As everyone in Tampa politics knows, South Tampa votes in far greater numbers than any other region of the city, which is why last night's City Council forum for the candidates running in Districts 1,2,3 4 and 6 was an important event.
By not including the mayoral candidates or city council candidates in districts 5 & 7, the stage was a little less cluttered than last week's affair in Seminole Heights - this time, there were only 18 candidates fielding questions.
If Marco Rubio was all about championing American exceptionalism in his successful campaign for U.S. Senate last year, last night it was the night of Tampa exceptionalism, as several - perhaps a majority of the candidates discussed the challenges the city faces, but also indicated that it was the best place in the country, or something similar.
Each candidate was able to answer a variety of questions that the audience at St. Mary's Episcopal Church were allowed to to ask, with a panel screening them and then handing them off to News Channel 8 reporter Jeff Patterson to formally present - such as on the partial ban on panhandlng that the Tampa City Council will vote on on this Thursday.
District 4 candidate Dennis Meyers says that if he was in charge, he'd ban panhandlers, but he'd make an exception for firefighters or other "legitimate" nonprofits if they could show they had insurance to be walking on city streets. "No reason we should ban everything," he said. "I'm a reasonably moderate guy."
One of his challengers in District 4, Julie Jenkins, adroitly indicated that such a selective ban has not been shown in Florida to be constitutional, which is the very reason why Hillsborough County is still reviewing their ordinance, which technically bans such activity right now.
Harry Cohen, also running in District 4, said he's for a ban (which all the candidates save for Charlie Miranda said they were for in some fashion), but said "the real conversation here is about economic growth." He said that panhandling will go away once there more jobs available for people in the city. He said leaders have to do a better job at selling the community to the outside business world. Joe Citro said it was incumbent upon Tampa before they pass anything that they alert nearby communities, so that the city doesn't do to them what "St. Pete did to us," referring to that city's summertime ban on panhandlng that has led - at least by conventional wisdom- to the homeless descending to Tampa to beg for money.
As mentioned earlier, District 6 incumbent Charlie Miranda has been consistently against any such ban since the issue broke out last fall. He mocked candidates who speak about growing jobs, when their first action could be to eliminate about 100 jobs (those people who sell newspapers on street medians).