Bob Buckhorn: No Longer Waiting In The Wings

Bob Buckhorn. Love him or loathe him. But you can’t ignore him.

In politics, it’s often said, the name of the game is name recognition. For mayoral candidate Buckhorn, the name game is one he plays well. He’s been a fixture at City Hall for 15 years, starting in 1987 when he came on board as a 20-something special assistant to Mayor Sandy Freedman. Since 1995 he has been a media-magnet member of city council.

Last summer he was first to formally announce for a mayor’s race that was nearly two years out. He hit the ground running for office — with a pollster and consultant already on board and financial supporters identified. The idea was to be so daunting from the get-go as to intimidate or maybe co-opt some competition. The former Penn State lacrosse player was playing the other contact sport he loves.

These days he’s rolling out a slick, detailed “Blueprint” for the city showcasing his community commitments and plans for “transitioning Tampa to the new economy” via technology application. He would, among other things, appoint the city’s first Chief Technology Officer.

The 42-year-old Buckhorn doesn’t miss much. He remembers names, returns calls, follows up, works crowds, walks neighborhoods. When he is at his desk, it may be plunked down on someone’s lawn. Sure, it’s hokey, but it’s also a populist metaphor for neighborhood priorities.

He’s been notably outspoken on some high profile, galvanizing issues such as supporting the controversial city ordinance banning lap dances and trying to shut down Voyeur Dorm. As a result, some see him as a moralizing crusader. Others look to a quality-of-life champion. Still others view him as the consummate political opportunist. Many, of course, see what they want to see, but no one is blinded to the reality that few can top him for sheer visibility.

But knowing the Buckhorn name and recognizing the Buckhorn visage is not nearly the same thing as knowing Buckhorn. So says Buckhorn.

For example, there’s the perception that Buckhorn has been lusting for the mayor’s job since first setting foot in City Hall. That kind of calculated ambition is considered poor form by a lot of folks.

Buckhorn doesn’t deny that he’s been gearing up for this race since Sandy Freedman was a rookie mayor. He just disagrees that such a long-running aspiration is some sort of character flaw.

“What I’m preparing for is what amounts to being the CEO of a half-billion-dollar company with 4,500 employees,” explains Buckhorn. “Only in politics is it considered unseemly to hone your craft. This is a job you don’t just parachute into.

“For 15 years I have been working on making this city a better place,” he insists. “The biggest impact I can have is as mayor.”

While he has been an impact player for most of those 15 years, Buckhorn concedes another possible edge on the sword of name recognition.

“A lot of people only know me through TV,” he acknowledges. “It’s easy to characterize me based on one or two issues. Lap dancing obviously is one. In fact, it’s not even on the radar screen of my agenda. It’s simply one component, pure quality of life. But based on that, a lot of people probably thing I’m some right-wing Republican. I’m a Democrat.”

Actually a Democrat who sounds a lot like Rudy Giuliani cleaning up Times Square. Buckhorn also signs on to the “broken windows” approach to urban governance, saying he’d target “quality-of-life” issues such as code violations, dumping, vandalism and prostitution.

“You take care of the fundamentals first,” he states. “Sidewalks and potholes will take precedence over cutting ribbons,” he has said more than once.

He has pledged to appoint a Go Davis-like deputy mayor for neighborhoods and community empowerment.

He wants to “give everyone a seat at the table,” he’s fond of saying. “If we’re not relating to that single mother in College Hill, it doesn’t matter what happens in Culbreath Isles. We’re all in this together. Right now we’re more of a crowd than a community.”

While Buckhorn obviously hopes that populist message resonates in enough neighborhoods, he’s sensitive to charges that he’s not downtown friendly enough.

“The focal point of downtown must be the waterfront,” underscores Buckhorn. “It’s for tourists, conventioneers and us. It must be an 18-hour-a-day environment. Every weekend there has to be something. Be it jazz or blues or Irish music.

