TAMPA — The city’s former top cop will battle one of its richest men as the race to become Tampa mayor heads to a runoff.
Former police chief Jane Castor almost won the election outright Tuesday night, avoiding an April 23 vote. With all 103 precincts reporting, Castor had 48 percent of the vote. If she had breached 50 percent, the election would be over.
Retired banker David Straz finished second with 15.5 percent. He'll face an uphill battle to overtake Castor, who tripled his vote totals.
LIVE RESULTS: See the results in each race.
Castor, 59, won all but two precincts. The two she lost were in East Tampa, where Straz bested here by a combined 26 votes.
Addressing cheering supporters at the Vault downtown, Castor said the city has a unique chance to grow into something special. She vowed to focus on transit, affordable housing and job creation. She didn't mention Straz.
"We have one opportunity to create that city that we want to live and work in. That city we can pass off to the next generation," she said. "We can lift Tampa up to the be greatest city in the nation."
Meanwhile, Straz told his backers at Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park that his business background would propel him to a come-from-behind victory. He signaled future lines of attack: Castor’s record as police chief, the city’s finances and race.
"And one final question: Should there be racial profiling in Tampa?" Straz, 76, asked at the end of a prepared speech, according to an email provided by his campaign. "Tampa has a bright future. The city needs a mayor who can manage a billion-dollar budget with honesty, integrity, transparency and imagination."
City Council member Harry Cohen finished third with 12 percent of the vote followed by former county commissioner Ed Turanchik with 9 percent, retired judge Dick Greco Jr. with 8.5 percent, City Council member Mike Suarez with 5 percent and branding consultant Topher Morrison with 2 percent.
A shortage of affordable housing and increasingly dangerous and congested city streets were the top-tier issues during the nearly 30 mayoral forums held around the city since early October.
But the Castor-Straz contest should bring the city's fiscal health to the forefront.
Budget deficits are predicted to rise until at least 2021 that will add about $13.6 million to the city's tab during the next fiscal year. None of the candidates said they would raise taxes, including Straz and Castor.
In fact, Straz said a citywide audit should identify enough “waste and fluff” to cut 10 percent from the city’s budget.
While Castor said at one January forum that “surgical” cuts would have to be made, she later said the city's budget, especially its workforce, has been pared to the bone. She has criticized Straz's assessment.
During the forums, the candidates also addressed climate change, immigration, parks and potholes.
But Straz often raised issues that had little to do with the nuts and bolts of city government. He told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board in January that he had evidence of “graft and corruption” in a city department, but he declined to name the department or alert city officials.
And in mid-February he called for an investigation of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who has endorsed Castor and given her campaign at least $53,000. Overall, she’s raised more than $1 million.
Castor largely praised the leadership of Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who kept her on as police chief when he took office in 2011. She served until 2015.
She has stressed her track record of leadership and her desire to keep the city on a growth trajectory. But she was dogged by controversy during her tenure as chief, notably the disproportionate ticketing of black bicyclists for minor offenses.
The fight for mayor was easily the most expensive in Tampa’s history, with the seven candidates raising north of $5 million. That total was led by Straz’s bankroll of more than $3 million, most of it his own money, according to the latest campaign finance documents. The candidates’ actual total is likely closer to $6 million once all the affiliated political committee reports are filed next week.
In comparison, the widely-noted spending spree in St. Petersburg’s 2017 contest between Mayor Rick Kriseman and challenger Rick Baker ended up raising about half of the cash spent so far in the Tampa mayoral race this year.
Straz and Castor rarely jousted in public, but their campaigns jabbed at each other over biking while black. A Straz mailer read: “If you were black and low income and riding a bike, police chief Jane Castor wanted you stopped & frisked. Now she wants to be your mayor.”
The city’s police union, which endorsed Castor, held a press conference with the widow of an officer slain in 2010, saying Castor’s picture on the Straz ad, which showed her wearing a commemorative band over her badge in mourning, was inappropriate. The Straz campaign responded that their ad had nothing to do with the two officers killed by Dontae Morris nearly nine years ago.
The Straz campaign has also attacked Mayor Bob Buckorn, releasing a song Tuesday that included lyrics that the 76-year-old Straz was "for us, not the powerful" and "just imagine, a mayor that tells the truth."
Straz's frequent criticism of Buckhorn earned a veiled rebuke from the mayor at the polls Tuesday morning.
"I haven’t spent the last eight years building this narrative to allow it to be destroyed," Buckhorn said after voting at Marjorie Park Marina in Davis Islands. The mayor didn't mention Straz, but he has been critical of the first-time candidate's tactics, including a political mailer linking him to Straz in a positive light.
Buckhorn indicated he would make an endorsement in the runoff. He is likely to back Castor.
A rainy, dank election day depressed voter turnout, which didn’t reach levels seen in 2011, the last competitive mayoral race in Florida’s third-largest city. Turnout was just over 20 percent.