Since his first term in office Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been emphasizing the development of Tampa's downtown core and its surrounding neighborhoods into a prime destination for both residents and business. Thursday night at a fundraiser for the Tampa Bay chapter of the New Leaders Council, Buckhorn reiterated those points while ensuring that potential political successors in attendance understood the responsibility they held.
The New Leaders Council is a non-profit organization aimed at developing progressive thinkers into authorities in fields such as business, technology and policy. Local graduates have brought their skills to careers as educators, attorneys and in government affairs. Serving as the featured guest speaker of the fundraiser, which also served as a showcase for the 2015 fellows of the program, Buckhorn made his point that before his tenure as mayor, Tampa might not have ended up as the home for these young professionals.
“We asked this community to recognize that the brain drain leaving the state of Florida for a decade, to places like Austin and Raleigh-Durham... I'm talking about your generation, and our kids. They were leaving this state and leaving this city because the opportunities weren't there. Tampa was stuck in sort of a rut. So, we set out on a mission four years ago to make this a place young people wanted to be a part of. I knew that without you, our future was going to be pretty bleak, that we were going to be a state restricted to call center jobs and types of opportunities that were limited, and that our kids were not going to come home here.”
Buckhorn pointed to his efforts in developing the connectivity of Downtown Tampa and its surroundings through projects such as the Riverwalk, as well as attracting business in the medical, finance and defense fields, as key factors in the city's turnaround.
“This is a radically different place from what it was four years ago. This is a place that instead of being an afterthought is a place that is on the minds of every relocation expert in America. This is the place that people want to come and be a part of. This is a city where not only are we not losing our best and brightest, but they're coming home and bringing their friends with them.”
While a majority of the development focused on doesn't particularly represent the progressive ideals typified by the New Leaders Council, Buckhorn articulated how his agenda falls into the progressive canon.
"As progressives, don't ever think that this isn't about opportunity for people. ... As Democrats and as Progressives we have to be as enthusiastic about creating jobs and creating wealth and creating opportunities for our citizens as we are in terms of the social needs of those same folks. You can't do one without the other. You have got to grow this economy, you've got to grow that share of the pie. Don't think for a second that if your government doesn't work, if your economy doesn't work, that you can do all the good things because without that revenue you can't do jack."
While lauding his civic success, Buckhorn looked towards Florida as a whole, obviously contrasting his time in office with Governor Rick Scott's and doing little to quell talk of a rumored 2018 gubernatorial bid.
“My sense is that that this state is at a tipping point. It reminds me a lot of where Tampa was four or five years ago. If you're going to settle for mediocrity, you're going to be mediocre. ... If you're going to do things the same old way then you're going to get exactly the same predicament we find ourselves in today. We can make a decision that we're going to get engaged, whether it's in 2016 or 2018, there are opportunities for us to change the paradigm, to change the discussion in this state and to ask this state if we're ready to believe in something bigger than ourselves.”
With members of the New Leaders Council already aiming for elected positions, including Brian Willis for the Hillsborough County Commission and Tarance LaNoir for the Hillsborough County School Board, it appears those in attendance had matching ambition.
“My sense is,” continued Buckhorn, “if things continue the way they do, this state is going to be ready for a regime change, because they realize we are not fulfilling our potential, that we are hurting people in the process and that this state is falling further behind in terms of attainment and providing opportunities for everyday Floridians, not just the select few.”
NOTE: The Council get-together was held at CL Space, Creative Loafing's public events venue in Ybor City. Space rentals are administered by CL's marketing department, independent of the editorial department, which covers events in the venue depending on their newsworthiness or general interest.