TAMPA — Jane Castor kept a glass of water by her side as she spoke to a packed house Friday at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club. But its only use was in a joke about a city proposal to convert highly-treated reclaimed water to drinking water.
The mayoral front-runner didn't come close to breaking a sweat during the hour-long event, which was full of friendly questions posed by an adoring crowd. Her opponent in the April 23 runoff election, David Straz, wasn't there. He said he had a conflict.
Friday’s event was the second forum out of three this week missed by the 76-year-old retired banker. He has agreed to three debates next month on television and radio.
Straz's name was barely mentioned at Tiger Bay, though several questioners made oblique references to negative rumors that have swirled about him, including whether he is a full-time resident of Florida.
With an estimated net worth north of $400 million, Straz has homes in several states, including his home state of Wisconsin. Castor asked him at an early February forum if he was a full-time resident. He said he was. On Friday, Castor declined to take a swing at the political softball, instead focusing on how the job of mayor was a 24-hour, 365-day responsibilty.
But Straz's wife, Catherine Lowry Straz, replied to a Tampa Bay Times reporter's tweet about the question with a tweet of her own.
"Wisconsin Department of Revenue also says David is a full time Tampa resident, and has acknowledged that for decades now," she tweeted.
The Wisconsin Department of Revenue didn't respond to a request for confirmation of Lowry Straz's statement Friday.
Castor's campaign also released a long list of endorsements Friday of prominent current and former African-American elected officials: Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller; former Tampa City Councilwoman Gwen Miller (who endorsed City Council member Harry Cohen in the primary); Hillsborough County School Board Chairwoman Tamara Shamburger (who endorsed former county commissioner Ed Turanchik in the primary); former State Senator Arthenia Joyner; former State Representative Sean Shaw; former State Representative Ed Narain; and former Hillsborough County Commission chairman and Tampa City Councilman Tom Scott.
Sitting at Castor's table were former mayoral opponents Cohen and retired judge Dick Greco Jr. Both have endorsed her.
Straz has received the endorsement of current Tampa City Council chairman Frank Reddick.
Luis Viera, a Tampa City Council member who just won reelection to his North and New Tampa seat, also announced his backing of Castor.
"Those communities that I care about deeply should know that Jane has their back," Viera said in a release. He said at Tiger Bay that he plans to actively campaign for her in his district.
Other City Council members have yet to endorse in the mayor's race. Incoming council member Bill Carlson said he is staying neutral, as is newly- re-eelected council member Guido Maniscalco. Charlie Miranda has not yet said publicly who he is backing, but is widely expected to support Castor.
At a Thursday night forum in West Tampa, District 5 candidates seeking to replace the term-limited Reddick, Orlando Gudes and Jeffrey Rhodes, both declined to say who they were supporting for mayor.
Still officially mum are former mayoral opponents Turanchik, City Council member Mike Suarez and branding consultant Topher Morrison.
Meanwhile, the Straz campaign this week lost the services of a prominent supporter, La Gaceta owner and publisher Patrick Manteiga. He told the Tampa Bay Times that he left his role on the steering committee and the campaign's direct-mail vendor because of differences with media consultant Bill Fletcher.
Fletcher, a Nashville-based consultant, didn't respond to requests for comment.
Manteiga, whose newspaper endorsed Straz, said he remains a supporter. The Straz campaign released a statement saying the exit was amicable.