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Friday, Oct 31, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Tampa still working on ‘Next Great City’ status

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It wasn’t me who said it. It was the mayor, although I can’t remember where.

For some reason we’ve showed up at a half-dozen of the same events recently and I’ve listened to his remarks so often I can do them right along with him. He tailors them to whatever group he’s talking to. If it’s the early childhood people, he talks about his kids. If it’s the state of the city, it’s how it’s changed.

But it’s always preceded by a Knute Rockne-esque halftime speech about what a great place this is.

He was speaking at the early childhood luncheon earlier in the week when he mentioned the old “Next Great City’’ line that goes back to 1988 when John Naisbitt mentioned Tampa in his book “Megatrends’’ as having the stuff to be just that.

Unfortunately, after we put up all the billboards and advertisements about how great we were, things began to slip or not happen. I’ll just toss out mass transit for starters.

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But Bob Buckhorn isn’t the mayor for nothing. He has a streak of half huckster/half booster in him that could guarantee a job on almost any midway if this mayor’s thing doesn’t work out.

He admitted we had let things slide and we had been passed by the likes of Charlotte and other Sunbelt cities. By then he was on a roll, and he launched into how we aren’t going to settle for mediocrity and that Tampa was truly on the rise and everybody better get out of our way.

It was then he said something critical, the same phrase I’ve heard him use several times now.

“Before we can really rise,’’ and I’m paraphrasing his exact line, “we are going to have to lift up. We’re going to have to ensure the same opportunities for all our citizens.’’

I saw the mayor again Thursday night, sitting with former Mayor Dick Greco at the annual Judeo Christian Health Clinic banquet.

He didn’t speak, but others did, and the central theme was lifting others up.

It was striking to see the same familiar names I’d seen at other functions recently, such as Shimberg and Sykes and the night’s honorees, Richard and Cornelia Corbett — families who have long supported nonprofit endeavors in Tampa.

But there was an even longer list of doctors, nurses and other medical volunteers, along with big institutions such as St. Joseph’s Hospital, who last year offered free services to more than 40,000 clients. These are people who often have jobs, but even in the world of “Affordable Health Care’’ can’t afford the insurance and certainly not cash to pay for chronic, serious medical care.

The clinic is just one example of what the mayor is talking about.

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It’s childhood programs in Sulphur Springs and tearing down slums and drug havens in urban pockets.

It’s Meals on Wheels, a program that first started when Judeo Christian founder, the Rev. Jim Holmes, initiated the idea of delivering hot, healthy meals into homes from his small St. John Presbyterian Church, or the sprawling Metropolitan Ministries program started by Morris Hintzman that focuses largely on homeless families.

These are all programs that raise neighborhoods and then communities and eventually lift entire cities into recognition as the next “great city,’’ with some real justification.

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