TAMPA — Before the March 5 primary election, Jane Castor used to joke that she felt like part of a rock band as she traveled around Tampa with the six other candidates competing to become mayor.
Now that the field has narrowed to her and opponent David Straz for the April 23 runoff, it's a different tune.
"I guess I'm a solo act," she quipped after a Tuesday lunchtime forum at the downtown University Club.
Straz wasn't there despite receiving an invitation. He also missed a Monday night forum with Tampa's Young Republicans in Ybor City. He has declined to participate in most face-to-face events so far, citing "voter fatigue."
The 76-year-old retired banker and philanthropist has agreed to only three debates before the April 23 runoff, two on television and one on radio.
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On Tuesday, Castor never mentioned Straz during her 23-minute talk and 14 minutes of Q&A with the 40 or so people in attendance. But she said afterward that Straz's no-show only hurts him.
"He's missing out on an opportunity to present his vision and his ideas on the issues that are important to our community and also to hear from the citizens about their concerns," she said.
Straz campaign spokesman Jarrod Holbrook referred the Times to the candidate's previous statements on why Straz has chosen to skip the chance to spar with Castor and take questions from residents. Aside from voter fatigue, Straz has also said he is busy with campaign events.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has endorsed Castor, said during the 2011 election he and opponent Rose Ferlita battled it out at forums, on radio and on TV nearly every day during what was then a three-week runoff period. He says it made him better prepared to handle the often turbulent job of being mayor.
"If you hide from it, you are less prepared on day one when you are expected to do the job," Buckhorn said.
Without an opponent to parry, Castor, 59, spent most of her time in this week's forums telling the crowd about her life. As the fourth of five children in a blue-collar cabinet-maker's family, she said her "break of a lifetime" was an athletic scholarship to the University of Tampa.
Her 31-year career as a police officer, culminating in six years as chief before she retired in 2015, was something she stumbled into, she said. A federal freeze on hiring when she graduated in the early 1980s led her to focus on law enforcement closer to home. It turned out to be her calling.
"I always say I was blessed because for 31 years as a police officer there was never a day that I didn't want to go to work," Castor told both crowds.
Many of the questions covered well-trod ground in the campaign — transportation, pedestrian safety, climate change and public safety. But an audience member at the University Club asked a question that hasn't come up in more than 30 forums since October.
Should the city's Citizen Review Board, which reviews police actions, have more clout, including subpoena power?
Castor said subpoena power wasn't a good solution.
"I really don't think that will help," she said Tuesday, saying police already turn over all evidence on controversial cases, including shootings. She also said there are only a handful of officer-involved shootings a year, although "the media would have you think that police officers are involved in shootings on a daily basis."
The week has also seen Castor pick up the endorsement of a labor umbrella group, the West Central Florida AFL-CIO, which includes school teachers, municipal workers and electrical workers. Last week, City Council members Charlie Miranda and Luis Viera pledged their support.
The Straz campaign hasn't announced any endorsements since the March 5 primary in which Castor nearly won outright, falling just short of the 50 percent threshold needed for victory.
Castor urged the University Club crowd to tell people that there was a still an election going on.
"Remind everyone that it's not over yet," she said.