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    A Times Editorial

    Talking about issues in Tampa

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 16, 2002

    Tampa's mayoral candidates are finally getting around to the issues, and whoever wins in March will have set a far different agenda from that of the term-limited incumbent, Dick Greco. The three leading candidates -- City Council members Bob Buckhorn and Charlie Miranda, and businessman Frank Sanchez -- say they would pay more attention to neighborhood concerns and raise the ethical bar for city employees. They also seem more inclined by their nature and career experience to involve themselves more than Greco has in the details of governing.

    These are encouraging signs. There is no greater priority for Tampa's next mayor than to improve the quality of the city's residential neighborhoods. Even the plans to rebuild the waterfront downtown hinge on surrounding the district with quality and affordable homes in safe neighborhoods.

    Buckhorn has gone the furthest by pledging to bring under one umbrella all those city departments that field everyday neighborhood concerns -- code enforcement, parks, recreation and the like. A new deputy mayor would be in charge to ensure not only that services were delivered, but also that every community got its fair share and that long-term investments in roads and sewers don't disappear from the radar screen.

    Miranda is not the white-paper type. Although he hasn't rolled out grandiose plans, Miranda is focusing on bread-and-butter issues. He has drawn attention to the need for road and drainage improvements in West Tampa, and taken a lead role in protecting the city's water rights. Miranda also is guarded about turning to the private sector to develop downtown waterfront land. His openness to the public sector playing a role as downtown develops to the north could prevent the city from repeating the mistake of over-building on the waterfront to the south.

    Sanchez talks about restoring a sense of commercial life to the older neighborhoods, and he seems interested in elevating the role affordable housing plays in the city's broader economic development efforts. As the only candidate in the race never elected to public office, Sanchez, who held a string of political staff appointments, lacks a record to measure his promises against.

    He joined Buckhorn and Miranda in calling for city employees to be held to higher ethical standards, a pervasive weakness of the Greco administration. And all four candidates -- outgoing Hillsborough County Commissioner Chris Hart has joined the race -- have a long history of working on the front lines handling constituent complaints.

    These priorities are a major departure from Greco's. He preferred to close the big deal and see the big picture. The candidates have even upped the ante in recent weeks over how they would make city departments accountable. This talk is refreshing; it beats hearing the candidates talk about money. The voters are looking for a better yardstick -- what type of city do these candidates want, and how do they plan to achieve it?

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