“I was a critic of using CIT (Community Investment Tax) money for the arts and the trolley,” recalls Buckhorn. “But that’s behind us. I will be committed to making them work. And Tampa can’t succeed without more housing downtown.”

Neither can Tampa succeed without asserting itself internationally and regionally — especially within the I-4 corridor, emphasizes Buckhorn.

“We are the Gateway to the Americas,” he says. “The mayor is the key political figure in it. He’s gonna have to go on the road like (Orlando Mayor) Glenda Hood gets out. That really helps. From a business standpoint, we ought to be cleaning their (Orlando) clock.

“The mayor of Tampa is the dominant political figure in the corridor,” says Buckhorn. “As I-4 goes, so goes Florida’s economy. It’s all part of competing globally.

“This city is on the verge of bustin’ loose,” assesses Buckhorn. “We have the tools and the potential. There’s no excuse not to be the dominant economic entity in the Southeast.”

One other thing, reminds Buckhorn. “I don’t mumble. You may not agree with me, but you always know where I stand.”Even when seated at a desk — on your neighbor’s lawn.

Foreign Policy Myopia: Potemkin Village People and the Miami Sound-Bite Machine

What President Bush knew about 9/11, and when Tom Daschle, Joe Lieberman, Hillary Clinton and Cynthia McKinney think he knew about it will remain forever problematic. The best any committee will come up with is that the F.B.I. would have been better off with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in charge.

But if you are looking to find fault fairly with a president during time of war, look no further than Bush’s two most recent foreign policy sorties. The one to Moscow, the former capital of communism, and the one to Miami, the current centerpiece of Cold War nostalgia.

Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin recently co-signed a ballyhooed agreement to cut respective nuclear arsenals by two-thirds — or reducing the warheads on each side to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012. “This treaty will liquidate the legacy of the Cold War,” declared Bush.

As if. This is the Potemkin Village of nuclear treaties.

What it will do is take most of these warheads out of service — but not destroy them. And the Administration pushed for this provision. Many U.S. warheads will be put in storage like so many recalled Firestones stacked behind the showroom. Others will be kept to cannibalize or to test for reliability.

U.S. security, as we now know too well, is far from failsafe. This is unsettling.

But Russian security, even with U.S. help, is rife with scary scenarios. Erstwhile Soviet Union republics have already proven problematic when it comes to accounting for their old nukes.

As a result of this treaty, the world’s most pressing nuclear issue — stored nukes targeted by terrorists — goes unaddressed. This isn’t disarming. This is disturbing.

As to the president’s panderfest to Miami’s exile community, it gave political expedience a bad name. What’s really a concern in Latin America are Colombian anarchy and drugs, Venezuelan oil and Hugo Chavez and Caribbean islands and tax havens — not Cold War relics.

Bush made disingenuous demands for Castro to hold free elections, permit independent trade unions and the like and held out the julienne carrot of some humanitarian aid, scholarships and direct mail delivery. The mean-spirited, counterproductive economic embargo, as everyone knows, will live as long as Castro does.

While the President directed his Miami sound-bite machine at the rabidly anti-Castro crowd, he also spoke, in effect, to a broader audience. Here’s what most others heard:

“I care very much about the small, shrill group of self-appointed, Cuban-policy spokespersons in South Florida. So does Jeb. I encourage them to continue to use their veto power over U.S. foreign policy on all matters Cuban. Otto Reich and I are standing by. And we know they appreciated our efforts to sandbag Jimmy Carter.

“I obviously care so much less about what other Americans — former presidents to farmers — feel on the subject. Ditto for the rest of the world, including average Cubans. Incidentally, I obviously have no problems with the fact that — embargo notwithstanding — some of them receive subsidies from South Florida relatives totaling more than $800 million a year. Good; they need it.

“One other thing. Ironically, I hope Castro doesn’t take me up on the free elections goading. He’s the only leader most Cubans have ever known, and he would run against opposition easily characterized as traitorous, American stooges. He would also, of course, run against the U.S. — ‘Uncle Scapegoat.’ And Jimmy Carter’s return to validate the vote would be more than I could stomach.

