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    Political junkie

    Sanchez calls on a famous friend

    By Times staff writers
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 9, 2003

    Mayoral candidate Bob Buckhorn can boast about the city police union endorsement, and Pam Iorio can tout her backing by the Sierra Club. But can they top Jimmy Buffett?

    Buffett, the hugely popular Florida singer, threw his support behind mayoral candidate Frank Sanchez at a packed concert Saturday night at the St. Pete Times Forum.

    Besides recording music, Buffett routinely raises money for Democrats and often campaigns for Democrats running for statewide office.

    Buffett and Sanchez have known each other for years and worked on projects to save the Florida manatee, his campaign said.

    WHAT AN EXAMPLE: We found a newsletter from Sanchez campaign pretty enticing this week. Under the headline "Lead by example," his campaign wrote:

    "Frank ruffled some feathers lately as he spoke truth to power. After the dust settled, people saw that Frank is the only candidate willing to speak his mind, even when it is uncomfortable. If you believe this is what a leader must do, share the idea with your friends and acquaintances."

    The newsletter doesn't say so explicitly, but it's an obvious reference to Sanchez's stance (his latest one) on the all-male Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.

    Sanchez first talked about the krewe at a debate Jan. 24 when a panelist noted that the city has a partnership with the powerful krewe, despite its refusal to accept women. Did the candidates agree with this?

    "Discrimination in any form by government, by important social organizations, is debilitating," Sanchez said.

    Later, after fielding calls from krewe members, many of whom had contributed to his campaign, Sanchez said: "I believe that the krewe and any private organization has the right to establish its own membership criteria."

    Last Sunday, he issued a statement saying he is sticking to his original statement, which he said had never changed.

    Asked again about the krewe Wednesday, Sanchez said, "Where we have a parade where the city is very involved, we have to have access for everyone. As mayor, I would absolutely insist on it."

    Later, Sanchez said he was talking about the event -- the Gasparilla parade route -- not the krewe. He was not saying he would "insist" that the krewe admit women.

    What does this tell you about Sanchez, a political newcomer who raised more than $600,000 from powerful interests in his first bid for power?

    Sanchez said it shows that he's willing to buck the wealthy interests supporting his campaign.

    "What a week!" his campaign newsletter said. "Frank was very busy leading by example and setting himself apart from the other mayoral contenders."

    GOP PLAYS FROM SIDELINES: There are no Republicans running for mayor, but that won't stop state GOP finance chairman Al Austin from backing one of the Democrats in the race Monday.

    Austin, a longtime friend of Mayor Dick Greco, won't say who he's backing, but insiders tell us he likes Sanchez, a former White House aide to Bill Clinton and close adviser to former Govs. Buddy McKay and Bob Graham.

    If Sanchez becomes mayor, he could use City Hall someday to launch a run for governor or U.S. Senate. He would fit a profile Democrats need: a chief executive who speaks fluent Spanish from the crucial Central Florida Interstate 4 corridor.

    We wonder what Republicans will think. Some of Tampa's best-known conservatives, such as publisher Dick Mandt, businessman John Jaeb and lawyer Steve Burton, are backing Buckhorn instead.

    LOOKING AHEAD: Bob Buckhorn held a fundraiser last week in Miami hosted by Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penalas, a Democrat who someday may run for governor or for the U.S. Senate. Buckhorn has known Penalas for years, and if Buckhorn becomes mayor, he would be a natural ally for any statewide Penalas campaign. Buckhorn raised more than $10,000 at the event, his campaign said.

    LUNCHEON WITH CANDIDATES: The Tampa Downtown Partnership will host a luncheon with the candidates for mayor Wednesday at the University Club downtown from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Call 221-3686 for details.

    -- Got a tip? Contact David Karp at 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com, and Bill Varian at 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com. Staff Writer Adam Smith contributed to this report.

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