Election Post-Mortems: Winsome, Lose Some

The die was cast early in the new year when Pam Iorio jumped back into the mayoral race and leapfrogged the field. Her media mastery, winsome ways, pristine reputation and celebrity-like name recognition presaged a strong primary showing that nearly obviated the need for a run-off. Frank Sanchez was second because, well, somebody had to be — and because Bob Buckhorn impaled himself on the sword of negativity on that final weekend.

But now it’s officially official. Mayor Iorio.

Congratulations, Madame Mayor, and, quite frankly, good luck. Mayors, not unlike presidents and baseball managers, get too much credit and take too much blame for what happens on their watch. Mayors of cities such as Tampa must be savvy, creative, persuasive, perceptive, tough, accountable, visionary — and lucky.

These last two terms of the Greco years were formidable ones. The combination of a charismatic deal-maker and a largely cooperative economy are a tough act to follow. The urban core was a Greco priority, and he pushed for major investments in Ybor City, Channelside, downtown and Tampa Heights. However controversial the Community Investment Tax that he championed, without it there would have been no relief for schools and public safety and no football stadium — or Buccaneers’ franchise. Greco’s last watch saw the construction of a $200-million, state-of-the-art refuse facility, a commitment to a cultural arts district and a $92 million investment in building and refurbishing parks.

Were he not term-limited, Greco would have the track record — the Steve LaBrake affair, THAP (Tampa-Hillsborough Action Plan) mismanagement and allegations of cronyism notwithstanding — to run on and win on again.

But Mayor Iorio, no slouch as the mistress of schmooze herself, will not be the beneficiary of a track record reflecting big projects requiring big investments from the city. That wherewithal left with Greco; hardly a Pamglossian scenario. Moreover, security concerns for a major port city that is headquarters for Central Command will only ratchet up. For all the talk of a more “livable” city with a more progressive, ethical approach, there could be a lot of caretaking over the next four years.

As a result, there’s the distinct likelihood that Iorio’s re-election will be a lot harder than her election. And it won’t necessarily be her fault. It’s her watch. Should the Tampa Bay Lightning leave or private-sector interest in downtown residential wane or the cultural arts district disappoint or controversy ensue over who’s named fire or police chief, all bets could be off. The days of being the patron saint of touch-screen voting will fade fast.

Which brings us back to Frank Sanchez. A lot of folks thought it was a given that the return of the native stuff only had significance had he won. The game plan, they would further assert, would surely have been to use the mayor’s office as a pivot point to the governor’s mansion.

Now what does he do? He still has that killer resume; he still has connections; and he still has an impressive upside for making the “growing-the-economy” case. At the recent Tiger Bay Club of Tampa mayoral debate, he seemed adamant about his commitment to Tampa.

“I did go away, but I chose to come back,” he said in answering a pointed question about where he had been prior to the last 14 months. “I had choices, and I chose to come back to my home town. I prepared myself and made a choice to bring those skill sets back to my home town.”

Does that now translate into doing his consulting business, which he had largely neglected while campaigning full time, out of Tampa? Does it mean taking a “best-and-brightest” position, if offered, with the Iorio Administration? Maybe as a trade trouble shooter?

Does it mean, in effect, doing whatever it takes to be much better prepared for future political scenarios, including, say, the mayor’s race of 2007?

Put it this way. Nobody not named Dick Greco was going to beat Pam Iorio in 2003.

With a savvier campaign, better ads and more political seasoning, Sanchez could have made it more competitive. But from January on, it was Iorio’s to lose — and she wasn’t about to allow it.

In his concession speech, Sanchez again underscored his commitment to Tampa and more than hinted that the political experience he gained in the mayoral campaign will be practically applied down the road.

After exhorting his supporters to “help Ms. Iorio move our city forward,” he promised that “There will be a tomorrow. I have only just begun to fight. My roots are here. My future is here. I will be with you from this day forward.”

Later in a private aside, he noted: “I do intend to do my business here. And as a private citizen, I intend to push some of these issues I’ve been speaking about.”

But, no, he wouldn’t be amenable to taking a paid position with the Iorio Administration, but would leave open the possibility of doing something on a “volunteer basis.”

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