It's been a dizzying 24 hours in the life of the Tampa mayoral campaign, and the intensity continued this morning as Bob Buckhorn and Rose Ferlita engaged in the second of their four scheduled debates before the March 22 runoff election. The forum was held at the City of Tampa Television studios on West 7th Avenue, sponsored by the Hillsborough County Leagued of Women Voters - with this reporter participating as one of the panelists.
The biggest heat of the forum came with Buckhorn called on Ferlita to take down an ad that began running on cable television locally on Thursday. The ad calls Buckhorn a "career politician" and "failed businessman." It also claims that Buckhorn endangered police officers' lives by supporting a requirement that they keep their guns locked in the trunks of their cars. That particular claim has been ruled "false" by PolitiFact.
Ferlita said she wouldn't.
"If it's in our program to pull it off, I will, but not based on any indication that it is false." She said she had her sources, claiming former Tampa Congressman Jim Davis as one of them. Davis used the charge against Sandy Freedman back when the two ran against each for Congress in 1996 (Buckhorn was Freedman's right hand man at the time).
When Buckhorn said that Freedman has previously said that he had nothing to do with the issue, Ferlita replied, "Then perhaps Mr. Davis is lying. I don't know if you want to say that." Ferlita then got in another zinger when, referencing how the Tampa Police Benevolent Association (PBA) had endorsed Buckhorn on Thursday, said he might not be as tough as she will be on the police and firefighters in terms of clamping down on their pension benefits, which will cost the city $40 million in the coming year. "Perhaps there's some concern that Rose Ferlita is going to be the appropriate type of mayor, and look at pension and benefits, and perhaps maybe, that's why they're concerned, and don't want to support me."
Buckhorn pushed back against the negative ad at the beginning of the debate, when this reporter asked both candidates about the intense negative tone that has permeated the campaign this week. Not only does her ad blast Buckhorn, but yesterday Ferlita also issued a press release saying that Buckhorn's emphasis on bringing hi-tech and bio-tech jobs to Tampa, at the exclusion of more working class jobs, meant that he should be running to be mayor of Beverly Hills.