Upon taking office, the mayor of Tampa automatically became the area’s most visible leader, which hasn’t been a problem for Bob Buckhorn to embrace.
After losing a bid for County Commission in 2004, this longtime public servant/political animal’s time in the spotlight was on life support when he announced in 2010 that he would run to succeed Pam Iorio to lead City Hall. A decided underdog, he barely made it out of the primary election four years ago (topping Dick Greco by just 384 votes) before he walloped Rose Ferlita in the general election. He’s never looked back since.
With his re-election never in doubt this year, Buckhorn has been raising funds for a potential 2018 gubernatorial campaign for months, and not felt a whiff of a backlash because of it.
“He is probably the most masterful Democratic politician in the state of Florida right now,” says GOP political consultant Chris Ingram. “He’s as good as Bill Clinton. He’s just really good, and he clearly enjoys what he’s doing.“
And it helps to have a little luck, too. Coming off the Great Recession, Tampa has been one of Florida’s top cities regarding job creation, and entrepreneurs like Richard Gonzmart and Jeff Vinik making significant investments in parts of the city add more feathers to his cap.
It’s good to be mayor when two different $1 billion development projects are underway — Vinik’s in Channelside and the Tampa International Airport master plan.
One major challenge going into 2016: He’s just one voice among many in the Hillsborough County Policy Leadership Group, and, in fact, won’t have a vote on whether or not to place a transportation referendum on the Hillsborough ballot next year.
His legacy could be affected by it, as the mayor acknowledges that for all of the positive developments that have occurred over the past four years, the lack of transit options is still a major impediment to businesses that might otherwise consider relocating here.
“The exit polling I think shows that people don’t want to be taxed,” he told FloridaPolitics.com two weeks after Greenlight Pinellas, the Pinellas transit tax he championed, crashed and burned.
“To sell a tax for transportation, particularly in the rural parts of the community, is a straight uphill path. Is it insurmountable?” he asks. “No. Is it going to be a very, very difficult effort? Absolutely.”
For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who comprised the panel that assembled it, please read here.