By Jim Bleyer
To paraphrase former President Gerald Ford: “My fellow Tampanians, our long municipal nightmare is over.”
That is unless potential voters were comfortable with hypocrisy, empty promises, and losing political strategies that defy comprehension.
The seven candidates embraced Mom, apple pie, and transit while introducing themselves to low-income neighborhoods, activists, and community leaders. At least two candidates purchased group endorsements and anyone paying attention to the race, about 30 percent of registered voters, knows it.
Accounting for attrition from the Big Yawn, turnout today is expected around 22-23 percent.
It boils down to this: former Police Chief Jane Castor, with about 35 percent, has led every credible poll from the outset to Election Day . Billionaire David Straz, who will spend at least $150 a vote, is projected to oppose Castor in an Apr. 23 runoff.
Castor is the presumptive heir to outgoing Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s legacy; Straz represents a virulent anti-Buckhorn faction of the city. Unlike the creampuff primary, the runoff should be ultra-nasty and far more newsworthy.
Presumably the combatants will focus on specific policy, their track records, their vision for the City of Tampa, and the requisite mudslinging. The primary featured a seemingly endless number of special interest forums where focus was diffused among seven personalities and pandering was the order of the day.
One moderator actually asked the question, “What do you think of Gasparilla?” Yes, she really did.
The entire Tampa Bay mainstream media and the area’s shameless pay-for-play blog have been complicit in this drivel: slanting reportage, omitting salient facts, limiting debate participation, and fealty to advertisers’ preferences. Those forums could never truly be enlightening but honest, competent coverage by alleged news entities would have mitigated the nonsensical format and helped voters make intelligent choices.
Any other runoff combo than Castor-Straz would be considered an upset. The five remaining candidates are small business owner Topher Morrison, former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, attorney Dick Greco Jr., and term-limited city councilmen Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez.
Morrison, the sole non-politician, has contributed fresh ideas to the race and appears best equipped to lead Tampa to the next level. He’s a unifier and an innovator.
The campaign began in earnest the day after the November general election and although all five were within striking distance of making the runoff, there were no concerted attacks against Straz, easily the weakest debater and who has the least grasp of the issues.
But Straz’ bankroll has vaulted him into the runoff spot, according to credible polls. Greco and Cohen reportedly have made modest inroads.
Then there are the shameful endorsements by special interest groups and news media that were paid for by candidates. Tampa Bay Beat will get more specific during the runoff.
Let’s talk about the intellectually dishonest endorsements. Every group felt it had to chime in, even when no candidate fit its philosophy. The Tampa Bay Progressive Caucus endorsed Cohen. He’s about as progressive as his namesake Michael. The Tampa Tea Party recommended Turanchik….and the moon consists of green cheese.
After four months of superficial gobbledygook, Tampa voters are ready for substance. The primary has been a huge embarrassment.