About this time eight years ago, candidates busy elbowing each other out of the way to be Tampa's next mayor were in for an old-fashioned, last-minute shellacking.
On the ticket were two experienced City Council members, plus a hometown boy who had worked as an aide to Bill Clinton. This was a real race. Then came Pam Iorio.
Iorio had established herself as a respected and dependable face in local politics for nearly 20 years. When she sashayed onto the ballot two months before voters picked their new mayor, that was pretty much that.
(Not that there was any actual sashaying, Iorio being more the power-walking-in-practical-pumps type. This was in sharp contrast to the dandy of a mayor she replaced, a man who never met a stranger who couldn't use a hug; but more on Dick Greco in a minute.)
Now, candidates are again elbows-out to replace the term-limited Iorio in March.
Will it be deja vu all over again?
Will former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis step in to take the title of mayoral spoiler?
Or will it be the frequent and former Mayor Greco, at 77 still spilling over with that Greco charm and not too shy to talk about his Botox?
You could call Davis the mayor apparent, since he is Iorio's pick to see the city through. He may not pack her political punch in local circles, but he is a grownup, a lawyer and a politician who has been to Washington. He made a strong case for the transportation referendum that recently failed to win over voters. He talks of jobs and selling the city and its quality of life like never before. He may be the man to beat.
There's also Greco, the former can't-we-all-just-get-along mayor who lately laments the lack of civility in politics. As part of his legacy, he can point to the community investment tax that brought improvements beyond Raymond James Stadium. Naysayers will point out the balloon payment for Centro Ybor, also his legacy, comes due with the next mayor, perhaps Greco himself. He can expect to hear about the scandal that sent his housing chief Steve LaBrake to prison.
Some are surprised Greco is considering a run in this economy, when the job sounds about as much fun as a beach vacation in a hurricane, but he is nothing if not a booster for his city. Weary citizens might decide they need a little Greco like they need a little Christmas, right this very minute.
If and when the two dive in, neither should expect a friendly fruit basket. Davis will hear "Washington insider," and not the good kind. Greco will hear his years as mayor may be worth respecting, just not reliving.
Already, the field is thick with formidable contenders: Rose Ferlita, who made a name for herself on the Hillsborough County Commission, and not just because she didn't get hauled off to court like certain other commissioners; pastor Tom Scott, who has served on both the County Commission and the City Council; and former Commissioner Ed Turanchik of the failed Olympics-in-Tampa dream. Bob Buckhorn, once a City Council member and mayor's aide whose mayoral hopes were sidelined by Iorio, says he has knocked on thousands of doors. "We don't need a mayor who spent eight weeks thinking about this," he says, "about problems that will take 10 years to fix."
So here we go. Those without sharp elbows — or thick skins —need not apply.