TAMPA— When Jane Castor addressed the crowd at Tampa Pride Saturday morning, she said she hoped the parade — banned for eight years earlier this century— would eventually became the biggest Pride gathering in the Southeast.
Castor, the 59-year-old former police chief, would make history as the city’s first openly-gay mayor if elected on April 23. But her race against 76-year-old retired banker and philanthropist David Straz smashed another record months ago: money.
The most expensive race in Tampa history is only getting pricier: the two candidates have raised more than $5 million, according to the latest campaign finance filings.
Straz has almost totally self-funded his campaign, putting in another $800,000 since the March 5 election narrowed a seven-person field to him and Castor. He has more than $3.9 million in the race so far, spending more than $3.3 million, largely on a bevy of advertising and campaign events, including recent “telephone town halls" apparently costing tens of thousands of dollars, according to the filings which cover up to March 22.
Castor has also stepped up her cash-gathering game, topping $1.4 million between individual contributions and her affiliated political committee, Tampa Strong.
Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has been a generous donor, contributing more than $100,000 through individual donations and through his firms.
Castor has spent just under $900,000 so far, less than 1/4 of Straz’s spending.
So far, the candidates have rarely met face to face in the first month of the runoff campaign. Straz has skipped several forums since the primary. On Saturday, he was invited to help kickoff Pride on the same stage as Castor, but didn’t show.
Pride organizer Carrie West said he didn’t know why Straz decided not to appear for the 10 a.m. kickoff, but noted he was scheduled to take part in the 1 p.m. parade and has been a Pride supporter.
City Council member Guido Maniscalco had been the only returning incumbent City Council member to remain neutral in the race, but told the Times Saturday that he was endorsing Castor.
The Straz campaign has been too negative in its campaigning, Maniscalco said.
Many of Straz’s recent campaign events haven’t been advertised in advance—at least to the Times—often appearing as pictures and videos afterward on Straz’s campaign Facebook page.
The most recent video shows Straz standing at a Seminole Heights intersection, saying he would investigate why it was so dangerous. He said he would drive the city’s streets “in all directions to see where the traffic’s coming from and where it’s going. But this whole problem needs to be looked into."
The Straz campaign hasn’t announced any major endorsements since the primary election while Castor has announced the support of major unions and elected officials several times a week for the past month.
Castor nearly won the primary election outright with 48 percent of the vote, just shy of the 50 percent threshhold and tripling Straz’s second-place vote totals.
Through Thursday, the latest data available on the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections website, 12, 366 or nearly 22 percent of mail ballots have been returned, a much faster pace than in the weeks before the primary.
On Friday, Castor and Straz will meet for their first televised debate on WEDU, which will be broadcast that evening during the Florida This Week program on the public television station.