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Tampa elects first out lesbian mayor, ex-police chief Jane Castor

The former police chief easily defeated her opponent in a runoff after nearly winning outright in March.
Image: Jane Castor
Protesters speak with Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor while marching during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida on Aug. 29, 2012.Edward Linsmier / Getty Images file

Former police Chief Jane Castor was elected mayor of Tampa, Florida, on Tuesday, becoming the first out lesbian mayor of a major city in the state.

Castor said that her win “sends a resounding message to our community — no, it sends a resounding message to the nation, that Tampa celebrates its diversity and lifts everyone up in a positive way.”

Castor, 59, told supporters during her acceptance speech Tuesday night that as mayor, she would focus on “strengthening our neighborhoods” and promised to build a city that residents would “be proud to pass off to the next generation,” with a focus on affordable housing and a living wage.

In Tuesday's runoff election, Castor easily defeated businessman David Straz, who earned just 15.5 percent the vote in the March 5 general election. Castor nearly won that election outright with 49 percent, but without a majority, the election was forced to the runoff.

She was widely expected to win; the Tampa Bay Times called the election for Castor just 15 minutes after the polls closed Tuesday night.

Castor served on the Tampa police force for 31 years and was the city's first woman and first openly LGBTQ Police Chief from 2009 to 2015. On the campaign trail, Castor touted a historic drop in the city's crime rate while she led the department.

Castor is the first out lesbian mayor of a major Southeastern city. She’s also the third out lesbian to be elected mayor in 2019, after Lori Lightfoot won in Chicago and Satya Rhodes-Conway won in Madison, Wisconsin.

“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,” said Annise Parker, former mayor of Houston and president of the LGBTQ Victory Fund. “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.”

Late last year, Teri Johnston became the first out lesbian mayor in Florida when she was voted in to office in Key West, a city of about 25,000 people.

Parker called 2019 the “Year of the Lesbian Mayor” because the number of lesbians elected mayor of a big city rose from two to seven, and could end up at eight later this year if Jolie Justus is elected mayor of Kansas City. According to the Victory Fund, only 38 openly LGBTQ people are currently serving as mayor in America.

CORRECTION (April 24, 2019, 7:35 a.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misidentified the first out lesbian mayor in Florida. It was Teri Johnston of Key West, not Jane Castor of Tampa.