TAMPA— Harry Cohen nearly beat out retired banker David Straz to make the mayoral runoff against former police chief Jane Castor Tuesday.

On Friday, Cohen, who finished third with 12 percent of the vote (1,650 votes behind Straz’s 15.5 percent), endorsed Castor as the only candidate who understands the issues facing Florida’s third-largest city.

Cohen said that sitting next to Castor at more than two dozen forums since October persuaded him that her ideas on affordable housing, transit and other issues are the right fit for the city.

“We learned a lot at these forums. We learned which candidates are ready to lead on Day 1. We learned which candidates had realistic visions for the future of our city and which candidates understand the issues and challenges facing us,” Cohen said alongside Castor outside the Port Tampa Library.

Cohen, a term-limited City Council member, has been friends with Castor for years. She praised him at multiple forums and when asked by a Tampa Tiger Bay Club member who she would pick to be deputy mayor, she chose Cohen. Under city ethics rules, Cohen is barred for city employment for a year after he leaves office, but the two candidates were frequently on the same wave length during the campaign and, unlike former county commissioners Ed Turanchik and Straz, Cohen never attacked Castor.

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Cohen also said Castor would be the best pick to handle the city’s budget, which will have to be presented to the City Council, which will have four new members, within a few months of the new mayor’s taking office.

“She’s the only candidate in this race that understands the budgetary realities and challenges that the next mayor will face and she’ll ensure arbitrary budget cuts won’t close after-school programs and end neighborhood investments,” Cohen said.

At a January forum, Straz said he “ought” to be able to cut 10 percent from the city’s $1 billion budget. He’s also said it is full of “waste and fluff” and that a citywide audit would determine where to make cuts.

The Straz campaign had no immediate comment to Cohen’s endorsement.

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Castor said Cohen’s strong advocacy for preparing the city for climate change and his related emphasis on infrastructure improvements influenced her own positions and she would rely on his advice as mayor.

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Cohen vowed to rally his supporters and financial backers to Castor’s camp.

Retired judge Dick Greco Jr., who finished fifth with 8.5 percent of the vote, endorsed Castor earlier this week. Turanchik, who finished slightly ahead in fourth place with 9 percent, said earlier this week that he is spending time with family and not thinking about politics. Mike Suarez, who finished sixth, also demurred from an immediate endorsement as did Topher Morrison, who finished last.

The runoff election is April 23.