For several years now, it’s been a given that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was going to try to take his brand of leadership to a new level in 2018 and run for the Democratic nomination for governor.
Facing just token opposition in his bid for re-election, Buckhorn won with nearly 96 percent of the vote in March, setting himself up perfectly for a presumptive run for higher office.
But, as Jeb Bush said recently, stuff happens.
It began in late April when the Tampa Bay Times reported that his police department, led by departing “rock star” chief Jane Castor, had disproportionately cited black bicyclists at an alarming rate in comparison with the rest of the city’s general population. That led to the U.S. Justice Department to send in their Office of Community Oriented Policing (COPS) program to investigate the TPD, with a report slated for the end of the year. (Critics say it will be a white-wash and say the DOJ should have sent their Civil Rights Division to investigate instead.)
Then came a tough investigative report by WTSP Channel 10’s Noah Pransky in early September on the influence of Beth Leytham, one of the mayor’s closest advisers, including a video exchange between Pransky and the mayor that nobody would call one of Buckhorn’s finest moments.
Then there was the lackluster second-quarter fundraising with his political action committee, One Florida.
It all led to La Gaceta editor/publisher Patrick Mantegia to speculate in one of his columns recently that it appeared that the mayor had packed in the idea of running in 2018.
But apparently, the dream hasn’t died yet.
In an interview with Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida, Buckhorn is asked directly if he is considering a run for the Governor’s Mansion.
‘”I don’t know. I’m looking at it,” he says, adding that while he loves being the mayor of Tampa, he hasn’t stopped thinking that his talents could move up to Tallahassee.
“But I also think that skill set is transferable to a larger stage in a fashion, in a way that I think would resonate with voters. More focus on results. More focused on doing what you said you were going to do. Less concerned about scoring political points. That’s what mayors do.”
That’s the rhetoric the mayor has consistently espoused over the past year — that he’s a no-nonsense centrist who is less interested in politics than in public policy. And in his embrace of South Florida U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy for U.S. Senate, he’s driving home his previously articulated belief that the only way that Democrats can get elected in Florida statewide is to embrace the center.
But for those who support the mayor, some worry that he’s already running behind after alienating some of his natural Democratic base in his hometown for at least his initial resistance to creating a citizens review board to monitor the TPD. When criticism came down on him for his executive order in creating the board that gave him all but two selections to name the members, Buckhorn responded by calling them “fringe groups” — groups like the ACLU, the Council on America-Islamic Relations, and the NAACP (though earlier this month Buckhorn emphasized that he was not including the NAACP when making those remarks).
Although he’s not going to satisfy those same activist groups who want the citizens review board to have subpoena power, he has appeared to make amends with some members of the City Council who, in a rare display of resistance, criticized Buckhorn for signing his executive order in creating the CRB in late August without consulting them. Last week he announced that he will now concede and give the Council four selections on the nine-member main board, while still retaining the power to name two alternates. His original proposal of giving the council only two selections didn’t play well with them at all, and Council Chair Frank Reddick and Councilwoman Yolie Capin still don’t believe four choices is enough, but they were on the losing end of that vote last week.
Another potential sore point for Democrats if he runs statewide was his decided lack of enthusiasm in backing the party’s 2014 gubernatorial nominee, Charlie Crist. Although Buckhorn now says that he voted for the former Republican governor, he didn’t campaign for Crist at all last year and made it explicitly known that he wasn’t a fan. “I am staying on the sidelines with that one,” Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith last summer on Bay News 9. “I have to work with both Republican governors and Republican legislators.”
Buckhorn was also part of a host committee for a re-election fundraiser for Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi — another item that could be used against him in a Democratic primary in 2018.
But that’s to worry about in 2018. In the interim, unifying the city would do wonders for his bona fides against the likes of Buddy Dyer, Gwen Graham and any other possible Democratic entrants for the governor’s mansion in three years, which will mark 20 years since the party controlled that office.