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City Council, Mayoral candidates brought to USF

In a forum designed to engage the student body and local community members through Q-and-A sessions, City Council and mayoral candidates spoke Sunday at the Marshall Student Center (MSC) Ballroom about their platforms and what they would do to improve the Tampa community.

The 2011 City of Tampa candidate forum began with statements from the Tampa City Council hopefuls, with all seven districts represented.

Questions asked of the City Council candidates centered on job creation, economic development and improvements to Tampa’s transportation systems. Many of the candidates are also USF alumni, with the University lying in District 7.

The three mayoral candidates in attendance were given the opportunity to speak about their platforms and answer questions from three panelists. Candidates Dick Greco and Bob Buckhorn were the only ones absent.

USF President Judy Genshaft gave the opening remarks for the mayoral forum and posed a request to the candidates. She said USF brings in $4 billion a year in economic development and is the third-largest employer in Tampa with more than 15,000 employees, behind the Hillsborough County School Board and MacDill Air Force Base.

However, she said the area surrounding USF discourages economic growth, is “horrendous and embarrassing” and is the reason why the University won’t put USF flags down Fowler Avenue.

“This is my plea,” she said to the candidates. “Please understand that our community does represent the community and we need your help. Tampa does represent (USF), and we want to make a difference to you and we want to work together with you. But we’re going to need your help to pick up this city and show that businesses are safe.”

During the candidates’ opening remarks, Ed Turanchik, agreed that the city is facing “huge issues.” He said he’s tried to move the city’s transportation system forward for 20 years by lobbying for issues, while “pulling anchors” that are holding it back.

The Rev. Thomas Scott said his bold leadership, ability to solve problems and dedication to community service set him apart from his fellow candidates. He said the election, for which early voting starts this week, is really about “selecting a bold leader, a leader who is willing to be a champion of the city.”

Rose Ferlita said her biggest asset is leadership experience in many different capacities and she has served the community through both a large pharmacy corporation and a small business.

After their opening remarks, candidates were asked questions by a group of four panelists.

When asked what she would do to keep USF graduates in Tampa, Ferlita said she would make the economy grow, limit budgetary constraints and provide job security through partnerships with USF and other educational institutions.

Thomas also offered a suggestion for bringing growth and stability to Tampa when asked about his thoughts on Gov. Rick Scott’s refusal of federal funding for a high-speed rail.

Thomas said he thinks that residents feel “outraged” by the decision because of the loss of job opportunities. He said Tampa has to develop a mass transit plan.

He was asked to weigh in on another controversial topic – an Arizona-style immigration bill that may soon make its way to Tallahassee legislators.

Turanchik said he is against the criminalization of citizenship and believes the bill would be a misappropriation of money. He said that people care about serious crime as a community and the bill would take away funds from preventing it – something residents don’t want and don’t need.

Student body presidential candidates were also given the opportunity to speak at the forum and summed up what sets them apart from their opponents. Melissa Leddy, a junior majoring in marketing and finance, was the only candidate not in attendance.

Jason Funes, a senior majoring in biomedical sciences and philosophy, said he is unique because he is transitioning from a patient advocate as an EMT to a student body advocate as a presidential candidate.

Jason Prado, a junior majoring in business management, said he stands out from the other candidates because he was born in Tampa and knows firsthand the type of improvement the area needs.

Matt Diaz, a senior majoring in philosophy and political science, said he is set apart from the other candidates because of his student leadership in SG as former Senate vice president and his passion for the University and its traditions such as homecoming.

Tamara Imunobie, a junior majoring in international studies and acting director of Governmental Affairs, said SG began planning this event in partnership with United Voices for America and other organizations in January.

“We planned for about 300 to 400 people to show up today, and a little over 100 showed up,” Imunobie said. “The audience seemed to be a mix of the local community and students, but I think it was a success given it’s a Sunday and we are students.”

She said SG will probably try to organize more events like the forum because of the positive response its received so far from the community.

“I think it’s beneficial for future elections,” she said. “It gives you in-depth insight into what’s going on in Tampa Bay.”

– Additional reporting by Diedra Rodriguez