Pam Iorio almost pulled it off.
Despite the fact that she had four competitors, two of which had years of experience in Tampa city government, Iorio came just four percentage points from earning a majority of the vote and winning the mayoral election outright Tuesday.
“Forty-six percent, that’s pretty darn good,” Iorio said gleefully to a few hundred rowdy, red-white-and-blue-clad supporters.
But, as it stands, the slate will be wiped clean, and Iorio will compete with second place candidate Frank Sanchez March 25 in a run-off election. Sanchez, who received 20.56 percent of the vote, beat city councilman Bob Buckhorn by slightly more than one percentage point.
Iorio, the former Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections who gained fame by implementing the new touch screen voting system, said she is excited to resume the campaign and vowed to continue to go door to door and talk directly to voters.
“It doesn’t matter to me (who I run against),” Iorio said. “Because I run a positive campaign. … I don’t run for anyone but for Tampa.”
Iorio compared the 19-day campaign leading up to the runoff to her abbreviated run for Tuesday’s election. Iorio announced her candidacy Jan. 6, giving her just 57 days to campaign. Most of her fellow candidates had been on the trail for more than a year.
Iorio said she is ready to go.
“We have 19 days. You think you’ve seen a whirlwind so far? You ain’t seen nothing yet,” Iorio said.
Just a few miles on the other side of downtown, a sweaty and tired-looking Sanchez greeted a throng of supporters piled into a small restaurant. The race between him and Buckhorn had been tight throughout the evening. Early returns had given a slight edge to Buckhorn.
As he waited for a local television crew to go live, he smiled and thanked supporters.
“We’re not done yet,” Sanchez said repeatedly.
“See you at eight o’clock in the morning,” one supporter responded, drawing a laugh.
Minutes earlier, Sanchez had stood before his supporters and reflected on his campaign.
“(I) started this campaign 13 months ago, and less than one percent of the population knew who Frank Sanchez was,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said Tampa needs a change. His campaign has centered on his vast international business experience and his experience working inside the Clinton White House. He has said he wants to use that experience to manage Tampa’s future.
Sanchez said he will work hard, starting today, to erase the distance between himself and Iorio.
“Some political observers will say this is an uphill battle,” Sanchez said. “But we’ve done fine, and we’re going to do fine on March 25.”
City councilman Charlie Miranda finished fourth with 13.44 percent of the vote, and health guru Don Ardell finished fifth at 0.70 percent. Write-ins accounted for 50 of the 50,353 votes.
In the city council District 2 election, USF alumnus Kelly Benjamin was defeated by incumbent Rose Ferlita, losing by 36.62 percent of the vote.
The voter turnout Tuesday was 33.05 percent, the lowest in a Tampa mayoral race that was not uncontested since 1991.