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Straz kicks off campaign saying he’ll shake up city government

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Published Sep. 8, 2018
Updated Sep. 12, 2018

David Straz Jr. told a crowd at the Cuban Club in Ybor City on Friday evening that he had fielded one question over and over on the campaign trail: Why are you running?

The 75-year-old billionaire philanthropist who made his money in banking said his reasons aren't complicated.

"It's simple: I love Tampa. And someone had to step up and take the job," Straz said.

With Tampa's mayoral election just under seven months away, Straz unveiled a policy initiative in a nascent race that has, so far, been short on substance.

Straz promised to reorganize the city's bureaucracy, grouping six departments—police, fire, neighborhood enhancement, parks and recreation, economic development and minority business development—-into a "Quality of Life Cabinet" that he would gather for personal attention every Monday morning if elected mayor.

"I don't want the focus of city government to be on the government itself. I want the focus to be on the people, families, small business and, most importantly, our quality of life, " said Straz, who spoke for 15 minutes before a raucous crowd that had to be repeatedly reminded to be quiet so that warm-up speakers, including Tampa City Council members Yvonne Yolie Capin and Frank Reddick, could be heard.

Straz said he would meet with his cabinet after dining at Burger King.

"Where I go every morning," he said.

In May, Straz said South Tampa needed help when asked by the Tampa Bay Times which neighborhoods needed attention. On Friday, he spent much of his time driving home his promise to create jobs across the city, especially the predominantly black neighborhoods of East Tampa.

"Minority communities must share fully in our prosperity, Frank," said Straz, addressing Reddick, the council chairman and his most prominent African-American supporter.

Straz also stressed job creation and environmental stewardship, including protecting the city from the effects of climate change.

Straz didn't mention any of his opponents by name, although he did claim he was one of the only candidates *** with experience signing checks. He likely faces former police chief Jane Castor, former county commissioner Ed Turanchik, City Council members Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen, small businessman Topher Morrison and political novices LaVaughn King and Sam B. Gibbons in the March 5 election. The qualifying period isn't until January.

Already, Straz has dominated spending in the race, running TV commercials and placing large buys on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. He's has spent more than $1.5 million so far. He has said he'll spend whatever it takes to win.

In his first run for political office, Straz touted the lack of a political resume.

"I'm no politician," he said.

But Straz said he can be the "red-tape cutter in chief and boy I can do that."

*** Editor's Note: This post originally stated the Straz said he was the "only" candidate with experience signing checks for a business. In fact, Straz said "many of them have never signed the front side of a check."