TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The majority of the candidates running for Tampa City Council took part in a forum Tuesday night sponsored by several neighborhood associations in South Tampa.
The candidates addressed the need for more affordable housing, the city’s controversial “toilet to tap” program and the need to improve roads and infrastructure in South Tampa.
Less than a year after the city council selected her to fill the seat vacated after John Dingfelder’s resignation, Lynn Hurtak is seeking support from the voters to continue serving as the council member from the citywide District 3.
“I’m going to keep my focus on affordable housing,” Hurtak told News Channel 8, “also, transportation which carefully aligns with housing.”
Four candidates are running against Hurtak. Organizers of the forum at the Tampa Garden Club said former State Sen. Janet Cruz withdrew last minute because she was feeling ill.
Hurtak supported a city charter amendment vetoed by Mayor Jane Castor that would have given the city council more power in the process to hire department heads like the chief of police.
During a forum Monday hosted by the NAACP of Hillsborough County, Hurtak raised concerns about the relationship Cruz has with the mayor.
“I work for you,” Hurtak said. “I don’t work for the mayor and you know we talk when we need to talk, but I’m not going to have the luxury of sitting every single week with my daughter-in-law.”
Cruz’s daughter Ana Cruz refers to herself as “Tampa’s First Lady” on Twitter.
The former state senator and state representative responded in her closing statement by saying voters should consider her track record in public office. She also accused Hurtak of being anti-gay.
“I ask for you to let me have one more chance to serve on the City Council,” Cruz said. “I don’t know what Hurtak’s problem is with my daughter and the mayor. I don’t know. Do you have a problem with gay people? I don’t understand you.”
Both Hurtak and Cruz are members of the Hillsborough LGBTQ Democratic Caucus, but Hurtak earned their endorsement.
The other candidates running against Hurtak are KJ Allen, Jose Vazquez and George “the Hunted” Feshev.
“I would say the underlying theme for this election for all of us is increasing the quality of life in the City of Tampa,” Allen said.
“I’ve been involved in so many campaigns and I continue to see the same mismanagement in the City of Tampa,” Vazquez said.
“Without safety, we cannot have our economy growing,” Feshev said. “We cannot enjoy our life in the beautiful city and the bay.”
In District 4 covering most of South Tampa, incumbent Bill Carlson and challenger Blake Casper said the city needs to invest more in public safety.
“Several months ago, I proposed adding 200 police officers and now (Casper has) adopted that as one of his plans,” Carlson said.
“Now that Bill’s pro-police we agree on much more than we disagree,” Casper said. “But it’s really about how we get things done.”
Another issue looming over this election is the balance of power between the city council and Mayor Jane Castor.
“We’ve had the charter,” Casper said. “It’s worked just fine. I think a strong mayor works very well.”
“We’ve had situations in the past where the city attorney and mayor’s office took powers away from city council and what we’ve been trying to do is restore those powers,” Carlson said.
All of the candidates voice their opposition to the city’s program that converts wastewater into drinking water. That issue is on the agenda for Thursday’s city council meeting.
Early voting for all seven City Council races begins next Monday, Feb. 27 and Tampa’s municipal election day is Tuesday, March 7.