They were 36 of the most trying days any supervisor of elections could imagine.
During the weeks following the 2000 presidential election, the accusatory eyes of the nation and the world turned their cold glance directly toward Florida. It was at that time the public learned about dimpled ballots and hanging chads.
For Pam Iorio, then the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections, her task during those days was doubly difficult. She was the statewide spokeswoman for all supervisors. That led to 700 media requests, about 20 a day, from places as far away as Japan and France.
“They were 36 very intense days,” Iorio said.
But, despite what she calls a barrage of criticism, Iorio said she was privileged to be a part of history. More importantly, she said the difficulties of those days prepared her for her run to become Tampa’s next mayor.
“It was important (then) to present as much information as calmly as possible,” Iorio said. “(The public) needed to understand. They needed someone to explain what was going on.”
Iorio served 10 years as supervisor of elections, a post she gave up at the end of January. The past two years in that office were by far the most notable. After the 2000 presidential election fiasco, Iorio implemented a touchscreen voting system, which worked well during last year’s elections. She has been widely praised for instituting the new technology.
Iorio said it was at about that time when she began to consider a possible run for the mayor’s office. She said, after careful consideration, she decided she could no longer say no to supporters.
“It was just a constant drum beat from voters,” Iorio said. “Every single time I stepped out of the house, they asked me, ‘Why aren’t you running for mayor?'”
But, when she announced her candidacy, some questioned whether time was on her side. Iorio entered the race Jan. 6, just 57 days before the election. Many of her six fellow candidates had been actively campaigning for more than a year.
Iorio said she knows she is late but still feels confident. She said she has no plan to overcome the lost time, other than to campaign as hard as she can.
“I can tell you my strategy is just to run all out. My strategy is simple: Communicate directly to the voters in a grassroots campaign,” Iorio said. “Everywhere we go, we pick up momentum. So far, every day has been a positive day.”
Iorio’s run for mayor is the culmination of a lifetime of politics and public service. Born to a father who was a professor at USF, Iorio said her childhood was shaped by vivid political debates. She said growing up during the Vietnam War and living her teenage years during the Watergate scandal left a lasting impression.
After graduating from King High School in Tampa, Iorio went to Washington, D.C. to study political science. After graduating, Iorio came home to Tampa and, at the age of 25, won a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission.
Iorio is the only candidate in the mayoral race to emerge from county government. That has become a central point in her campaign. Iorio said she wants to govern Tampa by emphasizing how it fits into the county and the region.
“You take an international company, (and) they don’t look at a map and say, ‘I think we’ll look at Tampa.’ That’s not how companies think,” Iorio said. “You look at a region. We are part of a dynamic region on the west coast of Florida. When I help market Tampa, it’s going to be part of a larger region, because I think that’s how you successfully market a community.”
Iorio said such thinking will bring important business money to Tampa. She said a company anywhere in the area will help increase the tax base.
“We need to develop a mindset and attitude that we’re also happy when (companies) go over to Pinellas and Pasco,” Iorio said. “When we have a region, that’s how we build the economy.”
Iorio said she also sees USF as important to both the economy and Tampa community. She, as many of the other candidates have, expressed a desire to economically harness technology from the university.
“I know the kind of positive energy that comes from an academic setting,” Iorio said. “A university is a place of learning and a place of research. It is a place for students (first) and a place of learning. But they also are economic tools in some respects … We have to recognize that USF is an asset and a partner.”
And, Iorio said, all of Tampa will improve if neighborhoods are strengthened. Iorio, throughout her campaign, has preached about making Tampa a more livable city. As the campaign nears the home stretch, she said that continues to be one of her main goals.
“I have to make sure (as mayor) that I am always expressing the hopes and dreams of our city,” Iorio said.