Joe Henderson: Election Day draws near in Tampa mayoral race
Congresswoman Kathy Castor endorses Jane Castor for Tampa Mayor.

Jane and Kathy Castor
Being Mayor of Tampa is about keeping the common touch as much as high-profile issues

The costliest and nastiest (from one side, anyway) Tampa mayoral election anyone can remember comes to a merciful close on Tuesday. That’s when voters decide between former Police Chief Jane Castor and businessman David Straz.

Polls have indicated Castor will win in a blowout. She has been leading by substantial margins since she and Straz qualified last month for a runoff. Her side has been emphasizing early voting and vote by mail, just to make sure supporters don’t get complacent.

Straz promised an attack-dog kind of campaign, and he kept his word. He has pumped millions of his own dollars into an effort to paint Castor as a corrupt product of what he calls the “old-boy network.”

He has charged her with double-dipping for taking her salary as Mayor along with the $113,000 annual pension earned from 31 years on the Tampa Police force. That charge didn’t appear to stick.

He accused her of manipulating crime statistics to make her performance while Police Chief look better than it should have. That hasn’t seemed to move the needle either.

Straz said Castor’s background in police work, including six years as Chief, was not the kind of preparation the Mayor of Tampa should have. You could almost hear yawns all over Tampa over that one.

The problem for the Straz campaign from the start is that Castor is well known and respected throughout the city. She patrolled Tampa’s streets and neighborhoods while on the police force and built up a deep reservoir of goodwill with the city she wants to lead.

The insurmountable hurdle Straz faced was exemplified when a poll that showed 77 percent of the people in Tampa approve of the direction the city is headed. They like it here. Outgoing Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has endorsed and campaigned for Castor, is highly popular.

Straz poured millions into TV ads and mailers attempting to convince them otherwise. That was a fool’s errand.

TV station ad reps were the big winner in all this. They were delighted to let Straz spend his money to tell satisfied people that they are wrong.

Politics often is about timing, and by all indications, this is Castor’s time.

She ran a fairly low-key campaign because her wide lead in the polls allowed her to play safe. And with Buckhorn’s support, it should make for a stress-free passing of the baton.

There never was an obvious path to victory for Straz. Castor more than tripled his vote in the general election, gaining 48 percent in a seven-candidate field.

Straz vowed to fight on after that result, which he did. But the way he campaigned showed he lacked an understanding of the office he sought is about.

Being Mayor in a big city like Tampa means keeping the common touch while grappling with real issues of growth, transportation and adapting to changing trends. Buckhorn was adept at that. He understood that to a certain neighborhood, having a new fire station or sewer upgrades was more important than the headline-grabbing renovation of the Channel District.

He was there to see those projects through, to cut ribbons and shake hands before heading to the next neighborhood. It has been like that for the last eight years.

That’s a role I believe Castor understands better than Straz ever could. Of all the reasons she is all but certain to win the election, that sense of common touch may be the biggest one of all.

Joe Henderson

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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