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In ambitious speech, Bob Buckhorn hints at bigger things for Tampa — and himself

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Twenty-nine days after he was re-elected with just under 96 percent of the vote, Bob Buckhorn was sworn into office today in an elaborate ceremony that the mayor himself acknowledged seemed as much as a Christian church revival as a political event (though it also included words of wisdom from a rabbi and an imam as well).

Buckhorn officially takes office for a second term with the entire galaxy understanding that if things work out the way he wants, he won’t be ending his last days as mayor four years from now, but settling into observing his first legislative session as the governor of the state of Florida. And Buckhorn himself acknowledged those ambitions briefly toward the end of his 20-minute address.

“Because of what we’ve done for the last four years, we have earned the opportunity to define our future,” he said, a statement that certainly could be interpreted in more than one way.

“If we think globally, and not just regionally, that we can be the city that we can create, if we care less about who’s a Democrat, and who’s a Republican,  we can begin to reshape this state,” as the audience cheered. “It’s time for that foolishness to end. We deserve better, and this state deserves better, and this is a story that we can pass on to our children to write.”

That centrism is what Buckhorn has previously said is what will finally get a Democrat elected statewide in Florida, but his call for bipartisanship didn’t go down well with all Democrats. One noted local Democratic Party member was overheard at the City Council meeting that followed as saying, “Do you think Adam Putnam would say something like that?” Putnam is Florida’s current agriculture commissioner and strongly rumored to be a candidate for the 2018 nomination for governor as well.

The mayor gave praise to his City Council, which sat behind him on stage at the Tampa Convention Center, reserving his last mention to the newest member of Council, Guido Maniscalco, who received a huge round of applause. Buckhorn used Maniscalco’s family history as a “quintessential Tampa story,” mentioning how Maniscalco’s Italian father Giuseppe just cast his first vote ever for his son in last week’s runoff election against Jackie Toledo. (Maniscalco said later he had heard that Buckhorn was probably going to incorporate his story in his speech.)

Buckhorn used much of his speech to tell the story of how Tampa overcame the darkness of the Great Recession, which caused him to borrow liberally from the city’s financial reserves to balance the city’s budgets in his first few years in office. “There was no blueprint for our recovery. We weren’t going to be handed a one-size-fits-all roadmap for our rehabilitation. In fact, we wouldn’t be handed anything. We had  to be the architects of our way forward, and we were.”

Buckhorn’s soaring style of speaking was first introduced as a candidate in 2011, and he has used elements of it in the many speeches he’s given over the past four years. But this speech wove a complete narrative of how Tampa has evolved in recent years. He made sure to note the various districts of the city. Although there was little explicit criticism of the mayor’s work over the past four years in the relatively lackluster City Council campaign races this winter, a common complaint heard at various forums was that the neighborhoods outside of downtown simply feel they don’t get the attention that they deserve. Buckhorn spent several minutes to mention in his speech what’s been going in some of those areas.

He mentioned six new parks, “with more on the way.” a doubling of bike lanes, and praised the city’s new Coast Bike Share program.

He naturally mentioned — but didn’t dwell — on Channelside developer Jeff Vinik’s plans on the waterfront, and more importantly noted how the city needs to work for everyone — and not just the well heeled.

“Our story, our city, must work for everyone. We won’t truly be successful until that morning when every child in Tampa wakes up and feels safe, feels confident, feels secure and thinks this is my home, I am part of this place. This city cares about me. I can make it  here. What I can dream, can happen for me here. That’s why we’re writing this story, and that’s why we have to keep pushing.”

He discussed transit – an enhanced streetcar, and yes, that four-letter word — rail.

“We need rail,” he said. “To the airport. To our job centers, and eventually to St. Petersburg.”

Bob Buckhorn is a dynamic speaker, and he was never in better form today. How his personal ambitions and the city’s future coalesce will be interesting viewing, indeed.

(Photo courtesy of Kim DeFalco).

You can watch the speech below:

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at [email protected]

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