The TECO Room, located in USF’s College of Education building, was about as crowded Wednesday night as Tampa’s race for mayor.
All seven of the city’s mayoral candidates huddled around a table in front of a standing-room-only crowd during a student government-sponsored debate. The two-hour debate, moderated by political science professor Susan MacManus, was taped for public television broadcast.
Unlike previous debates in which some of the candidates were not present, the participation of all seven citizens seeking the city’s highest office provided the USF debate with a unique dynamic. There was a definite and nearly equal divide between the “traditional politicians,” city councilmen Charlie Miranda and Bob Buckhorn, former supervisor of elections Pam Iorio, and former Washington insider Frank Sanchez, and the non-traditional candidates, health guru Don Ardell, pilot Neil Cosentino and socialist worker Rachele Fruit.
A division in ideas was apparent right from the start. The first question the candidates faced concerned alleged police brutality, including the use of pepper spray on USF-student tailgaters at Raymond James Stadium.
Buckhorn, Iorio, Miranda and Sanchez all pointed out the importance of the new mayor’s choice of a police commissioner. Miranda said police should be sensitive to the needs of the public. Sanchez said they should be held accountable for their actions. Buckhorn and Iorio both said the police should act fairly toward citizens.
Fruit, whose platform includes the removal of capitalism as a system, deviated from those themes more than any candidate.
“The role of the police is to protect private property and intimidate working people,” Fruit said. “The criminal justice system is racist through and through.”
Cosentino argued that Tampa should be the best managed city in the United States, and Ardell said he will hire a police commissioner from outside of the current city government.
“When we sacrifice freedom for more security, we lose some of both,” Ardell said.
Tampa’s race for the mayor’s office is non-partisan. At times, that makes it difficult to get a firm grasp on the candidates’ political philosophies. But, it was one of the more non-economically-oriented questions that may have revealed the candidates’ political thinking.
The candidates were asked if Ybor City should be restricted to 21 and up crowds only after dark.
Ardell, Cosentino and Fruit again separated themselves, taking a more liberal approach.
“If you are 18 years old, you can vote,” Cosentino said. “We should treat our 18 year olds like adults.”
“I believe young people should be able to go anywhere,” Fruit said.
Ardell, who has separated himself in debates with a no-holds-barred approach, said the focus should not be setting an age limit for the entire public.
“We should assume people are innocent until proven to the contrary,” Ardell said. “We need to look at individuals without labeling an entire group.”
Iorio and Sanchez said it’s not the government’s role to set such a rule. But, Iorio said, bars should be punished for allowing underage drinkers.
“We need to hold bar owners accountable,” Iorio said.
Buckhorn argued that there should be regulations on bars that offer drink specials such as “sink or swim.” He said such specials encourage too much drinking.
The lightest moment in the debate came moments later, when a Student Government representative asked the candidates if they would support a clothing-optional beach in Tampa.
Ardell said such beaches have been an economic catalyst for other cities.
“Don’t ask me how I know that,” Ardell said. “(But I support) a diversity of pleasures.”
Buckhorn answered with an allusion to a Tampa ordinance that requires exotic dancers to keep a distance between themselves and their customers.
“I suppose they can be naked, but they have to be six feet away from each other,” Buckhorn said.
Much of the second half of the debate was mundane, lacking the fireworks of earlier debates. However, each candidate was able to get out parts of their platforms.
Iorio continued to plug her view as Tampa of as a region, not just a city. Viewing the community in that way, she said, will bring more jobs to the area and make the community more livable.
“The mayor should be a catalyst for job creation,” Iorio said.
Sanchez said he wants to bring world-class athletic events to Tampa, as well as art and culture. He said he wants Tampa to expand in trade, both nationally and internationally.
“The airport (right now) is not very international,” Sanchez said.
Buckhorn said he wants to make Tampa a “gateway to the Americas.” He also continued to argue that the future of the city’s growth lies in technologies being developed currently at USF. His most memorable moment, however, came as he argued against adult businesses.
“We don’t need it,” Buckhorn said. “We deserve more.”
Miranda said he wants to continue the growth of an already vibrant Tampa. He said he will support workers and help the city become one of the strongest in the southeast.
“It is already becoming that location,” Miranda said.
Cosentino said he wants to support trade with Cuba. He said, if elected mayor, he will invite citizens into his office to discuss current issues.
“I will open every door (and) build every bridge … for business in Cuba,” Cosentino said.
Fruit said peace in the nation is extremely important. She said the country needs to “disarm warmakers in Washington.” She said racism is still prevalent in society and that Cuba is a good model to build on.
“Cuba is an example where farmers … are in political power,” Fruit said.
Ardell said he wants to encourage dialogue in neighborhoods. When asked how he would enhance USF’s reputation nationwide, he responded with a dig.
“(People are already) impressed with how much (USF) pays the president and football coach,” Ardell said.
As to why he should be mayor, Ardell said to look no farther than Jesse Ventura.
“The fastest way to bring attention (to the city) is to have a light character like me as mayor,” Ardell said.