Tampa Palms’ Maggie Wilson remembers the days when Pam Iorio, the City of Tampa’s mayor from 2003-11, would visit New Tampa on a frequent basis to address our area’s concerns and meet with residents.
Wilson remembers Iorio visiting women’s clubs, the Taste of New Tampa and other events, as well as holding public meetings at Heritage and Tampa Palms elementary schools, Benito and Clark middle schools and Freedom High, to name a few.
“The next Tampa mayor will be in a key position to lead on several issues,” Wilson says. “New Tampa cannot afford to be left out.”
On Municipal Election Day, voters in Tampa will choose between seven candidates to succeed Buckhorn.
Former Tampa police chief Jane Castor currently has a big polling lead over the rest of the field, which includes local philanthropist David Straz, businessman Topher Morrison, former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, current Tampa City Council members Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez, and Dick Greco Jr., the son of former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco.
Most of the candidates have been campaigning at a series of mayoral forums held across the city, including the one held in New Tampa on Feb. 19.
According to a poll conducted Feb. 4 by St. Pete Polls, 45.3 percent of the 429 registered voters polled said they would vote for Castor.
Straz was second with 12.9 percent, followed by Greco Jr. at 9.3 percent, Cohen at 7.5 percent, Turanchik at 6.7 percent, Suarez at 6 percent and Morrison at 1.4 percent.
If Castor (or whoever comes in first on March 5) is kept below 50 percent of the vote, that makes the much-closer race for second the one to watch, as the top two candidates would advance to a run-off election, which will be scheduled for Tuesday, April 23, if it is necessary.
New Tampa voters like local activist and lawyer Tracy Falkowitz have been listening closely to the candidates on issues she says will impact New Tampa.
When the budget debate raged in the City Council in 2017 regarding money to expand the New Tampa Recreation Center (NTRC) and design a new sensory-friendly park in Tampa Palms, Falkowitz led a New Tampa contingent that met with council members, sat in on the meetings and showed up for the final vote so their voices could be heard.
Don’t Oppose Our Needs!
It was Suarez’s opposition to passing the budget — which would have put the NTRC in dire straits — that doesn’t make him a contender for Falkowitz’s vote, and it was Cohen’s decisive vote in the 4-3 decision to pass the budget that she says makes him her favored candidate.
Cohen also has met with local residents at a meet-and-greet in Tampa Palms, something Falkowitz says no other candidate has done.
“Several of the candidates probably couldn’t find us on a map,” Falkowitz says. “I’m not even sure if they know all of New Tampa isn’t even in the City of Tampa. This is pivotal election for us. We’ve made some headway with getting noticed by the city, and this election is critical to continue that recognition of the importance of New Tampa, or we could go back to being ignored.”
Wilson agrees about the importance of electing a mayor friendly to New Tampa this election, preferably someone to piggyback on District 7 City Council member Luis Viera’s efforts.
Viera, who represents New Tampa as part of his district and is up for re-election, has been omnipresent in our area while pushing a number of area initiatives to City Hall.
Wilson says, however, that there is still a lot more to do.
“New Tampa is no longer new,” Wilson says. “For decades, it came in last because it needed the least. But that is no longer true. We have aging roads, dangerous sidewalks, an aging population and limited transportation.”
Grand Hampton resident Joe Farrell, a former aide to Mayor Buckhorn and a public affairs consultant who specializes in government relations, has two things he is looking for in this election — someone who can handle the looming budget crunch the city faces, and keeping his family safe.
For him, Castor checks both those boxes. As a former police chief, she was in charge of the city’s biggest agency with the largest budget, and ably steered it during the recent Great Recession, and major crimes saw a 70-percent reduction during her tenure from 2009-15.
Castor also is familiar with New Tampa, having served as the area’s district captain before she was police chief.
“In New Tampa, the vast majority of people up here have kids, and most worry about safety,” Farrell says. “No one else can say they would be better on safety than a former police chief.”
But, Farrell says he also has two children in the gymnastics program at the NTRC
“It’s important to have someone in the office who gets things done (for the city),” Farrell says, “but we still need to get things done in our community.”
Farrell is a big fan of Viera, who is credited with igniting much of the newfound political spirit in the area. The next mayor could help build on that.
For years, New Tampa residents have complained about not receiving a fair return on the taxes they pay to the city. In turn, some politicians have pointed to New Tampa’s dismal turnout in most elections, but especially, in municipal elections in March.
In 2015, only 7.8 percent of registered New Tampa voters cast a ballot, compared to 12.8 percent for the rest of the city, although it should be noted Mayor Buckhorn ran unopposed.
In 2011, 15.4 percent turned out for Buckhorn’s win in the April run-off, compared to 23 percent for the rest of the city.
There are plenty of local issues important to area voters that remain — such as transportation, school safety and re-negotiating to once again provide fire rescue service to the thousands of New Tampa residents in the unincorporated portion of Hillsborough County that includes Pebble Creek, Cross Creek and Live Oak Preserve.
Those things, and more, will likely dictate how many locals vote, and who they vote for, on March 5.
“This whole thing started with Luis Viera bringing City Hall to us,” Falkowitz says. “If New Tampa doesn’t come out and vote and doesn’t vote for someone who actually cares for New Tampa, we will go back to being a financial windfall for the city with no services and no voice.”