Americans might be fed up with Washington and Tallahassee, but Tampa voters like their mayor. A St. Petersburg Times-Bay News 9 poll found nearly two-thirds of likely city voters believe Tampa is headed in the right direction. The results ratify the agenda and tone that Pam Iorio set in her eight years as mayor, and they offer some guidance to the five candidates running to succeed her in Tuesday's election.
The two-term Iorio, who leaves office April 1, presided over a historic cycle of both boom and bust. Since taking office in 2003, she nearly doubled the property value of downtown, cut crime by 61 percent and invested tens of millions of dollars in the city's roads, century-old water system and other essential public works. After the economy collapsed in 2007 — slashing city property values by $7 billion and costing the city millions in tax revenue — Iorio cut hundreds of city jobs and tens of millions from the budget. Tampa's tax base was smaller last year than during Iorio's first term, but the city also has socked away more money in cash reserves. Writing to the candidates this week, Iorio said the city was in "good financial shape" and would continue to be if the next mayor continued to "strategically" shrink the budget.
Iorio spent her time on the right priorities. The poll showed voters are concerned most about jobs, the economy, crime and taxes — all areas where Iorio changed course from her predecessor, Dick Greco. Iorio focused on the basics, investing in parks, neighborhoods and the city's aging infrastructure. She brought new museums and life downtown — but on reasonable terms. Iorio cleaned up City Hall and supported her police chiefs, who made the department more effective and respected. And she reached out to groups and parts of town unaccustomed to having the mayor's attention.
Iorio's straightforward, inclusive style may explain why such a broad cross section of voters have a positive outlook on Tampa. Even with the electorate in a generally sour mood, and with unemployment in the region at 12 percent, the poll showed a bullish attitude about Tampa that cut across race, age, gender and party lines. Those who agreed Tampa was moving in the right direction included some of the very groups — blacks, women and independent voters — too often marginalized throughout the city's history.
The candidates working to succeed her should take note. Tampa residents want a mayor who is fair and forward-looking, and who knows the difference between leadership and giving away the store. And in this nation's sharply divided political environment, they are looking for pragmatic solutions from local leaders. The next mayor should realize the value of public faith and goodwill if he or she hopes to navigate what clearly will be even tougher times ahead.