TAMPA — Former State. Sen. Janet Cruz cast her opponent in a key City Council race as being anti-gay at an NAACP political forum Monday night.
In her closing statement, Cruz, who is hoping to replace council member Lynn Hurtak in the citywide District 3 seat, asked the 200 or so people gathered in the Middleton High School cafeteria to judge her on her record as a state representative and state senator.
She asked them for “one more chance” to serve. Cruz, the mother of Ana Cruz, a powerful lobbyist who is Mayor Jane Castor’s domestic partner, then said, “I don’t know what Hurtak’s problem is with my daughter and the mayor.”
Several people in the crowd started to boo.
Then Cruz turned around to face Hurtak before saying, “Do you have a problem with gay people? I don’t understand you.”
Hurtak appeared shocked, but didn’t respond as another candidate, George “The Hunted” Feshov, took the microphone to make his closing statement. The forum then moved on to candidates from another council contest.
Earlier in the forum, Hurtak had referenced Cruz’s familial relationship, saying she will have special access to the mayor.
“I’m not going to have the luxury of sitting every single week with my daughter-in-law,” Hurtak said.
Castor and Ana Cruz are not married. They are longtime romantic partners.
Janet Cruz declined an interview Tuesday, but her campaign released a statement.
“My job, as a mother, is to always stand up for my family and nobody should second guess that. I’m proud of my daughter and everything she’s accomplished and Lynn’s continual attack on my family and her whisper campaign is pathetic. We have too many important issues to tackle and I have zero tolerance for mean girls,” the Cruz statement read.
Hurtak said Tuesday that Cruz’s attack was off base. She said pointing out Cruz’s familial relationships isn’t a personal attack.
“I’m not attacking her daughter-in-law. I’m doing my job,” Hurtak said Tuesday, pointing out she is the only candidate in the race who has been endorsed by the county and state LGBTQ groups. Her work on equity and equality issues speaks for itself, she said.
“As a member of city council my job is to be a check and balance on the mayor. Framing a few small policy disagreements... as some sort of hateful attack only underscores the concern that many people in our community share about my opponent’s willingness to perform that core duty of being a check and balance,” Hurtak said. “That’s more concerning for her than it is for me.”
Yvette Lewis, president of the Hillsborough NAACP, said Hurtak never mentioned anything about Cruz and Castor being gay nor did she send any coded messages. Rather, Lewis said, Hurtak appeared to her to be pointing out the familial relationships between the Cruz family and Castor, not their sexual orientations.
When Cruz asked Hurtak if she had a problem with gay people, Lewis said, the tone of the forum took a dramatic shift.
“The whole room pretty much was like, ooooh,” Lewis said. “People were completely shocked that it took a turn like that.”
Lewis said Cruz’s statement got a “buzz” going with many attendees learning for the first time that Janet Cruz was the mother of the mayor’s partner.
Stephanie McClung, a finance consultant with the Cruz campaign who was also at the event, said Hurtak was pointing out to attendees before the forum began that Janet Cruz was related to Ana Cruz and was family to Castor.
McClung said she didn’t interpret anything Hurtak said before or after the event as anti-gay.
“I took it in an attacking tone. I did not take it in an anti-gay tone,” McClung said.