TAMPA — Look at Tampa's relationship with MacDill Air Force Base only through the experience of Dr. Scott and Jill Kelley, and it's easy to get the wrong idea about the city, former Mayor Pam Iorio says.
"The relationship with the military is being seen through the eyes of this particular story," Iorio said Wednesday. But "our relationship with the military is very deep and sincere and represents thousands of people. This one couple and their parties are not really representative of what we do for the military."
To the contrary, she said, Tampa's larger engagement with MacDill, Central Command and Special Operations Command manifests itself in Thanksgiving dinners for CentCom's coalition partners, in local families hosting international officers, in the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce's Military Affairs Council (and the base's $6.7 billion impact on the Tampa Bay area's economy), in residents supporting the spouses of those serving abroad and through the flag-waving of the Bayshore Patriots.
Iorio has done a range of interviews with national media this week — the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press and Reuters — partly to make that point, she said.
Still, like other leading citizens in Tampa, Iorio knows the Kelleys and their cause.
"Jill is high-energy — very social and a tireless hostess," she said. "She has focused on the military since I first met her."
That introduction goes back to 2003, after Iorio was first elected mayor. The Kelleys called her office and invited her to a military-oriented reception they were hosting — Gen. Tommy Franks, then the commander of CentCom was among the guests — in the private room of a local restaurant.
Later Jill Kelley told Iorio she wanted to become more involved in the community, so Iorio began looking for things Kelley could "pour her energy into." In 2009, Iorio appointed her to the board of the Henry B. Plant Museum, and, after a three-year term, Mayor Bob Buckhorn re-appointed Kelley this year at the museum's request.
Another perspective on community relations with MacDill comes from John Stross, co-owner of Leverock's seafood restaraunt in Pasadena.
Stross said he has met Jill Kelley at several functions at MacDill, but doesn't know her personally and has never been to her home for an event.
But he has been invited to and attended many functions with dignitaries at MacDill, presumably because he helped raise money for various local charities. After getting his first invitations, "I didn't ask why. I assumed they wanted community voices. I didn't ask how I got the invite. I can't speak for the vetting."
Yet even with invitations to the functions, he says it is difficult to gain access to military officials when not at events. He says he could not pick up the phone and get a top general to meet him for breakfast or attend a party at his house.
The base has a protocol office that vets people who attend the functions and gain access to officials, he said. The profile: "All community leaders. They are upstanding citizens."
Times staff writers Richard Danielson and Mark Puente contributed to this report.