Forumpalooza starts off in Tampa mayoral race with a return to sparring

The first of three mayoral forums within 24 hours on Tuesday saw Jane Castor and Ed Turanchik mix it up, joined by Harry Cohen and David Straz as they battle to survive the March 5 election.
Published Jan. 22, 2019

TAMPA — If the first of three mayoral forums in less than 24 hours was any indication, the recent lull in political push and shove has ended.

During a lunchtime forum Tuesday at the downtown University Club, former Hillsborough County commissioner Ed Turanchik repeated claims that opponent and former police chief Jane Castor had damaged trust for police in the black community with her department's disproportionate ticketing of black bicyclists. He advocated for more community policing.

Castor has apologized for the policy before. She didn't do so on Tuesday. Instead, her thrust was about Turanchik's lack of knowledge about police matters.

"It's funny. He talks about community policing. I don't think Ed even knows what he's talking about there. We have a great relationship in the community," Castor said about midway through the 65-minute forum before several hundred people.

Earlier, City Council member Harry Cohen aggressively challenged retired banker and philanthropist David Straz over Straz's promises to conduct a city-wide audit and cut 10 percent from the city's $1 billion budget. Last year, Straz told the Tampa Bay Times that he thought the city should commit $100 million to a Tampa Bay Rays ballpark in Ybor City. His campaign later backtracked.

"We've got a lot of fluff in the budget," Straz said Tuesday.

Cohen disagreed, saying that $500 million had been cut from the city's budget since the Great Recession.

"There isn't a lot of fluff," he said. Referring to Straz's proposed cuts and aid to the Rays as well as millions more promised to upgrade the city's ambulance fleet, Cohen said: "These numbers do not add up."

Cohen said the city is probably understaffed, not overstaffed. The next mayor will need to figure out how to beef up services while plugging an expected deficit of $6 million to $8 million dollars, he said.

Asked to respond, Straz initially said he wouldn't "dignify these political comments" before saying "they've had eight years to fool around with this stuff and they haven't done a damn thing. Why are they going to start now?"

Cohen has been a council member for nearly eight years.

The final question gave the candidates a chance to speculate about their legacy if they win the right to succeed term-limited Mayor Bob Buckhorn on May 1. The first round of the election is March 5.

Retired judge Dick Greco Jr., with his father, former mayor Dick Greco in the crowd, said he'd like to leave a legacy like the Tampa International Airport, begun under his father's watch.

"I really and truly would like to follow in my father's footsteps," said Greco Jr. "If I was thought of as well as you are after being mayor, I'd be very proud of that."

Topher Morrison, a branding consultant, praised Buckhorn "for getting Tampa to fall back in love with Tampa."

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"I think now we need a mayor that can get the world to fall in love with Tampa," Morrison said.

City Council member Mike Suarez, who has run a campaign centered around providing services to the city's 70-plus neighborhoods, said his legacy would be felt across the city.

"Without neighborhoods we cannot make this a great city,'' he said. "That's because every neighborhood is Tampa."

Several candidates, including Castor and Straz, said they don't care if they are remembered. They just want to make the city better. Turanchik asked the crowd to imagine riding on the trains, buses and trams in his transit plan.

"The plan you've always wanted and never gotten," Turanchik said.

Straz, who mentioned early-on that he was proud of the buildings in Tampa adorned with his name (the city's performing arts center and a residence building at the University of Tampa), said he wasn't concerned about a political legacy.

"I don't want to be remembered for anything. I don't need this on my resume. What I want to do is see that Tampa is made a better place," he said.

Later Tuesday, the candidates will face off at a South Tampa forum. On Wednesday morning, they'll be in Westshore for a breakfast forum, making it ten forums since October and seven so far this month.

Contact Charlie Frago at or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.