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    It's Iorio vs. Sanchez in Tampa runoff

    The ex-elections chief gets 46 percent as an ex-Clinton aide barely edges a council member out of second place.

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 5, 2003

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    TAMPA -- The race for Tampa mayor is down to two candidates, with former Elections Supervisor Pam Iorio heading into a runoff against businessman Frank Sanchez.

    Iorio moved into the lead as soon as the polls closed Tuesday but was never able to break 50 percent, which would have allowed her to avoid a runoff. She finished with 46 percent of the vote.

    At a celebration at Stumps Supper Club in Channelside, where her name was on the marquee, Iorio supporters chanted: "Who's the mayor? Who's the mayor? Pam! Pam!"

    Iorio said she plans to continue what she has been doing: knocking on doors and promoting a positive message.

    "If people think they've seen a whirlwind campaign, they haven't seen anything yet," said Iorio, who announced her candidacy on Jan. 6.

    Meanwhile, Sanchez and City Council member Bob Buckhorn waged a fierce battle for second place.

    With a final push from South Tampa voters, Sanchez earned the runoff spot by just 686 votes. The former aide to President Bill Clinton received 20.6 percent of the vote, with Buckhorn getting 19.2 percent.

    Sanchez celebrated at Mise en Place restaurant, where supporters mobbed him after realizing he made the runoff. They shouted, "Go, Frank, go!"

    "A year ago, less than 1 percent of Tampa knew who Frank Sanchez was," he said.

    "We started an uphill battle and we did fine, and we are going to do fine March 25," he said. "We have only just begun."

    Council chairman Charlie Miranda finished fourth, with 13.4 percent of the vote. Fitness author Don Ardell got less than 1 percent.

    Iorio and Sanchez will now sprint toward a March 25 runoff election just three weeks away. It will be the first runoff for mayor since 1974, when Bill Poe beat Joe Kotvas.

    In a city of more than 308,000 people, fewer than 20,000 voters could choose the next mayor.

    The battle that led to Tuesday's result was the most expensive in Tampa history. Five candidates raised about $1.8-million to campaign for a job that pays $135,000 a year. Sanchez set a record by raising about $820,000.

    That means he spent almost $80 for each vote he received.

    Turnout was about average, which undoubtedly influenced the outcome. Rain and overcast skies kept some people away, and left the race in the hands of hard-core voters, including retirees and lifetime residents who have voted for local names for decades.

    Buckhorn hoped to appeal to African-Americans, religious conservatives and law-and-order voters. He touted his endorsement from the city police union and ran an ad with a firefighter praising his work.

    Over the weekend, Buckhorn launched a wave of campaign attacks that may have backfired. Former Tampa congressman Sam Gibbons called the ads "sleazy," and voters seemed to agree.

    Cynthia Tamargo said she planned to vote for Buckhorn -- even though her sister went to high school with Sanchez -- until she got Saturday's mail.

    "I have taught my children that if you do something well, you don't need to show off or put someone else down to make yourself look good," she said.

    Sanchez made his way into the runoff despite a bumpy campaign. It began to sink in January when Iorio, who had bowed out of the race last March, jumped back in.

    He appeared to stumble again when he said the powerful, all-male Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla should admit women, then reversed his stand after hearing complaints from Krewe members who had donated generously to his campaign.

    That produced a backlash from women and others who thought Sanchez had caved. Days later, Sanchez issued a third statement, saying he never changed positions.

    Sanchez called the issue unimportant, and given his position in the runoff, he may have been right.

    On election day, Sanchez had the best-organized campaign operation. His office on W Kennedy Boulevard buzzed like a small corporation rushing to report earnings.

    Volunteers working in cubicles called nearly 20,000 registered voters, many of whom had been targeted weeks ago. The campaign sent volunteers to wave signs at all 108 precincts. Sanchez traveled the city in a coach bus dubbed the Sanchez Express.

    Buckhorn's headquarters in Ybor City also was a swirl of motion. Workers were staffing phone lines and working on databases of voters.

    Iorio's campaign central in downtown Tampa was quiet. A few volunteers milled about, feasting on homemade chocolate cake. The campaign had finished its phone calls Monday night. Because of a mixup, no one had organized volunteers to staff precincts during the day. Most were left vacant except for peak times in the morning and evening.

    It didn't matter, said Iorio campaign manager Fran Davin. Waving signs does not swing many voters, she said.

    While driving around the city, Iorio greeted everyone with a smile. Most people recognized her.

    Tom DeSpirito, 87, told Iorio that he walked into the polls prepared to vote for Miranda. But as he stood at the touch-screen voting computers, he thought aboutwho had made it so easy to cast a ballot.

    He touched Iorio's name on the screen.

    Other voters said they were looking for a candidate with a track record.

    Freddie J. Flucker, a pastor at the College Hill Church of God and Christ, said Buckhorn had visited the congregation and worked to fight crime.

    "Some don't come around until it comes time for an election," Flucker said.

    Ardell, the fitness author who campaigned to make Tampa a healthier city, planned to attend Sanchez's campaign party.

    "I would not trade my experience for anything," Ardell said.

    Miranda drove around precincts, offering Cuban coffee and sandwiches to supporters. He thanks people for voting, and snapped photographs.

    In a ballroom at the Days Inn off the Courtney Campbell Parkway, red, white and blue balloons rose from each table in preparation for a Miranda victory. But Tuesday night, there were tears instead of smiles.

    "I feel like I'm coming out of the majors after 13 years," Miranda said. "But man, I only batted .190."

    In his characteristic lighthearted way, he attributed his loss to "getting less votes."

    While he didn't blame the campaign fundraising levels of his opponents -- Miranda raised only about $219,000 -- he lamented what he says might be the passing of an era.

    "To me that's really heading in the wrong direction. What we're doing now is evaporating a class (of people) from ever running for big office unless you have big money."

    He said he does not plan to run again, nor does he plan to walk off into the sunset.

    "I have said throughout that no matter what happened, win or lose, I'd be me," he said. "I'm me now."


    Completed Precincts: 108 of 108 (100.00%)
      Vote Count Percent
    Donald B. ARDELL 353 0.70%
    Bob BUCKHORN 9,668 19.20%
    Pam IORIO 23,161 46.00%
    Charlie MIRANDA 6,767 13.44%
    Frank SANCHEZ 10,354 20.56%
    WRITE-IN 50 0.10%
    Total 50,353 100.00%

    Time period for municipal candidates to collect signatures for candidacy
    Completed Precincts: 108 of 108 (100.00%)
      Vote Count Percent
    Total 44,814 100.00%

    Registration and Turnout
    Completed Precincts: 108 of 108 (100.00%)
      Reg/Turnout    Percent  
    Total Registration 153,572
    Total Turnout 50,748 33.05%
    Precinct Turnout 45,133 29.39%
    Provisional Turnout 0 0.00%
    Absentee Turnout 5,615 3.66%

    -- Times staff writers Kevin Graham and Kathryn Wexler contributed to this report.

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