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David Straz first quiet on transportation tax petition, now he vows to support it

David Straz, the Tampa businessman and philanthropist running to succeed Bob Buckhorn as Tampa’s next Mayor, is standing behind Hillsborough County’s new transportation tax.

But that’s a little different stance from when the initial petition came around. 

“I voted for the transit referendum, and if elected Mayor I will budget your money with honesty and integrity,” Straz wrote on Facebook Wednesday. “I will approach the budget the same way I have succeeded in business over the years because [the] city of Tampa deserves the best.”

“Since the transit referendum passed, we have a tremendous opportunity to finally address traffic and congestion problems throughout the city. With my business experience in managing large budgets and complex organizations, I have the experience to make sure the taxpayers’ money is spent wisely.”

His sentiments match those shared during recent public appearances including a mayoral forum hosted last month by the group Walk Bike Tampa in which he vowed to use transportation tax funds responsibly and in the best interest of the commuting public.

But Straz’s sudden vow to tackle transportation issues in the city don’t necessarily jibe with his record on the All For Transportation campaign that fought to get voter approval for the 1 percent sales tax increase that took effect New Year’s Day.

“All for Transportation reached out several times to the David Straz for Mayor campaign seeking a meeting but never received a response,” All for Transportation said in a statement.

Tyler Hudson, the campaign chair, confirmed Straz did not sign the initial petition seeking to place the referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot that more than 70,000 Hillsborough County residents signed.

Straz said he didn’t need to meet with the All For Transportation campaign because the referendum was transparent and he studied and evaluated it independently. 

“David’s proven track record of successfully budgeting large amounts of money is unmatched.  He is the only candidate who has managed budgets the size of the city’s.  David will budget the transit money the same way he has done with his businesses, with honesty and integrity,” said Jarrod Holbrook, Straz’s spokesperson.

Holbrook said that spending includes making sidewalks safe for kids and restoring the previous cuts to bus service, among other things.

All For Transportation volunteers said several other mayoral candidates including the only one who publicly spoke critically of the initiative, Ed Turanchik, did meet with them to discuss the issue.

“We appreciate the support we received from many of the other mayoral candidates as we collected petitions and organized the overwhelming support we eventually received on Election Day. It takes true leadership to support an effort like this before you know it will succeed.”

Straz, a local philanthropist whose name graces the city’s performing arts center, is bankrolling his mayoral campaign. He has contributed $1.5 million of his own money to his campaign. That’s vastly more than all of the other candidates combined have raised and nearly 10 times more than the top raising candidate, former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, has raised from outside sources.

But Straz has a weakness none of the other candidates share — he voted for President Donald Trump. While it’s a vote he has since said he regrets, it’s a political track record that could hurt him in a mayoral race that favors Democrats.

With transportation topping the list of issues this mayoral election cycle, running a campaign-friendly to transportation issues is likely to be a key strategy.

Straz isn’t the only one who is claiming to be a good steward of public transportation dollars whose track record sits at odds with support for the new tax. Turanchik is also talking up his ability to put the revenue to good use despite having voted against the referendum.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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