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    A Times Editorial

    Iorio for mayor

    The former elections supervisor and county commissioner would bring intelligence, innovation and integrity to city government in Tampa.

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 23, 2003

    Tampa's next mayor will inherit a city of contrasts. Downtown is bustling, Ybor City is alive and old neighborhoods are popular again. Government and private developers are pouring millions of dollars into the arts, the waterfront, public housing, the interstates, the old ghettos and the ports. There is -- beyond a landscape redrawn by new construction -- a sense of ambition and possibility. Tampa has grown tremendously during the past eight years under Mayor Dick Greco, and the city has become a player on the national scene.

    But sharp divisions remain. The national economic boom that Greco rode is gone. There is skepticism in the poorest areas of town that redevelopment will ever come. Urban pioneers, lured back to the city, are frustrated with the level of service they receive, from parks and code enforcement to street maintenance and police. Many find the city bureaucracy unresponsive, unaccountable and preoccupied with affluent south Tampa. And Greco produced a City Hall culture of cronyism and ethical obtuseness that alienated much of the city.

    The new mayor will have to bridge this significant gap. Priming Tampa as a major tourist destination, pursuing the Republican National Convention and the Olympics and attracting world-class redevelopment projects raised the city's profile. The flip side is that this attention drew back the cover on the city's fundamental flaws -- a poor transportation system, incoherent planning, an underused waterfront. There is no coordinated strategy for economic development; race relations are simmering. Above all, there is resistance typical of any small town to developing a more transparent and inclusive decisionmaking process.

    This is the backdrop for the March 4 elections. Voters have four quality candidates. Bob Buckhorn, Pam Iorio and Charlie Miranda have spent decades in local government and are fit to lead. Frank Sanchez, a businessman who recently returned to Tampa after 20 years in state and national politics, understands in a broad way how government works. Another candidate, fitness promoter Don Ardell, has at times contributed good ideas on ethics and planning, but he and the other minor candidates largely sidetrack the debate.

    In this strong field, Iorio stands out as the candidate best equipped to bring to the mayor's office the efficiency, fairness and integrity Tampa residents deserve. The four major candidates bring many positive attributes to the race, but Iorio is the only one without significant political weaknesses. Two terms as a Hillsborough County commissioner and 10 years as the county elections supervisor give Iorio something the others lack -- experience as an elected official in both the legislative and executive branches of government. She has written policy, instituted it, written a budget and managed a staff. Iorio's experience with county government also is a major plus, given the poor state of relations between city and county officials.

    Iorio has earned a reputation as an ethical and independent public servant. Her work after Florida's 2000 election debacle shows she can assess and improve vital government functions. Iorio was a leader in persuading the state to invest millions of dollars in new-generation voting machines. Her courage and judgment helped restore public faith in the elections process.

    Our only early concern about Iorio was whether she, as a longtime county official, has a specific grasp of city concerns. She does. Her approach to redeveloping east Tampa and downtown is sound. Her plan to beautify Nebraska, Florida and Kennedy -- three ugly thoroughfares that serve as gateways to the city -- is feasible. She understands how to use broad development strategies: Rebuild an area's infrastructure, work with the private sector and use targeted tax breaks.

    Iorio also knows the city's history, its competing political constituencies and the importance of its personal connections. While her recent history is with county government, Iorio has spent the last 18 years as an elected official working downtown. She knows the players because she intersected with them daily. Her history of working outside the orbit of the police union, city employees and other powerful groups means Iorio would enter office less encumbered politically than her major opponents. She is a consensus-builder with the ability to say no -- qualities a successor to Greco will need. Her personality works. She is confident, candid and open to criticism, and she already has projected a good image for Tampa on a national stage.

    Buckhorn is a two-term council member who served as an aide to then-Mayor Sandy Freedman. He knows how to get things done on the executive and legislative sides of city government. Buckhorn has an impressive grasp of policy details and has shown a commitment to addressing bread-and-butter neighborhood concerns. He was often the lone voice on the City Council calling attention to the big-ticket spending excesses of Greco's administration.

    Buckhorn's agenda reflects his focus on neighborhood issues. He would spend more for code enforcement, restructure the mayor's office to make department heads more responsible and institute a simpler process for the public to report problems and complaints. His familiarity with using public-private partnerships, tax incentives and other credits raise the hope he could deliver on his redevelopment plans. Miranda, the council chairman, has been in city politics almost 30 years. He is widely popular in largely Hispanic West Tampa, though he has broadened his appeal since winning a citywide seat in 1999. Miranda, like Buckhorn, knows the city machinery and vows to focus on the basics. Miranda has the solid reputation and straightforward style to achieve his promise of making the city more accountable. His folksy style can disarm and bring warring sides together. Miranda also is fiercely protective of the city's interests. He would bring a discerning eye to city spending.

    Sanchez returned to Tampa last year after working 20 years in politics and business in Tallahassee and Washington. He has a fresh perspective from having worked in a larger world. Sanchez is direct about the need to raise additional money to solve drainage and transportation problems. He wants to bring residental development downtown, boost global business at the port and airport and create new business ties between the University of South Florida and Tampa's business community. Once Ardell gets beyond his pro-fitness agenda, he speaks intelligently about a range of issues, from urban planning and economic development to open government and civil rights. But it's bothersome to imagine that Ardell is using the attention of the mayor's race to promote his narrower agenda: fitness.

    Ardell's problem speaks to what we find in nearly all the candidates -- a defining flaw that compromises their appeal. Buckhorn is a consummate technocrat, and his sense of fairness would be welcome after the Greco years. But his history of political opportunism turns people off.

    After this divisive race, the mayor will have to bring Tampa together. Miranda, at times, is overly parochial and ambivalent about the broader perspective modern mayors must have. Sanchez is still an unknown locally. His platform offers no overriding reason to take a chance on him with so many qualified challengers in the race.

    Tampa's next mayor will have to protect the investments Greco made, build on the community initiative that is spreading across the city and upgrade the level of service to struggling neighborhoods. The next mayor will have to achieve this balancing act without fueling the class conflict that historically has set neighborhoods apart. Iorio has a plan for moving forward, a record of reaching out and the broadest umbrella of credibility in this large and talented field. The Times recommends Pam Iorio for mayor of Tampa.

    Opportunity to reply

    The Times offers candidates not recommended by its editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates for Tampa mayor should send in their replies no later than 5 p.m. Wednesday to: Philip Gailey, editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or by fax to: (727) 893-8675. Replies are limited to 250 words.

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