Before she was a member of the Hillsborough County Commission or the Florida House of Representatives, Sandy Murman was an Indianapolis 500 princess. In honor of this weekend's 98th running of the Indy 500, Tampa Bay Times staff writer Caitlin Johnston chats with Murman about the similarities the race shares with Tampa's treasured Gasparilla and how women can help one another become more involved in public policy.
Growing up in Indiana, did you always know about the Indy 500 and the princesses?
My dad was actually very involved with the Indianapolis 500. It's very similar, probably, to Gasparilla here. You have people that belong to the society group and they help stage the events and all that. My older sister was a princess, so I knew I wanted to be one, absolutely. You know, you don't want to be left out. So it was really great.
What is it about being an Indy 500 princess that drew you to it?
Riding around that racetrack, I thought that was so cool. And meeting the race drivers. I really liked that. I can't remember who won that year, but that ride around that track still, to me, is an unforgettable moment. You're in the car waving to the crowd. It was really something.
Obviously Hoosiers have a very strong connection to the Indy 500. But what do you think it is about the race and the event itself that people get so excited about?
Jim Nabors (performing) Back Home Again in Indiana. I mean, there's so much tradition with that event. And actually, I still like race cars now because of that. But there's just tremendous tradition there. Again, I see it kind of similarly with Gasparilla. You've got an age-old event that takes place every year, and it modernizes as it goes through time. It's really good for the community. And actually, they do a lot through charity now, the Indianapolis 500 as well as Gasparilla. But it really has grown into something very special.
What did you learn from that experience?
Looking back on it, you are truly a representative of the event out in the community. That's how I think of it. My daughter was in the Gasparilla court. I wanted her to have that same experience like I had in the Indianapolis 500. You get to meet so many people. All the doors that open up for you in life could be through people you met while being in something like that. It's not just showcasing yourself because you're a pretty girl or because you went to IU or something like that. It's about the fact that you're a representative and you're an ambassador for the event.
I'm sure some of those skills transferred to public service, being a representative for the county and for your people.
And truly that was probably my first experience really being in the limelight and on the stage and doing that type of thing. It was good to go through that, because I realized I had talents. I liked being in the public eye. That has stuck with me forever.
You're very comfortable in the public sector and passionate about the work you do, but what is it that really motivates you to do this work?
It's really helping children. It's helping our youth. I'm very committed to that. Always have been. I want to make our community the best it can be. I want this place to be the No. 1 spot in all of Florida that people want to live. And so we need to make our roads better. We need to have great parks and rec. Great rec centers. Great sports centers. We need to make things so that people who are paying taxes in our community, that we have stuff that's affordable or free for them to go to … Whatever I can do to help improve anything that moves us ahead to being the best in the state, that's what I'm going to do.
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It wasn't too long ago that women held the majority on the commission. Now you're the only woman on the board. How does that impact how you see your role or some of the causes you take on?
It's funny you should mention this. Karen Seel and I … we've formed a group. We call ourselves WE — the Women's Exchange. We originally started meeting over a year ago because Karen and I are so disappointed in the numbers of women that are getting involved in public policy … We are going to create a database — this is going to be the key ingredient of WE — a database of public policy appointments, committees, boards. Could be private. Could be public. So if a woman says, "I want to apply for this," then all of us that are mentors find out and we connect people that can help this individual get appointed.
During your time in public service, have you seen things get better or worse for women?
Just look at the statistics. Three percent of CEOs across the country are women. That's not a good statistic. Maybe the glass ceiling, is it at the top or has it dropped down a notch? I'm very aware of that. I see it. Women have a lot to offer … but you know half the problem is because there are so few of us and there are so few top positions for women to go to, we kind of step on each other. And I think that's why maybe my book would be called Leave It At the Door or Life on the Short List, or something like that. We've got to learn that we've got to help each other.
Weekend Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.