Carlton: Pam Iorio, USF's next president? Politics say no but who knows

Pam Iorio
Pam Iorio
Published Sep. 12, 2018

Here's an interesting idea that probably won't happen: Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio gets tapped to be the next president of the University of South Florida.

This week came the (somewhat) surprising news that USF president Judy Genshaft will retire next summer after 18 bright and burgeoning years running a public university with 50,000 students across three campuses.

(This was only somewhat surprising because 18 years is eons for a university president, even though Genshaft showed zero signs of slowing down.)

USF is a point of pride in these parts, and who takes the baton from Genshaft matters greatly. Speculation on who gets the nod — distinguished academic? well-connected politician? — has commenced.

Someone with energy and vision, local leaders said this week. Someone who understands big organizations. Someone with political chops.

So what about Iorio — the popular, pragmatic politician who left office in 2011 with an approval rating of more than 80 percent, bookish and wonkish and the current president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the headquarters of which she got relocated to Tampa?

Interesting historical note: USF is the reason Iorio is here.

Her late father John Iorio brought the family to Tampa in 1963 when he became an English professor at USF, where he taught for three decades. His daughter would get her master's degree in history at USF.

At the age of 26, she was elected to the Hillsborough County Commission. She served as the supervisor of elections, then was elected mayor. She wrote a book on leadership. Her mother, husband and daughter all have degrees from USF — not a qualification to run the place, but a connection to it.

So why might Iorio not be a contender, assuming she was interested?

In Florida, at least, such selections are often colored by politics.

Remember the arguments about whether former House Speaker John Thrasher was suitable for the top spot at Florida State University? Or former Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan at Florida Atlantic? Or former Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney at the University of North Florida? All Republicans, by the way, who all got the job.

Notably, whoever is selected to replace Genshaft must be confirmed by the Florida Board of Governors, which runs the state university system. Republican Gov. Rick Scott appoints the vast majority of that board.

Iorio, 59, is a definite Democrat.

That said, the November winner of the suddenly very interesting Florida governor's race — surprise Democrat Andrew Gillum or Republican Ron DeSantis — surely will have an impact.

The person picked to run USF needs to be particularly nimble in Tallahassee, and Iorio is not a former legislator. She doesn't have a Ph.D., which will not warm the hearts of academics looking for one of their own in USF's presidential suite.

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But couldn't she be pretty good at it anyway?

When I ask Iorio, her answer is measured and typically her. "I have a great love for USF and will always do what I can to help it prosper," she said. But also: "I am committed to Big Brothers Big Sisters and have no plans to seek other opportunities."

Though sometimes opportunity comes knocking.