Pam Iorio didn’t have to wait long to get a real feel for what being mayor was all about. Less than an hour after being sworn in, a police official took her aside and said they had a “security situation.”
As it turned out, it was a false alarm. But, nonetheless, it was a sobering reminder that running for office is nothing like running that office.
“It really hit home right away,” recalls Iorio. “You are now responsible for the safety and welfare of a large number of people, and you have to be prepared to step up to the plate.”
And that plate looks a lot bigger from the office of the mayor than from the office of elections supervisor.
There are bizarre distractions such as a possible public-nudity referendum. There also loom some mettle-detecting, rite-of-passage discussions with the Glazer family over Raymond James Stadium.
Then there are foreboding amphitheater scenarios; the unfinished Cancer Survivors Plaza; lots of frustrated homeowners on Davis Islands; no state money for the new downtown art museum; and the reality that reclaimed water may not be economically feasible for New Tampa. Then there’s that sizable tab the city pays long-term, retiring employees for accrued sick and vacation pay. Or even the little tab the city used to pick up for sandwiches brought in for Architectural Review Commission members. And more.
“Yes, there have been quite a few transitional issues and challenges,” acknowledges Iorio. “That’s not unexpected, and we’ll work through them. City hall has been a very decentralized organization, and that needs to change.”
To the surprise of some, Iorio has backed off some campaign positions and qualified others. On the campaign trail, for example, she vowed to hire the next police chief internally. Now she doesn’t preclude the possibility of a national search to get the right person.
On the hustings, she also said a uniform, $12-a-year, residential stormwater tax made the most sense. She has since reconsidered.
To many, Iorio was the poster pol for generational change in city hall. Yet she has retained Ron Rotella, Dick Greco’s go-to guy for development, as a contracted consultant.
“You’re given more information now than you were as a candidate,” explains Iorio. “You literally know more. And the perspective is totally different. It’s the nature of a candidate to have a very superficial dialogue going on. Governing is all facts.
“Being the mayor instead of a candidate means looking at the possibility of national searches and revisiting the stormwater fee because we want a fee and a structure in place that will stand court tests and provide a meaningful framework for stormwater problem-solving,” adds Iorio. “And, yes, that (includes keeping) Rotella on a contract in case we need to tap his institutional knowledge.
“And I suppose it also means doing things that aren’t in your short-term political interest but will serve long-term goals for the community.”
Two priorities that haven’t altered any, underscores Iorio, are the twin commitments to the cultural arts and to East Tampa revitalization.
“Yes, we are going to be successful in raising the money to build the museum,” Iorio emphasizes. “But the important point is that it’s not just the museum. It’s about a larger district that includes a riverwalk, a new and improved Ashley Street and a park that people will bring their families to. It’s about creating a city where creative energies are appreciated and fostered. A climate where musicians, artists and filmmakers find a home. This is the kind of city we can be.”
The kind of city that can’t afford to leave any neighborhood behind.
Tampa recently wrapped up its highly publicized crackdown on drugs and crime in East Tampa. The two-week tally: 449 arrests and 383 code violations. The final score: yet to be determined.
“Open drug deals and known crack houses — that’s just unacceptable,” stresses Iorio. “That has to be unacceptable in ALL neighborhoods. That’s a community value. We’ll never be the city we can be until we bring every neighborhood up to standard.”
And she has words of warning for those who may have been “laying low” for a fortnight until the much-hyped “Operation Commitment” ended.
“The commitment is not going away,” promises Iorio. “Everything will now get done out of the headlines. But we will have stepped-up enforcement. And to those who planned on ‘laying low’ for a while, well, you’ll be laying low for at least four years.”