With the 2018 midterm elections (mostly) over, candidates for Tampa Mayor will likely start amping up their campaigns for what is likely to be a competitive and possibly tight race to replace outgoing Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
So far the field includes a wealthy philanthropist, two Tampa City Council members, a former police chief, a former Hillsborough County Commissioner, a small business consultant, and a community activist.
David Straz, whose namesake graces Tampa’s performing arts venue, is self-funding a campaign with coffers padded well beyond that of any other candidate.
Straz has kicked in more than $1.5 million to his campaign — nearly all of his total $1.6 million haul so far. Of that, his campaign has spent $1 million on digital and television ad buys — something his competitors have not started doing.
His spending could be a game changer in a race in which he would otherwise likely not be very competitive. Straz, an independent voter turned Democrat, is a former Donald Trump supporter. Straz has since said he regrets his support, but it’s still a big ding on his resume in a city that favors Democrats.
Far behind in the money race is former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor. Castor has raised far more than any other candidate, except Straz. Her $177,000 in campaign contributions come from some Tampa Bay area power hitters that show an early edge in the name game for Tampa’s top elected seat.
Two volunteers for the successful All For Transportation referendum have kicked in money supporting Castor. Campaign Chair Tyler Hudson cut a check for $500 and Tampa lawyer Brian Willis donated $250. That support taps into the robust transportation activism community that rallied behind the 1 percent sales tax increase to fund transportation and transit improvements throughout Hillsborough County.
Castor pulled in more than $7,000 from the Barkett family that owns Amalie Oil, the company whose name headlines the arena where the Tampa Bay Lightning play. She also got support from businessman Chuck Sykes and his wife totaling $2,000 as well as $1,000 contributions from the Morgan & Morgan law firm, Pepin Distributing, and philanthropist Frank Morsani, among others.
Castor’s reputation as a high-performing police chief is likely lending to her name recognition. And, as the only woman in the race, she could benefit from the wave of women rising to political power throughout the country.
But she’s in a crowded class of political superstars who, together, will give Straz a run for his money.
Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen has raised just shy of $100,000 for his campaign. That haul includes a $1,000 contribution from former Tampa Mayor Sandra Freedman and another from her husband, Michael Freedman.
He also has support from Hillsborough County Clerk of Courts Pat Frank, who kicked in $500, and from Hillsborough County Public Attorney Julianne Holt.
Tampa lawyer Ron Christaldi, who is helping to run the Rays 2020 initiative supporting bringing the Major League Baseball team to Ybor City, donated $500. That suggests there might be more money to come from the Rays and other supporters of the team’s quest to relocate to Tampa from St. Petersburg.
Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik isn’t far behind Castor in fundraising. He has brought in $167,000 as of the end of October. Turanchik has built a name for himself as a ferry advocate since his days on the County Commission.
But Turanchik could lose some support after publicly rejecting the All For Transportation plan. Turanchik said he didn’t think there was enough detail in the plan to ensure the money was used for transit projects that would benefit the region.
Tampa City Council member Mike Suarez is trailing the list of current and former Tampa Bay politicians with just $50,000 raised. Considering his name recognition from his terms on City Council and as a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit board member, Suarez might not be playing at full charge.
Suarez has pulled in less money than political newcomer Topher Morrison who runs a Tampa-based Key Person of Influence Franchise. His work focuses on helping small businesses succeed.
Morrison is an interesting underdog in the race. His work puts him in prime position to run a solid grassroots campaign. Morrison also has an interesting professional past that includes having previously worked as a hypnotist — a feature that has already landed him some headlines in the media.
Morrison has raised $57,000 so far from mostly local individual contributions. But he’s going to have to tighten up his spending if he’s going to keep up with the rest of the mayoral field. Morrison has already spent $40,000 of his total haul — most of that on campaign consulting.
Also running are community activist LaVaughn King and Michael Anthony Hazard. King hasn’t raised any funds but appeared in the first mayoral debate last month. Hazard has raised less than $300 but hasn’t appeared at any public forums.
The first round of voting in the race is March 5. If no candidate receives a plurality of votes the top two candidates will advance to a runoff election April 23. It’s also not too late for the race to get even more crowded. Qualifying for the election does not officially kick off until January.
Ed. Note — Campaign finance activity does not include candidates’ affiliated political committees.