What catches your eye first in Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio's office are the bright lights and colorful modern art. Then you notice her smile, a welcome that reveals her genuine friendliness.
Once the youngest person elected to the Hillsborough County Commission, Iorio won the race for mayor in 2003. She established five areas of focus for her four-year term: investing in neighborhoods, promoting economic development, making downtown a residential community, having an efficient government focused on customer service and making Tampa a city of the arts.
"It is important to bring art into our lives every day," she says.
The mayor also says she believes in several programs that directly affect teens. One is the Mayor's Youth Corps. The youth corps has 37 active members from private and public high schools in Tampa. "Mayor's Youth Corps has fulfilled its statement to give teens a voice and chance in the city of Tampa," says Leslie Kelly, a junior at Plant High. "I feel that when I am with the corps, I am a leader."
The youth corps does community service, discusses youth-related topics in open forums with the mayor and produces a monthly television show on CTTV Bright House Cable Ch. 15. As the young people in the group work with Iorio on community service projects or hear her in open forums, they get to know her.
"She is a fantastic communicator and a great public speaker," says Willie Herrera, a senior at Jesuit High School. "The most important thing I've learned from her is to pay attention to everyone."
Some of the teenagers are interested in politics, as Iorio was at their age.
"I was always interested in politics and enjoyed the study of government," she says. "To me, government represents the solving of problems. I have always been very attracted to that."
She encourages kids who are interested to get involved in politics. One way is through the youth corps. Another is through political campaigns, especially presidential campaigns.
"If you find a candidate you believe in, it's a great experience," Iorio says.
Iorio grew up in Tampa and graduated in 1977 from King High. She was a member of the student government and worked on the school newspaper, the Scepter. One of the most memorable stories she covered was about students skipping school to go to the McDonald's across the street (the fast-food restaurant remains there today). The principal at that time did not appreciate the story, but the newspaper adviser supported her, always believing in free speech.
"We were always getting into trouble, pushing the envelope," Iorio says of her work with the Scepter.
After graduating from American University in Washington, D.C., with a undergraduate degree in political science, Iorio returned to Tampa. She received a master's degree in history from the University of South Florida in Tampa.
She served for many years as a Hillsborough County commissioner and the county's elections supervisor. She admires the friendliness, warmth and generosity of the people in this area. She also says that knowing the community inside and out has helped her in her career.
Iorio, 45, is married and has two teenagers, a daughter and a son. She says her son shows some interest in politics though she won't push them into that life. She wants her kids to pursue whatever they want to.
Iorio says her schedule is busy, but she enjoys it. For her, every day has a certain degree of excitement. She has always been in public life, but as mayor she is recognized more than ever. She says personal daily tasks have become more difficult, but she enjoys talking to and meeting new people. She believes, however, that a career in politics is tough and not for everyone.
"Pick a career that interests you," she says. "It might take some time, but you'll figure it out."
Iorio often speaks at schools and youth events. She recently spoke at the National Honor Society inductions at King High.
"She is a very good speaker. It was nice of her to take time out of her day to come speak to us," says inductee Upom Malik, a junior.
"Any high school is what you put into it," Iorio says. "Frankly, that's life generally."
Rohini Komarla, 16, is in 11th grade at King High School IB in Temple Terrace.