Pam Iorio was just 22 years old, fresh out of the American University in Washington, D.C., when she sought out the advice of University of South Florida professor, women's historian and political activist Doris Weatherford.
"I asked her to help me get started in politics," recalled Iorio, speaking at the June 12 meeting of the East Hillsborough Democratic Club.
Weatherford told her that, first and foremost, a good politician is a good leader.
Iorio took Weatherford's message to heart, becoming the youngest person ever to win a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission at the age of 26. She went on to be elected Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections in 1992, a position she held for three terms.
During her time as elections supervisor, Iorio returned to school to obtain her degree in American history and became fascinated with the story of Fannie Lou Hamer, the daughter of sharecroppers.
"Fannie Lou was an uneducated African-American woman in her mid-40s, living in Mississippi," said Iorio. In 1962, she boarded a bus with 17 other black residents to register to vote at the county courthouse. When she arrived, she was turned away because she couldn't recite part of the state constitution.
"In the process, she found a voice and became a leader in the Civil Rights movement," said Iorio. "Two years later, she was the face of the 1964 National Democratic Convention in Atlantic City. She made a difference because she had a passion."
Hamer's story had Iorio asking herself if she'd done enough to make a difference. Taking her inspiration from Hamer, Iorio decided to run for mayor of Tampa. She was elected in 2003 and re-elected in 2007.
What Makes a Good Leader?
After 26 years in public life, Iorio is now retired from the political arena and has has written a book on leadership, "Straight Forward: Ways to Live & Lead."
"I think we have a terrible leadership problem in this country — in politics, business and nonprofits," said Iorio.
Too many people seek leadership roles for selfish reasons and hidden agendas.
A good leader demonstrates honesty and humility, is thoughtful, accepts responsibility, shows respect for others and exercises power carefully, writes Iorio.
Above all, a good leader is willing to compromise.
"I don't know where we got the notion that compromise was a bad thing," she said. "That attitude is turning our country upside down. Our inability to sit at a table with people of differing opinions is hurting us. Compromise is not a weakness; it's a sign of strength. It means you're invested in that relationship."
She said the country's founders were masters at compromise when they met in 1787 to amend the Articles of Confederation and ended up authoring the Constitution.
"When you compromise, the overarching goal has to be more important than individual interests," she said. "Compromise allow this great experiment in democracy to move forward. If you really care about the future of the country, you have to find common ground."
She encouraged those in attendance to discover the leader in themselves.
"It really begins with how you view yourselves," she said. "If you lead yourself well, you'll lead a better life."
Will Iorio Run Again?
Among the first questions asked of Iorio during the question-and-answer session was whether she would run for public office again.
Iorio was noncommital.
"I do not have any plans to run for anything," she said.
Iorio was also questioned about her thoughts on the so-called "voter purge," Gov. Rick Scott's attempts to remove nonresidents from the state's voter registration lists.
Iorio recalled a similar attempt in 2000 when she was supervisor of elections.
"We have to learn from history," Iorio said. "In 2000, there was a list of felons who supposedly were ineligible to vote. It was riddled with errors and individuals were denied the right to vote because of it."
The Bush v. Gore race was ultimately decided by 357 votes in Florida, she said.
"I never got over the terrible feeling that people weren't allowed to vote because of an erroneous list," she said. "It concerns me that there's a new list that seems fraught with as many errors as the old one."
As for her view on the upcoming Republican National Convention in Tampa, Iorio, a lifelong Democrat, believes the convention will be good for Tampa's economic development in the long-run, which is why she bid on getting the convention as mayor of Tampa.
"In the short-term, there's going to be a lot of demonstrations and disruptions. But we have a fantastic police chief and I'm fully confident our police department can deal with those situations, or I wouldn't have bid on it."
As for advice for up and coming politicians, Iorio recalled some words of wisdom from one of her mentors, former state Sen. and Supreme Court justice Fred Karl.
"He said, 'Pam, if you ever make a decision for the wrong reasons, it will be like a pebble is in your shoe,' " said Iorio. "You have to live your political life in a way so you'll never feel that pebble. You always have to do what's in the best interests of the community in the long term."