Seminole Heights candidate forum a lengthy affair

Trying to make it more exciting for himself and others who may be growing tired of the rap of his colleagues (there's still five weeks to go before the election), Ed Turanchik said that he was making news, prompting the reporters in the room to take notice.  What was it?  He called it "Places and Spaces."  He said there's a good reason why streets like Howard, Armenia, Florida, Tampa, Nebraska have struggled.  City codes and regulations "make it all but impossible except in rare circumstances for small businesses to grow and invest."

Tuesday night was the first time we saw District 2 candidate Scott Strepina in action, who said it was critical that the city address its pension issue with city workers.  A former executive at Coca-Cola, Strepina said that gave him a better perspective on how to read a budget, implying that others on the current board simply don't have that talent.  "If we don't have the appropriate financial horsepower on the city council, city council members are going to be swayed which ever fancy individual comes in there and sells them on this, and sells them on that. If you can't look at the data, if you can't understand the financial statements, you're not going to make important decisions."

Curtis Stokes, who has served as an interim member of City Council since the summer and is running again in District 1, took umbrage to the criticisms of the council made by Strepina.  "I take offense when they say that when we begin the budget...that we vote on it 3 weeks later.  I take offense at that, because we're very competent."

Though the panhandling discussion has gotten an absurd amount of attention in this race, virtually every candidate save a few had to make sure to throw in their few minutes that they'd ban the practice.  District 3 candidate Michael Ciftci said he'd not only ban it in Tampa, work with state legislators to ban it in all of Florida.  And District 2 candidate Susan Long, who has been explicit that it was the city council's refusal to enact a panhandling ordinance that compelled her to run this year, said simply of panhandlers: "We have to get rid of them."

Kelly Benjamin has longtime roots and discussed that yes, he too wants to ban panhandling, which theoretically puts him to the right against his opponent, Charlie Miranda in the District 6 on that issue.  But he said more important than that was the fact that Tampa annually leads the nation in being considered the worst in the country for pedestrians, and noted the slew of deaths of cyclists in 2010.

We'll also say that we hadn't seen Mike Suarez, candidate in District 1, speak at a candidates' forum.  The dude's got great presence.  Mary Mulhern surprised us when she said that she would read off a top 10 list of her accomplishments (vs. speaking impromptu).  However, she seemed to overcome that with the substance of her list of accomplishments, beginning by saying how she had met over the years with all types of neighborhood activists, including one of her District 2 opponents, Susan Long (Long nodded her head as she said that).  Interim council member Yolie Capin, running in District 3, unfortunately was not as successful reading from her crib notes, as her presentation was stilted and hard to follow.

Mama told me there'd be forums like this.

Tuesday night in the very politically aware Seminole Heights district of Tampa, over 100 people crammed into the Seminole Heights Garden Center, just as a driving rain storm was abating, to hear 21 different mayoral and city council candidates introduce themselves, five weeks before election day.

Although this reporter saw some candidates speak before a live audience for the first time, for those who are interested in learning more about the differences between the 5 major candidates running for mayor, well, this event wasn't really for you.

Each candidate was given five minutes to discuss their vision of what they'd like to achieve in office.  Multiply that by 21, and well,  it made for a somewhat exhausting night just to get through all of those assembled (Rick Barcena was the last man literally standing).

Where to begin? Let's start with the mayoral candidates.  Being in Seminole Heights, Rose Ferlita may have had a hometown advantage, as there were several audience members wearing green Ferlita for Mayor t-shirts in the audience.  No doubt reacting to a published report in Tuesday's St. Pete Times that had Mayor Pam Iorio up in arms about an alleged verbal slight by Ferlita regarding the mayor having to dip into reserves to balance her budget, Ferlita said, "And let me make this very, very, very clear.  Mayor Pam Iorio did an incredible job streamlining government, addressing efficiencies, and being very sensitive when she had to use the far as I'm concerned, she's leaving this city in a lot better shape in terms of budget, than when she came in."

Former Mayor Dick Greco had a fascinating five minutes, dropping jokes (suggesting to Bob Buckhorn, who discussed how he's  gone grey in hair color compared to when he first worked for former Mayor Freedman in the late ’80s, to use "Just For Men").  In defending the taxpayers' funds that were used to bail out his big Centro Ybor project, Greco grew indignant, claiming it was crucial to build up Ybor City for tourists for events like the 2012 GOP Convention, saying otherwise they'd simply be going to "Mons Venue and the Pancake House."

Then his mood turned."This is not an experiment!  If at this time we don't hit the ground running we've got a problem, gang! It might be the most important vote you'll ever make!"

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