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Iorio could be antidote to Tampa's old boy network

By MARY JO MELONE, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 1, 2002


In all my years of writing this column, I've never urged anybody to run for office.

Somehow, it didn't seem to be in my job description.

I'm about to break the rule, what rule there's been:

Pam Iorio, you ought to run for mayor of Tampa.

* * *

For the last year, Iorio has been playing the girl who's hard to get.

First she said she was running. Then last spring, she said no. As Hillsborough's supervisor of elections, she had to get the county through the fall elections. Now that they're over, Iorio has dangled herself out there again, saying that maybe she'll run.

People are asking her to, she said last week.

Consider me just one more voice.

Run, Pam. Run.

* * *

Iorio has been part of Tampa Bay's political landscape for about as long as I can remember, and my memory goes back almost 20 years. Before her stint as elections supervisor, she was on the County Commission, one of those who came in to clean it up after three commissioners went off to jail in the early 1980s for vote fixing on zoning issues.

Her squeaky reputation has never changed. She comes across as cheerful, confident, organized and savvy. Most of all, she is decisive. This flip-flopping about the mayor's race is not only annoying. It's not at all Iorio's style.

Boy, would Iorio shake things up. And I do mean boy. Until last February, it was going to be a contest between two City Council members, Charlie Miranda and Bob Buckhorn. Along came Frank Sanchez, the former Clinton aide who decided to come on home and run. Sanchez collected so much money in so short a time that it was presumed he was the anointed candidate (that is, chosen by businessmen and diehard Democrats), in much the same way Dick Greco and Sandy Freedman once were.

An Iorio candidacy would knock Sanchez right off the top of the hill.

* * *

In the 1970s, a group of women burst onto the scene in Tampa to take their place in politics. Not just Sandy Freedman but Jan Platt. Betty Castor. Pat Frank. Helen Gordon Davis. Castor became education commissioner. Freedman became mayor. Although Frank and Platt are still on the County Commission, the rest are out of office. And it looked for a while as though nobody was going to emerge from the generation behind them.

(Ronda Storms, that airhead on the County Commission who has led a one-person campaign against that magnificently insignificant issue, public access cable TV, does not count. Under any circumstances.)

Iorio is the leader of that new generation.

Yes, it matters that she's a woman. It matters most of all that she is a woman comfortable with wielding power.

As mayor, Iorio would have a chance to succeed where Freedman failed, making inroads into Tampa's-good-old-boydom that has become even more tightly knit in the Greco years.

* * *

When Iorio dropped out last March, I heard talk that Frank Sanchez was the reason. She had decided, I heard, that she couldn't beat Sanchez's money and his political connections. Something's happened since then. If people are telling Iorio to run, they must not be satisfied with what Buckhorn or Miranda or even Sanchez are offering. What's the gap? What's the difference? And what has changed, in her own mind?

I can't answer. She disappeared last week, just as the story appeared in the Times that she was considering running again and just as the holiday weekend approached.

How convenient.

She'll have to make up her mind, finally and for good, in the coming weeks. There'll be time to get answers then.

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

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