Tampa mayoral candidates engage in one of the last forums of the campaign

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When asked by moderator Dan Ruth (who was in vintage form in replacing ABC 28's Don Germaise) what topic they were surprised hadn't come up that often during the campaign, Dick Greco said he was taken aback that law enforcement hasn't been more discussed, citing a Bay News 9/St. Pete Times poll that showed crime was considered the second most important issue to Tampa voters.


Bob Buckhorn, who always likes to show off his pro-police philosophy, stressed that the major reduction in crime since 2003 (over 60%) is a reason why it hasn't been the issue it was the last time the city had a competitive mayoral election eight years ago.


For Thomas Scott, the question was a portal to boast his credentials, saying there should be more talk about the candidates' credentials and experience.  Rose Ferlita joked that it should be about her being the only female candidate in the race, while Ed Turanchik, who talks frequently about his troubles constructing houses with his InTown Homes group, said he was surprised that code enforcement hadn't been more of an issue.


St. Pete Police Chief Chuck Harmon said earlier in the day that Officer Crawford was not wearing a bulletproof vest, which led to an audience question about whether the candidates as mayor would demand that their officers wear one. Bob Buckhorn said flat out, "They need to wear those vests." He added that as the chief law enforcement officer of Tampa, it was his duty to get those officers home to their wife and kids.  Thomas Scott said if he were on the force, "I'd do everything I can to protect my life." Greco and Rose Ferlita said it might be a good idea to resurrect mandating the vests, while Ed Turanchik said simply the question was "above my pay grade," and would let his police chief make that decision.


A huge story in the neighborhood in 2009 was the concern of local residents that the injection of pesticides at Babe Zaharias Golf Course was making them sick.  When asked about the situation, Bob Buckhorn was the most assertive, saying that whenever possible it would be best to use "green pesticides." He discussed the conflicting scientific data about the pesticides that were used to kill nematodes.


Ed Turanchik, demonstrating that his sense of humor can sometimes appear as arrogance, praised Buckhorn, saying, "Bob, I'm impressed. I didn't know you knew what a nematode was." (Buckhorn responded, "You stay six feet away from them," mockingly referring to his 1999 campaign to keep nude dancers six feet away from paying patrons.)  Turanchik then answered the question by stating that he had a master's degree in environmental biology and ecology.


Some critics have claimed that Rose Ferlita, who placed second in the first major poll released on the election, is being maddeningly general in her responses to questions, and she certainly didn't try to upend that rep Tuesday night.  When the candidates were asked which specific company or area of jobs she would try to recruit to Tampa if elected, she answered initially by speaking up for call-center jobs, a line of industry that Buckhorn and Turanchik have criticized.  "We need to bring in all types of jobs, for all types of citizens, so that we give everybody the opportunity, " Ferlita said, prompting a woman in the audience to say aloud, "What specific companies?" Ferlita answered that the city shouldn't discriminate against those without a college degree, "so no specific area."


Moderator Dan Ruth, who now pens columns twice a week for the St. Pete Times as well as serving on its editorial board, drew laughs when he asked the candidates to name the biggest "boneheaded" mistake they've ever committed in office, which was a fresh take at getting the candidates to let down their hair and get a little human with the audience.


Dick Greco, who was blasted earlier in the campaign for saying that he doesn't have any regrets (a la George W. Bush), said this time that that he'd made "a lot of mistakes," but said there was no one particular thing.  After Ruth commented that "you ducked that, " Buckhorn responded with a joke he's used throughout the campaign — that he would have made the six-foot rule "three feet."


Thomas Scott, who has been dogged by this reporter among others for his 2005 vote against displays of gay pride ( PolitiFact on Tuesday called him out as "false" for saying the vote was not a discriminatory one), refused to touch the issue once again, and refused to answer the question, saying there was "a lot of " issues that came to mind.


Rose Ferlita said that she didn't regret any votes, while Turanchik gave a preamble to his answer by saying that "As mayor, I'll always answer the question." He says he was most bothered by a re-zoning issue off of Hillsborough Avenue when he was a County Commissioner.  "As it got developed, it was as a bad thing," he admitted.

In less than a week we'll know who the two candidates will be in the run-off for Tampa mayor. That made last night's North Tampa forum at the Forest Hills Recreation Center special, in that after six weeks of intense campaigning, the "fab five" will soon be reduced to the top two.

The forum had its share of the usual rhetoric, but did present fresh material because of two circumstances: the location, which led to specific questions about the Forest Hills area, and the death of St. Petersburg Police Officer David S. Crawford, whose assailant had not been identified at the time of the debate. (The arrest of the 16-year-old suspect has since been announced.)

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