TAMPA — Jane Castor would be the first out mayor in the city’s history and the first gay woman to lead a major Florida city if she’s elected April 23.
Those facts were celebrated Thursday — two days before the Tampa Pride parade — by a coalition of state and federal LGBTQ advocacy groups who endorsed her candidacy at a Ybor City news conference.
The 59-year-old is already the first woman and first gay woman to have served as Tampa’s police chief. Castor is poised to achieve another first as the only lesbian to become mayor of a major city in the Southeast, advocates say, highlighting the historic implications of her campaign.
That significance was one reason a national equality organization, the Human Rights Campaign, decided to endorse a local candidate — something it normally doesn’t do, said national field director Marty Rouse. The group says it has 3 million members nationwide and 16,000 in Tampa.
“We are here because we know that on April 23, Tampa has the opportunity to not just elect the highest-ranking openly LGBT official in the Southeastern United States, but to elect someone who cares for everyone in Tampa,” Rouse said at the news conference.
“She can be a shining light for this city, for the entire state and, in fact, for the entire country.”
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Castor lives with her longtime partner, Ana Cruz, a Democratic political consultant. She identifies as gay but rarely mentions her sexual orientation on the campaign trail. However, Castor on Thursday acknowledged the history-making possibilities of her candidacy. But she wants to represent all the residents of Tampa.
“If elected mayor, at the end of my tenure, what I want to be remembered for is being a good mayor,” she said. “But the significance of being the first in any category, the first female police chief, the first LGBT chief and, possibly, mayor, is a significance that’s not lost on me.
“And I want to stand as an example for the rest of, not only our community, but also the state and nation that you can do whatever you want in this wonderful country that we have. And, again, you’ll be judged on your character, your integrity and your ability.”
Equality Florida senior political director Joe Saunders told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this week that Castor’s election is a big deal for the city’s LGBTQ community.
“It’s a game-changing moment for our community. We’re all in, all the way,” he said. “I don’t think people care about who you are and who you love, but for the LGBTQ community, it’s really important. It means a lot that we’re represented and embraced in every facet of life.”
The state’s LGBTA Democratic Caucus also endorsed Castor on Thursday.
“There really is no other choice in this race,” said the group’s president, Stephen Gaskill.
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It wasn’t so long ago that Hillsborough County officials were openly hostile toward the LGBTQ community. County commissioners voted to ban gay pride events in 2005, a prohibition that lasted until 2013. Kevin Beckner, the first out commissioner, led the fight to overturn that ban, enact ordinances to create a domestic partner registry and amend the county’s human rights ordinance to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
David Straz, Castor’s opponent in the race, wasn’t mentioned at the news conference. When asked to comment on the candidacy of the 76-year-old retired banker and philanthropist, advocates declined, saying they were supporting Castor because of her experience, her personal qualities and her possible historic impact.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn, in an interview earlier this week, said Castor never made a big deal out of being the city’s first gay woman to serve as police chief and predicted she would follow the same path as mayor.
“It’s historic, it should be acknowledged, but Jane would be the last person to dwell on it,” Buckhorn said. “She never talked about it. She was just focused on doing her job. That’s why she’s been as successful as she’s been.”
Castor appeared confident that Tampa is ready to make history. She said she’s seen the city’s residents bridge racial, religious and sexual orientation differences many times.
“That’s one of the things I love about our city and defines our city is that Tampa is a place that embraces and celebrates our diversity,” she said.
As she spoke in a brick courtyard in Ybor City, one of the neighborhood’s famous roosters crowed behind her, giving her the opportunity to deploy her dry sense of humor:
“As you can hear behind me, clearly the Ybor roosters are fighting for their inclusivity today with us.”