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NEW CHIEF IS A BIG STEP FOR TAMPA

When longtime cop Jane Castor got a big promotion a few years back, one that put her a step closer to becoming Tampa's first female police chief, I wrote about her by listing what I thought were some interesting facts.

Such as: She was a lanky 6-foot blond who wore size 11 shoes. She went to the University of Tampa on a basketball and volleyball scholarship. She had worked everything from prostitution to protecting presidents in her more than 20 years on the job. Her favorite movie was To Kill a Mockingbird. She had two little boys about whom she could talk endlessly. She had known four fellow cops killed in the line of duty.

And one I thought might get the most comment: She said she couldn't have imagined the big announcement of that promotion without her family, including her female significant other, there with her.

Later, Castor told me she did indeed get comments about that column.

Mostly, about the size of her feet.

Four years later comes an even bigger promotion, the biggest. Castor will make history as police chief when Steve Hogue retires in a few weeks.

(A moment about Hogue: His six years at the helm saw a reduction in crime and got him praise from both the mayor and the public. His retirement is a loss. Off to hike the Appalachian Trail and dote on his grandson, Hogue said the nicest possible thing about the person taking over, telling reporters Castor would ultimately be the best police chief Tampa ever had. People actually went "Awwwwww.")

Naturally, reporters who came for the big announcement this week asked Castor about the implications of the whole first-woman-chief thing. She handled this neatly.

While the significance wasn't lost on her, she said, "Frankly, I'd rather be known as a good chief than the first female."

Afterward, a TV reporter carefully asked in an interview about her "leading in other ways" and mentioned her "lifestyle," but not the actual word "gay." Castor smiled and deferred similarly. The job, she said, is what matters.

"It shouldn't matter, and it doesn't matter," Mayor Pam Iorio said as we stood watching the interview. "All that matters is that she's ready to assume the position of chief."

"I have total confidence in Jane," the mayor had told the room at large.

Could this be? Could we actually have reached the point where what matters is a police chief who is smart and quick and confident, respected and accomplished, someone who knows a city's problems?

Because sometimes, it seems like we keep electing the same knuckle-dragging troglodytes around here, the kind willing to waste their time and ours by getting in a huff over non-issues like gay pride displays.

Is it possible that for most of us, this detail about Jane Castor is no more remarkable than her blond hair or her (forgive me, Chief) rather large feet?

We can hope.

A couple of weeks ago, Castor faced reporters when, again, one of the department's own had been gunned down. Chief Hogue was at the hospital with the family, and it was Castor who stood up to steadily give details of the terrible thing that happened to Cpl. Mike Roberts. Later, she too sat with the widow, as a chief should.

Big shoes indeed.

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