Tampa mayoral candidates Pam Iorio and Frank Sanchez sat face-to-face Tuesday, closed into a tiny box of a room at the WUSF 89.7 FM radio station.
The pair maintained a courteous professionalism toward one another. But, after a week of ugly campaign tactics, the tension was palpable.
Iorio and Sanchez engaged in an hour-long debate that will be presented on WUSF today at 6:30 p.m. and again on Saturday at noon. Sanchez, who last week went on the offensive by coining the derogatory term “Pam-speak” and attacking Iorio’s tax record, wasted little time in resuming the attack.
“I don’t believe it’s appropriate to do a character assassination,” Sanchez said. “(But) Ms. Iorio is presenting herself as a good administrator. I’ve seen some things that need to be looked at.”
Sanchez accused Iorio of encouraging a tax increase of up to 25 percent. He also said that while she served on the county commission, more than $300 million in borrowed money was mismanaged and that $7 million was completely wasted after she and other commissioners “acted hastily.”
“The record speaks for itself,” Sanchez said. “(I’m) not distorting.”
Iorio, however, said that Sanchez is, indeed, distorting facts and that, as mayor, she wouldn’t raise property taxes.
“I think (Sanchez’ tactic) is the oldest political trick in the book,” Iorio said. “It does not make for an intelligent campaign for mayor. The citizens of Tampa deserve better than that.”
Iorio said it is very easy to read old newspapers and find stories and editorials critical of county administrators.
“Knowing a little history helps when you start making allegations and distorting history,” Iorio said.
Last week, when Sanchez began his offensive, Iorio seemed a bit taken aback, and struggled in responding. Iorio is now, however, not only strongly defending her own record, she has begun to make some attacking statements of her own.
Iorio continually pointed out that Sanchez, while from Tampa, did not live in the city for some time. She said, having lived here for years, she knows more of what the community needs.
“When you’ve been away for 23 years and want to be mayor … it’s different having been (here),” Iorio said.
“I am very rooted here,” Sanchez responded. “I consider it one of my greatest assets that I have seen what other cities have done.”
Lost in the Iorio/Sanchez banter were many of the important issues that Tampa is facing. Much of the first half of the debate was taken up by seesaw accusations. When the candidates did begin speaking on various issues, their opinions proved to be mostly the same.
Both candidates agreed that urban sprawl and crime are a problem. Both also said they want to encourage the Super Bowl to return to Tampa and that cultural arts should be encouraged.
And, during their closing statements, both discussed their ideas for an improved Tampa.
“I’m not a career politician, but I have worked in government,” Sanchez said. “I have a vision for this city.”
Iorio said she wants to create a city that is “one of the very best in the entire nation.”
“I’ll leave behind a city that is one of the most livable,” Iorio said.