“Viva La Habana Pequena.”

Campaign TrailMix

Charlie Miranda and Dick Greco go back a number of years, and it’s no secret that their relationship is strained by the dynamics of the mayoral race. Miranda is less than pleased that the mayor looks so favorably upon the candidacy of (read: discreetly helping) Frank Sanchez. By now, this was supposed to be a Miranda-Bob Buckhorn face-off.

Here’s Miranda’s take: “I’m p.o.ed. Just tell me. I know they’re helping. But that’s life. That’s politics.”

Fund-raising is also a fact of political life, and Miranda lags far behind both Buckhorn, who’s been waiting in the wings and preparing for years, and Sanchez, the return-of-the-native candidate with the boffo resume.

“I won’t be part of an auction,” says Miranda, who revels in his underdog role. “I could raise as much money as anyone else if I wanted to kiss up — and beg.” For the record, Miranda is aiming to raise $150,000. He’s about half way there.

Here’s the fund-raising take of Sanchez, who passed $250,000 a fortnight ago. “My least favorite campaign activity is fund-raising. But campaigns cost money. And opponents can get vicious. You need the wherewithal to rapidly respond.”

Sanchez’s response to those critical of his Tampa hiatus is unequivocally unapologetic. “That’s like saying what I’ve done with my life the last 20 years has no value,” he says. “Filling pot holes and attending council meetings is important, but not the only way to offer value to your community. My sense is that the people of Tampa feel the same way.”

Miranda: Dark Horse or Long Shot in Mayor Race?

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.”

Charlie’s Miranda Rites

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.”

Handicapping the Race

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.

Rock On, BonO’Neill

Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and activist pop-rocker Bono may be the oddest couple since Oscar and Felix — or maybe Jon and Malcolm. But there they were in Accra, Ghana the other day visiting a high-tech center and watching young Ghanaians input data for a U.S. multinational. The operation, observed O’Neill, was “equal to anything you can find in the world.”

More surprising than that observation — which is at odds with every African stereotype — is that this Republican-rocker pairing might actually do some good. They are a high-visibility, pragmatic duo with more than conscience-salving on their agendas.

Frankly, let’s hear it for Secretary O’Neill, who (eventually) was open-minded enough to hear out Bono on the plight and potential of Africa. And let’s hear it for Bono, nee Paul Hewson, who’s no celebrity lightweight out of the Ed Asner, Richard Gere, Barbra Streisand, Alec Baldwin, Rosie O’Donnell mold.

The U2 singer did his homework on the dire problems of Africa. He also gives more than lip service to how things work in the real world — and why they don’t. He understands, for example, that those calling for debt relief from the G-8 countries need to call on recipients for a meaningful quid pro quo.

Throwing money at chronic, complex problems in the name of good works for poor people is more na

Bush League Panderfest in Miami

President Bush came to the sovereign state of Miami last Monday and led, as only U.S. presidents can lead, a panderfest to the Cuban exile community. His speech, predictably enough, was an exercise in condescension, disingenuousness and political expedience.

It’s arrogant to say, in effect, to Fidel Castro’s Cuba: “You must satisfy these conditions of ours. Never forget that we are not only the world’s lone super power but the world’s only perfect democracy where all citizens cast well-informed, accurately counted votes for competent, well-intentioned public-servants-to-be. We lecture; you listen.”

It’s duplicitous to say, in effect: “We know this is insulting and what your answer must surely be, but these are the pro forma pre-requisites. Meet them — from allowing outside observers to monitor your 2003 National Assembly elections to permitting independent trade unions — and we can do business. Direct mail, some humanitarian aid, some scholarships. That sort of thing.”

And it’s brazenly myopic to think Americans, Cubans and the rest of the world don’t see through the transparent political pandering to those who continue to misrepresent this country’s best interests vis a vis Cuba.

In his Miami harangue, the president even stooped to waxing Reaganesque with rhetoric reminiscent of a certain Berlin Wall ultimatum. “Mr. Castro, once, just once,” bellowed Bush, “show that you’re unafraid of a real election.”

