Jane Castor’s overwhelming victory in Tampa’s mayoral election reflects her core competence and the expectations voters share for continuing Tampa’s renaissance. Castor was the runaway favorite in the seven-way race for her experience, character and upbeat message, and those qualities became even more defining in the runoff against David Straz. Now Castor must deliver on her vision for both downtown and the neighborhoods. She starts with broad public appeal, the support of local leaders and a forward-looking agenda the entire Tampa Bay region can embrace.
Castor nearly won the crowded primary outright in March, and she trounced Straz in the runoff Tuesday. Voters saw her three decades at the Tampa Police Department, capped by her tenure as chief, as relevant experience that set her apart. Castor pledged to continue the path blazed by term-limited Mayor Bob Buckhorn in energizing downtown and spending heavily in the neighborhoods. But Castor also offered a vision of her own, vowing to expand affordable housing, improve public transportation and create stronger relationships between residents and police. She will need to be creative, careful with the budget and mindful of public concern for her balanced agenda to succeed.
During the campaign, Castor sketched out a credible plan for spending Tampa’s share of Hillsborough’s new transportation tax. Her support for expanding the streetcar and for a mass transit connection between south Tampa, downtown, east Tampa and the University of South Florida would be transformative for families and businesses alike. And it would help jump-start efforts for regional mass transit from Pinellas to Pasco counties.
While building on Buckhorn’s legacy, Castor would work to make new development more sustainable. That will require her to ensure that new urban infill projects in West Tampa, West Shore and elsewhere are vibrant, mixed-use communities. She needs to work with developers and employers to maximize incentives for affordable housing. And the city needs to improve core services - lighting, road repairs, code enforcement - to expand the appeal of urban living to blighted neighborhoods.
Castor also promises to focus on the basics. She wants City Hall to be more responsive, whether in handling building permits or communicating with residents. Castor should make a priority of her pledge to seek outside grants to outfit every police officer with body cameras. As a department head during the Great Recession, she is sensitive to the need to be fiscally cautious. The city needs to maintain its healthy budget reserves and strong credit rating and plan thoughtfully to make the most efficient use of infrastructure dollars.
Residents want to see and hear from their mayor. Castor’s popularity as a candidate stemmed in part from her visibility over the years, whether mingling with protesters during the Republican National Convention or working with local charitable boards. Residents want the mayor out and answering directly for the safety of their neighborhoods and the condition of their parks.
Castor will also need to build a strong working relationship with city council and with other area agencies, especially on issues involving transportation, trade, tourism, job development and natural resources. She brings a broad mandate to the table and appreciates the leadership role Tampa must play in the growing region. Tampa voters made the best choice Tuesday, and now it’s Castor’s turn to repay that confidence by meeting the high expectations.