TAMPA, Fla. — Six of the eight candidates vying to be the next mayor of Tampa engaged in their first electoral debate Wednesday night.

  • Debate held at Hillsborough Community College
  • Sponsored by Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce
  • David Straz, Michael Hazard did not participate

Former Police Chief Jane Castor, Tampa City Council members Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez, attorney and former county commissioner Ed Turanchik, small business consultant Topher Morrison and community activist LaVaughn King took the stage at Hillsborough Community College to answer questions during the event, sponsored by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Candidates David Straz and Michael Hazard did not participate.

Throughout the evening the candidates were asked questions from young professionals. One question included how they would like to "brand" the city.

"Currently we bring in about half a billion dollars in resources for the arts, and my goal over the next 12 years is to actually cap that off with the entire billion dollars," said King.

Others said Tampa needs a more "well-defined" identity.

"What does Tampa have?" Morrison said. "I ask that question all the time and I get blank stares, and if they think about it, it's usually strippers, cigars or Gasparilla, so I'd like to come up with the 'Roof Top City.'"

The candidates went on to discuss the city ongoing transportation issues.

"I'm running on a campaign of housing, innovation and transit," said Turanchik. "When I get done as mayor I want us to be on the cutting edge of 21st century cities." 

Candidates also addressed the area's rapid growth.

"And that means that we have to maintain our diversity," Cohen explained. "We have to continue to invest in the arts and culture and our sports teams. We also have to invest in an educated work force."

Budget problems were mentioned as a concern, as well.

"I had proposed about $4 million of cuts to non-essential positions that they refused to do to get rid of next year," said Suarez. "Now, we're going to have a $14.5 million deficit."

"We came out of the recession, people are moving here, development is booming, we're open for business and I think that's one of the answers to the budget," said Castor.

The election is March 5.