Termed-out mayor Bob Buckhorn is on his way out the door, making way for a new mayor of Tampa. We sat down with the candidates and talked about some of the key issues in this race. The only two African-America contenders, LaVaughn King and Michael Anthony Hazard, both failed to qualify, making for an election lacking any candidates of color.
The voting public has stated quite clearly that the most important issue in the mayoral race is transit. For Topher Morrison, transportation isn’t just an issue on his platform, it’s also personal. He gave up his car nine years ago in an effort to offset his carbon footprint.
“I want to solve this not just for everybody else, but also because I’m just like everybody else,” Morrison said.
He walks, bikes, or uses mass transit. If none of those options are doable, he takes a Lyft or Uber, but recognizes that not everybody has that advantage.
“So far, all of the things you’re hearing from other candidates [are] just traditional things,” he said. “But we live in such a car-centric culture that if we’re going to find a real solution, I think we need to look outside outside of America and find out what’s working in other countries.”
A huge advocate for environmental issues, Morrison the only candidate who’s openly committed to making Tampa 100-percent green when it comes to renewable energy.
“We don’t have to have a conversation anymore about whether we should be profitable or do something which is green-friendly,” Morrison said. “The profit is in the green-friendly science. So we should be moving toward that.”
Castor served six years as Tampa’s first female police chief before retiring in 2015.
“I’ve worked every corner of the city in the last 31 years patrolling every neighborhood,” Castor said. “I have an understanding that the rest of the candidates don’t about the different departments and where we can realize efficiencies within departments in our city.”
During her time in the police department, crime decreased by 70 percent. But one of her department’s practices undeniably put a smear on her campaign: the policy that became known as “biking while black.” In the past, Castor has said that the tickets were not a mistake. She’s since changed her tone.
“The tickets were a mistake because they caused tension in the very neighborhoods that we were trying to protect,” she said.
While she recognizes that it was a mistake, she’s proud of her accomplishments.
“We’ve been able to make Tampa one of the safest cities in the nation based on our side-by-side working relationship with all citizens,” Castor said. “We have implemented hundreds of initiatives in an effort to reduce crime in our city, most of which have been very, very successful.”
If elected, she will be Tampa’s first openly gay female mayor. The polls say it’s more than possible.
“I have championed LGBTQ rights, women’s rights and social justice my entire life,” Castor said. “That really is in the fiber of my being.”
DICK “DICKIE” GRECO JR.
Like father, like son. Greco’s father, Dick Greco Sr., served as mayor from 1967 to 1974, and 1995 to 2003. But Greco Jr. isn’t using his father’s legacy as a tactic to win over voters. He actually hasn’t talked much about his father at all.
As a former Hillsborough County Judge, Greco believes that spending more than two decades as a judge makes him a great listener — something that’s important for a mayor. He wants voters to know that he’s friendly and personable (he really is).
“Judges are, I think, looked upon as not approachable,” Greco said. “I don’t think people know that, you know, I’m friendly... I think people have a certain… stereotypical idea of how they label their judges and what judges should be.”
Greco has already proven that he’s compassionate. When he served on the county court bench, he created a program for homeless people arrested for crimes to get back on their feet and have their cases dismissed.
In the midst of all the candidates droning on about their their transportation plans, Greco said he doesn’t have a written plan.
“It’s not so much the plans and I hope people understand that we’re getting lost in all these plans,” Greco said.
He has a point; transportation initiatives that are implemented in Tampa will not involve just Tampa — they will involve, at a minimum, the county of Hillsborough, its seven commissioners and also the Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit Authority.
“We’ve got to be able to sit down at least with those groups and decide what we’re going to do on at least the county-wide basis, and really... it’s not going to work unless we talk regionally.”
Greco jumped into the race late, just a week before the qualifying period ended, saying it’s never too late to do the right thing.
A former Hillsborough County commissioner, Turanchik has been working to improve Tampa’s transit for decades.
“I’m the only candidate who actually has a complete transportation plan that’s based upon 30 years of work,” Turanchik said. “[The plan] does things that no other plan has really even thought of doing, which is connecting St. Joseph’s Hospital and Tampa General Hospital to a main network.”
Turanchik’s stance on the All For Transportation act has been a point of contention throughout the race. He was the only candidate who voted against the act.
“It wasn’t a transportation plan,” he said. “The bottom line it was a it is an $18 billion tax that doesn’t have a plan behind it.”
In addition to pushing for better transportation, Turanchik has a long track record of environmental activism. He’s been the statewide chair of growth management for the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club, where he worked to preserve environmental lands. As a county commissioner, he led the effort to end “a generation of water wars that were causing incredible damage to our lakes and wetlands.”
His passion for environmentalism stems from his academic background as an evolutionary biologist.
“It’s part of my DNA,” he said. “It’s inescapable.”
The last three mayors of Tampa served on the city council. Harry Cohen said that’s no coincidence. It trained him, he said, with a broad exposure to the different issues that are facing the city.
One of the top issues he sees is sea level rise — not only because of obvious vulnerabilities like McDill Air Force Base and Tampa General Hospital, but also because it could affect the city’s bond rating.
Like most of the other candidates, Cohen intends to invest in transportation: safety improvements, sidewalk building and repaving, crosswalks, and signalization.
While he upholds that there are terrific parks and recreational amenities in Tampa’s urban core, he said neighborhood parks have been neglected. He wants to invest in neighborhood swimming pools, something important to residents in the heat of summer.
Another thing Cohen is passionate about: the arts. He’s on the board of the Straz Center of the Florida orchestra and of Opera Tampa
“I believe that the government has a role in both supporting and nurturing the arts in this community,” Cohen said. “Because when people are making a decision about where to live, it’s things like the arts and culture, the things that really give the community soul... I think those intangible things really, really make a big difference.”
His favorite opera? The Barber of Seville.
Public safety, transportation and improved services are Mike Suarez’s big platform issues. As a twice-elected city councilman, Suarez says he has visited every one of Tampa’s 72 neighborhoods. He says he knows the neighborhoods of Tampa better than any other candidate because of his time spent attending homeowner meetings and listening to residents.
His re-entry into government came about as a result of serious health issue. After getting into a serious car accident, X-rays indicated that Suarez had kidney cancer. The kidney was removed and he is now cancer-free, but this event inspired him to get into public service in order to make a difference.
Suarez said he has a good relationship with most of the candidates. But like Turanchik, Suarez is critical of Castor’s 2015 bicycling citation policy, which disproportionately affected people of color.
“[Her policy] was an abuse of power of the police… and a wrongheaded decision,” Suarez said. “It isn’t about stopping people — it’s about stopping crime.”
This well-known philanthropist isn’t shy about calling people out — his opponents, Bob Buckhorn, or anyone else who pisses him off.
The only thing David Straz likes to talk about more than the flaws of his opponents is how much money he has — and he does have a lot. In his opening comments at forums, he often starts out with the phrase: “You might have seen my name on the side of some buildings.”
The Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center was renamed the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in 2009 after Straz donated the largest-ever individual philanthropic gift to a cultural institution in the Tampa Bay area.
“I’m the only person here who’s managed a big budget and I have the ability to run this billion-dollar budget,” Straz said at the Tampa Downtown Partnership forum in January. “Most of my colleagues here have never signed the front side of a check.”
Financial concerns seem to be his main hobbyhorse — at more recent forums, Straz alluded to corruption in city government and called for an investigation into fellow multimillionaire Jeff Vinik’s influence on the current administration — and he’s been criticized by some for his general lack of political experience.
David Straz was the only candidate who declined an interview with Creative Loafing.