Ed Turanchik: A contentious candidate goes Zen

The lawyer and transportation wonk waxes on politics and plans for the future. (Hint: Maybe not what you think. )
Tampa attorney Ed Turanchik Times
Tampa attorney Ed Turanchik Times
Published November 10

Whither Ed Turanchik?

When we last saw the well-known Tampa lawyer, former county commissioner and transportation wonk who represents the operator of the fledgling cross-bay ferry service, he was finishing fourth in a bruising race to be the city’s next mayor.

Since then, there has been much rumor and speculation about his political plans, some of it downright Machiavellian.

So how’s it going?

“Better than being mayor,” Turanchik, 63, says pleasantly over coffee downtown.

For someone whose critics say always believes he’s the smartest guy in the room (“Well, I often am,” he says, then laughs and insists he’s kidding), he’s pretty Zen these days. Lately he’s been off traveling and hiking various woods with his wife Jenny. “So life is good,” he says.

On his future in politics, he does not equivocate:

“I’ve done my public service and I’ll never run for office again in my life,” he says. “I don’t have elected official’s disease.” Though he will keep helping candidates he likes.

Which brings us to those rumors, the ones everyone in local politics has been speculating on: that he aspires to become the next Hillsborough County administrator when the current one, Mike Merrill, retires. That with his newly-elected and like-minded Democrat friends currently on the commission, they will rule county government (insert sinister horror movie laugh here.)

“Laughable,” Turanchik says. No plans for that, he says. Zero. Zilch.

Did I say Zen?

Well, there was that post-mayor’s race dust-up when the county commission voted to transfer the proposed south county/MacDill ferry to the beleaguered bus agency, HART, which did not appear to auger well for its future. Commissioner Sandy Murman said she believes that after the vote that Turanchik mouthed the words “you’re dead” to her from the audience. She says she took this as a political message.

(Tampa does like to spice up a meeting. Remember over at the city council a few years back when a union official was accused — and later cleared — of making a throat-slashing gesture from the audience during a contentious meeting? Apparently it’s a local thing.)

Turanchik says in his case, it didn’t happen, that he was asking a question about what the board had just done.

Meanwhile, the seasonal ferry between Tampa and St. Petersburg kicked off this month and had the seats 83 percent full the first weekend. “People are digging this service,” Turanchik says.

So what about that whole smartest-guy-in-the-room thing that seemed to rub some people wrong in the mayor’s race?

He pauses. “I think I was uptight during that campaign, and I’m a pretty happy person,” he finally says. “That’s one of my regrets. I was not myself.”

He can’t say enough about the candidate who easily fended him off (along with two city councilmen, a former judge, and a really, really rich guy) to become mayor — former Tampa Police chief Jane Castor.

“I have just immense respect for Jane,” he says. “Jane was not an accidental victory. She rocked. It was as big a mandate as you can get.”

Late one recent afternoon he was driving home from work when a big black SUV pulled alongside. The window went down and there was Castor. (The new mayor’s style is decidedly different than her predecessor, Bob Buckhorn, who is famously said to have kept a list of those who crossed him.) They exchanged pleasantries. He asked where she was headed, he says, and she said a water/wastewater meeting.

He wasn’t. And Turanchik says he was okay with that.