TAMPA — David Straz Jr., a retired banker, influential philanthropist and a leading fundraiser for former Mayor Dick Greco, on Tuesday threw his support to Bob Buckhorn in the March 22 mayor's race runoff.
Straz, whose multi-million-dollar gift to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center led the center to rename itself the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in 2009, announced his support at a news conference at Mise en Place restaurant near downtown Tampa.
Straz said he had "spent a good deal of time reflecting on what is truly best for Tampa" and decided to give Buckhorn his "highest recommendation."
"At this critical time for Tampa's future, I want to speak out and say simply and with much conviction that Bob Buckhorn is the most able to lead," said Straz, who also has served on the boards of Tampa General Hospital and the University of Tampa, where a residence hall is named for him.
Straz said he's known Buckhorn for many years, has watched his leadership skills grow and praised his "economic recovery plan, which is very well thought out."
"I'm certainly persuaded by the preparation and level of detail," Straz said. "However, most importantly, he has a clear vision and can articulate both broadly and specifically how he will lead our city."
Straz led Greco's fundraising efforts as co-finance chair and treasurer of his campaign, which brought in nearly $478,000. Greco often talked of recruiting him to help a Greco administration shape what is likely to be a tough city budget.
In a Buckhorn administration, Straz said he would play a similar role, both men said. Already, he has agreed to chair Buckhorn's transition team if Buckhorn is elected.
"We fully expect to bring his expertise to bear on the problems that this community faces," Buckhorn said. "He has a wealth of knowledge in terms of helping us transition not only from an old economy to a new economy but helping our city government run in a more efficient way."
Straz's announcement marks the third endorsement that Buckhorn has picked up from a former rival or a key supporter of a former rival since the March 1 election narrowed the field of candidates from five candidates to two — Buckhorn and former Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita.
On Saturday, Tampa City Council chairman Thomas Scott endorsed Buckhorn, followed by former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik on Monday. Greco says he is not taking sides in the runoff.
Ferlita said she wasn't concerned about the endorsements in Buckhorn's favor.
"We've got a great deal of Greco supporters that are already in our camp," Ferlita said.
Ferlita said some endorsements of her own would be announced in the next two days.
"I think we're going to get a very big portion of people who were in other camps," Ferlita said. "So we're going to do fine."
At noon Tuesday, Ferlita and Buckhorn spoke to the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce at the Columbia Restaurant.
Ferlita emphasized her decades of experience in business and her family's roots in Ybor City. Buckhorn, in almost every response, said his campaign has a specific plan for making Tampa a city that is more attractive to businesses and families.
Buckhorn said this election will "decide whether this city aspires for greatness or settles for mediocrity," and he has the ability, temperament and vision required of a mayor.
Buckhorn said he would loosen the regulations that keep businesses away, and he would build a new economy that continues to attract young people, including, one day, he hopes, his two daughters.
When asked about light rail, Ferlita said she has been one of the few in local politics to support it, but as mayor she would do a better job of marketing the idea to voters with a greater focus on buses. Buckhorn said he has already met with St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster about ways to connect Tampa Bay because a regional mass transit system is needed to compete with other cities.
Ferlita, at times speaking in Spanish, said she has the passion and commitment to be mayor because Ybor City, and Tampa, is home. She said she would streamline the city's government to boost the local economy in the short term. Her experience in corporate and small businesses is key for being the next mayor of Tampa, Ferlita said.
"That's what it's going to come down to," Ferlita said. "Who do you feel, who do you trust that can take us where we need to go?"
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.