Jane Castor Is Elected First Lesbian Mayor of Tampa

Jane Castor

Jane Castor has been elected the first out mayor of Tampa, Fla.

The victory earns a place in LGBTQ history; Castor, Tampa's former police chief, is now the first lesbian to lead a major southeastern city. She bested opponent David Straz by 72 percent to 28 percent, reports the Tampa Bay Times, which called the election for her about 7:15 p.m. local time Tuesday.

"A huge thank you to all of Tampa! Your support, your encouragement, and your votes have made tonight possible — and it has only just begun," Castor tweeted upon news of her victory.

Castor and Straz, a philanthropist and retired banker, were the top two finishers among eight candidates March 5, leading to a runoff today. Castor will succeed Mayor Bob Buckthorn, who was prevented by term limits from running again. Tampa, the third-largest city in Florida, is heavily Democratic, but municipal elections are nonpartisan. 

Buckthorn had endorsed Castor, who had a double-digit lead in polls leading up the the election. Straz had avoided appearing at many campaign events, effectively leaving the field to Castor.

Being first at something isn't new to Castor — she was Tampa's first female police chief, a position she held from 2009 to 2015.

“One of the things I knew as the first female chief of police, if a male had failed in that position, they would say, ‘Oh, such and such couldn’t do it.’ He would be judged on an individual basis,” she told The Advocate shortly before the election. “But if I failed, they would say, ‘I knew a woman couldn’t do it.’ I feel the same holds true here.”

Her tenure as a top police commander and then as chief was marked by a 70 percent drop in major crimes. It was also marked by criticism of the department for disproportionate ticketing of black bicyclists; she apologized for her officers' conduct.

In her pre-election interview, she also told The Advocate she hoped that her service as mayor would result in more recognition for doing a good job than for being the city's first lesbian mayor.

But it's a first that can't be ignored. “A lavender ceiling was shattered in Florida Tuesday night — with voters overwhelmingly electing Jane Castor the first openly lesbian big city mayor in the Southeastern United States," said Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, in a a press release. "Both LGBTQ people and women face tremendous obstacles in running for public office, but Jane’s victory shows lesbian candidates can win citywide office with a strong record of public service and policy priorities that align with their constituents. While voters chose Jane because of her vision for Tampa, her willingness to be open and honest about her life lent her an authenticity that voters are drawn to not just in Tampa, but across the nation. That is why an unprecedented number of lesbian candidates are plowing through crowded primaries and winning big-city mayoral races this cycle — putting us on track to make 2019 the Year of the Lesbian Mayor.”

Castor, a 31-year veteran of the Tampa police force, had the endorsement of Victory Fund, the Human Rights Campaign, the Tampa Bay Times, Equality Florida Action PAC, Emily’s List, Ruth’s List, Victory Fund, LPAC, Hillsborough County LGBTA Democratic Caucus, and Tampa Bay Area Chiefs of Police Association. 

HRC issued a statement lauding Castor's accomplishment. “Today, Tampa voters made history by electing Jane Castor as the city’s first openly LGBTQ mayor,” said Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof. “HRC was proud to endorse Castor and help turn out the vote in her historic election. We congratulate Jane Castor on her victory and look forward to working closely with her to ensure the city continues to move forward as an inclusive and welcoming place for everyone.” 

Her victory follows mayoral wins this month by two other lesbians, Lori Lightfoot in Chicago and Satya Rhodes-Conway in Madison, Wis. Chicago is the nation's third-largest city and is now the biggest in the nation ever to elect a mayor drawn from the LGBTQ community. (Houston, where Parker was mayor from 2010 to 2016, previously held that distinction.) 

Tampa, with a population of about 385,000, is one of the nation's 100 most populous cities. Madison is in the top 100 as well. Only five cities in that group have ever elected a lesbian mayor — Houston, Chicago, Seattle (Jenny Durkan in 2017), Madison, and now Tampa. Kansas City, Mo., may soon be the sixth; Jolie Justus topped the nonpartisan primary field of 11 candidates April 2 and will face the number 2 finisher, Quinton Lucas, in the general election June 18. 

Tags: Politics, Florida

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