The man we may yet call Mr. Mayor
© St. Petersburg Times
I was getting these phone calls. People were telling me I was all wrong about Frank Sanchez, the latest candidate in the race for mayor of Tampa.
I had written that nobody knew who he was.
I had said that his chief backers were friends of Dick Greco, people who were looking to continue his life's-a-beach and don't-sweat-the-details attitude as mayor.
Neither of these observations sounded terrible to me.
But they were terrible to Sanchez. (The man's a little thin skinned, a trait he'll need to get rid of if he becomes mayor next spring.) He called, asking for equal time.
So we had lunch the other day in Ybor City. It was one of the longest lunches I have had in memory. Sanchez spent 21/2 hours selling himself.
I have to admit: It's hard not to be impressed with his resume.
He's a former Clinton administration official, a lawyer with a master's degree from Harvard and an international businessman who charges $3,000 a day to dispense advice to companies and governments that need negotiating help.
He's a Tampa boy -- he's 42 -- who came back to town two years ago and bought a house next door to his parents.
Other people have, in fact, been similarly impressed. In far less time than his opponents, he has raised far more money. He predicted that within three weeks, he will collect $300,000, or just under a dollar for every man, woman and child in the city.
Obviously, more people knew him than I had realized. In a short time, he has managed to displace the long-running leader in next March's election, Tampa City Council member Bob Buckhorn.
It's not clear what happened.
Buckhorn has been in government in one job or another for 15 years. He should have the race locked up. But somehow, he hasn't resonated the way Sanchez has -- which is something on the order of miraculous since he's been back in Tampa only a short time and launched his race only a few months back.
Sanchez wants for his hometown -- safe streets and strong neighborhoods -- what any candidate would.
He is frank about Tampa's problems with business -- too many dead-end jobs. "The last thing I want this city to be is in the minimum wage capital of the world," he said.
And he talks up arts over sports. With Tampa's history, that's darn near heretical.
He vowed to use the mayor's job as a "bully pulpit," to stick his nose in areas, like education, where he has no authority, but could have some influence.
"For the next mayor to say "it's not my job' is not good enough," Sanchez said.
This is news. Good news. The way the job is constructed, the mayor of Tampa has more authority than many other elected officials in the state. A smart, articulate candidate could make himself a true spokesman for the bay area, creating the unity that still eludes us.
Like I said, I listened for a long time. There were moments when I wondered if Sanchez is too good to be true. He doesn't appear to be terribly well acquainted with failure in his own life. That could explain his sensitivity to criticism.
You have to wish that somebody who has had things so golden would still be able to empathize with those of us who haven't been so lucky.
Whatever else he does and is, though, Frank Sanchez has made the mayor's race interesting. A lot of people still don't know him. But in time, they will.
-- You can reach Mary Jo Melone at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813)-226-3402.
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