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THE WOMEN IN CHARGE

For days, two of the women who run Tampa have been front and center, ever since the moment Mayor Pam Iorio picked up the phone at home in the dead of night and heard the voice of police Chief Jane Castor.

Two cops were gunned down in the night, and for day after frustrating day, suspect Dontae Morris has been in the wind, as the cops say. Every day, the two have stood shoulder to shoulder to face the cameras, the sensible curly-haired mayor in her bookish glasses and the lanky blond police chief in her crisp uniform and shiny gold badge wrapped in black.

Sometimes their faces are etched with weariness, but their voices have stayed steady with what we need to hear: Trust us. We'll find him. They have stayed steady through the frustration of waiting and not finding him, of worrying about their officers and a wanted man with nothing to lose.

I saw the mayor outside the police station the other day, where a man was scrubbing down a dark granite police memorial in grim preparation for chiseling in two more names. She had an envelope, and as we talked, she opened it.

A Tampa police officer had been assigned to her office open house last Christmas, she said, and her staff kept telling him, go in, meet the mayor, she likes talking to police. He said no, no, but finally, shyly, he did.

From the envelope, she pulled a glossy photo of herself smiling next to a boyish, grinning cop. "That's Jeffrey," she said, tears spilling over. Officer Jeffrey Kocab, shot in the early morning hours Tuesday along with fellow Officer David Curtis in what was supposed to be routine traffic stop. The mayor was on her way to give the photo to Kocab's pregnant wife.

The two women in charge are known for being even-keeled and focused. The mayor, as it turns out, is more prone to tears. She tries to hold back, but this week she has watched strong police officers weep, has spoken to families who lost what the rest of us can't fathom, went to the hospital after it happened.

"I'm a wife, I'm a mom. Yes, I'm a mayor but ... they're everyone," she said, meaning the families. "They're all of us." No one can hold the tears against her.

The chief does not volunteer much about herself, though if you ask she says she has "slept a little bit." (She better say this, since she wants her officers rested, even the ones who insist on spending the night at the busy command post.) "I'm certain each night they're going to call me and tell me they've got him," she said.

In the middle of things one day, her stomach hurt. She thought a minute and realized how long it had been. "You just don't think about eating," she said.

The police chief is the mother of boys, just like Officer Curtis with his stair-step sons. "I would have no idea what I would tell my kids," she said, then quickly moved on to something more solid: catching the man who did this.

The sheriff in Polk County once gave the reason a cop killer had been fired upon 110 times: That's all the ammo they had, he said. This is not Castor's style. But she looks directly into the camera when she promises, more than once, that anyone helping Morris can bet on the jail cell next to his.

The last time I talked to the mayor before this, we were going back and forth on her favorite subject, rail, and whether the earliest phase should include a link to the airport. She said she has not thought of rail, not said "rail," since this happened.

The chief says the mayor is as much a part of this as any cop. She is there by day, texts them at night, even offers up cop-related theories. "And we appreciate all of them," the chief says, deadpan. It's funny, a quick moment away from the bleakness at hand.

This terrible week has made me think about whom we pick to run things - not just who gets to mull taxes and budget cuts, but what they will look like if suddenly the sky is falling. We have to elect and appoint the ones who can face us and say we will get through this and make us believe it.

Maybe there is still a long road here. But for this, we could not have asked for much better than the women in charge.

- scarlton@sptimes.com

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