Jane Castor is happy to be Tampa’s no-drama mayor

She doesn’t get into Twitter wars. She doesn’t go negative in public. The last thing the public needs, Castor says, is drama.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has been in office for six months.  An early pattern is lots of community engagement.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has been in office for six months. An early pattern is lots of community engagement. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Nov. 4, 2019|Updated Nov. 4, 2019

TAMPA — Jane Castor has had some wins in her first six months as mayor. The City Council unanimously backed her first budget. She secured a utility rate increase that will pay for $2.9 billion in improvements to aging water and sewer lines.

Castor also has had to compromise, most noticeably in her grudging agreement to deep-six a controversial $300 million plan to convert highly-treated wastewater into drinking water.

But since her May 1 swearing-in ceremony at Armature Works, Castor has done one thing above all — kept the emotional level down at City Hall.

No Twitter wars. No public spats.

“People want positive leadership. They want efficient leadership. They don’t want drama,” she said in an interview in her office last week.

Her predecessor, Bob Buckhorn, got into more than a few scraps during his eight years as mayor. He said she’s hitting all the marks so far.

“I think she’s off to a great start. Assuming the office of mayor is akin to drinking water out of a fire hydrant, she has not missed a beat,” Buckhorn said in a text.

Part of Castor’s calm demeanor comes from more than three decades as a police officer, where keeping your cool is a job requirement. And part of it stems from her political philosophy, which she says values bipartisanship and consensus-seeking over posturing and social media battles.

She has traveled to Tallahassee to cultivate a relationship with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. Soon after, Tampa received $1.4 billion for a remake of the Westshore interchange. A registered Republican until 2015, Castor says the current polarized political climate isn’t her cup of tea.

“If bipartisan is working in the best interests of of Tampa, that’s what I, in my view, was elected to do,” Castor said.

But she appears to have her limits. Asked if she would meet with President Donald Trump if he came to Tampa, Castor hesitated, then waffled.

“I would have to say it depends on what the, you know, I’m going to do whatever’s in the best interest of Tampa,” she said, pausing for a beat.

“That’s a very vague answer,” she said, laughing.

What she’s not vague about is her disinterest in politics.

“I don’t enjoy that. I’m someone who just likes to get things done, you know, find solutions to move the city forward. So I know there are a lot of people that love that political sort of the game portion of it and that’s not me,” she said.

Christened a rising star in the Democratic Party after her landslide mayoral victory in Tampa Bay’s largest city, Castor doesn’t appear thrilled with potential requests to stump for any of the looming crush of presidential candidates.

RELATED: Jane Castor has Democratic Party’s attention

“No. I don’t know. How am I supposed to answer that?” Castor said, glancing at her communications director, Ashley Bauman, when queried of her interest.

“You’re looking at all the candidates,” Bauman intoned.

“Right, I’m looking at all the candidates,” Castor deadpanned.

Some have grumbled that she hasn’t been commanding enough in her dealings with a newly-assertive City Council. Others says she has been too slow out of the gate in confronting pressing issues.

Yvette Lewis, the local NAACP chapter president, sits on the mayor’s affordable housing task force and says she’s encouraged by Castor’s stated commitments to East Tampa and minority residents. But she wants to see words converted into deeds.

“Now it’s time for action. You’ve been there for six months, let’s take some action,” Lewis said.

Lewis also wants to see more diversity among the high-level staff. Several of those jobs, including economic development director, the community development area director and a sustainability and resiliency officer, remain open.

Steve Michelini, who often represents entities with business before the city, said Castor’s team and vision is still taking shape.

“They’re getting organized. They brought in some good people. Once they get their feet on the ground I think you’ll have a great city staff and administration,” he said.

Another longtime City Hall observer, consultant Beth Leytham, says she was encouraged by Castor’s recent moves to keep the city’s community redevelopment areas under the mayor’s control.

“You can see she’s getting her sea legs,” Leytham said. “She’s on her path."

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman thinks Castor has already changed Tampa’s path on climate change. He praised her attention to the issue. Castor has launched a nationwide search for a sustainability and resiliency official.

“It is good to have a unified voice in the Tampa Bay region when it comes to tackling the challenges of climate change and sea level rise. I thank her for her leadership and her partnership,” he said in a statement.

Castor said she’s frustrated by the length of time it’s taken to get some of her initiatives underway. On Friday, she unveiled the first of her advisory group recommendations on transportation. Affordable housing, constructive services and others are on the way.

RELATED: Castor unveils transportation plan

Big projects take careful planning, Castor said, but she said she still wants to quicken the pace.

“You make a hundred-million dollar mistake, it has a lasting effect. But doesn’t mean we can’t move a little faster,” Castor said.

Meanwhile, the tone set by Castor is the right one for the current political climate, said City Council Chairman Luis Viera.

“With Jane Castor, you have a lot more dialogue happening than you had with Mayor Buckhorn,” Viera said. “A lot of council members were elected with the promise to hold the executive accountable so she knows if you want to get something done you have to engage in dialogue. It’s a different dynamic.”

As for the next 3 1/2 years, Viera, like most other observers, cautioned that the true measure of the new mayor is still coming into focus.

“It’s very, very early,” he said.