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Tampa's gay, former cop, not-from-South-Tampa mayor: That's a lot of firsts for Jane Castor

Back when Jane Castor was fast ascending the ladder to make history as Tampa's first woman police chief, I wrote some details about her for readers who might be unfamiliar.

For instance: She's a lanky 6-foot blond with size 11 feet. She grew up fishing, horseback riding and water-skiing. She worked in her family's cabinet shop and went to college on a basketball and volleyball scholarship. She loved being a street cop and she could drive her family crazy quoting her favorite movie, To Kill A Mockingbird.

The day she got a big promotion that put her one step closer to chief, her partner — the woman with whom she was raising two sons — was by her side.

(When I wrote this, she had not yet had the end of her trigger finger below the nail accidentally cut off while she was working on her boat, losing it in the Hillsborough River and requiring her to get a prosthetic fingertip and learn to shoot with her middle finger. Because I definitely would have mentioned that, too.)

Anyway, Castor said she got lots of comments on what I wrote — not about being gay, mind you, but about the impressive dimensions of her feet.

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Her election as Tampa's next mayor — no other candidate came close — is also one of firsts. If you hadn't heard, Castor becomes the first out mayor around here and the first openly gay woman to lead a major city in the Southeast.

This fact sparked calls of congratulations from Democratic presidential hopefuls and had her on MSNBC over the headline: HISTORIC WIN. Though when asked how much of a factor it was in the campaign, Castor said actually, it never came up, and then they talked sanctuary cities and climate change.

True enough. Around here, it's just another fact about Castor.

Which, don't get me wrong, doesn't mean it's not a bona fide milestone.

It matters when you're talking about a part of the population that has struggled for rights like being able to marry. Recently the U.S. Supreme Court took up cases on whether it's okay to fire someone for being gay or transgender. In 2019, that's an actual question.

It matters because different people bring varied experiences to the job. And also because it's nice for citizens to look at the politicians representing them and maybe see someone like themselves.

I guess it matters until it becomes another interesting detail of what makes the whole of a person, and when it's not making history.

Back here at home, other firsts mark the election of Castor. She's the only mayor in recent memory not to live in monied South Tampa where the powerful and the pirates of Gasparilla generally live.

The old joke lingers that there's little reason to travel north of Kennedy Boulevard. Castor, however, lives in the middle of the city in a neighborhood at the edge of Seminole Heights, which has come into its own.

I thought this race might be the first real test of whether a Tampa mayoral election could be bought, since millionaire philanthropist David Straz spent close to an astonishing $5 million to get only 27 percent of the vote. But really, it's hard to say what that kind of money might have done had he run a strong, focused, issue-oriented campaign.

Castor also makes her mark in coming from police, not politics, a very different skill set. Back when gossip around town said she might run for mayor after she hung up that midnight blue uniform, Castor dryly told me that the drug problem in this town must be worse than she thought. Clearly she warmed to the idea.

She is not, however, the first woman mayor. Tampa has already been run by Sandy Freedman and Pam Iorio. In fact, this city has a rich history of turning out formidable women politicians, including former USF President Betty Castor and Court Clerk Pat Frank.

Now it's Castor's turn to show what kind of mayor she'll be.

Contact Sue Carlton at scarlton@tampabay.com.

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