As Tampa highlights its diversity with the fifth annual Tampa Pride March 30, Jane Castor—the celebration’s two-time grand marshal and arguably one of the city’s most stalwart servants—will continue her journey to become Tampa’s first openly LGBTQ mayor.
Castor, who will face retired banker and philanthropist David Straz in Tampa’s runoff election April 23, is familiar with firsts. Ahead of her 31 years of service with the Tampa Police Department, which she began as a beat cop patrolling the city in 1983, she was elected the first female president of a Tampa Police Academy class. She subsequently became the city’s first LGBTQ liaison, working to strengthen the relationship between the LGBTQ community and the police department. Castor fostered that connection until 2009, when she became the first openly LGBTQ officer and woman to serve as Tampa’s chief of police.
“There are times I wish the media would just focus on me being the police chief and not the ‘first female’ police chief,” Castor mused at the time. “It’s not that I don’t recognize the historic significance of the position,” she stressed to Watermark, “but the bottom line is that I’m a police chief, just as my predecessors have been.”
It’s that mentality and dedication to the city that she carried into her campaign to secede the term-limited Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a staunch LGBTQ community ally. Speculation that she would run for Tampa’s highest municipal office began in 2015 after her retirement from the police department, continuing until Castor officially announced her candidacy April 19, 2018.
“Many of you know me as your chief of police, where I led an agency of 1,300 public servants who worked each day to keep our city safe. Others know me as their neighbor and community leader who has stood beside them for the betterment of the city we love so much,” Castor shared.
“Tampa truly is the city where America shines bright and strong and our city’s greatest natural resource is our citizens who call it home,” she continued. “Our hard work, hopes and dreams are what make us Tampa Strong, powering the opportunity and innovation boom we see shining every day.”
Castor noted that she was running for mayor because the city needed a proven leader who would maintain Tampa’s progress while also building a new foundation of shared prosperity. “A foundation created with participation from all neighborhoods,” she concluded, “so that every one of us has a voice in building Tampa’s future. These are the most exciting times in Tampa’s history—and we are just getting started. Join me and let’s make Tampa even better!”
As of Tampa’s March 5 municipal election, 23,318 Tampa citizens did exactly that. Of the city’s 237,752 registered voters, 48,863 cast their vote in a seven-candidate race for a turnout of just over 20 percent.
Castor won 101 of Tampa’s 103 precincts and 48 percent of the vote, just under the 50 percent threshold to win the majority and avoid the April 23 runoff election. In second place was Straz, who received 7,518 votes or just over 15 percent.
“I am so grateful for the hard work and ceaseless energy that all of our supporters and volunteers have given to our campaign along the way,” Castor addressed supporters from her election results watch party at The Vault in Tampa. “With their selfless hours of volunteering—knocking on doors, making phone calls or sign waving—they’ve been right by my side helping me to ensure the continued growth of our great city. These next six weeks will be an exciting sprint, and we aren’t taking anything for granted.”
“It’s incredible,” she adds to Watermark. Castor says the strong results started trickling in while she, her partner of over a decade Ana Cruz and their two sons were en route to the party. “I’m excited that we were able to have such a strong showing.”
Since her “Tampa Strong” kickoff nearly one year ago, Castor says she’s learned a great deal—specifically from her citywide “Conversations with Castor” listening tour. It allowed the candidate to “go out into the neighborhoods and talk about the issues that matter to those neighborhoods,” she says. “Those issues are different from neighborhood to neighborhood.”
Connecting with the community led the campaign to focus on neighborhood empowerment, the city’s transportation, affordable housing and Tampa’s sustainability and resiliency. She says her potential administration will focus on neighborhood leadership development, modernizing and navigating Tampa’s services, building a better, brighter future in Tampa by molding the leaders of tomorrow, spending public funds on resources that provide services to Tampa’s residents and more.
It’s led to a number of enthusiasts across the city, but also to statewide and national equality-focused organizations working diligently to ensure Castor’s strong showing ahead of the election.
The candidate was endorsed and supported by Equality Florida Action PAC, Florida’s largest political committee dedicated to electing pro-equality candidates; LGBTQ Victory Fund, the only national organization focused on increasing the number of openly LGBTQ elected officials at all levels of government and LPAC, dedicated to building the political power of LGBTQ women. On March 28, Castor also received the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights advocacy organization.
“Jane Castor represents a breakthrough moment in the movement for LGBTQ representation in Florida and is leading the wave of LGBTQ women stepping up to serve,” Equality Florida Senior Political Director Joe Saunders said in a statement. “Electing a strong, seasoned and tested leader like Jane to one of Florida’s most influential local posts is a game changer for LGBTQ Floridians. Jane’s race is a top priority for Equality Florida Action PAC. We’re going to use every tool we have to support her historic campaign.”
“As a former big-city mayor, I understand well the qualifications and temperament necessary to successfully run a city like Tampa, and Jane Castor has what it takes,” former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, now president and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund, released.
“When you are chief of police, there is no papering over your job performance because you are constantly held accountable—as are mayors—and Jane has proven herself an extraordinary public servant,” she continued. “Her invaluable experience running a large agency, working with diverse communities on tough issues and ensuring the interests of the public are central to all her work makes her best positioned to be a great mayor. That she will be the first openly LGBTQ woman big-city mayor in the Southeast is both historic and equally invaluable—as the experiences of LGBTQ people make them more empathetic, values-driven leaders.”
LPAC Executive Director Stephanie Sandberg agreed, calling Castor exactly the type of leader the organization champions. “She’s a fearless advocate for equal rights and social justice, leading from a place of deep experience,” she shared. “I have no doubt that Jane will lead Tampa with the same tenacity, vision and fortitude that she is known for while running the police department. LPAC is excited to have such a strong woman candidate who will ensure our values are protected.”
