TAMPA — This year’s City Council elections have been billed as a shadow war between Mayor Jane Castor and City Council members who have opposed her.
If that’s the case, then Thursday’s news that the Tampa police union has refused to back four of the seven incumbents sends a message: Police officers support the mayor.
The Police Benevolent Association passed on the candidacies of council members Bill Carlson, Lynn Hurtak, Orlando Gudes and Joseph Citro. Instead, they announced their support for challengers Janet Cruz, the former state senator, over Hurtak; South Tampa business mogul Blake Casper over Castor nemesis Carlson; and Gwendolyn “Gwen” Henderson over Gudes, who retired from the police department after a long career.
Carlson, Hurtak and Gudes have been critics of the mayor.
The union is also backing Democratic Party and union activist Alan Clendenin over council chairperson Joseph Citro, a Castor ally.
Council member Guido Maniscalco got the nod over Mike Suarez, a strong supporter of the union during his time on council from 2011 to 2019, in the race for District 2.
Also endorsed was council member Luis Viera, who has already been reelected to his North and New Tampa district as no one challenged him.
The mayor is on vacation this week and union officials didn’t respond to a request for comment made through a spokesperson, but it is rare for the city’s police and fire unions not to back incumbents.
Castor doesn’t have a serious opponent, but six council members are trying for another four-year term in the March 7 election.
Castor has said she backs Cruz, the mother of her partner, Ana Cruz. Janet Cruz’s opponent, Hurtak, was appointed to the seat in April after a Castor rival, John Dingfelder, resigned his seat in the face of mounting legal bills concerning public records violations. Dingfelder has said the mayor’s administration targeted him for opposing some of her policies.
Castor told the Tampa Bay Times last week that she’s likely to back Casper in his bid to unseat the council member that draws the mayor’s greatest ire — Carlson.
Carlson has clashed with police leadership, namely former police chief Brian Dugan, who dubbed Carlson “Bullet Bill” for the council member’s opposition to the purchase of training ammunition for the police department during the 2020 summer protests following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Shortly after news of the endorsements broke, Viera, noting the political moment with the impending city election, voiced his support for police during Thursday’s council meeting. He pointed to Portland, Oregon, where he recently traveled with his son, as an example of cities that don’t appreciate law enforcement and are sliding into crime-ridden chaos.
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Carlson responded to Viera’s comments, saying he has always backed the police. He sought to shift blame for Tampa’s rising crime rate to Castor.
Hurtak had an early clash with union officials after social media posts surfaced of her supporting defunding the police in 2020 and 2021. Hurtak said at the time that her views had evolved and she met with union officials to hear their concerns.