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Rose Ferlita's voice still filled with promise

The voice is equal parts Ybor City roots and smooth Tampa politics, part commanding and part warm whiskey-throated friendly.

It is the twice-as-feisty voice from those Hillsborough County Commission days when she was the lone woman on the board, the voice that did not back off even when her run to become this city's mayor was imploding around her.

Nearly two years after Rose Ferlita all but disappeared from the rough and tumble political landscape, her voice is calling friends and strangers "darlin'' and "baby" as they stop her inside downtown's new must-do restaurant, Oxford Exchange.

Where has she been, they ask, and is she running again? She is like a lost daughter, hugged and air-kissed and cell-phoned a half-dozen times in the hallway, notably by one person hoping she'll attend an impromptu pig roast the next day. (It is Tampa, after all.)

Where she has been is: Busy. But before we can talk of whether she is indeed running — for the commission seat to be vacated in 2014 by Mark Sharpe — there is another matter to discuss:

Dogs.

Dogs as in her rescue dogs Murray and Hal. (Asked at a political debate about the potential privacy concerns of being a mayor, Ferlita said she thought Hal and Murray would be okay with it.) Both, I learn, are well.

Ferlita took her hits in that mayoral race. Critics said she could be defensive, that her plans weren't fully formed or at least fully articulated. After her loss to now-Mayor Bob Buckhorn — him with 63 percent of the vote, her with 37 — she spent a month in New Orleans, a good place to forget to be sad.

Ferlita says she had never lost before, not even oratory contests as a kid.

"Maybe it builds character," she says, and then jokes, "I'd rather be the mayor than have more character, but …"

"Lick your wounds, get involved and move on," she says.

A pharmacist whose Rose Drugs was a neighborhood institution, she now works for CarePlus/CareMark in specialty areas including transplant patients and HIV.

"Have I thought about politics? Yeah," she says. "Do I miss some of it? Man," she says, and the do-I-ever part is implied.

To a lot of us, where she seemed to fit best was on that seven-headed commission, a strong voice to balance the potential tilt. Will she try again?

Already, candidates are in, likely or speculative. Tampa City Councilwoman Mary Mulhern has announced. School Board chairwoman April Griffin says she's running. Commissioner Al Higginbotham confirms he's considering that seat. Former City Council and County Commission chairman Tom Scott says he's giving it some thought.

Rose Ferlita would be a name, and a voice, in that race.

So?

"The official answer is: Not now," she says, "and the answer is: We'll see."

Then talk turns to the best time for a candidate to announce, with Ferlita sounding like someone who's given it some thought. If she did, would her voice be the same?

"If I go back into it, I think I'll be just as headstrong, just as committed," she says. "But I think you'll find a calmer posture."

Pause, smile, and that voice:

"We'll see."

Rose Ferlita's voice still filled with promise 01/08/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 9:36pm]
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