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Iorio, Baker put political speculation about their plans to rest

TAMPA — Two local mayors on Monday ended speculation about their political plans.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, a Democrat, announced she won't run for state or national office in 2010, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker said he will not seek to replace Charlie Crist as governor.

"I don't know if this is the best political decision for me and my career. It's probably not," said Iorio, whose second and final term as mayor ends in March 2011.

But Iorio said the city would be best served if she was not distracted by an 18-month run for higher office.

"One of the things that became apparent to me is that if I put together a statewide campaign, it would consume most of my time," she said.

Iorio said in January she was exploring a run for the Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez. Despite her lack of name recognition statewide, she polled well when pitted against confirmed Democratic candidates for the post. Rumors also circulated that she would run for chief financial officer of Florida.

But Iorio said she wants to concentrate on her job as mayor, specifically mentioning the need to balance the city budget in a tough economy; completing capital improvement projects, notably a riverfront park downtown; and bringing light rail to the region.

"I want to be true to this position, and I want to be true to the people who elected me to this position," she said.

Baker in has been talking to prominent Republicans across the state about running for the governor's post, but said he decided over the weekend he could not see throwing himself full throttle into an 18-month statewide campaign.

"I only have a few years left with my kids at home, and I just want to be with them," said Baker, who has not decided what he'll do after his term ends in six months. "It's really not a question of whether I think I could win. It's really personal reasons."

As a fiscal and social conservative who overwhelmingly won two elections in Democratic-leaning St. Petersburg, he was seen by some Republicans as the ideal fresh face for the party.

"Rick has been a conservative's conservative, but he has articulated the message with as generous a heart as possible," said Brett Doster, a Republican consultant in Tallahassee.

As a first-time, statewide candidate, however, Baker would have faced a steep challenge winning the primary if he wound up competing against well-known Republicans such as Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson.

Iorio, who turned 50 last month, has held elective office for the past 25 years, first as a Hillsborough County commissioner, then supervisor of elections. She easily won election as Tampa's chief executive in 2003 and again in 2007.

She has earned a reputation for being cautious and conscientious, presiding over the county's vote recount in the troubled 2000 presidential election.

As mayor, she has focused on improving neighborhoods and public works projects.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who urged guests at a Hillsborough County Democratic fundraiser on Monday to challenge Republicans in the 2010 election, said she was disappointed Iorio won't be running.

"Fortunately, she will be focused on better transportation solutions for the Tampa Bay area," Castor said. "We need that here."

Times staff writer Adam Smith contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Iorio, Baker put political speculation about their plans to rest 05/11/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 11, 2009 9:13pm]
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