By Jim Bleyer
Anyone that sat through the entire Tampa mayoral debate Wednesday night punched their ticket to heaven. It was that bad.
The stench emanating from the Hillsborough County Community College Ybor campus and the Bay News 9 airwaves hung thickly over the Big Guava like those stationary, lenticular clouds in the Pyrenees.
The debate was contentious, lacking in constructive proposals, and overriden by emotions. One participant, Councilman Mike Suarez, was markedly disrespectful—of the moderator, his opponents, and the audience.
The whole affair wasn’t all that enlightening. All seven candidates were for sidewalks, improved transit, and Gasparilla.
Bay News 9 initially limited the debate to the four candidates with the highest bankrolls, leading to a community uproar. The station reversed course only after tremendous pressure from David Straz, one of the chosen candidates; HCC, and threats of picketing outside the debate and disruption inside the forum.
Wearing the yellow jerseys and acquitting themselves above the rest were LaVaughn King and former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor. King provided levelheaded, uncanned answers; Castor remained calm while under multiple attacks led by former County Conmissioner Ed Turanchik and independent businessman Topher Morrison.
Note to the six male candidates: attacking Castor, the sole female candidate, as a group constitutes a losing strategy that cannot possibly end well.
Regarding the relocation of the Tampa Bay Rays stadium to Ybor City or any Hillsborough County location, Turanchik was the only candidate to assert that is is not at all viable. King noted that any stadium should he multi-use and requires a comprehensive plan. Castor erroneously stated a stadium would be an “economic driver;” every credible study has concluded that such government-subsidized facilities are financial losers.
On transit, Turanchik mentioned his “Go Plan,” which he said would include several transportation modes including the cross-bay ferry. Morrison said gondolas have been successful elsewhere and urged the planned high-speed rail planned between Tampa and Orlando include several bidders instead of just Brightline.
In the realm of public safety, King pointed out that the lack of economic opportunity constitutes the biggest threat to public safety. He said police body cams are only useful after the fact and that the emphasis should be on prevention.
Castor came under fire for the “biking while black” scandal that flourished under her regime. She debunked the targeting accusation, noting the U.S. Department of Justice found no evidence of intentional racial targeting (although the DOJ said the number of blacks ticketed was out of proportion). Castor said during bicycle stops, “everyone was treated with dignity and respect.”
Cohen, who along with Suarez, is term limited out of his city council seat, unaccountably took jibes at the “non-politicians” on the panel—Straz, Morrison, and King.
Distinguishing himself, not in a good way, was Suarez, who could not resist setting the bar for rude behavior and crowing about his knowledge of cigar factories and non-germane ancient trivia.
He’s also the candidate that complained, rightfully, that he was omitted from Bay News 9 slimmed down list of four candidates. But after crying loudly, the station expanded the field from four to five which was okay with Suarez as long as he wasn’t one of the candidates left at the starting blocks.
Ironically, the last two candidates admitted, LaVaughn King and Topher Morrison, totally outdebated—and outclassed—Suarez.
Grades for the only televised mayoral debate:
Spectators, unpaid, who remained until the bitter end: A
Summary: No one has broken out of the peloton which is three stages ahead of Suarez. Voters are faced with a grueling endurance test.