Buckhorn, Sharpe & Suarez weigh in on transportation, the economy and "bums" in downtown Tampa

Buckhorn responded that he's always been a supporter of the "Broken Windows" approach used by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to clean up Manhattan in the 1990s. "If you let these lesser crimes fester, they lead to a whole lot of other things."

He called homelessness a serious problem for all American cities, and said that the partial panhandling ban the City Council approved last fall was never going to eliminate the problem.

He added that he had always preferred a complete ban (panhandling is legal in the city on Sunday), and again took a shot at the Tampa Epoch, the homeless newspaper that began publishing after the new ordinance went into effect. The ordinance also allows newspapers to be sold on street medians all seven days a week.

"You had this newspaper that found this loophole and continues to flaunt that six-day ban, which I think has exacerbated the problem," he said, adding that the city "cannot, out of a sense of responsibility to those less fortunate than us, allow a group of people to destroy our neighborhoods." He then criticized the situation at the Salvation Army on Florida Avenue just north of downtown, where homeless people are known to congregate on the neighboring streets. That became an issue recently when residents of the V.M. Ybor section of Tampa complained about the upcoming move of the Trinity Cafe from the Salvation Army building into their neighborhood. At a City Council meeting, residents brought photos of men sitting on sidewalks there as something they do not want in their neighborhood.

Acknowledging there's a "fine balance" necessary in addressing the needs of the homeless, Buckhorn said, "That doesn't mean we tolerate the deviant behavior that leads to a decline in our neighborhoods....and whether it's the Salvation (Army) allowing people to just lay on the sidewalk and lay sometimes in the street and rink for hours in the day, to me that's unacceptable behavior."

Staying on downtown, the Times' Adam Smith asked Buckhorn when the area would get a grocery store. Buckhorn predicted that would happen in two years. "It will be in time, right before my re-election," he said, generating laughs.

Later on in the conversation, the mayor received a big cheer when he said that his goal ? if the Tampa Bay Rays could ultimately not come to an agreement with the city of St. Petersburg regarding a new ballpark ? would be for the ballclub to play across the street from where Wednesday's discussion was taking place ? in the Channelside district.

As he has discussed before, Buckhorn said the city's debt on the Tampa Convention Center would be paid in about three years, "which frees up upwards of $100 million in potential debt that the city could potentially play in that transaction. Not asking the taxpayers for an additional bill."

One young woman discussed how she had taken friends from New York City into Ybor City and had a terrific time, but still expressed concerns about her safety, asking, "Is there anything in the works to make it better?"

Councilman Mike Suarez handled that question, saying what everyone in Ybor says ? crime has gone down dramatically over the past decade in the historic district, but that's not the perception, particularly when incidents like the shooting and killing of a young man at Club Empire continue to happen, as it did last fall (the club has since closed).

All three lawmakers were on the same page with transit and light rail ? they all said Tampa needs it.

Commissioner Sharpe said that Hillsborough's bus system (HART) needs more buses to service riders in the county now. He said they needed to be smaller, and be used as circulators. As he has advocated in the past, he said he wants WiFi in every bus. He said he wants to improve other services to make it more fun to ride a bus, but said that HART's system was "very bureaucratic."

The event was hosted by Emerge Tampa Bay, a young professionals leadership program of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce for people ages 21 to 35, and sponsored by the Tampa PR firm Tucker/Hall.

  • Mark Sharpe, Bob Buckhorn & Mike Suarez chewed the fat at Firestick Grill inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum

"Welcome to the land of your unfettered ability to carry guns at the Republican National Convention!"

Those were the first of many words uttered Wednesday night by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, whose request to have firearms banned in the Event Zone of the city as the RNC comes to town had been rejected hours earlier by Governor Rick Scott.

Buckhorn was joined by two other Tampa politicos — County Commissioner Mark Sharpe and City Councilman Mike Suarez — as well as more than 100 young professionals, gathered at the Firestick Grill inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum to discuss their hopes for the city.

The event was moderated by Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam C. Smith, who tried to keep the conversation flowing, though there was only so much he could do with voluble types like Buckhorn and Sharpe in the house.

Transportation, the downtown area, jobs and crime were some of the topics discussed in detail, with the second hour featuring questions from the audience.

One of the most provocative statements came from a downtown resident, who said the biggest problem "are the bums." He said he thought the mayor and the city had done a "phenomenal job at Curtis Hixon [Park]," but said just two blocks away "it is a sea of bums."

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