© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You Count on Us, We Count on You: Donate to WUSF to support free, accessible journalism for yourself and the community.

Jane Castor talks policing, housing, transit and more ahead of the Tampa mayoral election

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor sits at a desk facing a microphone at Tampa City Hall
Chandler Balkcom, WUSF Public Media
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor met with Florida Matters at City Hall last week to talk about the challenges facing Tampa, and issues she thinks are important for the city.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor is running for reelection. She sat down to talk with Florida Matters about challenges and opportunities facing the city.

LISTEN: Castor addresses the issues on Florida Matters

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, is running for re-election. Election day is March 7th and Castor has not drawn a major opponent.

Castor was a Tampa police officer for 31 years and served as police chief from 2009 until her retirement in 2015. She made history as the city’s first openly LGBTQ mayor, winning election in 2019 with 73 percent of the vote.

Castor met with Florida Matters at City Hall last week to talk about the challenges facing Tampa, and issues she thinks are important for the city. She talked about improving mass transit and building more affordable housing, and speculation about whether the Rays might shift across the Bay from St. Petersburg.

Castor also talked about the killing of Tyre Nichols at the hands of five Memphis police officers- and the national conversation around police reform. And she addressed last year’s resignation of Tampa Police Chief Mary O’Connor.

Here are some of the highlights from the interview.

On the Tampa Bay Rays and the possibility of the team moving from St. Petersburg: 

Right now, I guess it's not a good analogy, but I would say that the ball was in the Rays’ court right now, because it's going to cost them a lot more to build a stadium in Tampa than it will in St. Petersburg where they already own the land, the city does. So we're just waiting on the Rays. But again, the focus is, I think, both Mayor Welch and myself, is to ensure that the Tampa Bay Rays stay in Tampa Bay. If that’s St. Pete, that's good for St. Petersburg, if it's in Tampa, it's great for us.

On the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers:

To hear about it was very disturbing. And then to actually see that video was sickening, as I believe it would be for anyone who watched the entire video segments or even a portion of them. We hold police officers to the highest standards, and police officers, by virtue of the profession, are judged as one. And this is one of the things that I say when our new recruits are sworn in, I say when you put on that uniform, and that badge, to a degree you've lost your individuality, you represent 1000 other men and women that proudly wear that uniform and your actions should reflect positively. And really any individual that is a uniformed police officer, their actions reflect on the over 800,000 law enforcement [officers] that we have nationwide. And to think that anyone, much less a police officer, would act in a way like that is beyond disturbing.

On police reform and what needs to change: 

Well, it's an interesting question, because I was part of a group with the US Conference of Mayors along with Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, and others that came together with some of the major city chiefs and…we wrote a position paper on changes in law enforcement. But I have had subsequent constant conversations since this incident in Memphis, and talking with other mayors about how we can affect change at the local level, and not waiting for the federal government to make decisions or to pass legislation that we really need to take on this task at the local level, and ensure that there is positive change in law enforcement nationwide.

On former police chief Mary O’Connor and whether changes should be made to the hiring process:

Mary O'Connor was the right person for the job. She had the experience from the Tampa Police Department, she had gone through the multiple years of change at the Tampa Police Department. And organizational change is one of the most difficult things you'll ever go through, especially in first responder, law enforcement and fire cultures. So she had that experience. And then she had five years of national exposure to different best practices in law enforcement, to different agencies, seeing some of the mistakes that were made. So she by far was the best choice for that position at the time. You know, hindsight is always the best position. And anytime you can improve upon a process, I'm certainly going to take feedback and do everything that we can to improve upon that. And I think that the improvement would be more exposure to the community. We had a particular session where the candidates came in, they were able to meet with staff at the police department, staff at the city, with the public with several different groups, organizations, citizen organizations in the city as well. And maybe that should be expanded. But at the end of the day, the police chief in my personal opinion is the most important position in any administration. And it has to be the right person for the job. It can't be a popularity contest.

On organizational issues with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the leadership of Adelee Le Grand:

It's my hope that those issues are resolved, and that the leadership can continue to move HART forward. The most critical issue for HART is funding. It is one of the most underfunded transportation systems, bus systems in the entire United States. And when you look at ridership, I just came from a Tampa Bay Partnership economic presentation, and we are one of the lowest in ridership of our bus system in the nation as well. So the issue is twofold. One, we have to provide reliable services for our community. And two we have to change that mindset or that culture that says that mass transit is for poor people and once you can afford to, you get a car, you buy a car, and you don't have to take the bus any longer. We have to. And I think young people will do this, they will change that mindset to mass transit is a viable solution for our community. And I, I hold out hope for the young people that are growing up in this community and are coming from other areas throughout the nation.

