TAMPA — David Straz said Thursday he is ready to face Jane Castor in three mayoral debates --- two on television and one on radio.
Castor has agreed to at least eight debates, including a Friday event at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club, a traditional and often tough venue for mayoral candidates here. Straz said today he wouldn't go to that event because of an unavoidable conflict.
"I think voters are exhausted," Straz said at a news conference outside the Belmar Saloon in South Tampa, where he planned to later greet lunchtime customers. "We have a campaign to run. We have a lot of events."
Straz said he planned to deliver a series of "State of the Union" type speeches before the April 23 runoff election, adding that the details of those speeches are still being worked out.
The 76-year-old retired banker said he had attended 18 of the approximately 30 forums before the March 5 primary and thought they were important. But voters, he said, are tired of forums.
Straz, who finished the primary nearly 33 points behind Castor, the 59-year-old former police chief, said his campaign selected the most important debate offers. Those were April 5 on WEDU Ch. 3, the public television station, Spectrum Bay News 9 on April 11 and WTMP Radio on April 12.
Castor and Straz will also meet at a Hillsborough County black caucus forum in West Tampa tonight. That event starts at 6 p.m. at the West Tampa Branch Library
Straz said he wasn't ducking debates because of any concerns about going one-on-one with Castor.
"No, no. Heaven's no. She has no experience other than running a police department," Straz said.
Castor campaign manager Tim Wagner said Castor has a different philosophy about debates.
"Jane believes the more debates the better. She believes voters deserve to hear the vision from each candidate on how we best move Tampa forward," Wagner said via text.
Straz's strategy left forum organizers disappointed.
Tom Scherberger, a board member who was involved in organizing the Tiger Bay event, said the group will proceed with Castor for the Friday lunchtime forum.
"We are disappointed but the forum will go on... We look forward to a lively discussion," Scherberger said via text Thursday.
The Straz campaign said it proposed two alternative dates to Tiger Bay organizers. Scherberger said Friday's forum was announced during a February mayoral forum and the group had already sold tickets for the event. Straz's alternate dates didn't work for Tiger Bay, he said.
Rudy Fernandez, a former City Council member, said late Wednesday that Straz declined to participate in three forums. Castor accepted all three —at the University Club, the Kiwanis Club and the Kate Jackson Center in coming weeks.
On Monday, Castor appeared at a forum at the University of Tampa's Falk Theatre by herself after Straz didn't agree to attend the event organized by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. She was quizzed on her record by a moderator for about an hour.
Straz referenced the sparse crowd at that forum as evidence of voter exhaustion. But his campaign had announced he wasn't going to attend the Chamber forum last weekend, at least two days before the event.
Did his announced absence depress attendance?
"I would hope it would impact the crowd size. I think people are interested in hearing me," Straz said before repeating his belief several more times that voters are just tired of debates and forums.