Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn termed out of office this spring, after eight years of transformative leadership that has given rise to a renaissance. Like St. Petersburg, Tampa has undergone drastic change in the last decade. Under Buckhorn's watchful eye, Tampa has seen the completion of the Riverwalk, a multi-decade project that took 40 years and six mayors and the beginning of the Water Street Tampa project funded by billionaire investor Jeff Vinik. Buckhorn attained the seemingly unattainable when Hillsborough County passed the All for Transportation referendum to fund infrastructure and mass transit. As he leaves office, Buckhorns future is uncertain, but we have no doubt that his storied career in public service will not end here.
Years in St. Pete
TAMPA** since 1982. Pulled in in a 1966 Dodge Dart with no air conditioning and nowhere to go.
Organizations involved in
I knew I wanted to be involved in public service so I started volunteering in campaigns and just went from there.
What gets you out of bed every day?
It’s generally the two kids that I have to make breakfast for and take to school. Aside from that it’s the opportunity to serve as mayor of the city. I just can’t wait to get to work every morning. I just come busting through those doors at 7-7:30 in the morning. It’s my passion. Don’t tell my wife this, but I would do this for nothing. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to shape a city and build a city. I am never happier than when I’m at work.
Why St. Pete?
Why Tampa Bay**
I ran out of gas basically. I knew one person here and the last person his new wife wanted to see was me. He was a fraternity brother from Penn State. And I really just chose it because he was here and it was close to Pensacola Naval Air Station where I had just been discharged.
What is one habit that you keep?
I try to get rid of all of the bad ones. One habit that I have is that I tend to chew on cigars all day long. I don’t know that you could be the mayor of the cigar rolling capitol of the world, and not indulge in that vice every now and then. I’m married to a doctor – she doesn’t appreciate my habit, but I had it before her. I don’t smoke nearly as much as I used to but that is one habit I could probably do without but I enjoy it.
Who are some people that influence you?
Certainly my mom and dad, but in my political formation, I grew up outside of Washington, DC. We were Irish Catholic, so the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 had a big impact on us. First Catholic. But it was his brother Robert Kennedy that really influenced me. I was in the 4th grade, I used to volunteer at his campaign office. My mother would literally drive me to the campaign office and drop me off. I was 10 years old in the 4th grade and I would just stuff envelopes or put stamps on envelopes, just anything I could. So that got me really excited about politics and I’ve been doing it off and on ever since.
What is one piece of insight - a book, methodology, practice - that you would share with our readers?
My success has been two-fold. One is resilience, knowing that it’s not how you get knocked down, it’s how you get back up. I’ve lost a few elections. What has defined me is getting up off the mat and getting back into the fight. The other is preparation. I’m pretty diligent about preparing. I literally prepared for 20 years to be the mayor. I ran in 2003 and lost and came back in 2011 and won. What set me apart from the pack is my pain tolerance was higher than everyone else’s and two, I was better prepared. I had traveled the country looking at mayor’s who were successful and unsuccessful, looking at cities to see what they were doing and not.
What is one thing you wish you knew about your work 3 years ago?
There’s no manual for how to be a mayor, certainly no manual for how to be a good mayor. Part of it is your instincts, part is your training, part of it is your preparation, part is your moral compass because you have to make a hundred decisions every day and you gotta do it for the right reasons. Even as long as I had been around the office, 8 years as assistant to the mayor, 8 years on city council. Nothing prepares you for being the mayor.
You’re the CEO of 4500 employees, there’s no city manager, you don’t sit on the city council. It is a true working CEO.
I don’t know. Retirement, not likely. Vacation, definitely. This is my oldest daughter’s last summer before college. I haven’t had a real vacation in probably a decade so I’m looking forward to that. Truth be told, they’re going to pry my dead, cold fingers off the desk because I love my job so much. But I have to go and I’ve got to step off the stage and let the next mayor find their way. I don’t know long-term what’s next. I suppose over a pint of Guiness in Ireland I will contemplate that.