There have been lots of rumors and gossip, but there's also some truth to it — philanthropist David A. Straz Jr. is seriously looking at running for mayor of Tampa in 2019.
"There are a number of city business and political leaders that have been trying to convince me to run," he said in an interview this week. "I've had a number of meetings with them. I told them I would think seriously about it and try to reach a decision by the end of the year."
Straz, 74, a retired banker, carries the title "ambassador" from the nation of Liberia, where he did charity work following its 2003 civil war. He now does voluntary civic and charitable work including serving as a trustee of the University of Tampa, Marquette University and Carthage College, both in his native Wisconsin, and as a director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
He's also on the foundation board of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, named for him after a 2009 charitable gift.
Straz would join a long list of other potential candidates including former police Chief Jane Castor and City Council members Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez.
Straz said if he runs, he'll accept campaign contributions but would expect to self-fund a race that could cost $1 million, if spending in the current St. Petersburg mayor's race is any guide.
Backers of Straz say his national reputation and banking experience could spur economic development including international banking and other businesses to Tampa.
John Dicks won't run in House District 58
John Dicks, the former Plant City mayor who may have been the Democrats' best hope of winning the special election to replace Republican state Rep. Dan Raulerson, says he won't run for the seat.
Meanwhile, two Republican candidates, Yvonne Fry and John McClure, announced they have gathered enough petition signatures to qualify by petition for the race. Both said the county elections supervisor's office has validated the minimum number needed, 236.
One Democratic candidate already has filed — Jose Vazquez, who ran against Raulerson in 2016, losing 58-42 percent.
Vazquez lives just outside District 58, and has also filed to run in 2018 in the district where he lives, District 62, which Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, will vacate in 2018 because of term limits.
Republican Colton Curry, who has also said he's likely to run, said he's waiting on polling results before making up his mind.
Curry is the son of well-known East Hillsborough conservative activist Clif Curry.
"We did another poll just to make sure name recognition is out there, so people will understand who I am, why I'm running — and it's not just Clif Curry's kid – whether it's a viable option," he said.
Dicks, a lawyer and blueberry farmer, said via email Wednesday, "We have, right now, too many things going on in our lives (business, personal and family) to disrupt them for an unexpected and quick campaign."
County Democratic Party Chairman Ione Townsend said the local party's candidate recruitment committee has met with one other potential candidate but that Dicks "was the only one we actively recruited."
Qualifying will begin Aug. 15 and end at noon Aug. 16. The primary will be Oct. 10 and the general election Dec. 19.
Raulerson, a three-term representative from the district that covers northeast Hillsborough, announced he's resigning from the seat this month for health and business reasons.
Town halls sparse during congressional recess
Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, will hold a town hall meeting focusing on immigration from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Alonso High School Auditorium, but events by other county representatives during the August recess look sparse.
Castor's announcement says she will "recognize immigrants who have made remarkable contributions to our community through hard work and perseverance."
Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, will hold a town hall in East Pasco County along with two Republican legislators Aug. 22 – location not yet set – plus a transportation summit and Alzheimer's disease roundtable.
Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, has no town hall events scheduled, said a spokeswoman, and a spokesman for Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, didn't respond in time for this column.
Contact William March at [email protected]