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Tampa Mayor Jane Castor fends off Gasparilla pirates - for now

The mayor puts her own stamp on the Tampa tradition with schoolchildren and her office dog, Alcadesa.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, center, vehemently declines to turn over the key to the city to members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla at downtown's Lykes Gaslight Square Park on Tuesday.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, center, vehemently declines to turn over the key to the city to members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla at downtown's Lykes Gaslight Square Park on Tuesday. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TImes ]
Published Jan. 21, 2020
Updated Jan. 23, 2020

TAMPA — The pirates thought they had all the contingencies covered.

When the band of brightly costumed rogues burst into the waiting area outside Mayor Jane Castor’s office, they had an enormous bone at the ready for her office dog and local celebrity, Alcadesa.

“That’s for you, buddy,” murmured one of the outlaw band.

The mayor’s rescue pup proved amenable to the bribe.

But a dozen children from Rampello K-8 Magnet School — standing two rows deep, arms locked with each other and sporting “Castor’s Krewe” t-shirts — stood in front of the mayor’s front door.

And they didn’t budge.

“Why aren’t you in school?” uttered one exasperated sea bandit.

Eventually, Castor opened her door. She scoffed at Alcadesa’s betrayal.

“You can get through the first line of defense pretty quick,” the mayor said.

One of the pirates asked if Castor, the city’s former police chief, was packing. She played coy.

“You never know,” she said.

After some parley, Castor agreed to accompany the pirates to Lykes Gaslight Square Park for another set piece leading up to Tampa’s long tradition of fake piracy and real partying:

Would the mayor surrender the absurdly large key to the city, or not?

The rest of Ye Mystic Krewe, who had arrived shooting fake guns and firing off fake cannons — both pretty loudly — waited on a stage in the park under banners advertising Saturday’s Gasparilla parade and its sponsor, Seminole Hard Rock Casino.

“Where’s the dog? Where’s the dog?" the pirates cried.

But Castor had already handed Alcadesa off to aide Ian Whitney. (Turns out, Castor’s dog is fond of pirates. Other dogs? Not so much.)

Whitney carried the pooch back to the mayor’s office, leaving Castor to face the buccaneer horde on her own.

Her answer to the pirates’ demand for the key was a foregone conclusion, of course. (No. At least, not yet.) But by the time she gave her answer, it became clear that Castor had put her own stamp on a long and colorful tradition of mayoral intransigence.

In the end, as they do every year, the pirates pledged to return Saturday for the key.

Castor’s predecessor, Bob Buckhorn, frequently assailed the throng of prominent Tampa men dressed up as pirates with tongue-in-cheek insults that often injected national politics into the local celebration.

“Like I said last year, we need to build a wall and make the pirates pay for it. This is nothing but fake news, fellas .... They are definitely deplorables,” Buckhorn said in 2018.

With impeachment hearings about to begin in Washington, D.C. , Castor, a Democrat, didn’t mention Trump. She avoided politics altogether, although her responses to the pirates’ demand for the key had a ring of George H.W. Bush — or at least comedian Dana Carvey’s impression of the nation’s 41st president.

“Not gonna happen,” Castor said. “Not gonna happen.”

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, center, declines to turn over the key to the city while surrounded by members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla - from left, Captain Richard M. Chapman III, J. David Kelly, Robert P. Kelly, C. Todd Burnett and A. Frank Smith at Lykes Gaslight Square Park downtown on Tuesday. It was her only chance - surrender now or face the historic Gasparilla invasion.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, center, declines to turn over the key to the city while surrounded by members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla - from left, Captain Richard M. Chapman III, J. David Kelly, Robert P. Kelly, C. Todd Burnett and A. Frank Smith at Lykes Gaslight Square Park downtown on Tuesday. It was her only chance - surrender now or face the historic Gasparilla invasion. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TImes ]
Members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla invade Lykes Gaslight Square Park in downtown Tampa on Tuesday, where they discussed the advantages of Mayor Jane Castor surrendering the key to the city.
Members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla invade Lykes Gaslight Square Park in downtown Tampa on Tuesday, where they discussed the advantages of Mayor Jane Castor surrendering the key to the city. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TImes ]
Members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla navigate Tampa Street en route to Lykes Gaslight Square Park downtown Tuesday to meet Mayor Jane Castor and demand the key to the city. As is tradition, she said no.
Members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla navigate Tampa Street en route to Lykes Gaslight Square Park downtown Tuesday to meet Mayor Jane Castor and demand the key to the city. As is tradition, she said no. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TImes ]

Instead, Castor relied on her dry wit, deadpanning as the pirates started to “bribe” the Rampello students with beads: “We’ve got a video of this crime in progress.”

Finally, Castor told the pirate and a gathering crowd of shivering onlookers — nearly all of whom held their cellphones aloft to record the street theater on a cold, windy lunch hour — that if she did end up handing over the keys, Ye Mystic Krewe still wouldn’t get its way.

“I’ll change the locks,” she said.