The race that might have been
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 31, 2002
Win or lose, Pam Iorio would have changed the course of Tampa politics if she had stayed in next year's mayoral race. Her decision not to enter the contest was disappointing, though her reason -- to implement, as Hillsborough County's elections supervisor, the new computer voting machines coming online this year -- will only burnish her image should she seek the job down the road.
Iorio had the name and resume to draw from many constituencies, which would have forced the other candidates to talk about real issues and made this election a wide-open race. This is not how Tampa usually elects its mayor. Candidates do the math and decide whether to appeal to blacks, Hispanics, neighborhoods or business. It is, as one Republican activist aptly noted, "the closest thing you can get to a union election."
Iorio would have forced the three declared candidates to articulate their visions and broaden their appeal. A woman of her stature also would have energized the large corps of professional Tampa women who historically have been successful in electing progressive candidates and putting social issues on the political stage.
In Iorio's absence, Bob Buckhorn, Charlie Miranda and Frank Sanchez still have the fundamental problem they've faced all along. A significant number of die-hard voters are unimpressed with this field. While Iorio's support falls largely to Buckhorn, it does so by default. Miranda and Sanchez merely are eclipsed by comparison, which hardly is a ringing endorsement of Buckhorn.
Miranda is positioned to consolidate his base in the Latin community and to make gains in South Tampa. Sanchez could peel off some support, too, if he is able to distance himself from Mayor Dick Greco. But to ignore Iorio's appeal is to overlook the change in this growing city -- a city whose neighborhoods are more integrated, whose economy is more dependent on larger forces in the outside world and whose social problems are more complex. Dodging these issues as a candidate is poor preparation to inherit them as mayor.
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