By Jim Bleyer
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is actively seeking the second spot on the Democratic gubernatorial ticket, Tampa Bay Beat has learned, but such a candidacy would bring more baggage than benefit.
Buckhorn has reached out to both the camps of Phillip Levine and Gwen Graham in his bid for the Lieutenant Governor slot. Levine has been considering Buckhorn and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, another gubernatorial candidate, while the Graham campaign has Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman on its shortlist.
Only 16 months ago Buckhorn announced he would not seek the governorship because he would “miss the milestones” in the lives of his daughters, ages 15 and 11 at the time. He wasn’t fooling anyone: his chances of capturing the Democratic nomination were close to zero; his war chest was anemic.
”Extenuating circumstances” could change his mind, he told the media, forgetting to add that included creating those circumstances himself.
The term-limited Buckhorn has brought a bevy of critical, adverse headlines to Florida’s third largest city during his seven-year tenure. Tampa elects a new mayor next spring.
Aside from Buckhorn’s array of misadventures, Levine and Buckhorn, nearly clones, would be an ill-suited match. Both are experienced big city, white male mayors not wise in the ways of the legislative process. Levine was embarrassed badly in an April debate with his lack of knowledge about the state budget. He also could not identify the minority leader of the Florida House.
Another factor: both men are considered Democrats In Name Only. Progressives could not stomach such a ticket. That group comprises 35 percent of registered Democrats and about a quarter of No Party Affiliation registrants.
Graham’s problems run even deeper. A one-term Congressional backbencher, she voted with Republicans in half of key votes. Not only would she and Buckhorn be anathema to the progressive community, but many mainstream Democrats as well. With her support of the Keystone XL Pipeline, environmentalists would sooner go bird watching or join in hands across the sand than pull her lever on Nov. 6.
All this assumes that Levine or Graham would be the Democratic nominee. That is far from clear as public opinion polls are all over the map. But conventional wisdom places Andrew Gillum with the most momentum, longshot businessman Chris King making inroads, and freshly-minted candidate Jeff Greene siphoning support from both Levine and Graham.
Buckhorn snafus have made news coast to coast.
The Seattle Times, through the Associated Press, was one of many outlets reporting Buckhorn’s race relations debacle that saw blacks targeted by the Tampa Police Department. A Department of Justice investigation declared minorities were issued an inordinate number of violations. Buckhorn refused to apologize to the black community.
The Washington Post and cable news channels had a field day with Buckhorn’s public crowing about gunning down journalists after having been aboard a Navy special warfare boat, firing blanks from 50-caliber machine guns. He refused to apologize until war correspondents announced their extreme displeasure.
The 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa should have been worth millions in goodwill for the city except that Buckhorn transformed it into an armed camp. Dani Doane of the Heritage Foundation described the police presence as “unnerving” and the downtown like a police state.”
Levine and Kriseman were among 300 mayors from around the country agreeing to transition to 100 percent clean renewable, energy by 2050. Not Buckhorn. He even refused to meet with representatives of the Sierra Club. Business publications and travel websites listed cities that signed on.
Potential Democratic nominees for governor should be aware that Buckhorn’s popularity in Tampa has plummeted; in unincorporated Hillsborough County, with twice Tampa’s population, he is kryptonite. Some 55 percent of Tampa residents oppose amending the city charter to allow a third term for the mayor.