Attorney Jason Watson said afterwards, For me personally, I think Bob Buckhorn and Turanchik both stood out from the pack. They were probably the two candidates I knew the least about going into the debate, so I learned a lot there, but I cant say Ive made up my final decision.
Pablo Aviles, who works in marketing, expressed the same sentiment. Before the debate he told CL that, all things being equal, he would give preference to the indigenous candidates, Greco and Rose Ferlita. But he changed his tune after the forum. After listening to Mr. Buckhorn and Turanchik, they changed my opinion on that
I liked how they conducted themselves, they had solid ideas.
Both men said they remained undecided, and would begin closely following the race over the next week before casting their votes.
South Tampa businesswoman Debbie Lundberg went into last weeks South Tampa debate forum saying she was also favoring Greco or Rose Ferlita. But after that debate? She still liked the two Ybor City natives, but admitted that Ed Turanchik had impressed, saying he was more fluid than shes seen him before.
I find that a lot of times with him hes a little bit more seemingly out there, almost too futuristic, and last night I thought he had some really solid ideas.
A poll published last weekend suggested that homegrown institutional support for Tampa-born Greco and Ferlita has given them a natural edge over the other three candidates in the race (Turanchik, Buckhorn and Thomas Scott, all coincidentally non-native).
And thats been a gap that those candidates have had to work to overcome since the beginning of the campaign, one voter at a time. For Bob Buckhorn, the lines are blurry as to when he actually began running for office. He boasts that hes knocked on over 25,000 doors, a huge number that reveals his years-long ambition to be the top dog at City Hall (an ambition that went unfulfilled when he lost his bid for mayor in 2003, placing third behind Iorio and Frank Sanchez).
Buckhorn was endorsed by the St. Petersburg Times, and nobody has been consistently better, night after night on the stump. His mantra that hes fighting to make the city dynamic enough to keep the creative class in Tampa seemed in particular to touch the sensibilities at the Young Professionals forum last week.
But the most ascendant candidate trying to convince enough Tampa citizens that hes electable is Ed Turanchik, a favorite of the progressive crowd. His reputation as an ideas machine seems to be converting true believers to his cause, but whether hell get enough votes to make the run-off is a huge unknown.
Sadly, Tampa City Councilman Thomas Scott, aspiring to become the citys first black mayor, is rarely if ever discussed as having a viable chance for election. Lackluster fundraising has only added to the sense that he is the only candidate on election night not expected to have a chance of making the runoff.
But if that is the case, the 57-year-old pastor can still raise his head high. Although many would consider his 14-year record as a local legislator to be relatively undistinguished, he has impressed many during the mayoral forums, and obviously brings a dose of reality to discussions about how far (or not) race relations have improved in Tampa.
The conventional wisdom says that the two candidates who have been the most specific about how they would take over on Day One, Buckhorn and Turanchik, may be on the outside looking in, while Greco and Ferlita may have the backing to get themselves into a run-off after the March 1 election (a run-off, which appears likely, would take place on March 22 between the two top finishers if no reaches 50 percent).
The Tampa natives have out-fundraised their opponents by a substantial amount in the race. (Greco, because of his deep connections to business and other sectors of the city, has been particularly successful, raising $90,000 more than Ferlita as of last week, whose totals came in second.) They have also enjoyed the two single biggest public displays of affection in the campaign: the 400 or so who came out to attend Grecos official campaign announcement in late November, and the stunning 800-plus the Ferlita campaign said attended a spaghetti fundraiser at the Sons of Italy Lodge the Sunday before Valentines Day.
If Ferlita makes it into the runoff, shell be credited as having smartly played her cards close to the vest by not saying or doing anything remotely edgy. Critics have said that shes been heavy on the platitudes (partnerships, partnerships, partnerships is one of her favorite phrases) vs. substantive plans, but local politics is more about personality than policy, which is what Ferlita is banking on to move into the next round.
Of course, when it comes to personality, the septuagenarian Greco, win or lose, will continue to be one of the Cigar Citys leading celebrities, even if hes not successful in his quest to be mayor for a fifth four-year term.
But Greco has shown a bit of a glass jaw in this campaign. In South Tampa last week, Ed Turanchik charged him with leaving the city in a trail of debt, referring to the purchase of the old Sun Trust building downtown to use as a new police headquarters in 1996. Turanchik said the city will ultimately pay $72 million to eliminate the debt from that purchase, spending $13 million a year beginning in 2016.
But in these days of concerns about government spending, Greco has been unrepentant, bragging about how everything good in Tampa is essentially because of him even when he refuses to provide a blueprint for the future, instead invoking the names of Chuck Sykes and David Straz as the men who will help guide his decisions.
Then there are the inappropriate quips, such as comparing a civil riot in the late 1960s to a panty-raid, and his joking answer to a question about what jobs the candidates would give their opponents in their administrations. Following a consensus at the Young Professionals debate that the teetotaling Thomas Scott would be everyones choice for designated driver, Greco went on to answer the job question by saying that hed offer Scott the only black candidate the job of driver.
Greco apologized for the first gaffe, but said he had nothing to apologize for in the latter case, saying that Scott knew it was meant in jest. But some members of the black community werent so forgiving, saying that the good ol boy network in Tampa that Greco has always reigned over isnt the same in 2011 and everybody but the former mayor knows it.Ella Coffee, Scotts campaign manager, says the comments show Greco is stuck in a generation that we cant afford to return to, adding, It may have been a joke and he may not have meant anything by it, but if he feels those type of Archie Bunker jokes are okay in 2011, he is not the person to move Tampa forward.
University of Tampa Professor Scott Paine said that similar concerns about Greco arose in 1995 (when he returned to City Hall after a 21-year interregnum).
He said for those who already like Greco, his gaffes wont change their mind. But based on polls, Paine thinks the former mayor will need more than his current level of 24 percent support to win a runoff. Hes going to need people who havent decided that they like him, which could cost him big in a one-on-one match up.
But does Greco get it? A campaign aide told CL that he knows better than to try to give the former mayor any advice, saying, Hes on his own.
he doesnt let us say anything.
Can Buckhorn or Turanchik squeeze into the runoff? Buoyed by a surprising endorsement in the Tampa Tribune, the official voice of the establishment of Tampa, Turanchik began holding a series of events earlier this week to try to get his name and message out to voters of all stripes, but particularly young voters who might most be attracted to his plans for taking Tampa forward (Creative Loafing also endorsed him last week).
When asked about the distinction that candidates like Ferlita and Greco seem to have over non-natives like Turanchik, longtime community activist and radio commentator Jetie B. Wilds Jr., a Tampa native who has lived for long stretches in Portland, Oregon and suburban Washington D.C. (and who supports Turanchik ), says, Tampa is a very special place in terms of how it is that we deal with those who are home-grown. There is a tendency not to look at what it is a person is offering for where we want to go, as much as looking at the good ol boys and good ol girls. Thats probably not so unusual for any community, but it doesnt make it the best way of approaching things.
Ed Turanchik and Bob Buckhorn can only hope thats no longer the case.