TAMPA — Jane Castor wants the city to know it’s strong, she’s strong and that she’ll be the strong mayor that Tampa needs.
The former police chief kicked off her mayoral campaign at the Columbia restaurant in Ybor City on Thursday evening with an enthusiastic introduction from owner Richard Gonzmart in front of several hundred people packed into a large banquet room. Organizers said it topped 400.
"Tampa Strong" is the name of Castor's political committee. It was also the theme of her 13½-minute speech. Strong oversight of city services. Strong neighborhoods. A strong police force keeping residents safe.
"We are Tampa Strong," she said to loud applause.
A recent poll showed her with nearly 50 percent of the vote, far out in front of her announced opponents. But Castor started off her first political campaign by dousing those high expectations.
"This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint," she said. "Keep that in mind going down the road."
She praised her former boss, Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has called her the strongest candidate in the race. She credited him for kickstarting the city's recovery from a deep recession, and Castor promised to continue the city's renaissance.
"We are open for business and I full intend to keep it that way," she said.
So far, Castor has out-raised her opponents, but no one doubts the field is strong. Council members Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen, former county commissioner Ed Turanchik, retired banker and philanthropist David Straz and small businessman Topher Morrison round out the deep, experienced field.
Castor didn't mention any of her rivals. In fact, she disavowed politics altogether.
"I'm not a politician," she said. "I'm a doer."
She said the city has work to do in improving transportation, especially linking people to jobs. Affordable housing will be another priority, she said, noting that most teachers can't afford to buy a house in the state's third-largest city.
And in case anyone forgets, Castor reminded them: "I stand Tampa Strong."
The deadline to register to vote in Tampa's 2019 election is Feb. 4. The primary will be held March 5. The general election will be in late April but the official date has not yet been set.