For mayor, it's record vs. two rookies
Pam Iorio is running a low-key re-election campaign against Aria Green and Marion Lewis.
By JANET ZINK
Published March 3, 2007
TAMPA - In her first term, Mayor Pam Iorio has stressed neighborhood services, presided over a downtown condo boom and single-handedly catapulted the region into serious discussion of mass transit.
Now seeking re-election and facing two political newcomers, she has been running a remarkably low-key campaign.
She has declined invitations to candidate forums and held no fundraisers. To pay for yard signs, mailers and a few newspaper advertisements, her finance committee pulled in $122,000.
That's much more than her two opponents - former fire Chief Aria Green and former police Capt. Marion Lewis - but less than some City Council candidates and significantly less than the $463,000 she raised in her 2003 run for mayor.
Iorio said she takes every race seriously. But this one is not as competitive as the one four years ago. And as an incumbent, she is letting her record speak for itself.
Iorio's campaign materials talk about what she sees as accomplishments in her first term - a 30 percent reduction in the city's crime rate; a $60-million, five-year plan to ease flooding problems; more than doubling funding for street improvements; and creating an $8-million reserve in case a hurricane hits Tampa.
If re-elected, Iorio pledges to continue making neighborhoods a priority and to proceed with construction of the Riverwalk, the new Tampa Museum of Art and Children's Museum.
She also promises to keep mass transit "front and center."
"I am going to devote four years to mass transit," she said. "We don't want to be out there as the only metropolitan area in the country without a modern transit system."
Still, Iorio has drawn two opponents and both have a history with her.
Iorio hired Green as Tampa's first black fire chief; she forced him to resign 15 months later, saying he didn't have the support of the firefighters' union.
And Lewis felt burned in 2005 when he was passed over for promotion to police major in the District 3 neighborhood that represents East Tampa.
Both say those incidents didn't prompt them to run.
Green said he is driven by a desire to help people. Becoming mayor, he said, is a next step in a series of caretaking roles he has played in his life through his ministry, as a paramedic and as a psychiatric nurse.
"The mayor's office can do a lot to affect people's lives, not just fill potholes," he said. "One of the biggest problems people have is just making ends meet."
Small, local business development is a top priority for him, to help business owners and create jobs. Green also would like to start apprenticeship programs to prepare young people for productive lives. He wants to attract international business to Tampa, and develop a long-range disaster recovery plan.
"We need to start planning not just emergency response, but a plan for one to five years after a storm hits," he said. "New Orleans may never come back."
To promote mass transit, Green suggests that future development be focused around what eventually will be rail stations.
Lewis has built his campaign around what he sees as Iorio's neglect of the poor and middle-class in Tampa.
"This administration has replaced affordable housing with expensive condominiums and townhomes that most of the residents can't afford," he said.
He also criticizes Iorio for not wisely spending revenue from increased property taxes and fees. The city still has torn-up roads and flooding problems.
Lewis also wonders whether Iorio can rise to the challenge of bringing mass transit to the region.
"We all know what happened with the art museum," he said. "We cannot afford a repeat performance."
Lewis is referring to plans for a high-priced art museum that Iorio inherited from her predecessor, Dick Greco.
The museum cost the city $11-million before she squelched the project because she worried it would be a financial drain. A smaller, less expensive museum is now in the works.
The next mayor likely will be confronted by a tight city budget due to vagaries of the real estate market and changes to the state's property tax system.
Like many local governments, Tampa has experienced a huge increase in property tax revenues thanks to a booming real estate market and climbing property values.
But this has strained the pocketbooks of Floridians, and Gov. Charlie Crist and Florida legislators are proposing options to relieve the burden. Those measures could cost Tampa tens of millions of dollars.
Lewis believes the best way to restructure the system is to roll back all property taxes to the 2001 level, which he said will help every property owner.
He also supports adjusting the way properties are assessed. The current highest-and-best-use approach means property owners pay more in taxes when redevelopment and growth occurs around them.
Any changes to the city's tax rate, he said, will depend on what happens at the state level.
Iorio also is watching what happens in Tallahassee.
Last year, she unsuccessfully fought the City Council's move to cut Tampa's property tax rate 2 percent, a measure that saved the average homeowner $23 and cost the city $3.3-million.
Iorio stands by her resistance to the cut. Property taxes paid to the city have increased significantly in recent years, but that is an anomaly driven by a an unusually hot real estate market, she said. Most years, increases have been more modest.
And small tax rate cuts don't solve the problems facing property owners. It's appropriate, she said, to address the inequities at the state level.
Like Lewis, she believes property should not be assessed based on its highest and best use.
And she also says local governments depend too much on real estate to feed their budgets.
"Diversifying our tax base is a good idea," she said.
But regardless of how the system is restructured, she said, if property taxes paid to local governments are reduced, another source of revenue needs to emerge to pay for such things as new sidewalks, fire stations, affordable programs at local parks and recreation centers.
"People are asking for services," she said.
Iorio also worries about what cutting property tax revenues will do to Tampa's community redevelopment areas, such as East Tampa, the Heights and the Central Park Village neighborhood.
Those are special taxing districts where increases in the area's property tax revenues are funneled into improvement of blighted neighborhoods. Their success depends on increased property tax collections, she said.
Whatever happens, Iorio said, she's prepared to reach her goals.
"We'll adjust and we'll figure it out," she said. "There are always challenges in government."
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or 813 226-3401.
Tuesday is Election Day in Tampa. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
In addition to the Tampa mayor's race, voters will choose among candidates for citywide council districts 1 and 2.
And, depending upon where voters live, they will also decide among candidates in districts 4, 5, 6 and 7.
Tampa's mayoral candidates
Birthdate: Feb. 12, 1951
Family: Married, five children
Education: Associate's degrees in nursing, emergency medicine and fire sciences; bachelor's degree in adult technical education; master's degrees in pastoral counseling, technology management and public administration
Political experience: First time running
More information: (813) 935-0458
Birthdate: April 27, 1959
Family: Married, two children
Education: Bachelor's degree in political science; master's degree in history
Political experience: Hillsborough County commissioner, 1985-92; supervisor of elections, 1992-2003; mayor of Tampa, 2003-07
More information: www.pamiorio.com or (813) 251-1546
Marion Serious Lewis
Birthdate: March 9, 1958
Family: Married, five children
Education: Bachelor's degree in criminology from Saint Leo University
Political experience: First time running
More information: (813) 781-7034