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First she helped the mayor-elect win; now she can vote for him

TAMPA — It was only Wednesday morning, and already Siobhan Harley was having a week unlike any other.

Monday night she made a presentation to a professional speaking class she's taking through St. Petersburg College.

Tuesday brought an even bigger project. Bob Buckhorn, her boss for nearly a year, won big in the Tampa mayor's race. Harley, 23, had been there from day one as the campaign's first staffer. For months, she worked to get him elected.

But she didn't vote for him. She couldn't. She was born in Scotland and was not a U.S. citizen.

Until Wednesday.

That's when Harley joined 507 other immigrants from 83 countries for a naturalization ceremony at the Tampa Convention Center.

She raised her right hand, renounced her allegiance to any foreign prince or potentate, swore to defend the Constitution of the United States, watched a video message from President Barack Obama, and waved a tiny American flag as hundreds of new citizens belted out Lee Greenwood's God Bless the U.S.A.

"She's been there for me. This is the least I could do," said Buckhorn, who came by between appointments to watch the ceremony. "This is what it's all about."

Harley said she loved the timing. But in some ways becoming a citizen continues her work as a volunteer, unpaid intern or staffer on a half-dozen political campaigns or Democratic Party-related projects over the last three years.

"I've already been doing my best to be a good citizen and an engaged citizen. Now it's official,'' she said. "Actually, I'll probably register to vote before I get my (naturalization) certificate. That's what I'm most excited about."

Harley, who lives in Tampa, was born in Glasgow, and her parents moved to Tierra Verde 20 years ago after visiting on a holiday.

Her mom Evelyn is a registered nurse at the Bay Pines VA Medical Center. Her father Eugene has his own mortgage and real estate businesses.

Growing up in Pinellas, Harley attended St. Petersburg Catholic High for two years, then moved to California to try her hand as a touring folk and alt-rock musician. She played piano and guitar with a mostly girl group called the Milkman's Kids, and at one point played a leg of the Warped Tour.

"It wasn't a moneymaking thing," she said. She didn't pursue a record contract, especially after some friends ended up in bad record deals. "I mean, they're basically like loans. It's something you really have to think twice about."

And her parents let her do this?

"I felt whatever she wanted to do you have to support her and trust her," Evelyn Harley said, "though I think I cried for a month."

Post-music, Harley landed at the University of Tampa, where she started studying journalism and communications. She got involved in politics after the Obama campaign came to campus looking for volunteers.

"She got the political bug bad," University of Tampa government professor Scott Paine said. "She brings to politics a carefully thought-out world view, a lot of energy — an extraordinary amount of energy — and a real desire to do good."

Paine recommended Harley for an unpaid internship in the County Commission office of Rose Ferlita, whom Buckhorn defeated Tuesday. Harley said she worked there "very briefly," but the chemistry wasn't good, she said.

She met Buckhorn through mutual political friends and liked that he seemed focused on making Tampa a better place for young professionals.

"You don't hear a lot of municipal candidates talk about that," she said. "For me, it really struck a chord."

During the race, Harley wasn't quite Buckhorn's campaign manager, but outsiders typically thought she was. She was at every event. She knew the strategy. She ran volunteers, coordinated the work of other (also young) staffers, edited the website, shot photos, handed out fliers, updated the Facebook page, sent tweets and handled a zillion other details that go with running a campaign.

"She was the glue that held it together every day," Buckhorn said.

On Wednesday, however, the campaign was over.

From the naturalization ceremony, Harley went to brunch with her parents and her boyfriend, Patrick Kavanaugh, then headed back to the campaign office to begin throwing stuff away. She expects there will be more campaigns, something she never would have dreamed of in her folk music days.

She plans to finish a degree in political science at the University of South Florida, but hasn't decided what the focus of her career will be.

And for now, that's okay.

"It's been a really cool day," she said. "It seems everything has gone perfectly in the last 24 hours."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

First she helped the mayor-elect win; now she can vote for him 03/23/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 24, 2011 8:29am]
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