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Castor, Straz Hammer Each Other In First Debate For Tampa Mayor

The two candidates in the runoff for the next mayor of Tampa met in their first debate since the primary Friday. Former Police Chief Jane Castor and businessman and philanthropist David Straz talked about issues ranging from transportation to affordable housing to creating more jobs in the city.
 It aired Friday night on Florida This week, hosted by Rob Lorel on WEDU, Channel 3.

Castor, who nearly captured the 50 percent needed to win the election outright in March, said she's the only candidate with the background and skill to lead the state's third-largest city.

"People have had the opportunity to test-drive me for 31 years," she said of her time on the city's police force. "You know what kind of a leader you're going to get."

Straz, who came in second in a field of seven candidates, said he's got to the experience needed for the job.

"I have experience running large, profitable organizations, large non-profit organizations," he said. "I'm a job creator. I know what I'm doing. My opponent has one-year's experience repeated 31 times. That's not going to do it in a city that's got a million-dollar budget. She's never created a non-governmental job.I asked her that. That's deplorable. We need somebody in the office that can create jobs and help the less advantaged people in our city.

Castor  took Straz to task for "negative campaigning." Straz doubled down on his assertion that Castor was making a false claim by stating that crime in the city went down by 70 percent in the past 12 years.

"Homicides are up. The 70 percent number doesn't stand," Straz said in a news conference after the debate." A false sense of security is being portrayed when it's not there."

Castor was succinct in her rubuttal.

"Mr. Straz has no idea what he's talking about. Those statistics are correct," she said after the debate. "They have been audited by the FBI, OPPAGA (The Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, the research arm of the Florida Legislature), the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. We take that very seriously - the reporting of our crime stats. And to base his evidence on a disgruntled police employee and his own expert witness who admitted he never looked at the information - he based his decision on intuition - is reckless, frankly."

On transportation, both candidates discussed both the nuts-and-bolts issues, such as building more sidewalks and paving rutted streets, to using proceeds from the new transportation tax approved by voters in November.

"I want to extend the streetcar that goes down to Tampa Heights all the way through Seminole Heights," Castor said, "connecting those neighborhoods, activating the CSX line that will go from Port Tampa through South Tampa, to downtown, Ybor City, East Tampa, all the way out to USF. And then looking at our waterways, the ferry system, to get some of the traffic off of the roadways."

Straz says he voted for the transportation tax referendum, and is looking toward improving the city's streets, as well.

"The streets everywhere are bad," he said. "So paving needs to be done, it needs to be looked at. It's bad all over the city. Sidewalks are important. Ditches in West Tampa are important. A lot of things need attention. And I would see they get attention."

Castor said she favors keeping the city's red light cameras, She talked about increasing the amount of affordable housing, maybe providing free lots for developers and easing parking restrictions on new apartments.

In the days leading up to the April 25 election, Castor says she'll be knocking on doors, making phone calls, trying to get people out to vote.

"Really, it's alarming that only 20 percent of the registered voters voted in the primary, in an election that affects them, their day-to-day lives, more than any other election on the state or national level," she said. "The mayor and the city council have day-to-day effect on your life, and everybody should come out and vote.

Straz said he plans to cut the budget by 10 percent by doing a complete audit of the city, "cutting out the fluff and waste that's there."

And Straz,  who has been trailing in the polls, said he'll continue hammering away at Castor's record.

"I'm going to tell the voters the truth about her failure in the police department, her lack of management experience, her failure to even create one non-government job," he said. "We need better for this city," he said. "We don't need this good old boy network from the mayor on down in the city."

Another debate is planned for the Tampa Theatre April 11, to be aired on Spectrum Bay News 9, and on April 12 on WTMP Radio.

The election will be held April 23.

Credit Steve Newborn / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
David Straz at the post-debate news conference

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