I do have confidence and Adelee Le Grande. And I hope that this investigation shows that she didn't have involvement in the issue that is being looked into. When it comes to back to the organizational change, it's very, very difficult. And she came into the organization to be a change agent. And that's not going to make everyone happy. There's a big difference, you know, in people not wanting their environment to be changed, and a leadership that may be toxic. And it's my belief that it's the former.

On affordable housing:

The housing crisis is real throughout the nation, and really is most pronounced in areas that are the most quickly growing, which the city of Tampa and the Tampa Bay area are among the fastest growing in our nation. And I certainly understand and can empathize with those individuals that are asking for rent control or rent restrictions. But really, it comes down to a supply and demand equation, we've got to be able to provide the housing in whatever form, that is anything from tiny homes, multifamily, single family dwelling, whatever it is, we have to provide the adequate supply for the overwhelming demand that we're having right now. And we are making great headway in that. From the market level, all the way down to subsidized housing, we have a goal of 10,000 affordable units by 2027. And we're already up around or past 6000. And so we have no doubt we're going to exceed that goal. But we just have to look at every possible avenue that we can address the housing crisis, and that includes transportation, because if one if we can have transit oriented development along some of the bus lines or other mass transit solutions or initiatives, the streetcar, then you can take that cost of transportation off of someone's budget plate and they have more to put towards housing. So again, we are looking at this from every possible angle.

On the city of Tampa’s East Hanna Avenue development and criticism over the cost and lack of diversity of contractors:

The cost didn't balloon. That was a decision that I made personally. We could have taken that and rebid the entire process, which would have delayed it and would have increased the costs. But the decision that was made was the correct decision in my opinion, and it was something that was allowed. And so I made the decision in the essence of time, saving funds and ensuring that we had a central location that the residents of Tampa could come to for the majority of their services and their needs. If you look at how quickly we've been able to develop that city center, we're going to we have a number of leases that are coming up rent that we won't have to pay in different locations and bringing over seven city departments together there, including workforce training for fleet maintenance, the possibility of a culinary center there, community gathering. It's going to be a structure, the largest in recent history for the city of Tampa, one of the largest development projects that really is going to be a jewel in the crown of not only East Tampa but the city of Tampa as well. And none of these large projects go without criticism. And it's a decision that was made. I stand by it. And I think it was in the best interest of our community, not only from a standpoint of service provision, but from fiscal responsibility as well. And I'm very proud of the women and minority business percentages that we have that are involved in that project as well. Also proud of the apprenticeship, the workforce development that's going on. It really is a project that we should all be applauding in the city.

On the DeSantis administration’s policies on LGBTQ+ and DEI issues and Tampa’s relationship with state government:

My position is to ensure that I'm making decisions in relationships in the best interest of our community. So I have always worked well with state leaders here in Tampa, as I believe we have in the entire Tampa Bay region. But when you look at some of the decisions that are being made, you know, I always want to make the decisions in the best interest of the community, the decisions that are the correct decisions to be made, and that are good for business as well. And so excluding any individuals from, from, you know, their right to choose whatever they feel they need to, for the best quality of life is not a position that I would take. And I think that that is detrimental to business in the community conventions that aren't going to want to come to our our area, businesses that may not see us as welcoming. One of the things when I stand next to the EDC, recruiting businesses to the Tampa Bay area, there are several questions. One's about the educational system, about transportation, about the quality of life, and then also about an inclusive community, that companies want to know that their team is going to be welcome when they arrive in the city of Tampa.

You know, we sell ourselves as the city of Tampa, and we have the good fortune of selling the Tampa Bay area. I quite often get called the mayor of Tampa Bay, and I say, ‘Well, that's a body of water,’ but it is a unique position that is very advantageous when you can sell Tampa, St. Pete And Clearwater, you know, and whoever if a business chooses St. Pete, that's a win for Tampa and Clearwater, and vice versa for the other two. So I think we're in a great position here. And some of the decisions that have been made at the state level have not had an impact, direct impact on our region as of yet.

I am the host of WUSF’s weekly public affairs show Florida Matters, where I get to indulge my curiosity in people and explore the endlessly fascinating stories that connect this community.