Tampa mayoral candidates face off, get a bit catty at televised debate

All seven candidates were on hand for the event.

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click to enlarge Tampa mayoral candidate Jane Castor. - Tampa Bay Times
Tampa Bay Times
Tampa mayoral candidate Jane Castor.

The seven Tampa mayoral candidates debated Wednesday night, tackling key issues such as mass transit, affordable housing, and whether or not candidate Jane Castor is a proponent of racial profiling.

Yes, it escalated that quickly.

The live debate hosted by Spectrum Bay News 9 at the Hillsborough Community College Ybor City campus’s Mainstage Theater was broadcast live Wednesday night.

Things got combative pretty early, starting with a couple of jabs at former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik. 

In Nov. 2018, Hillsborough county residents voted in favor of All for Transportation, a 30-year, penny on the dollar sales tax increase to help ease congestion by paying for roads, buses and mass transit. But in Dec. 2018, County Commissioner Stacy White filed a lawsuit against the $15.8 billion transportation sales tax, claiming it takes away the power of elected officials to dictate where that sales tax money goes. Turanchik is the only mayoral candidate who didn’t slam White for the lawsuit; he’s also the only candidate who voted against All for Transportation.

“My belief is [the lawsuit is] going to get resolved,” Turanchik said at that debate. “It's going to get settled because the voters overwhelmingly said they want this. I will defend it.”

Turanchik’s vague response didn’t go over well with candidate Topher Morrison, a small business owner and political newbie.

“Pay attention people because how people campaign is how they govern,” Morrison said. “You didn't answer that question and I’d like to get clarity.”

Not long after, Turanchik got picked on again, this time by Castor.

“[Turanchik] says that he is the transportation guru and everything he talks about is 30 years ago,” Castor said. “He hasn’t accomplished anything except to crush everyone else’s plan.”

She would soon be sorry for being perhaps too petty; when candidates were asked if they would keep Police Chief Brian Dugan in his position, all gave a positive response. But Turanchik, at the end of his response snuck in: “I think he's restored the credibility that was damaged by prior administrations.”

The audience laughed in response to the obvious dig at former police chief Castor.

Turanchik went on to say, “I think [Dugan has] reduced the racial discriminatory policing and arrest practices of prior administrations.”

While Castor was serving as chief in 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union called for a stop to a Tampa Police Department policy that led to a disproportionate amount of African Americans getting cited for minor bicycle-related infractions. The policy became known as “biking while black.”

In the past, Castor has said that the tickets were not a mistake. She changed her tone Wednesday night.

“The tickets were a mistake because they caused tension in the very neighborhoods that we were trying to protect,” she said. “I took full responsibility for that and I continue to take responsibility for that.”

Lavaughn King, 27-year-old mayoral candidate and activist, said that under Castor’s system, he was approached three different times by white police officers. One stop he said, was for loud music and his car didn’t even have a radio.

“The techniques that were employed were indicative of racial bias,” King said. “I have nothing but love and respect for our police chief. What I challenge her moving forward is to do what's necessary to remediate those racial biases moving forward.”

If there was one thing all of the candidates could agree on, it’s development. Tampa is getting bigger and better — if you’re talking about Riverwalk, Water Street Tampa or the West Shore Marina district. Candidates specifically mentioned the stark difference in resources between sparkling downtown Tampa and neighborhoods like East Tampa, only four miles northeast.

All seven candidates participated in the debate: Jane Castor, former police chief; Ed Turanchik, former County Commissioner; David Straz Jr., philanthropist; Harry Cohen, Tampa City Council member; Topher Morrison, small business owner; Lavaughn King, activist; and Mike Suarez, Tampa City Council member.

Spectrum Bay News 9 will replay the debate 7p.m. on Jan. 12. 

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