Following the March 5 results, the organizations doubled down.The LGBTQ Victory Fund’s Parker celebrated the news, noting that “a lavender ceiling was shattered in Florida … with voters overwhelmingly sending Jane Castor to the runoff and putting her on-track to become the first openly LGBTQ big city mayor in the Southeastern United States.”
Parker added that Castor’s performance “in such a crowded field demonstrates the value voters place in her public service: running a large agency, working with diverse communities on tough issues and ensuring constituent priorities are her priorities.” The organization further highlighted the candidate’s “experiences and perspectives as a woman and a lesbian that appeal to voters,” stressing that “LGBTQ elected officials are empathetic, principled and values-driven leaders, and our nation’s electorate is hungry for that leadership right now.”
According to Equality Florida’s Saunders, the results proved Castor is the indisputable frontrunner in the race. “Electing a strong, seasoned and tested leader like Jane to one of Florida’s most influential local posts is a game changer for LGBTQ Floridians,” he reiterated. “Equality Florida Action PAC’s members, supporters and donors showed up to support Jane and in April we’ll do it again.”
Castor says she is proud to accept the endorsements and support. “It’s very nice whenever you get positive recognition,” she says, “but especially so when it’s your community;the LGBTQ community that really has fought and struggled for so many decades. I have been a part of that struggle, helping to win rights and ensure that everyone is treated fairly. To be able to get the support of each of those organizations in return really is humbling.”
Castor, who is also endorsed by the Hillsborough LGBTA Democratic Caucus, vows to continue her fight for equality as mayor. She says she will do “everything that I can legislatively” to protect the rights of Tampa’s LGBTQ community, acknowledging in particular the city’s transgender citizens and LGBTQ youth.
In January, a federal magistrate judge recommended that the city be barred from enforcing parts of its ban on the discredited practice of conversion therapy on LGBTQ youth. In a report dated Jan. 30, U.S. Magistrate Judge Amanda Sansone argued that the ordinance violates the free-speech rights of conversion therapists.
The report advised that Tampa “may not enforce the ordinance against mental health professionals who provide noncoercive, nonaversive [Sexual Orientation Change Effort] counseling—which consists entirely of speech, or ‘talk therapy’—to minors within the city limits.” It does allow the ban to be applied to techniques like electroshock therapy. The federal Ninth and Third Circuit courts have previously upheld conversion therapy bans in California and New Jersey and the magistrate judge’s report was sent to a federal district judge to issue a ruling.
Castor says she knows the judge, adding that she is fair and open-minded. “If portions of any of these ordinances or laws are struck down, then I will champion the equal treatment as a community. You shouldn’t have to have an ordinance that tells you do to the right thing, so that would be my mantra to the community—we’ve always been inclusive.
“Tampa’s rich history, wonderful neighborhoods and our diversity defines us as a great city,” Castor continues. “We can’t lose any of those aspects. That’s something we can do as individuals and collectively as a city, lift up each and every one of our citizens.”
It’s something her potential predecessor understands well. In Oct. 2018, Tampa received a perfect score of 100 in the Human Rights Campaign’s seventh annual Municipal Equality Index. The report examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies and services are for LGBTQ people who live and work in each city rated by the organization. It’s based on nondiscrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement and the city leadership’s public position on equality.
Mayor Buckhorn celebrated Tampa’s diversity as a key part of its strength. “Tampa is stronger and more competitive when we all pull together and I am proud that our commitment to human rights for all our citizens is being recognized,” he shared.
Castor says she will continue the city’s perfect scoring as mayor. “Nobody is asking for special treatment,” she says. “Everyone is just asking to be on an equal playing field and that I believe is what the city of Tampa stands for.
“I will not only maintain what Mayor Buckhorn has put in place,” she stresses, “I will continue to grow it—not only with the inclusion, rights and workforce development, [but in] whatever I can do to ensure that all of our citizens are treated equally.”
Mayor Buckhorn gave Castor a glowing endorsement March 6, noting she had been his choice to succeed him since the race began. “In the case of Jane Castor, for 30 years, she has dedicated her life to serving the people of this city. She’s patrolled these streets. She knows every neighborhood in this community. She’s been a part of this transformation,” Buckhorn shared from Tampa’s Water Works Park.
“There is only one person in this race who is equipped, who is prepared, who is ready to be the mayor of this great city,” he concluded. “Today, I’m endorsing Jane Castor to be the next mayor of this community. It was a big win last night. We have six weeks to go. She is going to make us proud and she is going to make me proud.”
“His faith in me is something I don’t take lightly,” Castor says. “I don’t take it for granted. I will work hard every day to ensure that I don’t disappoint him or any of the other citizens in our community.”
Her win would be historical, Castor acknowledges, but that isn’t her focal point. “As I said when I was appointed as the chief of police, I didn’t want to be remembered as the first female or the first LGBTQ chief. The same thing holds true as the mayor. I don’t necessarily want to be remembered as the first; I want to be remembered as a good mayor for all citizens.
“With that being said,” she continues, “the significance of being the first openly LGBTQ mayor is not lost on me. It’s the same as being the first woman in any position, because if another individual fails they’ll say ‘well they failed as an individual.’ If I fail, there’s going to be the thought that a woman or someone from the LGBTQ community couldn’t do it. The significance of that isn’t lost on me.”
Castor doesn’t say that negatively, she adds. “I understand that challenge and I accept it wholeheartedly. I want to be that individual that is the example that others can follow.”
The city of Tampa’s runoff election will be held April 23, with early voting April 14-20. For more information about the election, visit VoteHillsborough.org. For more information about Jane Castor, visit JaneForMayor.com.