Tampa voters will cast the final votes on Tuesday in a race that has been particularly bloody for a local City Council contest.
On the ballot are appointed incumbent Lynn Hurtak and former state Sen. Janet Cruz. While the race is nonpartisan and the candidates’ political affiliations won’t appear on the ballot, both are Democrats.
And while the two share some similar policy stances — both are pro-reproductive choice and both reject the overtly conservative politics streaming down from Tallahassee — progressives have lined up behind Hurtak while Cruz has drawn more moderate and establishment support.
The race has boiled down to one main issue — a person, really. And that person isn’t even on the ballot.
The District 3 City Council contest may be best categorized as a referendum on Mayor Jane Castor. Hurtak has been part of a three-member coalition of Council members to vote against Castor’s administration or in favor of measures to erode her executive authority.
On the completely opposite end of the spectrum, Cruz’s daughter, Ana Cruz, is Castor’s longtime partner and, ostensibly, Tampa’s First Lady.
Ana Cruz is a lobbyist with the powerful Ballard Partners firm. She, along with a team of political operatives in her sphere, have worked on both campaigns.
It’s no secret that Castor is not a big Hurtak fan. Hurtak is well-aligned with Council member Bill Carlson, whose long-standing disagreement with the Mayor, a Democrat, led her to endorse a Republican opponent running against Carlson, though he easily dispensed of the opposition last month.
Yet in a strange, though not unprecedented plot twist, some Republicans are lining up to support Hurtak, not Cruz.
A group called Front Line Patriots Fund recently bankrolled a longer than one-minute digital advertisement blasting Cruz, Castor and their affiliation. It centers on the city’s PURE program, a proposal that would study options to recycle up to 50 million gallons per day of reclaimed water, rather than discharging it into Hillsborough Bay. Critics, including those behind the ad, call it toilet-to-tap.
The ad draws connections between Cruz and Castor through Ana Cruz, and brings former Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who supported Castor’s first bid for Mayor, into the loop.
Hurtak, meanwhile, also appears to be aligning with self-described Democratic socialists.
In August, the Tampa chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) issued a press release touting a resolution the group said it drafted “in collaboration with Councilwoman Lynn Hurtak” to support decriminalizing abortion in the city, a response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
In addition to her work with DSA Tampa on the abortion resolution, Hurtak also has support from Angel D’Angelo, an activist with the Restorative Justice Coalition, a group that advocates for defunding the police.
Asked about the affiliation, the Cruz campaign derided Hurtak as a representative who “rubber-stamps their socialist agenda” and said residents should be “outraged” by the connection.
“This is further proof that Lynn is just too extreme for Tampa residents and, if elected, could push the needle even further on issues City Council has no place being involved.”
Hurtak finished the March election with a distinct advantage. She claimed just under 43% of the vote in a five-candidate field while Cruz captured just under 39%.
But Cruz has a sizable money advantage, with more than $174,000 raised as of April 7. Her political committee, Building the Bay, has another approximately $47,000 on hand as of the end of March, including $62,000 raised in March.
Hurtak, meanwhile, has raised less than $100,000.
Polls are open Tuesday from 7 a.m.-7 p.m.