Outgoing state Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, who was ousted in the Florida Republican wave election last week, announced Wednesday she’ll run for a Tampa City Council seat, a move that could strengthen Mayor Jane Castor’s influence on the council.
Cruz will challenge incumbent Lynn Hurtak for the citywide District 3 seat in the March 7 city election.
Shortly after news broke about Cruz Wednesday morning, Hurtak, who filed to run for a new term Oct. 31, posted a video on her Facebook page from Copenhagen, where she’s on a city fact-finding trip, announcing her re-election campaign.
Cruz has close personal and political ties to Castor — her daughter Ana Cruz is Castor’s partner.
Hurtak has been a member of a three-member council minority, along with Bill Carlson and Orlando Gudes, that has clashed with Castor, including proposing city charter changes in workshops two weeks ago that could limit her power.
Most of those moves were halted by opposition from council members Joseph Citro, Charlie Miranda, Luis Viera and Guido Maniscalco, who has been an occasional swing vote between the two groups.
Tension between the factions grew heated and led to shouting and recriminations between Citro and Gudes in a meeting Nov. 4.
Hurtak was appointed to the seat in April to replace John Dingfelder, who resigned amid a public records lawsuit. Carlson, Gudes, Citro and Maniscalco voted for her with Viera and Miranda favoring another candidate.
Cruz said the “divisiveness” on the council was of her main reasons for running.
“Over the past few years I’ve witnessed rhetoric that’s not suited to a major metropolitan city, which we are becoming,” she said. “There’s no interest in working together — late, surprise motions and less and less professionalism.”
She declined to place blame or take specific stances on issues that spurred recent tensions.
“I can’t be positive,” she said about whom to blame. “I’d have to serve and understand what’s going on.”
She said she would “need to dig in and take a deeper look” on the charter changes, but said increasing the power of the Citizen Review Board in oversight of police actions, which Castor opposes, is “a solution in search of a problem.”
But Cruz denied that her ties to Castor would govern her performance on the council.
In the Legislature, she said, “I wasn’t afraid to stand up to the governor or even my own leadership — I’m nobody’s rubber stamp.”
Cruz, whose roots are in West Tampa, was elected to the state House from a district based there in 2010 and rose to become caucus leader for the minority Democrats.
In 2018, she unseated Republican state Sen. Dana Young in her south Tampa-based district.
While in the Legislature, she led a charge to install lead filters on public school water fountains, raising money herself when she couldn’t get a bill passed, and held a dozen large job fairs in Tampa.
“I can probably do more as a council person that I was able to do as a state senator,” she said. “We were such an extreme minority.”
Cruz lost last week to Republican political newcomer Jay Collins, who was heavily backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. She was one of several local Democratic losses, some of them shocking to insiders, in the GOP wave.
Hurtak, of Seminole Heights, is an editor and consultant for nonprofits in international development. She couldn’t be reached overseas by phone or text message for an interview Wednesday.
In her announcement video, she talked about looking at Copenhagen’s “state of the art waste-to-energy plant,” saying it could be a model for a city to achieve “net carbon neutrality. She also said she has worked on affordable housing and communication with neighborhood. She also referred to a measure she introduced, unsuccessfully, to prohibit expenditures of city money on any move to prosecute doctors or pregnant patients for abortions.