Tampa has blossomed under Mayor Bob Buckhorn. Downtown is alive, the private sector is energized and the entire region has higher ambitions. While Buckhorn did not achieve this alone, an effective big-city mayor sets the tone, tempo and priorities. Former Tampa police Chief Jane Castor has the experience, steadiness and forward-looking agenda to maintain Tampa's momentum, and she is the best choice for mayor in the March 5 election.
Castor, 59, is a Tampa native who rose through the police department's ranks, became the city's first female police chief in 2009 and served six years before retiring in 2015. Over her career, she developed a keen appreciation of Tampa's different neighborhoods. She also recognized the impact of crime, blight and disenfranchisement on too many residents and the city's overall quality of life. During her time as a top commander and then as chief, major crimes in Tampa dropped 70 percent. Castor's use of technology and proactive policing methods helped fuel that trend. She would provide that same spirit of innovation and attention to detail as mayor.
Castor's policy goals mirror those of the two mayors she served as chief, and she would not abruptly change direction. She would develop Tampa as an innovation hub, further diversifying the economy and strengthening the jobs base. She would build on the record spending on neighborhoods by Buckhorn and his predecessor, Pam Iorio, by continuing to upgrade parks, replace aging water and sewer lines, and improve other essential services.
After managing the city's largest department through the Great Recession, Castor recognizes the importance of preparing the city to endure economic slowdowns. She would build the city's surplus and look carefully at the budget to create efficiencies.
Yet Castor also wants to invest in the future. She wants to expand an experiment with police body cameras and outfit every Tampa police officer with one. She supports expanding the streetcar north of downtown into Tampa Heights and eventually into Seminole Heights. She would approach CSX about creating a transit corridor along the rail line from South Tampa to the University of South Florida. Both would address Tampa's need to better connect residents to major employers, hospitals and other destinations. She would name an expert group to explore options for expanding workforce housing, and she would look to make more city lots available for development. Castor is a realist who doesn't over-sell. She acknowledges that the financing for many big-ticket needs, from infrastructure to housing, hinges on becoming more successful at pursuing grants and developing stronger allies in state and federal government.
It's particularly important that Castor recognizes the mayor of Tampa Bay's largest city plays an important regional role. She supports Buckhorn's proposal to convert highly treated wastewater in Tampa into a regional drinking water supply. She is appropriately concerned that an emerging plan to connect St. Petersburg, Tampa and Wesley Chapel with rapid bus service falls short but considers it is worth exploring. Castor also wants a downtown transportation hub for the proposed Brightline train service from Orlando to eventually offer connections to St. Petersburg. Beyond transportation, she would collaborate with area governments on a range of issues, from job development, tourism and climate change to the ongoing effort to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in the region.
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As police chief, Castor occasionally had a blind spot. She defended her department's practice of stopping people for minor bicycling infractions, which disproportionately affected African-Americans. Castor later called the citations "a mistake" as she mulled a run for mayor. She also initially went easy on a police sergeant implicated in a DUI setup scandal. But to her credit, Castor then shook up the DUI squad and created a new professional standards bureau to address several cases of poor policing. As mayor, she should resist any impulse to become defensive and circle the wagons when policy or personnel issues surface.
Harry Cohen, 48, is a thoughtful attorney and member of the Tampa City Council who is termed-out of his South Tampa district. He would focus on the fundamentals, from public safety and good schools to reliable city services. Cohen's government experience, civic involvement and solid grasp of transportation and other key issues have made him a formidable voice for progress. He also has a proven ability to bring people together.
Mike Suarez, 54, who is termed-out of his citywide council seat, promises to shift more attention to the neighborhoods and would beef up code enforcement. Retired county and circuit judge Dick Greco Jr., 64, son of the former mayor, vows to make City Hall more responsive and transparent. Ed Turanchik, 63, an attorney and former Hillsborough County commissioner, is a big thinker who was an early supporter of a robust mass transit system in Hillsborough. But his vote against the successful transportation tax referendum in November is bewildering. Philanthropist and retired banker David Straz, 76, offers a weak grasp of the budget, a fuzzy agenda and a paternalistic tone toward voters in low-income neighborhoods. Small businessman Christopher "Topher" Morrison, 50, promises to treat the neighborhoods more equitably.
Castor has the best combination of experience, knowledge and temperament. Her vision for Tampa, management expertise, knowledge of city government and people skills would enable her to keep the city moving. As police chief, she was comfortable in public and poised in crises. Though being mayor is far different, Castor's involvement as a board member or volunteer with a range of social services organizations broadens her perspective. While she is more reserved in public than Buckhorn, she is warm and approachable, a good listener and an honest broker who has broken barriers. As an ambassador for the city, she offers core competence and essential decency.
Tampa's national profile and civic pride are rising along with its downtown skyline and ambitions to be an inclusive, vibrant destination. The next mayor should keep building the momentum, ensure under-served neighborhoods share in the successes and continue forging a regional identity to make Tampa Bay more competitive. Castor is the best suited in this crowded field to keep the city on the right course. For mayor of Tampa, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Jane Castor.