Tampa philanthropist and gazillionaire David Straz has gotten lots of deserved accolades for his acts of generosity over the years.
His name graces the downtown performing arts center in lights and adorns the sign at a manatee hospital at Tampa’s zoo — both institutions being happy beneficiaries of the retired banker’s considerable largesse.
In fact, I bet his work doing things like serving on Tampa General Hospital’s board of directors has gotten him enough plaques, trophies and assorted thank-yous to last a lifetime.
Now Straz, 75, wants to be the mayor of Tampa.
So. Might it have been wiser to skip being feted in the latest expression of civic gratitude in favor of letting voters finally get a good look at Straz the candidate?
Straz was glaringly absent at a rather successful mayoral forum last week at which six others spent 75 minutes talking about how each one sees the future of the city — from a baseball stadium to human trafficking to meat-and-potatoes budget matters.
But Straz — he of the big campaign spending on TV commercials — was a no-show. His campaign said he was at Berkeley Prep being honored for his charitable work for the school.
Fair to say Straz, admittedly not a politician, was not ready for his closeup back in May when he announced his candidacy and answered some basic questions from Tampa Bay Times reporter Charlie Frago. On the topic of neighborhoods left behind, for example, he first mentioned monied South Tampa — not, at least initially, poorer, more beleaguered communities like East Tampa. It was what you could call a slow start.
But since then, he’s had plenty of time — and money — to catch up.
By now Straz should have been more than ready to take his place on stage alongside the other candidates: City Council member Harry Cohen, former police Chief Jane Castor, small businessman Topher Morrison, attorney Ed Turanchik, first-time candidate LaVaughn King and City Council member Mike Suarez.
If it matters to you who runs Tampa once Mayor Bob Buckhorn terms out early next year, the event did not lack for interesting tidbits. Turanchik, touted as the transportation guy, did not raise his hand in support of the penny for transportation referendum when everyone else did. A feisty Suarez called out a competitor. Not-a-politician Castor spoke of "fiscal stewardship." Cohen talked hard numbers and civility in politics. Long-shot candidate Morrison was smooth even pitching the unlikely transportation option of "urban aerial gondolas." King, also a long shot, got people bristling at the suggestion that poor neighborhoods go ignored.
Substantive? Very. Cordial and respectful, even in disagreement? That too. There was even some shoulder-squeezing and one all-out fist-bump.
These events aren’t just about each candidate’s position on what police get paid or how to deal with our deadly reputation for pedestrians. It’s a chance for voters to get a look at them and their personalities — their knowledge of the issues, sure, but also their demeanor. It’s a chance to size them up ahead of the city elections in March.
But no Straz. Which did not help the perception in some corners that he might want to buy the office rather than, you know, actually run for it.
Tampa voters deserved more than his name printed on a placard and an empty lectern — answers, for starters.