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TAMPA PALMS -- The last time the city of Tampa elected a mayor, the east-west road was the third rail of New Tampa politics. It was confusing and controversial. It was not to be touched, at least not without some serious thought about the political consequences of those who spoke up.
In a sign of how different the climate is four years later, the east-west road is the easiest issue for politicians to handle. A few pitfalls about environmental sensitivity remain. But candidates usually answer calmly, sometimes taking only a few seconds to explain their position.
The city's top four contenders to the mayoral throne -- a former undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation, Frank Sanchez; former Hillsborough County Elections Supervisor Pam Iorio, and council members Bob Buckhorn and Charlie Miranda -- certainly did all of that at a New Tampa Rotary Club breakfast on Friday in Tampa Palms.
Their answer, in case you were wondering, was a resounding: Yes, build it.
With the election less than three weeks away, Sanchez, Iorio, Buckhorn and Miranda were the only mayoral candidates to attend the forum.
Fitness author Don Ardell, car mechanic Carl Cosio, Davis Islands activist Neil Cosentino and Rachele Fruit did not attend.
Various City Council candidates also spoke.
On the familiar topics of transportation, parks, police and fire rescue services, and growth management, the candidates gave familiar -- and similar -- answers. The road network needs improvement, acquiring green space is crucial for area recreation leagues, public safety is a top priority and future growth must be planned intelligently.
They gave few new or specific details about where funding for such projects would come from, although they had only 60 seconds to answer such questions.
When presented with an opportunity to articulate their vision for Tampa and their administration, the mayoral candidates' differences shone through.
Buckhorn stressed his long history of public service and the need to focus on neighborhood issues.
"It is important that you know the difference between Hunter's Green and Tampa Palms," he said.
Iorio spoke of her desire to make Tampa one of the "most livable" cities in America in terms of economic opportunity and overall quality of life.
"You know me as someone who you can count on to get the job done," she said.
Miranda cast himself as a no-nonsense, call-'em-like-I see-'em candidate who had worked to build a regional network of reclaimed water that would one day reach New Tampa.
"I do things that aren't glamorous," he said.
Sanchez touted his business background in conflict mediation and his experiences in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., where he served under former President Bill Clinton.
"I'm not a professional politician, but I do bring a fresh perspective," he said.
-- John Balz can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .