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Personalities, Not Issues, Divide The 7 Tampa Mayoral Candidates

Steve Newborn
WUSF Public Media
Candidates at a recent debate, from left to right, Ed Turanchik, David Straz, Mike Suarez, moderator Ron Christaldi, Dick Greco Jr., Jane Castor, Topher Morrison and Harry Cohen

Early voting for Mayor of Tampa is underway. The seven candidates haven't differed much on their stances on transportation, affordable housing - and increasingly, climate change. 

WUSF's Steve Newborn talks with veteran political journalist William March about what issues are dominating the conversation as the March 5 election draws near.

March says the issues being talked about most at the mayoral forums are transportation and pedestrian safety - and the lack of mass transit options; economic development in downtown Tampa versus the needs of the neighborhoods, particularly East and West Tampa; affordable housing; and a "huge backlog of water and sewer needs" equalling nearly $1 billion.

"This is the sort of nuts-and-bolts thing that has to be taken care of," March says, "and if it's not, then you get into the kind of situation that St. Petersburg got into a couple of years ago, where they had massive problems with sewage dumping."

- Click here to read the candidate's responses to a list of questions from WUSF -

March also says the seven candidates haven't differed much on their stances on issues. But they seem to be carving out small niches for themselves in other ways.

"For the most part, these candidates are running based on their records, their resumes, their personalities, what they've achieved in the past, and the tone that they promise to bring to city hall," he said, "rather than specfic differences on issues."

And the power of the mayor's post - which used to be considered the most powerful single position in the Tampa Bay area - is declining, as unincorporated Hillsborough County grows faster than the city.

He says the county has about three times as many people as the city of Tampa, and the county budget is five times the size of the city's.

"Mayor (Bob) Buckhorn, when I interviewed him recently and asked what his regrets were leaving office, his biggest single regret is he didn't move the ball as far as he wanted on transportation improvements," March said. "And why? He said that was because so much of the power to do that was in the hands of the county and not in the city."

The candidates are (in alphabetical order) former Police Chief Jane Castor, City Councilman Harry Cohen, retired Judge Dick Greco Jr., businessman Topher Morrison, businessman and philanthropist David Straz, City Councilman Mike Suarez, and former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik.

They're vying to replace Buckhorn, who is being term-limited out of office.

Early polls have Castor in the lead. If no candidates gets more than 50 percent of the vote on March 5th, a runoff between the top two will be held April 23rd.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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