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  1. Florida Politics

Carlton: To run for mayor, Straz needs better answers

David Straz Jr. announced that he is throwing his hat in the ring and running for mayor of Tampa in next year's election. [ JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
David Straz Jr. announced that he is throwing his hat in the ring and running for mayor of Tampa in next year's election. [ JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
Published May 9, 2018

So the latest and likely last candidate for Tampa mayor — the one who's had the most time and money to get ready for his political debut — kicks things off appearing not to know which of the city's neighborhoods are troubled. Or what those troubles might be.

In the parlance of races both equine and mayoral: And we're off!

You may recognize his name from a performance hall, manatee hospital or college dorm near you: Gazillionaire retired banker and prolific charitable guy David A. Straz Jr. this week officially joined an already varied cast of characters hoping to replace the term-limited Bob Buckhorn in 2019.

Other candidates — the former police chief, the experienced politicos, the guy named Topher — come with their own plot twists. But maybe none's as intriguing on the why-are-you-running question than Straz, who could probably buy this berg in exchange for a couple of his Monets.

So how did he do in his first closeup?

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times' Charlie Frago, Straz, 75, sounded approachable, even affable. He did not, as some critics predicted, request to be addressed as "ambassador" for his title of ambassador at large and honorary consul general for Liberia.

But let's just say there were some stumbles.

He talked of strengthening neighborhoods left behind — an excellent talking point for anyone who wants to run a diverse and complex city. Asked to name one of those neighborhoods, he mentioned South Tampa, where he lives, and where flooding and drainage have been problems.

Right here I picture his political consultants getting neck cramps shaking their heads NONONONONO!

Residents who do not live in the richer south end of town probably do not think of South Tampa as the site of the city's miseries, or even as "left behind." Straz did later mention East Tampa, a better answer, or at least one of them.

Straz said he'd bring his banking skills to the city budget line by line, okay, good.

Though, no, he didn't have any specific fat he's looking to trim.

He opined that the city should pony up something like $100 million to help build a new ballpark for the Rays — cue citizens reaching for their pitchforks — though his campaign later said Straz didn't have a specific amount in mind.

And it will be interesting to see how his admission that he voted for Trump plays in this Democrat-leaning town — even with his plainspoken "I make mistakes" disavowal of that vote and his recent conversion to the Democratic Party.

Straz's biggest challenge may be keeping opponents from portraying him as some rich-guy cartoon character like Scrooge McDuck. Clearly aware of this, he said this week he built his fortune with hard work the old-fashioned way. Though it might be difficult for some voters to relate to "my first bank" as meaning the first bank someone ever bought.

And here's a line that should have perked up the ears of fellow candidates Jane Castor, Harry Cohen, Mike Suarez, Ed Turanchik and Topher Morrison: Straz vowed to not only outwork them but, if necessary, outspend them.

And that one I'm betting you can take to the bank.