TAMPA — Siobhan Harley, special assistant to Mayor Bob Buckhorn and a rising star in local Democratic politics, is resigning to go to work for a political consulting firm in Nashville.
Harley will leave City Hall on Friday to take a job as a campaign manager with the Calvert Street Group, which does work in 30 states and Canada. There, she will be closer to her boyfriend, Patrick Kavanaugh, a law student at Vanderbilt University.
"I am a campaigner at heart," Harley said Monday. "I love the adrenaline rush. I love going out there and campaigning for a cause. I love going out and getting voters to the polls. I love winning."
Harley, 25, was the first campaign staffer Buckhorn hired when he ran for mayor. She signed on largely because of his focus on making Tampa a better place for young professionals. After his election, she moved from the campaign to City Hall and is credited with helping Buckhorn spread that message during his two years in office.
Along the way, Buckhorn and others say her work has helped him improve a less-than-hip image. Last month, 83degreesmedia.com published an essay asking, "Is Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn cool?" (Its answer: More than he used to be.)
"She has been really the force behind the coolness," said City Council member Lisa Montelione, who heard the news from Harley over drinks at Fly bar after Saturday night's Kennedy-King fundraiser for the Hillsborough County Democratic Party.
"All of the technology stuff — Foursquare and Twitter — all the social media. It's all her," Montelione said. "She really deserves a lot of credit for bringing young individuals to the table and energizing her generation and … making them feel like they can make a difference."
As the mayor's special assistant, Harley also worked on technology initiatives and coordinated special events such as the Mayor's River O'Green celebration for St. Patrick's Day and the Mayor's Hack-a-thon, in which software developers and coders sought to create applications that could be used to improve the city.
"What she did more than anything," Buckhorn said, was make "city government relevant to people who perhaps weren't knowledgeable about, had been turned off by or didn't know how to interact with city government because they weren't communicating with city government in traditional ways."
Harley is the third key member of Buckhorn's staff to leave in recent weeks. First chief of staff Santiago Corrada resigned to become president of Tampa Bay & Co., the local tourism development agency. Then City Attorney James Shimberg Jr. was hired as executive vice president and general counsel by the parent company of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Tampa Bay Storm and the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Harley came to politics by an unusual route.
She was born in Glasgow, and her parents Evelyn and Eugene moved from Scotland to Tierra Verde two decades ago after visiting on a holiday.
Growing up in Pinellas County, Harley attended St. Petersburg Catholic High for two years, then moved to California to try her hand as a 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. (Her mom once told the Times it was important to support her daughter as she tried life as a touring musician, "though I think I cried for a month.")
But for Harley, music wasn't a moneymaking proposition, and she saw friends get stuck in bad record deals. She came back to begin studying journalism and communications at the University of Tampa.
There, she got involved in politics after then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's first presidential campaign came to campus to recruit volunteers. One of her earliest local government gigs was working as an unpaid intern in the County Commission office of Rose Ferlita, whom Buckhorn later defeated in the runoff of the mayor's race.
In the three years leading up to Buckhorn's election, Harley worked as a volunteer, unpaid intern or staffer on a half-dozen political campaigns or Democratic Party-related projects.
With Buckhorn, Harley was not the campaign manager, though people often thought she was. She was at every event, and she ran volunteers, coordinated the work of other young staffers, edited the website, shot photos, handed out fliers, updated the Facebook page, sent tweets and handled other campaign chores. Buckhorn described her as "the glue that held it together every day."
But despite her hard work, Harley could not vote for Buckhorn because she had been born in Scotland and was not a U.S. citizen — until the day after the election.
That day, less than 12 hours after Buckhorn gave his victory speech, Harley joined 507 other immigrants from 83 countries for a naturalization ceremony at the Tampa Convention Center.
The thing she was most excited about, she said, was registering to vote, which she did that day.
On Monday, that enthusiasm had not dimmed.
"I think not being able to vote for so long has just given me an obsession for democracy," she said.
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.