TAMPA — She told the crowd of several hundred people Wednesday night that she was born a cabinetmaker’s daughter, patrolled the city’s streets for three decades and wants another four years at the city’s helm.
Jane Castor, who turned 63 Wednesday, touted a falling crime rate in Florida’s third-largest city, but didn’t mention the recently resigned police chief, Mary O’Connor, during her 15-minute stump speech at the Hotel Haya in Ybor City.
She later told reporters that she didn’t think the national attention focused on her police chief’s actions during a recent traffic stop would affect her campaign.
Neither did some of her supporters.
“I think the mayor acted decisively,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Harry Cohen, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2019, finishing third behind Castor and the late philanthropist David Straz Jr. “I don’t see any serious opposition.”
Two challengers have filed initial paperwork to run in the March 7 election: attorney Belinda Noah and chef Jeff Godsell. Neither has won elected office before, although Noah has run several times.
The qualifying period ends Jan. 20. It’s extremely rare for incumbent mayors to face a successful challenge in Tampa. The last time it happened was more than 50 years ago.
“They don’t get challenged,” Cohen said, except under “extreme circumstances.”
During her speech, Castor ticked off her administration’s efforts to create more affordable housing, overhaul the city’s sewer and water pipes and connect the Riverwalk to the west bank of the Hillsborough River.
Reviving a common campaign refrain from 2019, Castor said the city would change more in the next few years than it has in her lifetime.
But, under her watch, she said, the perennial next great American city has hit its stride.
“Tampa has arrived,” she said.
Castor, a Democrat and former police chief, had a 170-name host committee list for the event. Former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn wasn’t there. But former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman was. So were Cohen, Hillsborough Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez, State Sen. Darryl Rouson and former Hillsborough Commissioner Kimberly Overman, among others. Ybor City developer Darryl Shaw, who developed the Haya, made an appearance.
City Council chairman Joseph Citro was the only council member to attend the event. Castor told reporters later that “the media” had exaggerated the rocky relationship between her and council members.
The mayor, who handily beat Straz in the most expensive political race in city history nearly four years ago, told the crowd: “I don’t know much about politics.” She later told reporters that she welcomed all challengers.
She was introduced by her partner, Ana Cruz, a lobbyist. They posed for family pictures with former state Sen. Janet Cruz, Ana Cruz’s mother and a City Council candidate.
In 2019, Castor’s only losses at the precinct level were in majority-Black areas of East and West Tampa. On Wednesday, she also was introduced by Darrick Fullwood, a Black homebuilder, who called her the “GOAT of mayors.”
Rouson said the mayor has worked to patch things up with the Black community, particularly over her oversight of a program that disproportionately ticketed Black bicyclists, which was revealed by a 2015 Tampa Bay Times investigation. He said she has demonstrated inclusivity and diversity in her administration,
“I think she’s made up for that,” Rouson said.