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Mayor Jane Castor doesn’t draw serious challenge. Her rival does.

Blake Casper, whose family owned Tampa Bay’s McDonald’s empire, files to run against mayor’s nemesis Bill Carlson at the last minute
Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson has drawn a last-minute challenger to his reelection bid, notably from bay-area McDonald's fast food restaurant operator Blake Casper.
Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson has drawn a last-minute challenger to his reelection bid, notably from bay-area McDonald's fast food restaurant operator Blake Casper. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Jan. 20|Updated Jan. 23

TAMPA — Mayor Jane Castor didn’t draw a well-financed, high-profile challenger in the March 7 election, but her chief City Council critic, Bill Carlson, did.

McDonald’s franchise mogul Blake Casper formally qualified to challenge Carlson for his District 4 South Tampa council seat.

That was the drama that had the Tampa political world chattering Friday as the final bell for the qualifying period for the election rang at noon, cementing this election’s Castor-vs.-the council theme, as the mother of the mayor’s romantic partner has already filed to challenge one of her other adversaries.

Carlson had been widely rumored to be mulling a run for mayor. He has said he never gave it serious consideration.

On Friday morning, Casper showed up at a Café con Tampa event, which Carlson runs, to tell him that he was now his political rival. Carlson describes Casper as a good friend and made little effort to disguise his surprise at his entry into the race.

“He and I have been friends for a long time,” Carlson said. “He was one of my biggest supporters when I ran four years ago.”

Carlson said he would have been disappointed if he hadn’t faced a challenge.

“I was afraid they wouldn’t run somebody against me, because then I wouldn’t be able to put my name out there,” Carlson said. When asked who “they” were, he declined to elaborate, saying: “I don’t know.”

Casper, a Castor ally and donor, lent his restaurants to the mayor for several campaign-style coffee conversations last year. His family company announced last year it was selling its McDonald’s restaurants. The company still owns the Oxford Exchange.

Casper has previously faced public scrutiny, notably over his conversion of the iconic Stovall House on Bayshore Boulevard into a private club. Approved by the City Council in 2018, the repurposing of the white mansion and grounds drew heavy opposition from neighbors.

Casper didn’t return a message seeking comment left at the number listed on his filing paperwork.

Belinda Noah was the only candidate to qualify for the mayor’s race other than Castor, but she did so as a longshot write-in. Noah, a Republican, filed this year for a county judgeship, then switched to a circuit court race, unsuccessfully. She ran for the U.S. Senate as a no-party candidate in 2006 and as a write-in in 2010.

Castor’s campaign said the lack of a well-funded, high-profile opponent is testimony to the mayor’s success.

“Mayor Castor being the only name on the ballot is a testament to the success of the first four years of her administration and the trust of Tampa residents have put in her to continue moving this city forward,” read a statement attributed to campaign manager Michael Womack.

The City Council races also have been set.

In District 1, incumbent Joseph Citro will face Alan Clendenin, a Democratic Party activist and retired air traffic controller whom Citro defeated in 2019. Also in the race are Sonja Brookins and Chase Harrison

In District 2, council member Guido Maniscalco is seeking another term in an open seat. He has four opponents, including former two-term council member Mike Suarez, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2019, Florida Rising organizer Robin Lockett and Michael Derewenko.

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In District 3, Lynn Hurtak, appointed to the seat by her council colleagues in April, is running for election against four candidates, including former State Sen. Janet Cruz, the mother of Ana Cruz, the mayor’s partner. Also in the race are Jose Vazquez and George “The Hunted” Feshev.

In District 5, which covers East Tampa, downtown, Harbour Island, Ybor City and parts of West Tampa and Seminole Heights, incumbent Orlando Gudes has Gwendolyn “Gwen” Henderson and write-in candidate Evelyn Jané Marie-McBride as challengers.

In District 6, Charlie Miranda, who is seeking another term in office, this time representing West Tampa and parts of Seminole Heights and South Tampa after being term limited in a citywide seat, faces Hoyt Prindle, Rick Fifer, Tyler Barrett and Nicole Payne.

Only Luis Viera survived without a challenge. The New Tampa and North Tampa incumbent in District 7, Viera nodded toward what is likely to be an election pitting pro- and anti-Castor slates in at least two races.

“I look forward to helping to deescalate our acute political culture and building bridges,” Viera texted, adding he was honored to have earned the trust of his constituents.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this story incorrectly identified two candidates in the District 6 race. They are Rick Fifer and Tyler Barrett.