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William March: After outcry, Straz campaign returns debate tickets to Bay News 9

Free tickets for an April Bay News 9 debate between former Tampa police chief Jane Castor, left, and retired banker and philanthropist David Straz were gobbled up within hours after they were offered online. After an outcry from the Castor campaign, and a story by the Times, the Straz campaign said this week it has now returned the tickets, and that the station will re-offer them. [Times files]
Free tickets for an April Bay News 9 debate between former Tampa police chief Jane Castor, left, and retired banker and philanthropist David Straz were gobbled up within hours after they were offered online. After an outcry from the Castor campaign, and a story by the Times, the Straz campaign said this week it has now returned the tickets, and that the station will re-offer them. [Times files]
Published Mar. 20, 2019

Straz campaign returns tickets

David Straz has been reticent to appear in debates with his opponent in the Tampa mayor's race, Jane Castor, but when he does, he apparently wants to make sure the crowd is friendly.

Last week, the Straz campaign took advantage of an unrestricted offer of free, online tickets to the April 11 Bay New 9 debate. Overnight, a staffer signed up for a large number — apparently most of the tickets — within a few hours after they became available.

The result: Less than 24 hours after the ticket offer was posted late on March 14, the event was listed as "sold out" on the station's web site and the Eventbrite ticket portal, and as of mid-day March 15, the only source was the Straz campaign's Facebook page.

Through Tuesday, it continued to offer tickets, plus a free Straz-for-mayor T-shirt, to supporters who signed up with an email address and phone number.

After an outcry from the Castor campaign, and a story by the Times, the Straz campaign said this week it has now returned the tickets, and that the station will re-offer them.

"When tickets were available, a staffer went online and signed up for a large amount of tickets to give to our strong support base interested in attending the debate," said a statement from Straz spokesman Jarrod Holbrook. "Once this was brought to our attention, we began working with Bay News 9 and we offered to return the tickets. There were no restrictions or rules in place when our staffer secured the tickets."

He wouldn't respond to further questions. Bay News 9 officials didn't return calls for comment in time for deadline, but Holbrook said he believed the station will re-issue tickets for the debate.

The Castor campaign said it believes the station will give each campaign a block of 400 tickets, with another 200 to be distributed by the station.

"We're not in the business of scalping tickets or restricting the ability of others to attend one of the few debates Mr. Straz agreed to participate in," said Castor campaign manager Tim Wagner. "We look forward to working with (Bay News 9) to ensure anyone who wants to can attend the debate."

Straz has already skipped a couple of debates or forums with Castor, including one held by the Tampa Tiger Bay Club. He has agreed to participate in three, while Castor has agreed to eight. He previously skipped several leading up to the March 5 primary.

"I think voters are exhausted," Straz told reporters recently about skipping the forums. "We have a campaign to run. We have a lot of events."

He has also said some of the event conflicted with his charitable work — Straz is a noted philanthropist.

White filed in county D3

Add at least one more candidate to what could become a crowded race to replace term-limited County Commissioner Les Miller in the minority-influenced District 3 — Sky White, a progressive Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for a countywide seat in 2018.

White, 35, a county native and licensed practical nurse with one son, lives in the Riverview area and works as a clinical reviewer for Medicare claims. The district runs from the university area through east Tampa and down to Progress Village — "the county's most marginalized district," she said.

"I don't believe in giving up," she said. "I don't want to be that one-time candidate that comes in one time and disappears."

In 2018, endorsed by the party's Progressive Caucus, White ran second in a three-way Democratic primary for the seat eventually won by Democrat Kim Overman.

She said the district race is a better fit for her, and her campaign will focus on affordable housing; climate justice and transportation, including bike and pedestrian safety.

Retired county health care official Gwen Myers has already filed for the seat and term-limited City Council member Frank Reddick has said he intends to.

Gruters reacts to Nazi post

State Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters said this week he supports county party Chairman Jim Waurishuk but doesn't agree with the local party's use of a Facebook post and tweet comparing Democrats to Nazis.

"I would personally refrain from calling anybody a Nazi," he said. "One of the issues we face as a country right now is everybody is calling everybody else an extremist. We do have real extremists, and it can make the lines become blurred.

"The Democrats are not Nazis, and Democrats who call Republicans Nazis are wrong also."

Gruters said he "may talk to Jim about more effective communication," but also said he considers Waurishuk "a great patriot who's served our country in the service, and I think he'll turn Hillsborough County around" from the GOP losses in local 2018 races.

The local party drew negative comment from several Republicans recently with a tweet and Internet post comparing Democrats to

Nazis, saying they both advocate "socialism," "no guns," "censorship," "media mind control," "abortion," "hate Jews" and "worship the government."