In State of the City address, Buckhorn tells everyone to support Greenlight Pinellas

In his last State of the City Address before his re-election campaign, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn delivered a 40-minute speech this morning from the Tampa Armature Works that emphasized that while the city has come a long way in recent years, it has far more work to accomplish in the coming years.

As with a State of the Union address, the mayor mentioned several local residents whom his staff placed in the front rows inside the hall because he was going to personally mention them during his address. None received a bigger hand than 16-year-old Berklee High sophomore Declan Farmer, who was born a bilateral amputee. Declan led Team USA in both goals and points as a key member of the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team that won the gold medal at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia that concluded earlier this month.

"We are a city poised on the verge of greatness, unwilling to settle for anything less than excellence," the mayor said early on, a typical line of zealous enthusiasm that has been one of his trademarks both on the campaign trail and his standard stump speeches since defeating Rose Ferlita nearly three years ago.

There were some tidbits of news crammed into his expansive address, with the biggest one being his announcement that Police Chief Jane Castor will stay on for at least another year. Though only 54, Castor had been scheduled to retire  by May 6 because she is a part of the city's Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), which sets a non-negotiable retirement day.

"I have asked Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, my friend, to stay on for one more additional year," he said to large cheers. Under Castor and her predecessor, Steven Hogue, crime has been reduced by 69 percent since 2003, a statistic that Buckhorn said might be as dramatic as that of any city in the country, and he might be right.

The mayor talked about how in city politics, ideology shouldn't be significant. Criticizing Washington D.C. and Tallahassee for intransigence in addressing issues, he said, "It's up to mayors and community leaders to solve today's problems."

And he talked about transportation, which arguably is Tampa's (and the region's) biggest unresolved issue in 2014. Saying that building more roads wasn't a good enough solution, he talked mobility options, "and yes, I'm talking about rail that connects us to St. Pete and Pinellas County," generating polite applause. He said at the least there needs to be another referendum by the fall of 2016, though it sounded like he wanted to go earlier.

He followed that up by saying, "We need to support Greenlight Pinellas," the transit sales tax increase that Pinellas County voters will decide on this fall. "We need to do everything that we can to make sure that succeeds."

He then followed up with a Freudian slip, saying that "When Pinellas succeeds, we succeed. Rick Kriseman, the mayor of Tampa, the mayor of St. Pete, we're in this together." He then caught himself, saying "he's not going to be mayor of Tampa....that ain't happening. I wouldn't mind his baseball team.." generating a somewhat belated recognition of laughter and sustained applause.

"I just figured out what's going to be the lead story tomorrow," he said, smiling.

He mentioned how years ago Tampa city leaders lobbied Copa airlines for direct flights to Panama, but were rejected at the time by that airline. "But we didn't go away. We didn't quit. We dogged them and dogged them and dogged them until we made the case that this was an opportunity that made sense for them, that the business model worked, and today Copa flies four days a week out of TIA. I want daily service, seven days a week."

Another member of the public whom Buckhorn invited to the speech was a 4-year-old girl named Legacy he met while announcing what he calls the "Nehemiah Project" in Sulphur Springs, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. That plan is to raze 51 (now 75)  homes throughout the year as part of an effort to rebuild the neighborhood.  

But it could be argued that the mayor had exploited the young child, playing on her name. "That's my little girl. That's your little girl. That's all of our little girls," he said with intensity as the crowd cheered. He then segued into talking about what "his legacy" was going to be. A few moments later Legacy's mother was seen leaving the auditorium with her daughter in tow.

In talking about his plan to redevelop Perry Harvey St. Park, Buckhorn took a verbal shot at supporters of the Bro Bowl, the last surviving unaltered, public concrete skatepark from the 1970s in the United States. It is now in danger of demolition, though the mayor would like to build a new skate park three times as big, but move it from the center to the northern end of the park. That dispute, which surfaced last year, still continues. "We must give those residents an active park that they can enjoy," referring to the residents of the Encore project who will be living there. "A park that reflects the history of Central Avenue and that pays homage to the many historic contributions of generations of African-Americans. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sorry, but a concrete skate bowl pales in comparison to the history of our African-American community and Central Park. We're going to get that park done!"

Towards the end Buckhorn came back to what his legacy would be. He said for him it's about connecting neighborhoods, and again repeated that the Hillsborough River will be the center of "everything that we do," and the center of the urban experience.

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