Jane Castor was sworn in as Tampa’s 59th mayor Wednesday in an upbeat inaugural that set a promising tone for her term. She used her first speech as leader of the third-largest city in the third-largest state to celebrate Tampa’s diversity and promise a more inclusive future. It was the right message from a popular, capable leader with a demonstrated sense of fairness and commitment to public service.
Castor’s inaugural message before a large crowd that spilled into adjoining halls of a former trolley barn was as personal as it was generous. The former police chief marveled at the rich fabric of a city where the daughter of a cabinet maker could be elected mayor. She thanked her predecessors in the audience, particularly outgoing Mayor Bob Buckhorn, for laying a foundation for Tampa’s recent success. She pledged to work with other local leaders on a range of priorities, from transportation to housing. And she promised to be a good role model and to “work tirelessly every day to maintain your trust.”
Castor, 59, did not unveil any new policies in her brief remarks. Instead, she used the ceremony, with its Gospel choir and high school reunion feel, as a coming together of civic union and pride. She thanked the departing members of Tampa City Council - two of whom ran against her - for their service, and she promised to work with the newly installed council, which is expected to test her early on. Castor also declared that diversity, equality and opportunity were “values that will guide me as your mayor.” She called out discrimination in all forms, and warned: “We have one opportunity to create a city we want to live and work in.” Her appeal to those higher ideals earned Castor the loudest applause.
Still, this wasn’t an inaugural with blinders. Castor acknowledged that not all the neighborhoods have been treated equally. She sympathized with those in the heavily minority neighborhoods of East and West Tampa who saw new high-rises and waterfront parks downtown but potholes out their front doors. She repeated her campaign promises to improve mass transit, housing and the jobs base. Just as Tampa’s resurgence in recent years had not been accidental, she noted that “our continued success is not inevitable.”
Any honeymoon Castor enjoys in the aftermath of her easy victory may fade in the coming weeks as she juggles new multimillion dollar demands on what’s essentially a break-even budget. A pending lawsuit could delay if not imperil the road and transit improvements she banking on with a new transportation tax. And with little available land and high prices, Castor faces serious challenges in expanding the availability of affordable housing.
But inaugurals are media events that set the stage, introducing leaders in their new roles and sketching out their ambitions. Castor has time to introduce policy proposals; though she intends to follow Buckhorn’s pro-business agenda, she already made her mark with a rollicking, casual ceremony that showed off her humor, even keel and warmth. Her commitment to reach out will be critical in meeting the expectations of Tampa’s under-served neighborhoods and in working with Hillsborough County and area partners on larger issues, from regional transit and job development to conservation. On that score, residents across Tampa Bay should welcome the words from Tampa’s new mayor and hope for her success.