Philanthropist and former banker David Straz officially announced his candidacy for Tampa mayor on Monday night, unveiling a website that includes a statement and video about why he wants to lead the city in 2019.
“I have experienced great success in business and, as a result, I have been able to be significantly involved in the business and cultural life of the city. Now, I am called to provide leadership and vision for the future,” he said.
The 75-year-old Milwaukee native’s emergence in the race is no surprise, as he indicated his interest in the race last September when he announced an exploratory committee for mayor. Since then he has been quietly working on building up to officially becoming a candidate, while assiduously staying away from the media.
In his first interview as a candidate, Straz talked to the Tampa Bay Times on Monday night about his roots as a businessman and how he doesn’t think making the transition to a politician at this stage in his life will be that severe of a challenge.
“To me, running a retail political campaign is going to be pretty easy and I intend to do that,” Straz said.
Straz began his business career more than fifty years ago, purchasing his first bank in 1967 in Grand Marsh, Wis. He moved to Tampa in 1980, where he continued in the banking industry, while also stepping up significantly as a philanthropist.
He may be best known in the Tampa Bay area for his generous contribution to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in 2009 (rumored to be as high as $25 million) that resulted in the center being renamed for him as the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.
A lifelong Republican until he recently switched to becoming a Democrat, Straz was a supporter of Dick Greco in the last open race for Tampa mayor in 2011. After Greco failed to make the runoff, Straz quickly moved to support Bob Buckhorn. After Buckhorn defeated Rose Ferlita the runoff election, Straz became the chairman of his transition committee, which he noted in his official statement announcing his candidacy.
An advocate for improved relations with Cuba, there are still many things about his political philosophy that are unknown. His acknowledgement last year that he voted for Donald Trump for president in 2016 didn’t exactly endear him to Tampa Democrats, and he now he says he regrets that vote.
In his campaign announcement, Straz admits that he has a a learning curve to fully be able to articulate a vision for Tampa, saying that he intends to “listen, learn and study as I develop a common-sense blueprint for Tampa’s future.”
When pressed by reporter Charlie Frago about what he would do to improve neighborhoods specifically, Straz acknowledged that “I’m going to have to look at that a little more closely,” adding, “there are areas, I’m told, in Tampa, that need some attention and that have been kind of left behind.”
Straz is the just the latest candidate to enter the crowded field that has assembled in hopes of succeeding the term-limited Buckhorn in 2019. He joins former police chief Jane Castor, council members Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez, businessman Topher Morrison and former county commissioner (and 2011 mayoral candidate) Ed Turanchik in the race.