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It's Pam's city, where big things start small

Published March 31, 2005

Call it "Pamelot." Good line, not mine.

Two years into Pam Iorio's term as mayor of Tampa, she has presided over a pleasing number of improvements. Yet with the same mild smile, she has stuck the blade into big ideas that had the fatal flaw of belonging to somebody else.

She is the Mayor of Medium-Sized Things.

That's not a criticism. She is still a relief, after eight years of Dick Greco's what-the-heck style of deal-making and ethical blindness: Centro Ybor? Crooked department heads? What the heck!

Iorio can claim progress in all five of her priority areas: helping neighborhoods, revitalizing East Tampa, bringing a residential aspect to downtown, improving city government, and making Tampa a "city of the arts" (more about the irony of that in a little bit).

She imposed a stormwater fee and commited $60-million over five years for drainage improvements. Typically nuts-and-bolts Pam. Yet it was one of the most useful things City Hall could do. She is proud, too, of installing traps to catch stuff that otherwise would have washed into the Hillsborough River.

Snappy names for neighborhood police operations. Road resurfacing, sidewalks, traffic calming. The advent of a reclaimed-water system. A "coffee with the mayor" series. Tougher ethics rules for city employees and vendors. Free public concerts, a history center and children's museum, public art, city staffers devoted to "creative industries." A riverwalk that would finally take advantage of downtown's greatest asset - these are Iorio hallmarks.

She also has presided over the killing of two big schemes that weren't hers, one by indifference and the other by calculated foot-dragging. The two victims were Ed Turanchik's ambitious (too ambitious) urban community called Civitas, and, just this week, a large-scale, long-planned replacement for the Tampa Museum of Art that was backed by some big, old-Tampa private money.

On Tuesday morning, Iorio delivered her second State of the City address at the Tampa Convention Center in front of a ballroom audience of several hundred, many of them city employees given the chance to come hear the boss.

It was a tad overblown and self-congratulatory. It was a Pam-fest, a Pam-a-palooza. There was a color guard from MacDill Air Force Base. The city cable channel covered it. She scratched up a former mayor and governor, Bob Martinez, to plunk down up front (I woulda paid money to see Greco there). The seven City Council members lined up obediently on the dais.

It was flanked by big screens that showed a city-produced video. The narration began with the words: "Under the leadership of Mayor Pam Iorio ... " and went from there. The video included an interview with ... the mayor!

To sum up the plot: Things are going great. Each of the council members got a little speaking part to chime in on how great things are going.

The narrator offered incisive comments such as: "Tampa is exploding with a new vibrancy that is fast becoming its signature for the new decade." Look out!

One of the speakers referred to Tampa as a "new millennium city," which felt a little too close to Tampa's much-ridiculed slogan of the 1980s, "America's Next Great City."

There was a theme song, too, about the joys of living in Tampa:

Everybody wishes they were as lucky as you and me ...

As a staff pep rally, it would have been great. As an official city event it was too self-serving. She has too many yes-Pammers on staff. She needs a cranky old guy or gal who can say, "I'd tone this down a little, mayor."

During a brief speech (live, not on tape), Iorio finally acknowledged the death of the art-museum plan. Just because one plan had fallen through doesn't mean there won't be a new museum, she said. But it must be "integrated" into the downtown plan.

Translation: It's gonna be done her way. If anybody doesn't like it - well, tough. She is going to be mayor for two more years, and six years if she wants it. Ticking off supporters of an art museum does not cost a big-city mayor her job.

[Last modified March 31, 2005, 10:22:07]

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