Monday, August 20, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: David Straz as mayor? Only if he can embrace retail politics

Perhaps the best way to think of David Straz is as sort of the Michael Bloomberg of the Big Guava, an immensely wealthy man who is noodling around a possible run to become mayor of Tampa.

By all accounts the end of the Bob Buckhorn era in 2019 is tempting several people to think about running for mayor. Former Tampa police Chief Jane Castor seems all but certain to run. City Councilmember Mike Suarez has been humming "Hail To The Mayor" for years. His colleague Harry Cohen might take a shot. Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik's name always gets bounced around. Former state Rep. Ed Narain and public relations executive Bill Carlson, along with architect Mickey Jacobs, also pop up as possible candidates.

But the recent announcement that Straz, who is a mega-Daddy Warbucks, was consulting with a brain trust over a possible campaign certainly caught everyone's attention. After all, Tampa has never had a mayoral candidate who could fly his Gulfstream private jet from Davis Islands to New Tampa if he wanted to.

Straz has been an eminence grise in Tampa political circles for years, whispering his sage advice in the ears of mayors, council members and county commissioners. He has served on the Tampa General Hospital board of directors and has been a generous benefactor to a number of institutions around the community, most notably the David A. Straz Center for the Performing Arts. Catchy name.

To be sure, David Straz has been a genuine community asset, both through his checkbook and his intellect.

And it's also possible he might make a swell mayor, too. Once ensconced in office Straz would be uniquely positioned to deal and negotiate with such figures as Jeff Vinik, Stu Sternberg, the Lykes family and other corporate titans. He is their peer. There's no downside to that kind of relationship. The question for Straz to answer is: Would he be any good as a candidate?

Straz is 74 years old. He is affluent-squared. And he is accustomed to calling the shots. That's all very nice.

Still, it is hard to envision David Straz spending the next year and a half engaged in the kind of grassroots retail politics Tampa demands of mayoral candidates.

Is he willing to spend every weekend — and that is literally EVERY weekend — visiting Tampa's black churches, where it is critical to be seen? How much time will he dedicate to walking the historically Hispanic neighborhoods of the city pressing the flesh?

And how joyful will he pretend to be while making the rounds of the endless community forums across the city sharing a dais with his opponents? It's one thing to be politically active behind the scenes. It is quite another when you are the candidate.

As mayor, would Straz embrace the retail politics of the job? Former Mayor Pam Iorio used to joke that when she stopped at Publix on the way home to get a roasted chicken it might take her an hour to get out of the store because so many constituents wanted a piece of her time to talk about potholes or flooding or parking problems.

Not too long ago, Buckhorn noted that he had not had time to play a single round of golf while mayor. The job can be that consuming, if you love the work.

Of course, it is rather doubtful Straz spends much time hanging around Publix fondling eggplants. But does he possess the political temperament to grasp that being mayor is much more than economic development? It's also being available 24/7 to listen to a constituent's complaints about those young, bar-hopping whippersnappers making too much noise in SOHO.

Yes, it is good to be king. But those peasants can get to be awfully pushy.

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