Jane Castor worked her way up through the ranks of her hometown police department before retiring at the top, making history as Tampa’s first female police chief.
During her tenure as chief, Castor oversaw security for the 2012 Republican National Convention and the Super Bowl. Castor went into the history books again in April, when she was elected as the first openly gay mayor of a major Florida city.
Castor, 59, has an ambitious agenda as the head of Florida’s third-largest city and has already nailed down support for a nearly $3 billion, 20-year plan to overhaul Tampa’s water and sewer system. While making the rounds in the Capitol recently, Castor took time to talk about infrastructure, resiliency, workforce development, affordable housing and transportation, as well as how she handles the job of role model.
Castor also set the record straight, when asked about her connection to another Tampa political female icon, Betty Castor: They’re not related. When the two women first met years ago, Betty Castor said Jane Castor had no idea how many times people had asked if the younger Castor was her daughter.
“I said, half the times they’ve asked if you’re my mom,” the Tampa mayor quipped.
The News Service of Florida has five questions for Jane Castor.
Q: What is your biggest challenge, for you as mayor and for your city?
CASTOR: Our biggest challenge is implementing transportation solutions. Because transportation is interwoven with all of the other issues that affect our city, to include workforce development, economic development, affordable housing and workforce housing. All of those are linked together with the implementation of reliable transportation solutions. It actually involves everything, from complete streets, the bus systems, getting reliable bus service to neighborhoods that haven’t seen it in the past, commuter rail, looking at the CSX line that goes through Tampa from down in the Port of Tampa area through South Tampa, downtown, Ybor City, East Tampa, all the way out to USF (University of South Florida), actually that particular line goes all the way up to Brooksville, as well. So, looking at that as a commuter solution, and then bus rapid transit, to have systems, for example, a connector from downtown to Westshore along Cypress, something that individuals could use to get from downtown to Westshore and vice versa, and then it would allow the residents in between to avail themselves to job opportunities without the need for a car. It’s interesting, when people talk about the need and their desire for mass transport, what they really mean is, I want all these cars off the road so I can drive. I think that’s what the majority of people envision when they talk about mass transit for other people. It’s changing the culture. For example, we have the streetcar that goes from Ybor City to downtown, and we recently received a grant to take that all the way down to Palm, down to Armature Works. And my vision is to take it north into Seminole Heights and then east into East Tampa as well, so we’ll be able to connect all of those neighborhoods. The streetcar --- we received a grant to make it free and at the same time increased the interval dramatically and now the ridership is up over 300 percent. So people aren’t just using it for entertainment purposes. Now, they’re using it as a viable form of transportation.
Q: You are a pioneer in many ways. You were Tampa’s first female police chief. You’re the first openly gay mayor of a major city in Florida. What’s your advice for young people, or people of any age, who see you as a role model?
CASTOR: Well, I willingly accept the obligation to be a role model. When I was named as the chief of police for the city of Tampa, at my swearing in I said, at the end of my tenure I didn’t want to be remembered as the first female. I wanted to be remembered as a good chief. But with that said, the significance of being the first female was not lost on me. If a male had failed in my position, they would have failed as an individual. If I had failed, people would say I told you a woman couldn’t do it. So, I understood the significance of that responsibility and I took it very seriously. I try to be a role model for all young women, and when I talk to groups, or all young people, period. But specifically young women, I always start off the story about how you have a particular job and there are five skill sets necessary for that job. Men have one or two of those skill sets, and they’ll apply and just wing it until they make it. And women, we’ll wait until we have six of the five skill sets before we apply. So basically, my message is that you have what it takes. You have the knowledge, the skill, the ability, the motivation, you just need the confidence. So have that confidence in yourself to just go out there and go for it. Just dream big and reach for it.
Q. How did you get that confidence?
CASTOR: I don’t know that I have it, honestly. I’ve just always been a pretty competitive person. Growing up in an all-male profession, if the majority in my department would have a four-year degree, I went and got my master’s degree. When there were promotional tests, I studied and did my best to come on the top of those promotional tests. Another thing I tell people is that human beings are creatures of habit. If somebody says I like change, then I say they’re a liar. What they mean is I like change for other people. Don’t be changing my world. But we tend to get comfortable or complacent in positions. So I would tell all young people at the police department, don’t spend more than two years in a position. Move around in an organization so that you know how every facet of that organization works. First of all, it makes you more valuable to the company or the organization. But as opportunities come along, you will have the requisite experience to participate, to raise your hand and go to that assignment. That is really, I would say, how I ended up as the chief of police. I had worked in just about every single area of the police department and received not only the experience from working in those assignments but also the leadership skills. I tell people that I learned how to be a leader in narcotics, because you have plan a, plan b, plan c and then you have what really happens. I learned how to be a mediator when I worked in family violence, sex crimes and child abuse, because you had so many different groups that were so passionate and I had to bring all of them together to work together, as opposed to working against each other. So you learn something in every different assignment that you have. People learn life skills in different places. For me, it was on the court, on the athletic court. You learn team spirit. You learn commitment. You learn dedication. You learn work ethic. And, I say, you learn how to win and lose gracefully, although I’m not sure I got the losing part down pat. But also, you learn how to work well with others, and that is a skill that is woefully underestimated. You need to learn how to bring diverse viewpoints together to get people to compromise to go towards a common goal.
Q: What’s the reaction to your recent call to revive talks about a new major league baseball stadium in Tampa Bay?
CASTOR: I think the reaction has been positive. I believe that, as a community, we want the Rays to stay in the Tampa Bay area. The Rays want to stay in the Tampa Bay area, so we just need to start those discussions again to see what it takes to keep them in the area. There are so many opportunities. The appetite for citizens to pay for a stadium is gone. That’s not going to happen. Matter of fact, the governor and I just had this conversation yesterday about that. And the same thing that he said, is that there isn’t going to be taxpayer-funded stadiums. … But some creative measures, like making the stadium smaller, making the stadium multi-purpose. If the Rays come over, they’ll bring the Rowdies with them. So you’ll have soccer. You’ll have baseball. And what other things can we have that will activate a stadium year-round, make it profitable? Opportunity zones, to be able to look for funding for a stadium through an opportunity zone is an option as well. There are so many things that we need to look at, but I really in my heart feel that we’re too big of an area to lose a major sporting franchise, and the Tampa Bay area wants to keep the Rays.
Q: What’s been the biggest surprise since you were elected mayor?
CASTOR: How long everything takes. Yeah. I told everybody that there is a plan for everything, with the exception of an action plan. One, it’s not fair because of my background as a police officer (snapping her fingers). You get thrown a set of facts, you make a decision, you move on. And here, oh my goodness. The planning that goes on. I had a meeting with transportation about connection between downtown and Westshore and they’re so excited. They’re like, oh my gosh, this is so exciting. Now it will take four to five years for an environmental study. I’m like, what?! I said, no, we’re going to have this done in two to three years. But yeah, just the time that it takes. Clearly, it has to be done right. But, nonetheless, it’s very surprising.