The Tampa mayoral runoff April 23 matching former police chief Jane Castor against billionaire David Straz will end with one sure loser: Tampa residents.
Neither candidate excited the electorate, as witnessed by the anemic 20.55 percent primary turnout March 5. Voters traditionally go to the polls in far fewer numbers for the runoff.
A microscopic 9.86 percent of Tampa registered voters favored runaway leader Castor in the primary. She garnered 48 percent of the turnout against Straz and five other foes.
Essentially, the contest pits outgoing Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s entrenched cabal, represented by Castor, and a second group with Straz as poster child, that is attempting to minimize Buckhorn’s influence.
There is no confidence among a large number of progressives, mainstream Democrats, and even some Republicans that either Castor or Straz can vault Tampa from its place as a third-tier American city into a category that includes San Diego, Portland, Charlotte, Austin, and Miami. All are more contemporary socially, culturally, and politically than greater Tampa and are thus more able to attract Fortune 1000 companies and high-tech startups.
In Hillsborough County, relocating the national headquarters of Mosaic and the opening of a Bass Pro Shop are considered major coups. It is pathetic and embarrassing.
Castor, 59, made a national name for herself as police chief with a “biking while black” program that garnered the attention of the U. S. Department of Justice. In a 2015 NewsTallk Florida interview, Straz railed against the Millennial generation, a demographic deemed desirable by local economic development interests.
With the Buckhorn machine behind her, Castor should win the runoff easily. Straz has spent millions in a fragmented, directionless effort with one message: Castor is a Buckhorn puppet and would be bad for Tampa.
Despite the handwringing, she is the city’s best hope.
Castor has told voters that the targeting of black bicyclists was wrong. She says she embraces diversity. She has confided to some that she is independent of Buckhorn, a climate change denier who attracted plenty of negative national headlines during his eight-year tenure. She understands the problems confronting the city.
Castor will start with a clean slate with the racial problems in the past. Straz, on the other hand, has shown little grasp of the issues facing Tampanians during the long slog of debates that began in November.
Straz, 76, has never acknowledged his disdain for Millennials, let alone recanted his vile characterization of them. He described the generation thusly: “The work ethic isn’t there. ... They have a handout mentality. They just don’t seem to want to work hard. ... There’s a lack of work ethic. ... It could be the parents that don’t want to instill a work ethic.”
The Straz campaign scrubbed the videoed interview from YouTube, but Tampa Bay Beat has archived the audio. As a public service, we are saving Straz the embarrassment of misguidingly disputing our quotes from the interview.
Straz has spent more than $4 million in reported campaign expenses and unreported PAC payoffs. His campaign offered money to at least two media entities, a local blogger, and several special interest groups for endorsements and/or favorable media content.
Straz, who ditched his Republican registration a couple of months before announcing his run and is an avowed Trump voter, received the endorsement of a local Muslim group.
Polls are showing these out-of-the-box tactics are backfiring. Castor is a projected landslide winner.
Tampa city races are officially nonpartisan but historically have not been perceived as such.
Castor is also a former Republican, which paradoxically vexes progressives and Republicans alike. Progressives cannot in good conscience support either candidate while Republicans hoped to stretch their influence inside the city limits.
One prominent Republican termed the Castor/Straz registration switches “frustrating.” The Hillsborough GOP needs to rethink its role in Tampa, he said, with registration drives, candidate recruitment, and debunking the assumption that being a Republican within city limits is a handicap.
Jim Bleyer, a former reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Tribune, writes the Tampa Bay Beat blog.