TAMPA — David Straz thinks the average Tampa resident doesn’t know two important things about him — his work ethic and his independent political philosophy.
"They don’t know that I’m a hard worker. I just don’t sit at home watching TV all day long. I work hard. Even now that I don’t have to. I do it because it’s the right thing to do," said the retired banker and philanthropist, namesake of the city’s waterfront performing arts center. "They don’t know that over the years that I have had a philosophy without regard to party affiliation. They like to pigeonhole me into one area or another and that simply isn’t correct. I support whoever I think is the very best person for the job."
Straz promised Tampa residents they would get to know him much better in the coming months, telling the Tampa Bay Times on Monday that he is joining the race for mayor of Tampa. He vowed to outwork and, if necessary, outspend his opponents.
Straz said he built his fortune, by "working hard, the old-fashioned way," sleeping on occasion in the basement of his first bank in Wisconsin, and succeeding through excellent customer service and financial management. He waited on customers himself as he built his banking empire and worked 16-hour days.
"To me, running a retail political campaign is going to be pretty easy and I intend to do that," Straz said.
He won’t accept donations of more than $500, but hasn’t decided how much of his personal fortune to spend on the race: "I’m going to put in whatever it takes to do a great job," he said.
A political newcomer, Straz joins a crowded and experienced field in the March 2019 election with council members Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen, former county commissioner Ed Turanchik, small businessman Topher Morrison and former police chief Jane Castor.
All candidates are Democrats in a race that’s officially nonpartisan. But partisanship fueled an expensive and brutal mayoral race last year in St. Petersburg, also nonpartisan on paper, with questions about whether former mayor Rick Baker, a Republican, had voted for President Donald Trump.
Straz, 75, admits he cast a ballot for Trump, but calls it an error in judgment.
"I’m happy to admit I make mistakes," Straz said. "I wouldn’t vote for him again."
Asked to name a policy position by the Trump administration that he disagrees with, he demurred, saying he mostly objects to the president’s rhetoric, chaotic personnel management, and caustic style.
Less than two weeks ago, Straz joined the Democratic Party, saying he did so because party officials came to his office on West Kennedy Boulevard and asked him.
"No one else has invited me to join," he said, adding that discussing his values with party leaders made him realize he aligns more with Democrats than the GOP.
He counts Democrats Kriseman and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist among his political allies and has contributed to their campaigns. He said he hopes Crist, a former governor, will "return the favor" and campaign for him in Tampa.
As mayor, he would use his financial acumen to pore over the budget line by line, he said.
What waste or redundancy has he identified?
"I don’t have anything specific," Straz said. "I was in banking my entire career and, if I do say so myself, I’m pretty good at finance and budgeting."
Strengthening neighborhoods will also be a focus of his campaign, but one he is still educating himself about.
"I’m going to have to look at that a little more closely," he said, noting that his campaign website asks people to let him know about problems. "But there are areas, I’m told, in Tampa, that need some attention and that have been kind of left behind."
Asked to name one, Straz said his own neighborhood in South Tampa needs help with flooding and drainage issues.
He later said East Tampa might need help, as well.
Creating jobs and improving the city’s quality of life also will be priorities, Straz said.
"I love our city. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to give back to our city financially and culturally over the last few years as a result of my business success. And now I feel a calling to give back talent, leadership and vision to move Tampa forward."
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly that Jane Castor’s campaign had raised about $250,000 since her April announcement.