Can Sanchez go home again — as a mayoral candidate?

Only for politicians and death-row inmates would a year and a half from now seem soon. We are almost that far removed from Tampa’s 2003 mayoral election, and already there are at least eight declared or well-publicized, potential candidates to replace Dick Greco. Not including Ed Turanchik.

It does, however, include maybe the most intriguing putative candidate: Francisco Sanchez.

He doesn’t, however, have the name recognition of other would-be mayors. He doesn’t have a long, continuous residence — and political presence — in the city. And he doesn’t have the experience of having previously held — or even run for — public office.

“To move from not being a public-office holder to mayor is a pretty dramatic move,” points out John Belohlavek, political consultant and USF history professor. “But his roots are deep, and he’s worked in politics enough. Frank understands how the game is played, and what it takes to be an effective leader.”

What the 42-year-old Ybor City native has besides roots are a resume, looks, a quiet charisma and a coterie of cronies and associates who think he would be the perfect successor to Greco. It’s heavily speculated that Greco would agree.

“I’m very serious about running for mayor,” says Sanchez, who expects to make a formal announcement early in ’02. “I look at the candidates, and they’re all good and honorable people. But I have a desire to be of service and a unique set of experiences and skills.”

Indeed.

Start with his education. Your basic George Washington Junior High-Hillsborough High- Harvard University connection. At Harvard, he earned a master’s degree in public administration. Previously, he had received undergraduate and law degrees from Florida State University. He’s fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.

He was hooked on politics as a college freshman and worked on Bob Graham’s first gubernatorial campaign — back when Graham’s name-recognition numbers were negligible. He became an assistant to Gov. Graham and later the first director of the state’s Caribbean Basin Initiative program.

He has been assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs for the U.S. Department of Transportation and a special assistant to the president of the United States, Office of the Special Envoy for the Americas. He has practiced corporate securities and administrative law in Miami.

Currently, Sanchez is the Tampa-based managing director of Cambridge Negotiation Strategies, where his work for corporations and governments ranges from labor-management negotiations to alliance management. He frequently pivots out of Tampa for trouble-shooting sorties in Latin America.

His domestic political message is steeped in economics.

The “centerpiece” of a Sanchez campaign, he says, would be the “maintaining and improving of the quality of life” of Tampa. “That means maintaining a solid economic base. To Greco’s credit, he did that. You can’t pay for public safety, public housing and the cultural arts without it.”

To that end, Sanchez has a five-bullet short list:

 Promote international trade and investment.

 Find Tampa’s high-tech niche, using USF as an anchor.

 Continue the development of downtown, a “diamond in the rough.”

 Build stronger relationships with Hillsborough County

 Be a collaborative regional player, especially with Pinellas County.

“We should see ourselves as a city that can attract regional, national or Latin American headquarters,” says Sanchez. “Let’s not denigrate ourselves because we didn’t get an Olympics. This is a pretty good city. The infrastructure is here, yet there’s a small town feel. We’re unique. We have to capitalize on that.”

And as to his electability?

“Frank had lots of options,” says USF History Professor Paul Dosal, a long-time friend, “yet he chose to come back home. People remember and respect him. He transcends party lines. I’ve been apolitical for years, but this is the one candidate I would work for.”

Sanchez seems sanguine enough.

“I can be very competitive in terms of raising money,” he states. “As for name recognition, remember who it was that I cut my political teeth with. People said Bob Graham didn’t have a prayer.”

So, is Mayor Greco praying for Sanchez?

“I just hope there’s a lot of interest in the race,” demurs Greco. “It’s important for the voters to have a real choice.”

But Greco does offer this: “Frank Sanchez is a very impressive young man. I think he’s serious about wanting to do something here. He understands the system; knows the city; is articulate in three languages; a Harvard grad. Yes, he can be formidable.”

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