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Jane Castor questions David Straz’s motive to ban red light cameras during West Tampa forum

“The people don’t want them. They don’t. It’s nothing but a money-making scheme.”

Getting rid of red light cameras is David Straz’s latest campaign promise. Straz said during a campaign forum Monday the first thing he would do if elected would be to “get rid of these damn red light cameras.”

“The people don’t want them. They don’t. It’s nothing but a money-making scheme,” Straz said.

His statement was the first publicly and came the same day his campaign announced the issue would come up in a television ad launching Tuesday on Spectrum cable in Tampa.

But like anything in heated political battles, his questions were immediately questioned.

“That’s the first mention I’ve heard of that so clearly he’s done some sort of polls. I don’t make decisions based on polls. I’ve had to knock on a lot of doors,” former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said referring to having to inform loved ones of critical or fatal accidents. “Red light cameras save lives.”

Retired investigative reporter Mike Deeson, the moderator at the West Tampa Chamber forum, directly asked Straz if he had conducted any polls. Straz evaded the question.

“We did a lot of things,” he said and then reiterated, “the general public does not want red light cameras.”

Red light cameras have always been controversial. Programs in several Pinellas County cities were cancelled amid public outcry and some controversy. St. Pete found itself at the center of questions surrounding yellow light timing that seemed to entrap drivers into running a light that, if lights were timed properly, they would not have run.

Gulfport also cancelled its program.

But supporters remain hopeful that the programs reduce traffic crashes and increase safety, despite reports showing that’s not the case.

A state report on red light cameras released earlier this year showed crashes actually went up in Tampa at intersections that had the cameras.

Still, most candidates supported the program.

“I learned from the Florida Department of Transportation that red light running is one of the most significant risks of accidents with fatalities,” said current City Council member Harry Cohen.

Mike Suarez, who is also a sitting City Council member, defended the program saying it was not aimed at solely being a revenue generator.

Topher Morrison offered a no nonsense line to people opposed to the cameras – just don’t run red lights.

Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik was the only other candidate to speak ill of the program. He lamented the fees charged to violators, $158, create a “budgetary crisis” for low-income residents and families. He stopped short, however, of saying the program should be eliminated.

The issue came up while candidates were answering questions about transportation problems facing West Tampa.

They weighed in on a variety of topics including improving access to sidewalks, traffic calming measures and how to provide better access to businesses on one-way roads like Howard and Armenia Avenues and other corridors where parking is limited.

Candidates had a host of suggestions. Turanchik pointed, as he usually does, to his Go Plan for transit that would provide dedicated transit corridors in certain areas. Most candidates agreed that new revenue from the All For Transportation referendum voters approved in November, which will provide nearly $40 million a year for transportation projects, should be used for new sidewalks.

Candidates all emphasized the need to pay attention to West Tampa where residents have long felt neglected.

“You probably refer to yourselves as the donor district,” said retired judge Dick Greco Jr.

Cohen said the district was important because it is nestled between two of the city’s biggest business districts – Westshore and downtown – and insisted the area would see its comeuppance.

Castor and Suarez agreed.  

Candidates were also asked about plans to keep city services up to par throughout the city as it faces a series of budget shortfalls including new bills due as a result of bonds taken out during the Greco Sr. administration and that will further arise when the city’s Community Investment Tax expires in 2027.

Straz again brought up his plan to immediately audit the city’s budget if elected in an effort to get rid of “fluff.” Asked if he had an example of that fluff, Straz said he did, but wouldn’t say what.

Morrison called him out on the non-answer.

“He’s bragging about how he’s going to do an audit. How do you know if there’s fluff if you haven’t done an audit. I call his bluff,” Morrison said.

Straz fired back that he wouldn’t dignify Morrison’s comment “with words.”

Castor further hammered Straz on his audit plan.

“I lived through eight years of budget cuts – there is no fluff,” Castor said “And the city is audited 12 ways from Sunday and it’s all on the internet.”

Her comment was in direct reaction to Straz’s audit plan and his promise to provide that information online.

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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