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Candidates For Tampa Mayor Come Out Swinging During Debate

The seven candidates for Tampa mayor met Wednesday night for a debate in Ybor City hosted by Spectrum Bay News 9.

They almost all agreed on keeping current Police Chief Brian Duggan, and not using city money to try to continue luring the Tampa Bay Rays from Tropicana Field.

And a collective target was former Police Chief Jane Castor, who is considered the front-runner in some polls. She was attacked for her policy of targeting bicycle riders, which ended up in arrests of mostly black residents.

"I thought it has hurt the men and women in blue," said former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik. "And it was asleep at the switch. And it's a practice that the chief has in avoiding, then denying, and only changing her position after she gets pushed to the issue."

Longshot candidate  LaVaughn King, who is black, said he had been pulled over by police officers during Castor's reign three times. And said he was victim of racial profiling by white officers.

Castor said a Justice Department investigation showed no evidence of racial profiling.

"The tickets were a mistake. Because they caused tension in the very neighborhoods that we were trying to protect. And I took full responsibility for that, and I contine to take full responsibility for that," she said.

Castor instead said during her time as chief, car thefts were reduced by 90 percent.

City councilman Mike Suarez positioned himself as an advocate for Tampa's neighborhoods. The third-generation Tampa native attacked businessman Topher Morrison's visions for the city as overly fanciful.

"It is about serving the people and making sure that the people spread across the city have a way to develop," Suarez said during a heated debate with Morrison. " It isn't about technology and it isn't about that. It's about being a Tampeño and being a Tampanian. We know what we do best."

Businessman and philanthropist David Straz stressed his business and fiscal credentials.

I'm not a politician, " he said. "I'm not a government employee. I want to run things using my experience in management and in budgeting."

And City Council member Harry Cohen said creating affordable housing is one of his key proposals.

"People are having difficulty in affording to live here and people that work here often have to commute so far to get here that all of their disposable income is taken up that way," he said. "We have got to become much more aggressive as a government in terms of what we're doing to create affordable housing options."

The election for mayor will be held March 5th.


Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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