By Jim Bleyer
In a Tampa mayoral campaign noted for its bland, good ‘ol boy gentility, political neophyte Topher Morrison has injected vitality into the race—directly challenging opponents, attracting a cadré of dedicated workers, and most importantly, energizing a key electoral demographic.
Young voters between 18 and 30, whose participation in the electoral process ranges from first timers to the discouraged and disengaged, have rallied around the Morrison banner. Though not the youngest candidate, Morrison combines youthful looks, an easy manner, and a focus on Tampa’s need for inclusiveness as opposed to protecting entrenched special interests.
Morrison emphasizes his experience with small business when he advocates that the city encourage such enterprises. He is founder and managing director of the Tampa branch of Key Person of Influence, a global business accelerator and personal branding program
The downtown business community for years has lamented that Millennials, the most educated generation in the history of the republic, emigrate from the area. In-migration of that demographic flags.
Millennials account for 25 percent of the population nationwide; in greater Tampa it is 20.7 percent, a 17.2 percent deficit. The Millennial Gap would look far worse for Tampa if only the 30 largest metropolitan areas were surveyed.
Morrison connects,. He knows the transit, neighborhood, and employment options that excite younger folks. He is attuned to their priorities: social justice, the environment, economic opportunity…..and when they hear him speak, they know it.
I attended Morrison’s 50th birthday bash in South Tampa. I counted six attendees over age 50 in the crowded upstairs of a well-known restaurant. The fervor exhibited by the overwhelmingly youthful crowd was palpable.
“You deserve to wake up every morning knowing that the city’s got your back,” Morrison tells all voters.
Opposition campaigns are taking notice. One longtime operative who prefers anonymity marveled at non-politician Morrison’s name recognition in every nook of the city’s up-and-coming neighborhoods.
With the ability to stretch a buck with optimum results, Morrison’s campaign management should excite all voters. Yet Morrison remains a distinct underdog.
Polls show former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor comfortably ahead followed by billionaire David Straz. Castor had the widest name recognition going into the race and has Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s political machine driving her effort. Straz, with a war chest approaching $2 million, will likely spend three times as much as the other six candidates combined when polls close Mar. 5.
The top two vote getters will head for an April runoff. If it pits Castor against Straz as projected for several months, the campaign will turn nasty as the two camps share a mutual animus.