Former Police Chief Jane Castor missed securing her spot as mayor of Tampa by a measly 2 percent of the vote.
She won 48 percent in the March 5 municipal election, just under the 50 percent mark needed to win the majority vote. Retired banker and philanthropist David Straz came in second place with 15.5 percent of the vote; they will face off against in a runoff election April 23.
Castor won every precinct except two in East Tampa, where Straz beat her out.
With 237,752 registered voters in Tampa, there was a 20.55 percent voter turnout. This is a decrease from Tampa’s last mayoral election without an incumbent, which had a 22 percent turnout. In comparison, the 2017 mayoral race in St. Petersburg had a 33.4% turnout.
Castor, 59, held an election watch party at The Vault in downtown Tampa, while Straz, 79, held his north of downtown at Lowry Park Zoo.
Castor gave a speech at the event thanking her volunteers, supporters and family. Standing behind her were her mother, two sons, and longtime partner, Ana Cruz.
“I wouldn’t be standing here this evening if it weren’t for Ana,” she said. “I thank you for your patience, your dedication and most of all your love.”
If she wins the runoff, Castor will be the first openly gay female mayor of Tampa. She was endorsed by three leading LGBTQ organizations: LPAC, Equality Florida Action PAC and the LGBTQ Victory Fund.
“I have championed LGBTQ rights, women's rights and social justice my entire life,” Castor said in a recent interview with Creative Loafing. “That really is in the fiber of my being.”
Also a Tampa native, Cruz has been involved in the campaign every step of the way. When asked what she and Castor will be doing for the next month and a half until the runoff election, she said they'd be knocking on every door, talking to every Tampa resident they can and supporting the issues that matter.
“It’s important that we maintain our values of diversity and inclusion,” Cruz said.
In her speech, Castor said she now knows what it’s like to be in a rock band.
“All of us together, all of these nights, there was a lot of laughter. There was a lot of respect,” she said.
Her sons, she said, “will remain a source of love, pride and worry. This is for your future and the future of every other young person in every neighborhood of Tampa.
"We have one opportunity to create that city that we want to live and work in. That city we can pass off to the next generation.”
She also addressed the big issues in the race: transportation and affordable housing. In the mayoral forums, most candidates focused on these key issues, while Straz occasionally went off on tangents, denigrating his opponents or, more often, talking about financial concerns. At some forums, he alluded to corruption in city government and called for an investigation into fellow multimillionaire Jeff Vinik’s influence on the current administration. While he’s been criticized by some for his general lack of political experience, he can say that he knows how to manage a big budget. (Sounds similar to another politician who has no experience but has a… huge budget.)
Castor has the most endorsements in the race, including the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik and the Tampa Bay Area Chiefs of Police Association.
Straz racked up a last-minute endorsement from Democratic Veterans Caucus of Florida Hillsborough County on March 2, the day before the election. He also got endorsements from some labor unions: The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 824, the Northwest Florida Chapter of Black Women in Construction and United Food and Commercial Workers 1625.
(Creative Loafing did not endorse a candidate in this election.)
The current mayor of Tampa, Bob Buckhorn, hasn’t officially endorsed anybody yet, but said he will after the primary. Buckhorn recently criticized a campaign flyer from Straz that made it seem like he endorsed Straz; he also kept Castor on as police chief in 2011, and she regularly praises his accomplishments as mayor.
Mayoral elections in Tampa are officially nonpartisan. All seven candidates are registered Democrats, because, well, it’s Tampa. Castor was a registered Republican since the age of 18, but switched to Democrat a month after retiring from her role as police chief of Tampa.
In her speech, Castor thanked all of the other candidates, including LaVaughn King, who failed to qualify.
City Council member Harry Cohen finished the primary in third place with 12 percent of the vote. Former county commissioner Ed Turanchik was next with 9 percent, then retired Hillsborough County judge Dick Greco Jr. with 8.5 percent. City Council member Mike Suarez came in at 5 percent and small business branding consultant Topher Morrison came in last at 2 percent.
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