Mr. Bush: tear down this fa

When The Outrageous Doesn’t Cause Outrage

Come November, the national notoriety and tragedy surrounding Rilya Wilson and the blatantly inept Florida Department of Children and Families likely won’t result in major political fallout for Gov. Jeb Bush.

Two reasons.

First, DCF has been a bipartisan disgrace for too many years, across too many administrations.

Second, for too many voters, a DCF nightmare — to put it cynically — is just not mainstream enough to influence their vote. Florida is as bad as it gets, but no state does a good job of, in effect, raising the children of those unable or unwilling to do anything other than procreate. Moreover, in the Rilya Wilson case there’s a family-caretaker shoe that seems likely to drop.

Having said that, however, Gov. Bush has not responded well to a scandalous scenario that cries out for outrage. How do you underreact to a lost child? Even right-wing pontificator Bill O’Reilly has — in his own inimitable way — noticed and denounced Bush for his action-challenged response.

The governor said the state would review the case, gave a vote of confidence to DCF head Kathleen Kearney, had his office issue statistics showing funds he has had channeled into DCF and appointed an appropriately hued, blue-ribbon panel. To his credit, Bush did order state personnel to personally check on the children — some 45,000 — currently in state custody.

On balance, however, Bush did not act the part of outraged governor. He looked detached and, well, bureaucratic. The sort of person who would, well, represent a big, bloated social agency chronically lacking sensitivity — and accountability.

Mayoral Machinations in Tampa

The mayoral election is not until March ’03, but signs are manifest that it’s already starting to overheat.

Apparently inquiries have been made into Frank Sanchez’s background. No, nothing to do with Harvard or his work in the Clinton Administration. But whether or not he was actually student body president at Hillsborough High. Honest.

For the record, yes he was.

On or off the record, this is not a good sign for the next 10 months.

And then there was the bizarre incident of Hillsborough County Commissioner Chris Hart, last in and longest shot among the major mayoral candidates, making a big splash on the issue of security. Hart, who often touts his Washington connections, cited a White House study that ranked Tampa as the third most vulnerable terrorist target in the country.

Such an unsettling, official ranking of this city’s pregnable, vincible status got a lot of people’s attention. It also got a lot of scrutiny. What it didn’t get was credibility or political gain. Turns out, no one else is aware of the study, including the Office of Homeland Security. In fact, the spokesman for OHS had never heard of the study — or of Hart, the well-connected, sans-a-Beltway insider.

One Punch, One Life, One Question

Once again there is hauntingly familiar news of tragedy and teenagers. Yet another young person has died too soon.

But not via terminal disease, fateful accident or act of God. But an act of judgment.

Sickles High School senior Christopher Fannan was within a week of graduation when he ran afoul of an act of violence. Fannan was among a crowd of teenagers hanging at Steak ‘n Shake early last Sunday morning. There was a brief confrontation with some young men, and Fannan found himself on the receiving end of a fatal punch.

One punch, one life, one tragedy.

But amid the police investigation, the crisis-counseling sessions and a Steak ‘n Shake vigil, one question begs to be asked. Publicly. Yet again.

What were high school kids — imminent graduation notwithstanding — doing out at 4 a.m. Sunday? There are a number of things that can happen at that hour. Almost all of them are bad. Some tragic.

Orlando Not Serious?

Those wondering about Tampa’s in-state competition for the 2004 GOP Convention can stop speculating. Miami is only serious about the Democrats, and Orlando doesn’t seem serious at all. Orlando was underrepresented with mainly staff people in a recent pitch to the Republican National Committee.

With good reason.

Orlando’s bridled enthusiasm is a function of its tourist-mecca status. The issue is that attendees of a national political convention actually spend a lot of time at the convention — as well as in break-out rooms, lobbies, restaurants, bars and private parties. This is not the Disney World, Universal crowd. It’s not as if the hotel rooms wouldn’t be filled otherwise.