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Buckhorn criticized for TV ad's MacDill claim

Some say the mayoral candidate gives himself too much credit for helping save the base.

By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 20, 2003


TAMPA -- In the television ad for mayoral candidate Bob Buckhorn, a soldier stands outside MacDill Air Force Base. Then a fighter jet zooms overhead.

In a booming voice, an announcer tells voters that Buckhorn rallied the community to save the base, which houses the nation's Central Command.

Buckhorn has made his work to keep MacDill open when it was targeted for closure a major part of his campaign. But some civic leaders say the ad gives Buckhorn too much credit.

"I think (it) overstates what actually occurred," said retired Maj. Gen. Bob Taylor, who worked with Buckhorn on a task force to save MacDill. "He certainly wasn't a major player."

Al Austin, who led a committee that worked to keep MacDill open, agrees.

"I always feel a little concerned when I see Buckhorn taking credit for this," Austin said, "because it is simply not true."

Austin, who has endorsed former Clinton White House aide Frank Sanchez for mayor, said the credit belong to U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, the Largo Republican who now heads the House Appropriations Committee.

Austin acknowledged that Buckhorn, then an executive assistant to former Mayor Sandy Freedman, represented the city on a team that convinced the Pentagon to keep MacDill open.

"But I can't see how he can stretch that into saying that he had any serious involvement in saving the base," Austin said.

Buckhorn says such criticism "clearly is political in nature." The ad does not claim credit for saving MacDill, he says, just for rallying the community.

"We never said we made it happen alone," Buckhorn said. "That was a team effort."

His campaign provided scores of articles that describe Buckhorn's role in the effort.

A Tampa Tribune editorial, cited in Buckhorn's TV ad, says Buckhorn "coordinated the brilliantly successful effort to save MacDill Air Force Base from being closed."

Freedman said Buckhorn worked nearly full time on the project.

"To discount his effort and say he wasn't instrumental is way, way out of line," Freedman said. "They know better. Such is politics."

Charlie Ohlinger III, wing commander at MacDill from 1993 to 1996, said Buckhorn's work was important.

"A lot of people can take credit for what happened at MacDill Air Force Base, and Bob is one of them," he said. "He has a lot to do with MacDill being what it is today."

But others say that while Buckhorn worked hard, he didn't have the political connections to save MacDill. Only Young had that kind of clout.

Young said Buckhorn was one of many people involved.

"He attended the meetings. He was part of that group," Young said.

Did Buckhorn rally the community?

"I think that's a little generous," said Russ Geuther, a former senior vice president at the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

"Let me put it this way: There is one person responsible for saving MacDill: That is Congressman Bill Young."

-- Times staff writer Bill Adair contributed to this report. David Karp can be reached at 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com.

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