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A new day in Tampa

Published March 31, 2007


Tampa's Pam Iorio faces a very different landscape when she gets sworn in Sunday to a second term as mayor.

She breezed through a first term with widespread popularity, flush with money and damaged only by doubts over her commitment to build an arts museum. But the newly elected City Council promises to engage the mayor more on growth, spending and redevelopment. The clamor for tax relief could hammer city finances. Iorio's would-be successors also are lining up, jockeying for influence and looking to channel the termed-out mayor's power and agenda.

Iorio, who faced no serious opposition for re-election, remains Tampa's dominant political figure. Two-billion dollars in new construction since Iorio took office also will help the city shoulder the recent softening in the real estate market. But the environment for the coming years has changed. Iorio's plan was to focus on the basics and use her second term to launch more ambitious regional initiatives, such as the groundwork for commuter rail. That's hard in a climate where governments at every level are looking to cut existing taxes.

Even if the Legislature temporarily stalls on forcing tax relief, Iorio faces some hard going. It could easily take two years to rein in spending and reshape priorities - particularly with big-ticket items like roads, fire stations and sewers that are planned years in advance and require annual operating subsidies. Iorio needs to reach out to the council for help in balancing the competition for neighborhood pork. That will be difficult with freshman members eager to deliver. But Iorio has improved the quality of life in Tampa, and it is time she tackled broader problems.

Iorio faces a council more committed to challenging her. Almost across the board, its members embraced tighter limits on growth and new initiatives to create jobs, control city spending and protect the environment. This group is better grounded in policy and open to input from average people. But its members have sharper elbows. With several eyeing a run for mayor, the board could indulge in its share of gamesmanship. It also remains to be seen how the newest members, particularly north Tampa's Joe Caetano, work within a setting where the mayor is boss.

Iorio lost a year of her first term mopping up the administrative mess her predecessor left behind. So the tax debate hardly paralyzes her. She has, in this council, a more formidable partner to redevelop the poorer neighborhoods, build stronger ties to the county and the region and to continue strengthening the look and economy of a diverse, growing city. The key is keeping these egos on track and balancing the focus on the city's back yard with its role as a primary player in the Tampa Bay region.

[Last modified March 30, 2007, 20:13:08]

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