Tampa Mayoral Candidates Look to Stand Out in Crowded Field

Seven of the nine candidates running for mayor of Tampa discussed issues important to the city’s downtown core in a forum Wednesday, striving to make a name for themselves in a crowded field.

Tampa Downtown Partnership hosted the public events at the Rialto Theatre in Tampa Heights, asking questions related to the city’s future like transportation.

“For me, this isn’t something that is a political statement. For me, this is something that’s personal. I understand how hard it is to use mass transit in this city,” said mayoral candidate Topher Morrison, who is a small business owner.

Every candidate stressed the importance of connectivity with cars, bikes and buses.

“When people get to downtown regardless of how they get there, they have to be able to be able to find another mode of transportation to move within the downtown core,” said City Council member Harry Cohen, who is also running for mayor. Cohen currently represents District 4.

“What we’ve done for years and years and years and decades is not going to work anymore with that we’re talking about here. We need a cultural change,” said mayoral candidate Dick Greco Jr., who is a former judge and whose father is a former mayor of Tampa.

With the transportation tax now approved, former Tampa police chief Jane Castor and former county commissioner Ed Turanchik said what they would improve if elected as mayor.

“Currently, our roads are on a 75-year repaving and All For Transportation put that automatically to 25. So, that’s first and foremost. And like Harry (Cohen), I would have a comprehensive sidewalk place,” said Castor.

“We’ll procure the midtown line within 6 months of being mayor, going to work with HART to do it. We’ll have that open and running in three years. We’ll cut a deal with CSX in a year,” said Turanchik about his plan to expand transportation in the city.

And it’s not just how you get around town, candidates like city councilman Mike Suarez touched on the parking issues and philanthropist David Straz on pedestrian safety.

“Instead of a developer paying $40,000 per parking space to build, have them reduce the number of parking spaces and have those dollars they were going to spend on parking spaces go into providing transportation,” said Suarez. He currently represents District 1 on city council.

“The kids are walking in ditches to get to school, waiting in ditches for the bus. That must be fixed immediately,” said Straz.

Some candidates were asked about the issue of affordable and attainable housing and how they would solve the city’s lack of affordable housing downtown with developers.

“When we give a bonus density to a developer, we need to demand that part of what they provide in return is affordable and attainable units,” said Cohen.

“We’ll allow you to go up to higher densities. We’ll give you relief from your parking requirements, but the exchange for that is going to be income restricted,” said Turanchik.

Other candidates were questioned about aspects of quality of life in the city. Castor talked about what Tampa could do to enhance public spaces.

“We can look at green space, greenways to connect some of these neighborhoods so that we can have pedestrians and bicycles use those and keep the vehicles off of them,” said Castor.

Straz said some neighborhoods need more investment to share in the city’s prosperity.

“We spent $35 million on a park, and in the process, we have neglected west Tampa and east Tampa,” Straz said.

Suarez stressed how to keep downtown Tampa attractive for work and play.

“What’s important is not just what we’re going to we’re going to do with the entertainment value of downtown. How do we make sure that people want to live there?” said Suarez.

For Greco and Morrison, they believe the mayor could influence education for the city’s families.

“We’ll not convince people with families to move to a downtown area if they don’t have convenient schools,” said Greco.

“Mayors set a tone for a city to follow. I want to set a tone where we reward vocational educational training as much as we do academic training,” said Morrison.

Every candidate has until Friday, January 18 at noon to qualify via petition or fee and get their name on the March 5th ballot.

By: Briona Arradondo, FOX 13 News
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