To the surprise of absolutely no one, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced at a morning press conference today that he will be running for re-election in 2015.
"I'm running. I'm running hard. And I'm running to finish my job," he declared before taking questions from a handful of reporters outside City Hall.
But finishing that job would require him to stay in office until March of 2019, several months after the 2018 midterm elections. The mayor has not discounted rumors that he might consider a run for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018, but would only say today that he'll cross that bridge when he comes to it.
"I know this: if I don’t do my job as mayor, there are no other options. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I don’t wake up thinking about what the future’s going to bring. All I do is get up every day to do the job that I was hired to do. And if I do that, I can tell you this, at the end of four and a half years, Tampa will be a heckuva story to tell. I intend to finish this job and will cross that bridge when we get to it."
Buckhorn has flourished in the three-and-a-half years he's been on the job, after an unsuccessful bid for the office in 2003. There is no announced candidate to oppose him and it's extremely doubtful that any substantive person will do so. Having said that, CL asked the mayor if it was good for the city to not have him challenged for a second term?
"An exciting mayor's race drives voter turnout and you all know how I love to compete," he admitted, adding that if there are candidates who enter into the contest, "I will run as hard as I always do." But the fact of the matter is that Buckhorn is an overwhelming favorite for re-election, and historically in Tampa popular mayors like himself generally generate only token opposition (In 2007, then-incumbent Pam Iorio easily vanquished challengers Marion Lewis and Aria Ray Green). Even though he's expected not to be seriously challenged, he says he'll use the same team that he's worked with in every election since his first run for office in the late 1980s, including Keith Frederick, John Coley, Beth Leythem and Dane Strother, and he said that his quasi-campaign manager from the 2011 race, political consultant Siobhan Harley (currently residing in Nashville), will also come back to help in 2015.
Buckhorn was effusive about the fact that he loves being mayor of Tampa, saying it's the best job he could ever have (better than even being president, he maintains). So, CL asked, if it were possible for term limits be extended beyond eight years a la Michael Bloomberg (who was term-limited in 2009 but had a City Council that passed a law eliminating that law, allowing him to run and win a third term that year), would he fancy the opportunity to stay beyond 2019?
"Would I like to be mayor for life?" he mused. "Sure," he said after pausing. "But I also recognize the reality that everyone has a season ... being a mayor in a strong-mayor form of government, if you run for office to do and not just to be, this is the place you want to be. You can actually shape a city. Leave a legacy that's definable. If you run because you want to change the world, this is one place you can change your corner of the world."
The outcome of this November's governor's race will undoubtedly play a role in his decision making in 2018. If Charlie Crist becomes the first Democrat elected to the governor's mansion in two decades, he would be running for re-election in four years, an entirely different scenario than if Rick Scott is re-elected and the seat is open.
But that's more than four years away. Buckhorn recited some of his accomplishments this morning, such as how he has been able to streamline city land use regulations, a major talking point in his 2011 contest. There's been a complete renaissance downtown, of course, with the flourishing of Curtis Hixon Park (which actually preceded his watch but which has only blossomed in his tenure), the extension of the Riverwalk and the recent opening of Water Works Park. Next up is the redevelopment of Riverfront Park, part of his major revitalization plan for the west bank of the Hillsborough River.
But Buckhorn told reporters today that essentially, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
"I think what you've seen in three and a half years is nothing compared to what you're going to see in the next four years," he said. "And when I turn the keys over to the next mayor, it's going to be a different city." Specifically, he mentioned the fact that there are no fewer than five high-rise developments being built downtown, and the great potential of the northern part of downtown around the S. H. Kress and Co. Building as being potentially the next place for growth in the heart of the city.
But there are significant hurdles that Tampa still hasn't accomplished, like a modern transportation system. That's why he says he's a major proponent of the Greenlight Pinellas plan, and thinks it's important for the region that it be successful this fall. "It needs to pass," he stressed, saying that a victory in Pinellas County would be a signal to Hillsborough County residents that Pinellas is willing to pay for transit improvements — including light rail — "and I think that would help us immediately."