District 1: Candidates in race for Tampa City Council use background to determine priorities

February 22, 2011
By Shelley Rossetter, Times Staff Writer

TAMPA - With City Council member Gwen Miller leaving the seat she has occupied for eight years, the citywide District 1 position is open to someone new.

And with five candidates vying for the position, each brings something a little different to the race.

At 26 years old, Guido Maniscalco is the youngest, and that's not a bad thing, he said. In fact, he thinks it gives him an advantage: He's energetic, not tied down to a family or career, and has insight into the minds of young adults.

"I'm a representative for a new group of people and also the future of Tampa," he said.

Maniscalco, a Tampa native who works at his family's jewelry business, said the City Council is limited in its ability to provide jobs. However, he wants to focus on helping to create an environment conducive to attracting employers.

"We have to give young people a reason to stay in Tampa after they graduate," he said.

Tom Slaughter, 52, also wants to focus on jobs. The way to do it, he said, is through an educated workforce and modern transportation.

"We need to be able to compete with not just Orlando and Miami, but cities like Charlotte," said Slaughter, who works in transportation engineering.

The bones of good education and transportation are already in place with Interstate 4 and 75 as well as the University of South Florida and its research, he said.

But more is needed. A supporter of light rail and high-speed rail, Slaughter said he thinks both would bolster the city's reputation as a place to do business.

Rick Barcena, 48, owner of Rigatoni Tuscan Oven, understands what it's like to own a business in Tampa. He wants to use that knowledge to help make the city an easier place to run a company.

"To do some of the simplest tasks or just go through the permitting process in general should be a whole lot more streamlined and more customer-friendly," Barcena said. Customer service is an important step toward that, he added.

Barcena also says his skills could help run the city more efficiently.

"You're running a business; that's the way a city needs to be run," he said.

Curtis Stokes, 42, is comfortable working with a budget, including the city's. The banker - appointed to the City Council in July to fill a vacancy left when Linda Saul-Sena departed - has spent the past 18 years working with money and bottom lines. He is also the only candidate to have experience on the council.

"I understand finances, I understand where we need to go on the budget," Stokes said.

That and his experience in leadership roles in the community and on the board of a Tampa Palms neighborhood association are what make him stand out, he said.

"We need a council and a mayor who understand how to look at the budget, pare it down and cut away things that are not necessary," Stokes said.

As an independent insurance agent, Mike Suarez, 46, is also familiar with customer service. He said the council needs to take a more proactive approach to dealing with residents' concerns.

"With panhandling and water bills, the council has not been more responsive to folks about how to approach these problems," Suarez said. "They've tended to wait instead of saying, 'Let's grab on to these issues and talk about what we want to do.' "

The City Council should be more responsive, he said, especially when it comes to services directly related to people's lives.

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.

[iCopyright] 2011 St. Petersburg Times.

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