Pam Iorio was the runaway favorite in Tampa's mayoral primary for a simple reason. Voters know her, they like her, they trust her and they believe her agenda and values are right for Tampa. She won 46 percent of the vote in a five-way race and ran first in 80 percent of Tampa's neighborhoods.
But the appeal she brings to the March 25 runoff is more than a numbers game. Rich, poor, white, black, Hispanic -- the melting pot supporting her campaign reflects the very fabric of this immigrant city.
Iorio is the best candidate for mayor not because of her popularity but because of what's behind it. She built a progressive record as a Hillsborough County commissioner in the 1980s and '90s. Iorio was a strong supporter of comprehensive planning, environmental protection and civic partnerships between the public and private sector. She was a guiding force for high ethical standards.
In the following 10 years as county elections supervisor, Iorio brought Hillsborough into the modern age. She made her office more accessible to the public, put campaign finance reports online and expanded voter outreach programs. After the 2000 election debacle in South Florida, she took a leadership position on national reform and persuaded the county to invest in new-generation touch-screen voting machines.
Iorio's agenda for mayor reflects the same sort of forward thinking. She wants to take a comprehensive approach in rebuilding the inner city. Her plan to coordinate the region's economic development efforts is an idea long overdue.
Iorio has a good balance between business and neighborhood needs. Her history in county government would help improve the working relationship between the city and regional agencies.
Iorio is the only candidate in the race who has ever been elected to public office, which gives her a real sense of what accountability means. Having been elected to the legislative and executive branches gives her a rounded view of how representative democracy works.
She has, throughout her long career, helped raise professional standards in government. Iorio also is a consensus-builder with a history of bringing people together. Many of her contributions to public service have come at times when the image of government was seriously battered as a result of prior scandal or lack of leadership. Voters have counted on her before, and she delivered.
Challenger Frank Sanchez, a businessman and expert on global trade, served in a variety of Democratic appointments in Tallahassee and Washington. He has ambitious plans to expand the local economy and rebuild the inner city. Sanchez has much to contribute to his hometown from having seen a larger world, and he would likely raise Tampa's potential as a world-class city. But Sanchez' time away has also diminished his understanding of the community he wants to lead. There also is little difference between him and Iorio on what they hope to accomplish.
The biggest distinction between the two really comes down to experience. Iorio's positive history in local office and her large political base give her a tremendous edge in becoming a more effective mayor. Serving as mayor of Florida's third-largest city is a major responsibility.
Iorio stood out from a talented field because her judgment, integrity and leadership skills are so widely admired. It's not a stretch picturing her in the job. The Times recommends Pam Iorio for mayor of Tampa.