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Iorio's new job's in Texas, but her home and heart still in Tampa

It is inconceivable, this news that former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio will soon head for Texas.

Pam Iorio? A Tampanian's Tampanian, raised from babyhood to become the town's youngest county commissioner, then its no-nonsense elections supervisor and steady two-term mayor? Leaving for work far away?

If I may use the parlance shared by both the Sunshine and Lone Star states:

Do whut?

We're talking about someone who put up Tampa-themed wallpaper (bungalows, balustrades) in her home, then went back and bought every last roll. We're talking someone who can barely get down the vegetable aisle at Publix without being asked, even now, when she's going to run for Florida governor.

Iorio, trading in Tampa black beans for Texas brisket? Tom Petty for Lyle Lovett? Practical Pam, fixin' to git? Say it ain't so.

It ain't, she assures me, though technically she did not say "ain't." (Give her a few months in Texas.)

Admittedly, this latest line on her resume makes perfect sense. Post-mayorhood, she wrote a book on leadership and was send-in-the-Super Nanny when the Children's Board of Hillsborough County badly needed fixing. Remember the organization's then-boss having holy oil spread around the office to remedy its problems? Can Texas possibly have stories like this?

So no, it's not hard to see her as incoming CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, given both its earnest mission for at-risk kids and also its recent, critical Justice Department audit regarding millions in mishandled federal grants.

As mayor, Iorio kept the city steady and even added to it in a bruising economy. She herself does not use an ATM card. She is surprised I am surprised by this. She knows what she'll spend and what she'll need.

But this job is centered near Dallas, a perfectly nice place — except that it is not in Florida, where we do not have an excess of politicians who can write a book titled Straightforward with a straight face.

Shoot, she won't even get to escape two admittedly not-great things about here: hurricanes and heat. The four seasons in Texas have been described as drought, flood, blizzard and twister.

People sometimes quote a fellow who once said that if he owned both hell and Texas, he would rent out Texas and live in the other one. Which, come to think of it, sounds a lot like what the wags say about Florida.

No, no, no, Iorio says when I call. (Usually this is in response to the latest gubernatorial-run rumor.) She will commute by air Monday through Thursday, rejoining husband Mark Woodard, Pinellas' assistant county administrator, here. She'll also work in other states during the week.

But settle somewhere that is not here? "Oh, no," she says. "It's just not possible."

"Whenever I'm flying and I come back to Tampa and I look out the window, it is such a feeling of belonging someplace," she says. "Of being home."

She used to say you make a city better one block at a time. The new blocks will just be way bigger.

And what of The Rumor That Will Not Die, that one day she may run for governor? Or a new, milder speculation she might do a Dick Greco and someday return as mayor?

Iorio has stayed pretty politics-free in her three years out of office, not that this stops the Publix conversations. Would she rule out public office in the future?

"You just can't live your life that way, by ruling things out," she says. Still, if having been Tampa's 57th mayor turns out to be her last job in politics, she is good with that, too, good with having helped shape her city.

Take that, Texas. On second thought, don't.

Iorio's new job's in Texas, but her home and heart still in Tampa 03/11/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 9:06pm]
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