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Time may be wrong, but she'd be the best

By MARY JO MELONE, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2002

Pam Iorio was one weird kid.

Pam Iorio was one weird kid.

While her high school girlfriends had posters of rock musicians on their bedroom walls, she was compiling clip files of famous public events, like the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that formalized American involvement in Vietnam.

And when other girls went off to college with nothing but frat house parties on their minds, Iorio wanted only to study in Washington, D.C., where she eventually graduated from American University and became a congressional intern.

She came home from college and was elected to the Hillsborough County Commission in 1985, when she was all of 26.

She was elected supervisor of elections in 1992, and has been in the job ever since.

She had long ago made being mayor of Tampa her logical next step. She had done everything short of opening up a campaign account for the race that will take place this time next year.

Then last week she pulled the plug. No, she said. Not this time.

She wanted, she said, to fulfill her responsibilities as elections supervisor. November's races will be the first time the county uses touch-screen machines, and Iorio said she couldn't oversee that and run for mayor simultaneously.

It all sounds so good, noble even, and maybe it's true.

But maybe it's also true that she thought her chances weren't so good against her three male opponents, City Council members Bob Buckhorn and Charlie Miranda, and former Clinton administration aide Frank Sanchez.

Miranda is West Tampa to the bone, and it's hard to see him playing well outside the neighborhood.

Buckhorn has been running for three years now. He has so carefully engineered his every move, it's creepy. It's as though he has no life other than campaigning.

And Sanchez just plain grates because he sailed back into town presuming to be the heir apparent.

And apparently he is, because he is backed by Dick Greco.

Iorio is smart, she has backbone, she can talk issues and no matter what she believes, she would have scared the daylights out of those three men.

Tampa is still not used to women in places of authority.

Sandy Freedman was supposed to set the standard, but the prickliness of her personality got in the way of much she tried to accomplish as Tampa's first female mayor.

Iorio appears to lack the anxieties that hurt Freedman. She carries herself with a confidence that Freedman inexplicably lacked.

Iorio is 42. Term limits permit a mayor to serve only two four-year terms, so it's possible Iorio will try again in eight years. Fifty is a fine age for a mayor, if she doesn't try for some other office to satisfy the dreams that formed in her childhood.

Her kids, young teenagers now, would be grown by then. The family pressures that put the squeeze on all women in politics would have eased.

I can see the logic of her decision. I am just disappointed by it.

Tampa needs somebody like her. Now. And it needs these other things as well:

One is a mayoral election that is a real contest. We haven't had that in a generation. Greco was elected in a walk. So was Freedman before him.

Two, a mayor who can see beyond the horizon, who can be a national figure on a national stage.

And three, we need a mayor who will do more than just kiss and hug and roll over for real estate men and talk about the good old days.

It really is too bad. Pam Iorio would have been the perfect antidote.

-- You can reach Mary Jo Melone at mjmelone@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3402.

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