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Joe Henderson: David Straz Jr. officially joins Tampa mayor race

It’s been rumored for months that Tampa philanthropist, retired banker, and all-around rich-guy David Straz, Jr. would join the race to be the city’s next mayor.

So, it’s no surprise that he has formally announced he is running.

It will be a surprise if he wins, but more on that in a bit.

The Tampa Bay Times scored an interview with Straz, who is 75 years old and has never held elective office.

“I love our city. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to give back to our city financially and culturally over the last few years as a result of my business success,” he told the Times.

“And now I feel a calling to give back talent, leadership, and vision to move Tampa forward.”

There is no question that Straz has the money to self-fund a campaign. That’s not the only advantage he has in this quest. His name ought to sound familiar to residents, particularly those who visit or work downtown.

They likely have passed by the impressive David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts hundreds or thousands of times. WMNF radio reported he gave a gift rumored as much as $25 million in 2009 to the facility previously known as the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center — hence, the name change.

On a campaign website, it says, “David Straz has lived the American dream, and it started with a broom in his hands.”

But he’ll have some explaining to do about his political leanings. When I said it is no surprise he got into the race, that’s because Straz telegraphed the move recently when he registered as Democrat after previously having no party affiliation.

No Republican has ever been elected mayor in Tampa.

Becoming a Democrat now does have the look of expediency, and for what it’s worth Straz voted for Donald Trump for president.

That’s no crime. A majority of Floridians did the same thing.

But it might prove politically dangerous now, and Straz tried to hit that one head-on by telling the Times, “I’m happy to admit I make mistakes. I wouldn’t vote for him again.”

I think his biggest challenge, though, will come from the competition. This is shaping up as one of the strongest overall group of candidates ever to pursue this job.

Former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor is in the race and raised nearly $250,000 right out of the chute.

She spent six years as the top cop for Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who praised her performance without reservation.

“She’s solid. She’s consistent. She’s a known commodity. She has proved she can run a big, big department with a big budget,” Buckhorn told me recently.

“And I have seen her in this city’s best of times, and certainly in its worst of times. She’s unflappable. She did a good job for me, and I think, by extension, she will do a good job for the community.”

Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik has been on the campaign trail for months, and his message of innovation and transportation solutions must be connecting. By the end of March, he had raised more than $155,000.

A pair of Tampa City Council members — Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen — are in the race. They will have a solid core of support.

It could be tough for Straz to break through that gauntlet.

One thing we’ve learned about politics, though: Never underestimate rich guys who decide they want public office, even if they have never shown interest before.

They have surprised us in the past. Straz is betting he can do that in the future.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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