TAMPA — Banker, philanthropist and patron of the arts David A. Straz Jr. said Thursday that he soon will announce the formation of an exploratory committee to help him decide whether to run for mayor of Tampa in 2019.
Straz also plans to open a bank account to help the committee in its work, but says it will be months before he announces whether he'll run.
"I'm thinking about it now," Straz told the Tampa Bay Times. "I'm exploring the possibility. I won't have a decision on that until about the first of the year."
Straz said he's had a lot conversations about the idea of running, and "all of the comments have been very, very positive," though he was cautioned as recently as Thursday morning that he needed to understand that being mayor was an all-consuming, 24/7 job.
"What I get is, 'Why would you ever want to do something like this? Your time won't be your own,' " he said. "I say I've given back to my city financially, and now I want to give back some time and talent."
Straz said he has not determined what his priorities as mayor would be if he runs.
"That's one of the things this committee will sort out," he said, declining to name any of its members. "It's quite an awesome committee, so stay tuned."
Straz also would not say how much money the committee will have at its disposal.
"I don't know what expenditures there will be," he said. "It will have attorney's fees, accounting fees, publication fees, and we need to be prepared for it."
Straz, 74, is one of a half-dozen or so potential candidates who are mentioned as possible successors to Bob Buckhorn, who will be forced by term limits to leave the mayor's office at the end of his second four-year term on April 1, 2019.
Other possible candidates include former Tampa police Chief Jane Castor, City Council members Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez, architect Mickey Jacob and retired Hillsborough Judge Dick Greco, the son of the former four-term Tampa mayor by the same name.
A poll done in May found that former Mayor Pam Iorio — who has not indicated any desire or plan to run — led a field that included most of those names, plus former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, former state Rep. Ed Narain, public relations executive Bill Carlson and City Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin, who has since filed to run for the County Commission. Iorio, now the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, has told friends she has no interest in running for mayor again.
Another poll done in June that did not ask about Iorio, Carlson, Capin or Greco found that Castor led the field, with "unsure" a close second.
Straz was not included in either poll, but it's safe to assume he would have the ability to self-finance much of the cost of a mayor's race. In 2011, the last time Tampa had a seriously contested mayor's race, Bob Buckhorn, Rose Ferlita and Dick Greco raised and spent about $567,000, $500,000 and $477,000, respectively.
Straz also would come to the race with a huge network of relationships in the private sector and Tampa's leadership circles. A retired banker, he has chaired the boards of Tampa General Hospital and the University of Tampa. Tampa's performing arts center is named for him, thanks to a 2009 gift from Straz and his wife, Catherine, estimated to be about $25 million. There's also a dormitory at the University of Tampa named for him, as well as the manatee hospital at Lowry Park Zoo.
Straz also played a key role in helping secure direct flights between Tampa and Havana and has built relationships aimed at promoting a performance by the Cuban National Ballet, a consulate, a yacht race and a scientific partnership. His relationships in Cuba are so firmly established that, according to a 2016 Times profile, when his private jet is heading to Havana, the airport there puts passenger plane traffic in a holding pattern until after he lands. Straz carries the title "ambassador" from the nation of Liberia, where he did charity work after its 2003 civil war.
Contact Richard Danielson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times.