By Jim Bleyer
The 2019 Tampa mayoral campaign hasn’t brought out the best and the brightest but it has cast a spotlight on the fractured culture and numerous special interest factions fighting for the heart, soul, and wallet of Florida’s third largest city.
The seven-candidate lineup resembles a parade of panderers. They have been appearing at forums ad nauseum hosted by more special interests than the grains of sand on Ben Davis Beach. All feel obligated to attend the succession of dog-and-pony shows to avoid incurring the wrath of these pressure groups.
Here is a partial list from just the past five weeks:
1/15 – Society of Real Estate Professionals
1/16 – Downtown Tampa Partnership
1/22 – TBBA & South Tampa Dems
1/23 – Westshore Alliance
1/24 – Hyde Park Preservation Inc.
1/29 – Seminole Heights
1/20 – South Tampa
2/5 – Arts and Culture
2/6 – Davis Island
2/7 – Westshore Palms
2/8 – Historic Ybor City Neighborhood Association
2/9 – United Voices
2/11 – West Tampa
2/12 – Forest Hills
2/13 – LGBTA
2/15 – Tiger Bay
2/19 – New Tampa
2/20 – Sierra Club
2/21 – Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Forum
2/21 – NAACP
2/22 – Hispanic Caucus
A comprehensive, integrated community vision is as rare as horse droppings on a carousel. Instead, the public has been treated to condensed white papers (by only three of the candidates), each on a narrow topic, that go largely unread or undigested.
Rehearsing for these gatherings figured to be a bonzo job for the Unmagnificent Seven because of the special interest aspect. Yet, it has been more than challenging for the participants.
Having a professional and personal background with the arts, I was particularly drawn to the arts and culture forum three weeks ago. It proved incredibly embarrassing as none of the candidates appeared to possess a true grasp of the issues faced by the arts community. Out-promising opponents with unrealistic plans and policies was the order of the day.
With the candidates learning nothing, voters are learning nothing.
Six of the seven candidates haven’t offered anything new or inspirational—only Topher Morrison, owner of a small business and political neophyte, touts unique innovation and total inclusiveness. Sadly, he is a long shot to make the anticipated two-person runoff despite energizing the youth vote.
The remaining aspirants are intent on perpetuating Tampa’s good ‘ol boy network that chains Tampa to third-rate status among the country’s big cities. These candidates include a legacy candidate, two city council members with notably unremarkable records, an out-of-touch billionaire who hasn’t grasped the issues but is convinced he can buy the office, a former county commissioner with a checkered record whose rhetoric exceeds his accomplishments, and a former police chief who was castigated by the Department of Justice for racial profiling.
With that ensemble, Tampanians can only pray for the drumbeat of the status quo instead of the bugle of retreat and regression. Tapping Tampa’s enormous potential and thrusting the city into the national conversation remains a pipe dream.
Except for Morrison attracting the youth vote, there’s no reason to believe Tampa’s traditional 20 percent turnout for municipal elections will increase dramatically.
Term-limited Mayor Bob Buckhorn spent eight years protecting special interests. Under his stewardship, Tampa garnered an abundance of negative national headlines.
The primary is March 5 with the runoff in April. Reversing the buildup of adverse publicity will be a monumental task for the eventual winner.