If you would have asked Jane Castor one year ago what the highlight of her first year in office would have been, she would have answered with something pertaining to one of her administration’s five core “Transforming Tampa’s Tomorrow” tenets.
Instead, on the one-year anniversary of taking office, Castor is the leading face in the city — and region’s — coronavirus response efforts.
While the pandemic has marked only a small fraction of her first year in office, it will likely be the most memorable part of her tenure at the end of what will likely be an eight-year tenure.
Over the past month or so alone, Castor as been all over the news — both locally and nationally. She’s been on CNN with Dana Bash and Anderson Cooper, Good Morning America, MSNBC — NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me even included Tampa in a trivia section after Castor apologized for booting football legend Tom Brady from a closed Tampa Park. All the while she resisted the national media frenzy to criticize Gov. Ron DeSantis for his delayed stay-at-home action.
Her actions on the virus response won’t just define her tenure because it will likely be the biggest crisis she faces (let’s certainly hope,) but because she led possibly more than any one leader in the county.
Hillsborough likely wouldn’t have gotten a stay-at-home order as soon as it did had it not been for Castor.
When the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group, of which Castor is a member, bunked a stay-at-home order in favor of a curfew on March 23 despite her pleas, Castor announced the next day she’d issue one of her own in Tampa, the county’s largest city and business epicenter.
Two days later, the EPG approved a stay-at-home order almost identical to what Castor had proposed to a chorus of crickets just days prior in what other members of the group somehow dubbed a compromise.
When the EPG passed on requiring people to wear face coverings in public, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends, she immediately reached out to major essential businesses like Publix, CVS and Walgreens to have them provide coverings for employees.
The list goes on.
Though her most memorable moments will likely be under the shadow of a pandemic, There were about 10.5 months of non-coronavirus policy.
Castor won her first mayoral election by a landslide on April 24, 2019 against the late David Straz.
She was sworn in May 1 at a swank ceremony at the refurbished Armature Works.
Over the next several weeks she assembled teams to help her develop strategies for the city, eventually settling on the “Transforming Tampa’s Tomorrow” priorities and guidelines.
She started small business initiatives including the Bridges to Business program connecting small businesses with city resources to help them better attract city contracts.
She boosted LGBTQ owned businesses by including them as a class in the city’s procurement process similar to women or minority owned businesses while also partnering with community groups to help those businesses grow and thrive.
In June, she launched the Community Heroes Program to provide housing assistance for teachers, first responders and medical personnel, among others.
Her inaugural Boom by the Bay Fourth of July celebration went off without a hitch, despite previous problems in both St. Pete and Tampa with fireworks displays.
She also spearheaded the city’s largest infrastructure plan ever, the nearly $3 billion PIPES (Progressive Infrastructure Planning to Ensure Sustainability) Program. While doing so, she took the bold move of removing one of her predecessor’s infrastructure priorities, the toilet to tap program that drew harsh criticism from many in the community.
All of that is a mere snapshot.
With a year under her belt, the question is now not what Castor will do, or can she do it, but rather, when will city business get back to normal.
Castor’s second potentially even a third or fourth, year will likely be consumed by coronavirus recovery. The city, and state, are facing what health experts expect to be a health crisis well into the fall, if not longer, and a significant concern until there’s a vaccine, which could be up to 18 months.
In the meantime, residents will look to her to get the city back to work, even while safety restrictions might still be needed.