In Tampa's District 3 City Council race, Lynn Hurtak's win over Janet Cruz is a 'referendum' on more than just the mayor

Overall, over 10.65% of registered voters in Tampa turned out for the runoff, and it makes sense.

click to enlarge Councilwoman Lynn Hurtak speaks at a candidate forum in South Tampa. - Dave Decker
Dave Decker
Councilwoman Lynn Hurtak speaks at a candidate forum in South Tampa.
On paper, Janet Cruz had every statistical advantage a politician could want.

Her campaign was run by top-dollar political consultants. She had a war chest flush with fat checks from real estate developers and special interest groups. Dark money PACs from outside of Tampa spent thousands on attack ads and mailers on her behalf. She had backing from Tampa's political elite – including endorsements from Bob Buckhorn, the Tampa Bay Times,  the police and fire firefighter unions, and backing from local rich guys Blake Casper, the Pepin family and Jeff Vinik. 

Most importantly, Cruz is the mother of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor's partner,  lobbyist Ana Cruz.

But none of that mattered.

Instead, Cruz lost to Lynn Hurtak, a technical writer and neighborhood leader who ran  a grassroots campaign alongside her husband and an adopted puppy from a bungalow living room in Old Seminole Heights.

Ultimately a good candidate is a good candidate, and Lynn was a good candidate, Janet was not.

According to WMNF Wavemakers host Tom Scherberger, Cruz called Hurtak at 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday evening to concede.

As of 7:28 p.m., the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections site shows that Hurtak earned 15,288 votes, compared to 10,065 for Cruz, with 99.2% of precincts reported. 

Overall, over 10.65% of registered voters in Tampa turned out for the runoff, and it makes sense. A lot was on the line in this race.

Hurtak's win secures a progressive wing of Tampa City Council, and a strong check on Mayor Jane Castor, who has now won two elections in Tampa without ever having to face a serious opponent.

And that is a pretty remarkable feat, especially when you consider the fact that Castor has been under two federal DOJ investigations, and just a few months ago she suffered an embarrassing political blow when her hand-picked police chief, Mary O'Connor, resigned in disgrace after former CL reporter Justin Garcia unearthed video of her getting out of golf cart traffic stop after flashing her badge. 

As quite a few politicos have already pointed out, in many ways the District 3 race was all about one thing – a "referendum" on Castor, and the desire for city council to have a stronger independent voice, especially with major developments coming up like PURE, or as critics call it "Toilet To Tap."

Perhaps that's true.  But you could argue it was a "referendum" on poorly managed Democratic campaigns, and how political smooth-brained operatives have turned a once purple Florida into a deep red hellscape.

If you're keeping score at home, Mercury Partners has now ran two-back-to-back Cruz campaigns into the dirt, after she saw a 12-year run in the Florida Legislature end last fall when she was handily defeated by Republican Jay Collins.

But more than likely, Hurtak's victory was also likely a direct "referendum" on Cruz, and how she really didn't have much to offer other than Sunday dinners with the mayor.

You could also argue that the race was a "referendum" on shitty attack ads. For months, voters  were turned off by the near constant flood of glossy garbage flowing into our mailboxes for what is supposed to be a nonpartisan race between two registered Democrats.

Without a doubt, the Trumpian tactics used from people /PACs supporting Cruz in the lead up to April 25 were, as former Tampa mayor Sandy Freeman said, "unconscionable."
“Never before, ever—and I am an old woman—has there been this nastiness in a local non-partisan race,” said Freedman to Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

What Cruz's camp failed to understand, is that Hurtak—who’s served since being appointed to the seat last April after the contentious exit of Councilman John Dingfelder— had a strong resume with relevant accomplishments. 

So far on council, Hurtak has doubled funding for affordable housing, pushed for abortion rights protections, voted to give our CRB an independent lawyer, and called for increased waste water improvements, just to name a few highlights.

Unsurprisingly, some of these points were actually used against her in attack ads.

In the ads, Hurtak was repeatedly labeled as "Lyin Lynn,"  by a dark money PAC based out of Fort Lauderdale.

As CL previously reported, the mailers tried to attack Hurtak for voting to increase council member salaries from $52,060 to $73,713. Of course, these mailers did not mention that it was Castor’s administration that presented council with a proposal for a pay bump, or that council’s salary is currently below Tampa’s average median income.
Some of the mailers also tried to blame Hurtak for a record $200,000 lawsuit settlement to an aide who accused outgoing councilman Orlando Gudes of harassment. Nevermind that it was the Castor administration that dug up the accusations—despite the city knowing about them since 2019—after Gudes pushed back on the mayor over issues like rent control. The ads also didn't mention that the lawsuit against Gudes was actually dismissed months after the settlement.

But these ads were so laughably bad that anyone without yogurt for brains tossed these things directly into the recycling bin.

“My opponent's campaign has variously described me as an ‘extreme socialist’ and now ‘ultra-right MAGA,’” Hurtak said to CL.  “So I'm not sure what, if any, point they think they're making.”

No one did, to be honest.

And, perhaps that's why Tampa's political elite took an extra cold shower Tuesday night. Because whether or not you believe this race was about Mayor Castor, "progressive" ideals, out-of-touch Dems, or just plain lazy campaigning, it doesn't really matter. Maybe it was all of it.

But tonight a wealthy South Tampa career politician who owns a bunch of Pearle Vision stores is headed back to her waterfront mansion, and a community organizer from Seminole Heights is set to return to the chamber.

About The Author

Colin Wolf

Colin Wolf has been working with weekly newspapers since 2007 and has been the Digital Editor for Creative Loafing Tampa since 2019. He is also the Director of Digital Content Strategy for CL's parent company, Euclid Media Group.
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