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  1. Opinion

Henderson: Straz's defeat — and Castor's victory — provide ample lessons for future candidates

Much has been made of the wretched campaign David Straz waged in a failed attempt to become Tampa's mayor, but that tells only part of the story. It's a cautionary tale that should be revisited by anyone ever thinking of running for this office.

Straz's campaign advisors were adept at spending their candidate's money, and not much else. They pulled their candidate into the gutter, and ineptly so. They left him there to wallow right up to election day, where Jane Castor walloped him 73-27 percent.

READ MORE: How did David Straz spend $5 million on his campaign? Here are his top expenses

Straz was somehow convinced he could overcome all of Castor's advantages by flooding airwaves and mailboxes with unseemly innuendoes that Castor was the product of a corrupt and closed system.

READ MORE: Former David Straz staffers say Nashville consultant played big role in campaign's failure

Let's be honest, though.

No one was going to beat Castor. Straz would have lost even if his campaign was sunshine and cotton candy. A large majority of voters knew, liked, and most of all respected Castor for many years before she ever thought about running for mayor.

They saw her strength and compassion in some of the city's darkest hours, like the murders of Tampa Police officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis. They saw the city's crime rate fall dramatically on her watch. And when Straz sent out a mailer that said being police chief hadn't prepared her for the job, well, that didn't make sense.

Incredibly, he kept up that line of attack until the polls closed.

He lost more than an election in the process. Straz likely suffered damage to his reputation that he may never overcome, at least in some quarters, even with his considerable acts of philanthropy throughout the city.

It really is too bad that better angels didn't whisper in his ear that a legacy built over a lifetime mattered more than splattering mud to win an election.

Local political science majors could spend many classroom hours studying the mistakes Straz made.

That's not to say there aren't issues that could have been expertly exploited by a savvy campaign.

Start with the belief in outlying parts of the city that downtown gets all the love and attention. It is true that now-former mayor Bob Buckhorn concentrated a lot of energy on his high-profile downtown makeover. Critics grumped that it came at the expense of neighborhoods in other parts of Tampa.

It's a legitimate issue.

Of course, Castor would have had an answer for that. She spent 31 years in the Tampa Police Department and patrolled many of those neighborhoods. She built relationships with leaders and everyday people.

Straz tried to exploit Tampa's long-simmering racial divide.

That, too, is a legitimate issue.

The way his campaign went about it, though, was foolish. It was just more wedge-driving instead of bridge-building.

But, oh yeah, Castor beat him to the punch on that issue, too. She recognized early on that she had a vulnerability with the African-American community. She smartly confronted the mistakes she had made as Police Chief, especially the contentious "Biking While Black" issue brought to light by a Tampa Bay Times investigation.

So, while Straz was trying to paint her as someone blacks could not trust, Castor countered with endorsements from many trusted leaders in that community.

By election day, there was no doubt that Castor was going to enjoy a huge win. Now she is installed in the mayor's office, and off we go.

But in the future, anyone considering run for mayor should study this race and reach some obvious conclusions. You can't buy or smear your way into this office. You win it the old-fashioned way, with handshakes and lots of listening to what people are saying.

You earn their trust.

That's what Castor did. That's why she is the mayor.

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