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  1. Opinion

Ruth: Straz plays like rookie in Tampa mayoral race

Tampa mayoral candidate David Straz waves a report during a news conference that he claimed proves his opponent, Jane Castor, manipulated crime statistics during her time serving as a top commander and then chief of the Tampa Police Department. [CHARLIE FRAGO | Times]
Published Apr. 15

It's not uncommon for someone new to something to make rookie mistakes – professional athletes, budding entrepreneurs, artists. That's why they are called rookies.

But when you are 76 years old and attempting to launch a political career, chances are you are only going to get one shot to hit a home run. And Tampa mayoral candidate David Straz is batting 0-for-Oh Boy!

Wile E. Coyote could claim a higher success rate in pursuit of the Road Runner.

By all accounts, Straz is a nice enough man and certainly an immensely successful one after a long career in banking.

But despite all his business triumphs and generous philanthropy, Straz also has demonstrated he doesn't have the vaguest clue about: A. Tampa's political culture and B. how to run for office.

Watching his stumbles and gaffes and unfocused rambling, it is hard to resist the urge to put a shawl over his shoulders and gently steer him to the solarium for some hot chocolate and rousing game of Mahjong.

Who knows if Straz has blown millions of dollars on a campaign team with all the political acumen of Groucho Marx's Rufus T. Firefly's stewardship of Freedonia. Or is the man himself simply a lousy candidate? Or perhaps a bit of both.

It's not unusual for captains of industry to succumb to the delusion they are omniscient. After all, they rose to their high stations in life by dint of their business skills, risk-taking and grasping the nuances of the marketplace. They are used to issuing orders and surrounding themselves with like-minded minions to validate their genius.

So it is a slap in the face to enter the political arena expecting every utterance will be blindly accepted only to be constantly reminded they not all that revered and often quite wrong.

Straz has spent much of his campaign against retired Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor issuing a series of addled pronouncements and vague promises, which are followed with a thundering forehead slaps.

Early on, Straz claimed he had evidence of widespread corruption wafting through Tampa City Hall. But he has neither produced any real evidence of shenanigans, nor has he provided details of the alleged crime wave to Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren. The candidate muttered that Tampa Bay Lightning owner and all-purpose mogul Jeff Vinik should be investigated for something. And just as soon as Straw can think of what it should be, Vinik will be in really big trouble.

And in a truly bizarre bit of naivete, Straz pouted that Tampa is dominated by a clique of powerful people (like Vinik?) who really control things in the city! Duh! Of course they do. Every city in the United States – from New York to Pokoee – has prominent figures who function as a kitchen cabinet to the mayor. In Tampa, these folks are euphemistically referred to as the entire Palma Ceia Country Club membership.

Straz knows this truth better than most since he spent eight years whispering in the ear of former Mayor Dick Greco.

Straz also has accused Castor of cooking the crime statistics while she was chief, based on nothing, relying on an out-of-town "consultant" who subsequently admitted to the Tampa Bay Times' Charlie Frago he had never bothered to actually review the department's data. Instead the "consultant" said he simply relied on "intuition" that the numbers were invalid. A question arises: Would Straz ever engage in a multi-million dollar acquisition of a bank without reviewing the books first?

But for sheer chutzpah perhaps nothing quite tops Straz's caterwauling over what he insists is Castor's attempt to "double dip" the taxpayers of Tampa. If elected, Castor would earn $160,000 a year as mayor while also collecting a yearly $113,000 pension accrued after 31 years of service at the police department.

"That's too much!" Straz whined.

This from a man who has an estimated net worth of $426 million.

Had Castor served in the military and earned a $113,000 pension would Straz still be complaining about "doubling dipping?"

For 31 years, Castor strapped on a badge and gun and put her life at risk for the sake of the citizenry. And Straz thinks her pension and potential mayor's salary is "too much?"

Serving 31 years in uniform might suggest Castor is pretty familiar with the city.

David Straz once served in uniform – as Gasparilla King in 2012. Cut quite a dashing figure, too.

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