Given the organization, politicking savvy and fund-raising success of Bob Buckhorn and the resume, key connections and fund-raising success of Frank Sanchez, Charlie Miranda isn’t exactly an odds-on favorite to be Tampa’s next mayor. In fact, he ran once before and was hammered. Bob Martinez gave him the anvil treatment in 1979.
City Hall insiders will tell you Miranda, who served on city council from 1974-79 and again from ’95 till now, is accessible, principled and street smart, as well as a solid family guy and an old-school gentleman. He can be wryly funny and a bit of a maverick. He’s never forgotten his public housing roots — nor the meaning of work ethic. He knows the issues and the political process.
He just can’t win the big one.
His base — West Tampa — is too narrow, goes the thinking. In fund-raising, which is equated to political viability, he’s a distant third to Buckhorn and Sanchez.
“I could raise as much money as anyone else if I wanted to kiss up and beg,” says Miranda. “I won’t be part of an auction.”
To date, Miranda has raised some $75,000. His goal is $200,000. On the projection of about 40,000 votes, that averages out to about $5 a vote, points out Miranda.
That should be more than enough, adds the 61-year-old Ybor City native, and sufficient reason not to sell him short this time around.
“I was 39 when I ran for mayor,” recalls Miranda. “You think you know a lot. You don’t know as much as you think.
“Today I’m a much more mature individual,” says Miranda. “I might have carried some chips on my shoulder. No more. I’m wiser.”
And broader based, he contends. In 1999 his (District 1 At Large) votes were “from all over the city,” points out Miranda. “I don’t think I lost but one precinct south of Kennedy.”
As city council chairman since ’99, he arguably has earned the respect of those most privy to his Miranda-Rites style. It’s a simple, two-part rule:
1)Never attack a council member from the floor
2)Never go after another council member once the vote is taken.
“Respect for the system is important,’ explains Miranda. “Otherwise, you have chaos. I like to keep things business-like and friendly and interject some humor. I want people to think when they leave city hall: ‘Maybe I didn’t get what I wanted, but I wasn’t mistreated.’ You should still be able to smile afterward. Life is too short.”
But not too short for another shot at Tampa’s political brass ring.
“I will talk facts, not what people want to hear,” promises Miranda, who cites “non-sexy, hard-to-convey-to-the-public” infrastructure issues, such as water, as key priorities. “And in the end, it will all be about trust, knowledge and life experience. The campaign is really about my life. What you see is what you get.”
What the voters will see is a balding, bearded, bilingual candidate who is slight of build, colorful of raiment and confident of purpose. They will also see a father of three successful adult children and the husband of wife Shirley for the last 40 years.
What they will get, says Miranda, is a “hard-nosed guy” who has spent most of his adult life working two or three jobs at a clip — starting with a delivery route for La Gaceta at age 12. He’s bussed and waited tables from Ybor to the resorts near Lake George, NY. He’s been a cook and a doorman, driven a printing house delivery truck and stocked Coca-Cola machines.
“Those days taught me a lot about the world,” says Miranda. “Stuff you don’t learn in any book.
“When I was growing up, it was rough,” he recalls. “But it was clean. We’ve lost that. Gotten too liberal and too comfortable. Gates around communities — keeping in and keeping out.”
At age 36 — 18 years after graduating from Jefferson High School — he received his undergraduate degree in criminology from the University of Tampa.
In the pre-computer era, he worked in the calculating rooms of Tampa’s dog track and jai alai fronton. His aptitude for figures further served him in stints as general manager for the Tampa office of James Talcott Inc. Finance and then comptroller for the old Seawolf Restaurant.
He also has been managing partner for Café Pepe and operator of his own thoroughbred racing stable.
Since 1988 Miranda has been a state steward at Tampa Bay Downs. His (December-to- May) responsibilities range from administering state rules and regulations to judging races and meting out discipline.
“I’m not one for cliches,” says Miranda. “But you want to know what makes a city great? If the people living in it are happy. That means education, police — do you feel safe? — and infrastructure. I’m a firm believer in arts, zoos and parks and recreation. A great believer in ‘K&S’: kids and seniors.”
He’s not, however, a strong advocate of jails — and all the law-and-order, political pandering rhetoric they so easily lend themselves to.
“You’ll never hear me say, ‘I want to build jails,'” notes Miranda. “But it’s not because I’m ‘soft’ on crime. Far from it. But if jails were to solve our problems, they’d be empty by now. We put ’em in, they come out. Now what? It doesn’t work. ‘Build more jails’ sounds good when you package and sell it.
“We have to spend on prevention,” he emphasizes. “Break that chain when they’re young.”
His campaign, underscores Miranda, is not “fancy.” It’s aimed “at the average guy in the street. I think you can apply the principles of running a business and a household. I hold people accountable, and I take zero bullshit.”
He’s also taken the Dick Greco-Frank Sanchez nexus in stride. Sort of.
“That’s life,” shrugs Miranda. “But, yes, it does piss me off. Just tell me. I know they’re helping. I know Linda (McLintock Greco) makes calls. But that’s politics.”
Not surprisingly, Miranda says he likes his chances — and here’s how a horse racing steward handicaps the March ’03 mayoral race:
*”One (Hillsborough County Commissioner Chris Hart) can’t have a base. There’s not a lot of love for county commissioners. 45% of the vote is Hispanic and black, and he’ll get none of it.”
*”One (City Councilman Bob Buckhorn) has been running since Moby Dick was a minnow. Nice guy, but he looks to solve problems after they happen.”
*”One (business consultant Frank Sanchez) was gone some 20 yrs. Politics is all about ‘What have you done for me lately?’ In his case, it’s nothing.”
As post time approaches, the track could get muddy.