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Ever steady, never flashy Miranda adds spice to race

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By HOWARD TROXLER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 9, 2002

Charlie Miranda plods right along. The chairman of the Tampa City Council is definitely not a flashy or showy man, although it should be said that in conversation he is deadpan, bone-dry funny.

If you bring up a complicated public issue, such as water policy, Miranda will gladly talk to you about it, maybe more than you want to know. Consider yourself warned.

He is straightforward, blunt but always civil, and largely unmindful of whether people will be pleased or displeased at what he says.

For example, when almost all the power-brokers of Tampa Bay wanted to give the Buccaneers a new stadium back in the mid-1990s, Miranda stood against it.

He even wore black in all his public appearances, from the time the City Council voted to support an election for a stadium tax. "I do this because it's the burial of the taxpayer," he explained.

When they put up a plaque at the stadium for politicians, he made them take his name off.

For that matter, you know those stupid signs that every city puts up on public works projects, listing all the city's politicians, like we're supposed to be grateful? Miranda keeps his name off those, too.

I am bringing him up because of a surprising recent poll taken for this newspaper. It suggests he is definitely still in the hunt to become the city's next mayor.

Surprising, because almost all of the gossip and attention of these past few months has been on the two "front-runners."

One of these is Frank Sanchez, a hometown guy who went off to work internationally in the Clinton administration. Sanchez has been shown around town by the current mayor, Dick Greco, who, some say, might be looking for a little legacy thing.

The other "front-runner" is Bob Buckhorn, the oh-so-serious City Council member most famous for getting lap dancing outlawed, and trying to ban anything else that came to mind, especially if it involved the pastimes of young people. He appears to have designed this strategy for a hypothetical 84-year-old, tight-lipped, prudish widow who moved here from Muncie.

During all this, Charlie Miranda has been plodding right along. (A fourth candidate, Don Ardell, is definitely a long shot.)

Miranda will turn 62 next month. He was born in Tampa, went to Jefferson High School, got a degree in criminology from the University of Tampa. He was on the City Council back in the 1970s. He got the idea of running for mayor in 1979 and lost. He was elected again in 1995, and then in 1999 chose to leave a safe, Hispanic-friendly district seat on the council in favor of getting elected citywide.

Being a frugal man, Miranda keeps hundreds and hundreds of old campaign signs stashed away in storage, with the sort-of-corny slogan: "Who Cares? Miranda Cares." He was able to reuse them in 1999, by pasting a different district number on them. It grieves him greatly that now he has to buy new signs that say "mayor."

He has raised $109,000 for the mayor's race, compared with $377,000 for Sanchez and $222,000 for Buckhorn. He does not plan to go much beyond $150,000 no matter what. He likes to repeat one of his lines from earlier this year: "I said I will be part of an election, not part of an auction, and I meant it."

Miranda has no campaign office. His wife, Shirley, does the paperwork and types up the campaign contributions. In 2000, reporters checked how much water certain government officials used at their homes. They looked at Miranda because he is the city's vote on the regional water authority. He was using less than the average. "If I was going to eat the grass, I'd water it," he said. "But I'm not eating grass, and I've got to drink the water."

In no way do I mean this to be an endorsement of Miranda. That is the decision of the voters. Sanchez is smart, engaging, charismatic, globally experienced. Buckhorn is local, knowledgeable and hard-working. All I am saying is, the race is richer with three candidates than two. It is good for the competitors, good for the election, good for the city.

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