, there will be a few ways to turn. One of those ways will be the far right.

“Or you can look toward socialist and Communist ideas that say human solidarity is possible to build a future and not greed,” she said. “We’re serious about working people taking power.”

In Fruit’s ideal society, most of a person’s income would not be used on bills. She said she would like to see people provided with work, a place to live and medical care.

“People would have to spend their time being productive, being creative, spending the time we have in this world in a way we consider valuable, not just a struggle for survival,” Fruit said. “It would have to be an international thing. You would see yourself as a citizen of the world, not just a person in the United States circling the wagons.

“We have more in common with an Iraqi worker or peasant than we do with the government in Washington.”

Fruit said she has arrived at these beliefs after 30 years of work in politics. She said her road down the political path began in the 1960s when she became active in the Civil Rights Movement and the movements surrounding the Vietnam War.

“I (was) just trying to figure out, as a young person, why the world was so messed up,” Fruit said. “(I wondered) why people had to fight for freedom, for the right to vote (and) the most basic human rights. (I became) convinced it was a product of capitalism.”

Fruit said she has worked as a meatpacking worker. In addition, she said she has worked in various unions and in a movement to make abortion legal.

Fruit’s platforms center largely on the national and international issues dominating the news today. She said she believes attacks on immigrants are at a high point right now and is another example of the government defying the working class.

Her platforms include a call to stop what she terms “Washington’s imperialist war drive.” She also wants to stop Immigration and Naturalization Service registrations and deportations, fight the death penalty, fight police brutality, defend affirmative action and cancel third-world debt.

Also in her platforms is a call for USF to immediately re-instate Sami Al-Arian to full teaching duty.

Fruit said her movement has limited resources and funding, which leaves her with little chance against her well-funded competitors. But, if she were to beat the odds and become Tampa’s next mayor, she said one of her first focuses would be on USF and Al-Arian.

“I would immediately reinstate Sami Al-Arian. I would use my influence to see that that happens,” Fruit said. “I would encourage a movement of students and faculty. Movements and these campuses could go a long way.”

In addition, Fruit said Tampa is known for its workers. She said that as mayor, she would call for union scale wages that would allow everyone to earn between $12 and $15 per hour.

In the event that she does not win the election, Fruit said she will continue to take her message to all who will listen. She said her movement is a 365-day task.

“We don’t have a blueprint,” Fruit said. “All we know is we need to struggle for change.”