Following his heart

For Frank Sanchez, it all started with a chance encounter.

Years before the Tampa mayoral candidate worked as a Washington insider and became a wealthy businessman, Sanchez, as a 19-year-old college freshman, happened to be working as busboy at a banquet for Florida’s gubernatorial candidates. As he studied the candidates that night, one in particular caught his attention.

“The guy I really liked, no one said he would win,” Sanchez said. “But I followed my heart.”

He latched himself on to the candidate, who proved his critics wrong and became Florida’s governor. Later, that governor, a Democrat named Bob Graham, became a U. S. Senator.

Sanchez said he worked more than six years in Graham’s office, while earning business and law degrees at Florida State University. His experiences during that period laid the groundwork for a whirlwind decade in Sanchez’ life.

From Tallahassee, Sanchez went to Harvard and was hired by a worldwide consulting firm. Sanchez boasts his international business experience as one of the factors that separate him from his fellow mayoral candidates. He said he has traveled to more than 30 countries.

In the 1990s, Sanchez went to Washington. He served as an adviser during the Clinton Administration.

Sanchez’ resume is no doubt impressive. But many have wondered why a wealthy international businessman would want to step away from that lifestyle and run for mayor of Tampa. Sanchez said the move came following a life decision.

“I wanted to come back to my hometown,” Sanchez said. “As much as I loved work and business, I get a tremendous pleasure in public service.”

That love of public service, Sanchez said, came from his mother. Sanchez said his mother was a part of many organizations to serve people in Tampa.

“My mother is my hero and my source for inspiration in public service,” Sanchez said.

His dad, on the other hand, owned a small business. His father, Sanchez said, fostered in him the love of business and set the groundwork for his career.

It is his international business experience that Sanchez said separates him from the other candidates.

“Tampa is not the sleepy town it used to be,” Sanchez said. “Part of Tampa’s future has been linked to international commerce.”

Sanchez said he wants to turn Tampa into an international market by increasing tourism and business. He said Tampa is in a perfect location to have a relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Tampa is geographically blessed,” Sanchez said. “Not to take advantage of that is foolhardy.”

Sanchez said his international experience will be vital to making that happen. But it is those experiences that Sanchez’ fellow candidates are attacking. The candidates, many of whom have emerged from local government, have said that Sanchez has been away in Washington and away on business for a long time. That, they say, means that he is not in touch with the city.

“If that’s the worst they can say about that, then they can keep saying it,” Sanchez said. “Tampa doesn’t live in isolation. Tallahassee, Washington, I can bring all those experiences … No one has (my) combined sets of experiences and skills.”

And it is with that experience that Sanchez said he will attack the problem that is Tampa’s economy. With the economy as one of the strongest points of debate in the race, most of the candidates have said new and bigger businesses need to be attracted to Tampa in order to improve the city’s tax base.

Sanchez said his idea is a little different.

“We need to rethink economic development,” Sanchez said. “It’s not only about getting big business here, but about working with what we have.”

Sanchez said he wants to help fledgling businesses in Tampa grow into nationally recognized corporations. That, he said, will bring jobs and money into the economy.

Sanchez, like his fellow candidates, said a big part of that development is USF. He said USF is an “economic engine.”

“We have to recognize that (USF) is part of the economic mix,” Sanchez said.

In addition, Sanchez said Tampa International Airport needs to expand to include many more international flights.

Sanchez said once money is in place in the economy, he can begin to attack neighborhood issues that are the centerpieces of other candidates’ platforms. But, right now, he said, they may have to wait.

“I fully support those,” Sanchez said. “But how are we going to pay for it? I’m not sure, to be fully honest.”

But, Sanchez said, he will continue to spread his message that a strong business leader can expand the Tampa economy and lead to an improved city. He said he feels confident that people will agree with his vision.

“I see Tampa becoming a city that other cities would like to emulate,” Sanchez said. “I believe it can be a model.”