Communication skills key to Iorio’s options

The curly hair, the tiny glasses, the disarming smile, the unflappable manner are readily apparent. Less so, the unwavering ideals, the sense of history. And that ubiquitous presence — from CNN to Kathy Fountain to Local Access TV to high school assemblies to Rotary Club luncheons. Sound like any supervisor of elections you’ve seen lately?

Since last November, no local public official has had more statewide and national exposure than Pam Iorio, Hillsborough County’s supervisor of elections.

You may have seen her holding court in Tallahassee, testifying before a House Committee in Washington or waxing informed and articulate on “Larry King Live.” Out-of-town reporters had her on their notable- and-quotable short lists.

For the record, she doesn’t miss it — not that those days are totally behind her.

“I thought the national media were very much like the local media, trying to get at the facts and telling the story,” recalled Iorio. “I thought they did a good job; the print media in particular. But, no, I don’t have satellite-dish withdrawal.”

What she has are superb communication skills equally applicable across a range of constituencies and media, pointed out John Belohlavek, author, political consultant and chairman of the history department at the University of South Florida. Skills, say some, that would well equip her for a run at the Mayor’s office in 2003. More on that later.

“Pam can speak to people anywhere,” noted Belohlavek. “She can translate the language of bureaucracy to the people in the community and beyond about decisions that will impact them. But she doesn’t come across as glib or slick. She’s a wonderful interpreter of what can be confusing rules and regs.”

Indeed. During and after Chadfest 2000 and amid all the FloriDUH references and Katherine Harris parodies, Iorio seemed like a central casting godsend to the Vote-a-Matic state. She came across as pro-solution and non-partisan, a rare political parlay.

Now the three-term supervisor of elections is in the vanguard of voting reform: in Hillsborough, in Florida, in the U.S. Within the next 60 days she’ll be popping up all over the county — from Sun City Center to College Hill — to get voter input on post-punch card technology, both optical scanners and touch screen.

“I’ll take the technology to the public and let them test it out,” said Iorio.

This is possible, of course, in the aftermath of Florida’s recently revamped election system.

“I was pleasantly surprised with the final product of the Legislature,” assessed Iorio. “They listened to the input of the supervisors.” Especially, it appeared, to the president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections: Iorio.

And what they heard, loudest of all, was the need for modern, precinct-based technology. The resultant law includes $24 million to help counties buy optical scanners. Hillsborough’s cut is $1.2 million toward the cost of $3 million for the county’s 319 precincts. Should the county opt for a touch-screen system, the cost would be at least four times more than the scanners, unless Hillsborough joins other counties for a joint purchase. The situation, emphasized Iorio, is “still fluid.”

Vendors “coming out of the woodwork” underscore the need for purchasing prudence, she stressed. Ultimately, however, Iorio will make proposals on both systems to the Board of County Commissioners, who will foot the equipment bill.

What is not up for debate, according to Iorio, is Florida’s national reputation, however battered by the election debacle where 537 votes — out of 6 million cast — decided the presidency.

“The election of ’02 will get rid of that image,” predicted Iorio. “But keep in mind that what we had here was an extraordinary margin of victory. Some states probably had better written election laws than Florida — for example the automatic restoration of voting rights to ex-felons.

“But most states have a hodgepodge of technologies,” she noted. “If this had happened in California or New York, they would be unearthing all kinds of irregularities. As for Florida’s reputation, it only takes one election cycle. I think we will be a national model.”

She also thinks Florida, now a bona fide, two-party state with 27 electoral votes, will be a permanent, quadrennial battleground.

“Brace yourself in 2004 for an even bigger barrage of political commercials,” warned Iorio. “Florida is a microcosm of the country. As Florida goes, so goes the election.”

But what of that other election? Is a run for City Hall in the offing, as the media has routinely speculated? After all, a cursory glance at her public-service resume reminds you she’s more than the sum of her communications parts. It includes two terms on the County Board of Commissioners and chairmanships ranging from the Metropolitan Planning Organization, Hartline and Tampa Bay Commuter Rail Authority to the Hillsborough River Board and Tourist Development Council. She sits on boards the way the rest of us sit down for dinner.

The 41 year old is even scheduled to receive her Master’s Degree in American History from USF in December. She also hopes to turn her thesis, a look at election 2000 from the point of view of election supervisors, into a book.

You betcha she’s “seriously looking at it.”

The time to make that announcement, said Iorio, is January. Too early, too presumptuous and too busy right now.

“This is a wonderful and dynamic city,” she gushed in vintage candidate-speak. “It’s of a scale that’s livable. The economic base is sound. It would be a great honor and challenge to be part of charting its future. There is so much potential in the community. There is no other place I’d want to live.

“I have, however, a full agenda for now.”

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