Carlton: What happened to David Straz?

The mayoral candidate will attend few forums so voters can learn about him. What happened to the civic-minded guy we once knew?
Philanthropist David Straz wants to be Tampa's next mayor.  [TAILYR IRVINE   |   Times]
Philanthropist David Straz wants to be Tampa's next mayor. [TAILYR IRVINE | Times]
Published March 15

Anyone seen David Straz?

Sure, you can spot the Tampa gazillionaire's name across buildings around town, an homage to the philanthropist who once took a notable stand while on the governing board of Tampa General Hospital.

But these days, Straz is the guy spending nearly $3 million — more than the other candidates combined — to win a distant second to former police chief Jane Castor to be Tampa's next mayor. He's the one dropping a cool $17,000 to cater his kick-off and wowing members of his campaign team with personal gifts from Tiffany out of his own pocket. ("My eyes were the size of plates," one gushed at her gift.)

And he's the guy showing up to a bare minimum of public forums that show voters what a candidate's got.

That principled citizen who made those hospital headlines? Not much sign of him.

Straz announced Thursday he would deign to appear at three debates before the April 23 election — fewer than half of what Castor has agreed to. Maybe that's smart political poker: Skip all the events and you look like you're not ready for prime time. Agree to a few and you save face.

Today Straz will be a notable no-show for Tiger Bay, one of the livelier, more provocative events. (Best question wins a prize.) He missed a third of the forums before the March election that put him in a runoff with Castor. When he did show, he did not wow the crowds.

Straz alleged unnamed "fluff" in the city budget and unnamed corruption in government. He suggested an investigation of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's influence. And he backtracked on all of that.

Not that Straz doesn't want to be seen, having spent big on ads that portray him as a man of the people not afraid to push back against the "good ol' boy" network. Though lately he's taken to calling it a "cabal."

But ads don't let people ask the hard questions, like whether you want to be mayor so you can (figuratively) splash your name across City Hall, the most impressive building of all.

A small but telling detail: On a mailer, Straz printed something nice that current mayor Bob Buckhorn said about him. You might assume this was an endorsement unless you spotted type at the bottom so small it was clearly meant for mice to read. It said it wasn't an endorsement, and also something Buckhorn said eight years earlier. Buckhorn, by the way, is most emphatically endorsing Castor.

Still, Straz repeated the mayor's compliment on a recent ad that included the date March 6, 2019. Which is the day a story about the ad kerfuffle appeared and not 2011, when Buckhorn actually said it.

I realize this is politics, not Sunday brunch.

But is this the Straz who quit the governing board of Tampa General, a safety net hospital for the poor, on principle three years ago? Who did it because community leaders and wealthy types on that board decided they should be paid instead of serving for free, as was the time-honored tradition?

It's hard to believe Straz would sully the good name he has built here just to win another title, another accolade.

Or that voters could be bought by a candidate who says he's willing to spend whatever it takes.

Contact Sue Carlton at [email protected]

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