TAMPA — Tampa’s next election for mayor is 18 months away, but the president of the Hillsborough County Branch NAACP offered a glimpse Friday of a couple of possible facets of the campaign.
First, if Jane Castor runs for mayor as expected, she will get some criticism about the thousands of tickets Tampa police officers wrote to black bicycle riders when she was chief.
“To this day, we have never received an apology from the Tampa Police Department,” the NAACP’s Yvette Lewis told about 75 people at Café con Tampa, a weekly political discussion group.
After the Tampa Bay Times reported that Tampa wrote more bike citations than St. Petersburg, Orlando, Jacksonville and Miami combined, and that 80 percent went to black cyclists, the U.S. Justice Department concluded last year that the practice burdened the black community, was not effective and was unfair but was not intended to be harassment.
“The chief at that time was Jane Castor,” Lewis said. “She knew what was going on. She knew was she was doing. She was targeting African-American people on bicycles. … I call those things out because I from my understanding, she’s planning on running for office.”
Also, if City Council member Mike Suarez runs for mayor as expected, he won’t shy away from criticizing or distancing himself from current Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
When someone asked Lewis how many active white members the NAACP has, she silently counted on the fingers of one hand, then said, “and you’ve got your answer.” She then made a point of saying that Suarez alone regularly attended NAACP meetings and asked what he could do to help.
Suarez, who got to ask the next question in the Q&A, made a pitch for a mentoring nonprofit, G3 Life Applications, then asked Lewis how often she meets with the mayor to talk.
Lewis said the NAACP is supposed to have a regular meeting with Buckhorn, “but he refuses to meet with the NAACP.”
Castor did not respond to a voicemail and text message requesting comment, but Buckhorn said after the meeting that if the bike ticket “discussion comes up in the course of the next mayor’s race I am absolutely confident that Jane will be able to handle it.
“What gets lost in this discussion is the significant reduction of crime in communities of color,” Buckhorn said. “There are neighborhoods that are a lot safer today because the Tampa Police Department is aggressive in the crime fight.” That said, he added that it’s appropriate to change tactics and strategies when circumstances call for it.
Buckhorn also said he has not had a standing meeting with the NAACP during his 6½ years as mayor, but he’s had good relationships with previous presidents Ann Porter and Carolyn Hepburn-Collins, and that he periodically met with the NAACP at Collins’ invitation.
Buckhorn said immediate past president Bennie Small called for a meeting, the mayor’s office left him a message in return but heard nothing more after that. And Buckhorn said the city supports the NAACP financially. City Hall budgeted $7,200 for the NAACP’s Empowerment Center in 2018. That represents a 10 percent cut in the city’s support, which is consistent with cuts the city made to other nonprofits this year.
“I have never gotten a request from the current president of the NAACP to meet with the NAACP,” Buckhorn said of Lewis. “That individual has a history of making very inflammatory and wildly inaccurate statements about the city, so I would take everything she says with a grain of salt.”
Lewis brought up a couple of other topics that concern the NAACP, including a redistricting of City Council District 5 — currently represented by Frank Reddick, the City Council’s sole black member — that she says could dilute the black vote of East Tampa with white voters from the booming Channel District.
“Take Channelside out of our district,” she said. “If someone decides to run for that district in Channelside, our voice has been silenced and it is gone.”
Lewis also followed up on a presentation that NAACP representatives made Thursday to the University of South Florida board of trustees about the amount of USF contracts awarded to black-owned companies. She also said USF needs to take action on the number of black faculty members it employs, on graduation rates for black students and in response to comments made to black students on campus.
“USF has done this community wrong, and when I say this community, the African-American community,” Lewis said. “It’s time for USF to be held accountable for what they are doing.”
Joanne Sullivan, director of community relations for USF Health, who came to Café con Tampa, responded that the university has hired assistant vice president Terrie Daniel, who previously led the state of Indiana’s supplier diversity initiatives, to work on expanding opportunities for companies owned by minorities, women and veterans to do business with the university.
“I understand your frustration with USF,” Sullivan said. “Your voice has been heard, and there are interests in making things better.”
Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times