Instead of cat fights and petty jabs, Wednesday night's forum with Tampa's mayoral candidates focused on building a city with transportation options, affordable and accessible housing and a vibrant economy.
Hosted by the Tampa Downtown Partnership at Tampa Heights' historic Rialto Theatre, all questions were related to Tampa’s urban core, which is made up of downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods.
The biggest topic was transportation, which gave political newbie, Topher Morrison, a chance to shine. Morrison gave up his car nine years ago in an effort to reduce his carbon footprint. Judging by the applause, that earned him some major points.
“For me, this isn’t something that’s a political statement,” Morrison said. “For me, this is something personal. I understand how hard it is to use mass transit in this city to get around.”
The transportation theme didn’t work out so well for others.
Ed Turanchik was once again asked about the of All for Transportation referendum, a 30-year, penny-on-the-dollar sales tax increase to help ease congestion by paying for roads, buses and mass transit. He was the only candidate who voted against it and the only candidate who didn’t slam Stacy White, the county commissioner who filed a lawsuit against the $15.8 billion transportation sales tax.
In response, Turanchik claimed that he did not speak against it. However, a Facebook post from December says something different. “It's time for sober, clear, and legally sound analysis of the legal challenge filed today of the All For Transportation penny sales tax…” The Dec. 4 Facebook post reads. “There is no room for political grandstanding on this issue. The financial risks are huge.”
(Isn’t social media great?)
A new face at the forum was Dick "Dickie" Greco Jr., who filed for mayor Jan. 11, just a week before the qualifying period ends.
“Some people say it’s late,” Greco said. “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”
Like father, like son — his father Dick Greco served as mayor from 1967 to 1974, and 1995 to 2003. But Greco Jr. didn’t harp on his father’s legacy. He spoke about his time as a Hillsborough judge giving homeless people charged with code violations a chance to get back on their feet.
A side element of the transportation issue that came for the candidates was sidewalks, and for good reason; students in Tampa who live within two miles of their school aren’t eligible to ride the bus, and some Tampa sidewalks have holes, ditches or just don’t exist. Mike Suarez, Harry Cohen and Jane Castor all echoed one another’s comments that safe routes for children walking to school are a top priority. If elected, Suarez plans to implement a sidewalk selection survey in which residents would be able to let the government know where they need sidewalks.
Both Castor and Cohen mentioned that Tampa has the highest rate of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths in the U.S.
David Straz, instead of talking about transportation, mostly talked about how much money he has. (He’s not lying.) His opening comment started with: “Well, you’ve heard of the Straz Center… Some of you may have seen my name on the side of the building at the University of Tampa.” And in his closing comments, he ended with: “Most of my colleagues on the stage here have never signed the front side of a check.”
Humble or not, his point was that he knows how to handle a big budget.
Candidates LaVaughn King and Michael Hazard were not in attendance at Wednesday’s forum, although King was expected to attend.