If campaigns are windows into how candidates would govern, then Tampa voters have an obvious choice in Tuesday's mayoral election. Former Tampa police Chief Jane Castor offers a clear vision, core competence and an upbeat message. Though she heads into the runoff as the undisputed front-runner, voters cannot be complacent. Tampa is at a pivotal juncture, and it needs a mayor with Castor's experience and skills.
Castor nearly won the mayor's race outright in March, narrowly missing capturing the majority of the vote in the seven-way race. She has spent the six weeks since reaching out beyond her base of supporters, winning the endorsement of several former challengers, nearly every living former Tampa mayor and a cross-section of local leaders and interest groups.
As a Tampa native, career police officer and under two mayors the head of the city's largest department, Castor entered the race with an impressive understanding of the city and local government. She has filled out that resume with a tireless campaign that has raised expectations and hope across a diverse, growing city.
Castor recognizes the importance of continuing the remarkable progress under current Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has endorsed her. She would continue his record support for neighborhood projects and key investments downtown. Castor knows from her experience managing the police budget during the Great Recession that the city needs to safeguard its finances to prepare for slower economic times. She promises a renewed focus on street repairs, sidewalks, parks and other basics that help define a city's quality of life. And Castor is anxious to take on new challenges, from expanding affordable housing to making transportation improvements that local voters agreed to tax themselves for in November.
Castor would follow a long line of predecessors who were thoroughly prepared for the job. She also is aware of the public responsibilities that come with being mayor. Throughout the campaign, though a first-time candidate, she has exuded confidence and demonstrated her ability to lead Florida's third-largest city. Castor is open and inclusive; she realizes that mayors live in a fish bowl, and that voters want them to be visible, outgoing and positive. She connects and understands the impact government has on everyday life.
David Straz, a philanthropist and retired banker who placed second in March, has not managed to use his vast personal wealth to create a compelling candidacy for mayor. Straz has given Buckhorn low marks and promised new priorities at City Hall, but the details are foggy and the substance is weak. His campaign is also as negative as it is vacuous. There are legitimate questions Castor should face about her tenure as chief, and she has expressed regret for some policy and personnel decisions. But instead of debating specifics or management abilities, Straz has launched half-baked criticisms over police statistics and Castor's pension. He has irresponsibly painted a fuzzy picture of corruption in Tampa that is baseless and damaging to the city's emerging profile. Straz's campaign was a lost opportunity for voters seeking a genuine choice, and it was distinctly out of step with his civic leadership and generosity to the community.
Castor's deep understanding of the neighborhoods' very different needs impressed many throughout the campaign, a reflection of her grasp of the city from decades as a police officer. She is keenly aware that East Tampa and other minority neighborhoods have suffered from decades of neglect. Castor's work with youth and service on charitable boards enables her to appreciate what government and the private sector can do when they collaborate to improve the safety net. She is a motivator whose energy and inclusive style bring people to the table.
Tampa's downtown is alive like never before, the neighborhoods are growing stronger and the city is competing on the national stage for new residents, businesses and marquee events. Hillsborough County and the region are finally setting a higher bar for the area's transportation system. The port and airports, the University of South Florida, the growing medical community and other major players are raising the economic potential of Tampa Bay. While the entire region has a stake in who leads Tampa Bay's largest city, the responsibility for choosing falls only to Tampa voters. That's why a good outcome on Election Day matters.
A vote for Castor is an affirmation that vision, solid experience and a positive message are still essential qualities in a big-city mayor. It also would be a fitting rebuke to a competing campaign that offered little beyond a persistent drumbeat of darkness. Tampa voters need to turn out Tuesday and demonstrate through this election their own ambitions, expectations and values. That would send a clear message about their support for Castor and their expectation that she will fulfill her campaign promises.