Leadership (T)Amplified

The Vault filled with so many people April 23 the crowd began to spill out on to Franklin Street. Inside the event venue, balloons bounced off ankles, people posed for photos and dance hits filled the air. Folks readily fulfilled Earth, Wind & Fire’s musical request, Let’s Groove Tonight. For most, the festivities represented a monumental moment for Tampa: the election of a new mayor. For Leadership Tampa Alumni, however, the victory party for Jane Castor held special meaning. When the former Tampa Police chief defeated David Straz, she became the first Leadership Tampa Alumnus to hold the city’s highest office. 
One of our leaders now leads us all.
The significance wasn’t lost on Castor, winner of the 2016 LTA 2016 Parke Wright III Award. In the glow of the win, while still trying to catch her breath, she reflected on the role her Leadership Tampa experience played in helping her earn the trust and confidence needed to become the city’s 59th mayor.
A lot of LTA folks are taking great pride in your election. Are we right to think your LT experience contributed and will continue to contribute to your new role? 
There is no doubt that my Leadership Tampa experience helped guide me into the Office of the Mayor. I have never hesitated to tell everyone that Leadership Tampa is the best experience that I had while at the police department. From the amazing things I learned about my hometown (was surprised there was so much that I was unaware of), to the networking opportunities – it was all great.
I attended LT’00, greatest class ever! The connections and friendships made during my LT experience are still alive and well after almost 20 years. It really is an incredible program that benefits individuals, businesses and our community on a number of levels.
What’s the biggest thing you learned in LTA? 
Best lesson learned from LT was that Tampa is, at the same time, a large metropolitan city and a small town. We have the amenities and cultural experiences of the larger American cities and the friendliness and charm of a small town. My vision is to grow the city without losing our identity.
Were there LTA members who supported your campaign (a few attended the victory party)? What did that support mean to you? 
Just about everyone from my LT class supported me as the chief and during my campaign for mayor. Our class has remained very close – supporting each other’s causes (my two Humane Society rescue dogs stand as proof of my support for Nancy Newman LT’00), business, socializing, being there in times of need and just staying in touch.
As a point of position, now that I am “honorable,” I would like to make public the fact that Rudy Fernandez (LT’00) owes me big time. He personally held just under 100 mayoral debates/forums (may be a slight exaggeration) and I attended them all! Having the support of my LT classmates means the world to me. The personal and professional diversity of each class means that there is always someone to call upon no matter the need. I have advocated for LT since graduation and will continue to do so in any fashion they need.
Leadership Tampa is the best program that I have been involved with and the experience has continued to pay dividends both personally and professionally. Not sure if I mentioned that LT’00 was the best class ever.
Ernest Hooper, LT’03
2018 Newsletter/Annual Review Chair
Editor and Columnist, Tampa Bay Times
Follow him @hoop4you