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Candidates for mayor meet in debate tonight

If candidate Frank Sanchez hopes to overtake frontrunner Pam Iorio before voters pick a new mayor in two weeks, he will need to change some minds tonight.

Sanchez and Iorio face each other in the first televised debate before the March 25 runoff election for Tampa mayor.

The debate, sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times and WTSP-Ch. 10, will air on Ch. 10 between 8 and 9 p.m. WTSP reporter Mike Deeson will moderate, and Times columnists Ernest Hooper and Mary Jo Melone will pose questions.

When the TV camera turns on Sanchez, he will have the most work to do, political analysts said Monday.

"She is in the position of paddling downstream in a canoe; he is in the position of climbing up Mount Everest," said Darryl Paulson, a University of South Florida political scientist following the race.

Monday night, at a debate before about 50 people at the Oakford Park neighborhood association, Sanchez hit new themes against Iorio that he's likely to repeat tonight. He touted himself as a businessman who knows better than Iorio how to attract companies. He also challenged Iorio to provide clearer goals.

"The difference is the specifics we provide," Sanchez said.

Sanchez said repeatedly that he would not mislead voters about how the city could afford new programs. He said he will pay for them by attracting new businesses to Tampa.

He didn't set a timetable for growing the tax base or say how he would pay for all his programs before the economy expands.

"I will not lie to you," Sanchez said.

Asked later if he was implying that Iorio was lying, Sanchez said, "I can't control every inference that's made. I am just speaking my truth."

Sanchez placed second in the March 4 election after campaigning for more than a year and raising $820,000. He got 20 percent of the vote in a five-person race.

Iorio, who entered the race in January, took 46 percent, more than double Sanchez's.

Since then, Iorio has picked up endorsements from the city firefighters union and from two former opponents, City Council member Bob Buckhorn and Council Chairman Charlie Miranda.

Monday, the Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers and the largely African-American New Breed of Firefighters endorsed Iorio too.

At the forum Monday night, Iorio spoke in a steady voice about making Tampa more liveable by improving roads, crafting a transportation plan and improving poor neighborhoods. She calmly kept her hands together in front of her as she spoke.

Sanchez projected in a booming voice, and he repeatedely jabbed with his left index finger. Supporters wearing Sanchez T-shirts yelled wildly in the audience.

Sanchez "is the one with ground to make up and little time to do it," Paulson said. "He has to provide an opening for himself, something that will generate some positive press."

Sanchez has promised not to throw mud. But he has said it's fair to look at the voting record of Iorio, a county commissioner for eight years and the elections supervisor for a decade.

Political consultant Todd Pressman said Sanchez had little choice but to go on the offensive.

"If he is serious about winning this race, he has to attack her in a gentlemanly way," Pressman said. "He needs to take her down a number of pegs."

But Pressman said attacks probably wouldn't work. Buckhorn sent out three negative fliers about Iorio before the March 4 election, and the pieces didn't appear to hurt Iorio's popularity.

"There is nothing to attack," said Pressman, who gave money to both Buckhorn's and Iorio's campaigns. "It has been done already. Nothing was accomplished."

More likely, Sanchez will try to distinguish himself from Iorio by touting his business background and arguing that the city needs an outsider to make it more cosmopolitan, Paulson said.

Sanchez, a former Clinton White House aide who has never run for office before, opened a small consulting business in 2001 after leaving the Clinton administration. Before that, he served for five months as an assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"He is trying to make economic issues the number one concern," Paulson said. "I don't think he will be in an attack mode like Buckhorn. I don't think that that will do him very much good."

_ David Karp can be reached at 226-3376 or karpsptimes.com.

Mayoral debate

The St. Petersburg Times is sponsoring a debate between mayoral candidates Pam Iorio and Frank Sanchez at 8 p.m. tonight at Middleton High School. The debate will be broadcast live by co-sponsor WTSP-Ch. 10.

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