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Jane Castor, Mike Suarez tackle affordable housing, transportation and small business

“This city is going to change more in ten years than it has in my lifetime.”

Former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor laid out a plan for transportation, affordable housing and workforce development during an intimate chat with voters at the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce’s Coffee with a Candidate series at the Nest Egg Neighborhood Kitchen Tuesday.

Mike Suarez, an incumbent City Councilmember, weighed in on small business development.

The two were the only candidates of seven running for mayor at Tuesday’s event. Other candidates have participated in or are invited to participate in other events.

“This city is going to change more in ten years than it has in my lifetime,” Castor said naming off the “big three” issues to tackle.

Castor, much like all of the other candidates vying to replace Bob Buckhorn in City Hall, plans to utilize nearly $40 million in annual revenue generated by the new All For Transportation sales tax to shore up some of the city’s biggest challenges.

That includes repaving roads that, in some areas, are on an abysmal 75-year schedule and creating a comprehensive sidewalk plan. Castor’s sidewalk plan would begin at schools and branch out from there, she said.

“It’s also working with our county, state and federal agencies to make sure we’re bringing the funding in to complete the larger projects,” Castor said.

Those bigger projects include extending the TECO Line Streetcar that currently serves downtown and Ybor City north to Seminole Heights and utilizing the CSX tracks that run from downtown north to the University area. She’s also amenable to other transit solutions like the MacDill ferry to divert traffic associated with the Air Force Base off of Bayshore Boulevard.

Castor said affordable housing is an issue that needs to have been addressed yesterday.

“[That includes] bridging that gap between government’s definition of affordable housing, which is $180,000 to $220,000, to what the buyer can actually afford,” she said.

Castor also pitched an idea for workforce redevelopment that includes using a city-owned warehouse on Hillsborough Avenue and 30th Street for workforce training that would provide internships and apprenticeships for young residents.

“We have a lot of development going on,” Castor said. “We don’t have the skilled workforce to answer that development need.”

Castor is currently the frontrunner in the mayor’s race, polling just five points shy of averting a runoff election, which would be an incredible feat in a crowded race. But candidates are battling hard for the No. 2 spot to force a runoff on April 23.

Suarez is running on his experience as a two-term City Council member and on neighborhood inclusion.

During the South Tampa Chamber event, Suarez made the case for small businesses, noting that he had started one himself – a small insurance agency.

“I understand what it takes for each and everyone of you to provide employment, revenue for your business and for you to provide for your families,” Suarez said.

Suarez said as mayor he would work with neighborhoods to ensure small businesses were able to thrive in their communities. He pivoted away from the concept of attracting new, large businesses to the city and instead focusing on growing existing ones.

Suarez said he’d be an engaged mayor reachable to constituents by phone.

“No Mayor, no City Council member, can answer every single question,” Suarez said. “But I want you to know that I will always be open to you.”

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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