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Castor, Cruz Tampa election campaigns closely aligned

Cruz has faced questions about whether she will be an independent voice on the City Council.
 
Janet Cruz, the former state senator who is running for Tampa City Council, has faced questions about whether she will be an independent voice in dealing with Mayor Jane Castor's administration. Their campaigns are closely intertwined.
Janet Cruz, the former state senator who is running for Tampa City Council, has faced questions about whether she will be an independent voice in dealing with Mayor Jane Castor's administration. Their campaigns are closely intertwined. [ STEFANIE THEODOROPOULOS | handout ]
Published April 8

Seeking a citywide Tampa City Council seat, Janet Cruz has insisted that she’ll operate independently regardless of her family ties to Mayor Jane Castor.

But in their campaigns and political operations, the two have been about as closely intertwined as their families.

In an election that in some ways has been a referendum on Castor’s administration, Cruz has had to battle the perception that she would be loyal to Castor because she is the mother of Castor’s domestic partner Ana Cruz. Janet Cruz is challenging Lynn Hurtak, who was appointed to the council last year.

Asked about the relationship by a voter in a March 22 candidate forum, Cruz called it “a fair question,” but said people “respect me as an independent public servant who has an independent mind.”

“I will not be a rubber stamp for anyone. I don’t rubber stamp anyone nor will I take direction from anyone. I’ll do what’s right for the people. I’ve always done that and I’ve always been able to live off of my record and the respect of my sterling reputation.”

But the political ties are close between Cruz’s campaign and her independent political committee, Building the Bay, and Castor’s re-election campaign and committee, Tampa Strong.

They have employed several of the same political operatives and consulting firms, and Castor’s Tampa Strong has sent out at least two campaign mailers boosting Cruz’s campaign.

And Castor and her committee have continued to raise and spend money actively, including payments to the firms that worked for both Castor and Cruz, even after Castor learned at the end of qualifying Jan. 20 that she would have no opponent on the ballot.

The two campaigns and the two committees all share the same treasurer, veteran Democratic political money manager Jonathan Brill.

Ashley Bauman, Cruz’s campaign spokeswoman, also served as spokeswoman for Castor’s campaign and for Cruz’s unsuccessful 2022 campaign for re-election to the state Senate.

Before that, she was communications director for the administrations of Castor and former Mayor Bob Buckhorn. After leaving the city payroll she signed up with the Mercury Public Affairs consulting firm, and is paid through Renaissance Campaign Strategies.

Both Mercury and Renaissance have been employed by both the Castor and Cruz political operations. The current Castor administration spokesman, Adam Smith, worked at Mercury before replacing Bauman.

From Jan. 20, the end of qualifying, to the end of February, Castor’s campaign and Tampa Strong together have raised $244,448, with new fundraising reports covering March due next week.

In that time, Tampa Strong has paid Renaissance $126,700, most for direct mail but including $8,000 for “political consulting.” The Castor campaign has paid Renaissance $59,499 for direct mail, communication consulting, campaign management and digital ads.

That money went to other causes in addition to boosting Cruz and Castor.

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Tampa Strong has spent money on mailers benefiting unsuccessful council candidate Blake Casper and opposing four charter amendments that were on the March 7 ballot, three of which passed.

As of the end of February, Castor’s Tampa Strong still had about $280,000 in the bank, while Cruz’s Building the Bay had almost emptied its account, spending all but about $7,000.