Post by Cesar Hernandez
Lorena Hardwick: is a young influencer in the region helping to shape the political landscape for the past decade. Lorena is a Florida State Alumna and has held key roles in non-profit management, community relations and governmental affairs. She is the current Legislative Aide to At Large Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez, District 1 and board member of the Tampa Bay Region New Leaders Council. This past election cycle she was the West Central Florida Regional Political Director for the Charlie Crist for Governor Campaign. Previously she served as the Hispanic Outreach Liaison for then Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio’s Office of Neighborhood and Community Relations. Lorena is young thought leader in the region and a major contributing voice to the Tampa Bay narrative.
HC Young Dems: You are deeply committed and involved in our region, how did you find yourself in Tampa Bay?
Lorena Hardwick: The cliff notes version. When I was six my mom relocated us to New Jersey where my grandparents lived. Due to work and other situations she returned to Venezuela and at that time my grandparents were moving to the Bronx, so I made the move with them. At 13, grandpa came to Tampa to visit a family member and decided we should leave the New York winters behind, and the fact that the crime rate was becoming an issue in our neighborhood he thought Tampa would be a better environment for my teen years. Twenty plus years later, Tampa is still home.
HC Young Dems: You are very active in shaping the political landscape in our community, run us through when you first received the political bug?
Lorena Hardwick: One would think that attending college in our state’s capital would have had an influence, but it did not. I was not political, AT ALL. I had my views and opinions but never thought of politics or government as something I would pursue. I did, however, enjoy public service. In college my first internship was with the March of Dimes and I fell in love with non-profit work. I subsequently spent my summers working for the Boys & Girls Clubs here in Tampa and then eventually found my way to United Way of Tampa (now United Way of Suncoast), I managed their volunteer program Hands on Tampa (HOT) for four years. I enjoyed the work as it helped agencies on the most basic level. Through managing this program and volunteering myself I learned a lot about Tampa, its needs and the amazing work that was being done in our communities. It was wonderful meeting the people that were directly impacted by these non-profits and it was amazing to meet the local community leaders that made a difference each day. As I was transitioning out the job, while at my last volunteer event with HOT, I met Santiago Corrada (now CEO of Visit Tampa Bay), he was Mayor Iorio’s Neighborhood Services Administrator at the time. They were looking for a bilingual person to work in the neighborhoods office to help push out communications in Spanish and also be a neighborhood liaison for the City. I had never considered government service, so I was a little nervous but went to the interview and took a leap into the unknown. It was a great decision. I am forever grateful that he took an interest in speaking with me and introducing me to government. Years later, I realize how closely related non-profit work relates to government and politics. The issues are different but in the end both fields are about advocacy, education and serving the greater good.
HC Young Dems: Was politics, policy and public administration something you always saw yourself doing?
Lorena Hardwick: As answer above indicates, that would be, no. Do I think everyone should get a little taste of government/policy, YES! Whether it’s a class, or volunteering on a campaign, interning in a governmental office, or just picking an issue you’re passionate about, read about it, follow it and become engaged in the conversation. Through my current work I have the opportunity to attend many meetings and discussions about issues that impact Tampa. In addition, in the last two years, I was involved in the Crist gubernatorial campaign and was fortunate enough to participate in the inaugural class of the New Leaders Council Tampa Bay, for which I am a Board member today. These two experiences coupled with my everyday work have afforded me unique views into local and state policy issues. Although this is not what I envisioned in college I am so elated to be where I am today.
HC Young Dems: What advice would you offer to someone new in the region that would like to get involved in the political community, what steps should they take?
Lorena Hardwick: My advice would be to find out what neighborhood you live in and if it has an association, join it and go to the meetings. You meet your neighbors and you learn about what issues are the hot topics in the neighborhood or surrounding areas. Neighborhood associations are evolving, they are social places where you can get engaged in local politics in a less stressful and intimidating way since elected and public officials come to you. If you are already civically minded and want to jump right in then look at your city’s and county’s website for their Boards/Council/Commissions. This is a great way to put your particular expertise into good use and you get an immediate taste for local government.
HC Young Dems: What is a policy issue in the region of particular significance in the region? And why do you feel it is important?
Lorena Hardwick: Transit. Are you surprised? Without getting g political about it, I think we can all agree that our city and region cannot grow and attract new businesses and expand the number of jobs being offered if it does not have a reliable transit system. It does not matter what it looks like, buses, light rail or a combination of both, we need to improve on what we have. Check this out from the Chamber Transportation Survey Results:
“The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce completed a survey of more than 2,500 people on transportation issues, and found that respondents seek an improved transportation system with more services and better technologies.
More than 92-percent of respondents said they drove their car alone as their primary mode of transportation. But, 65-percent of respondents said they would take advantage of improved transit at their home or work, and 75-percent thought that traffic congestion was a significant factor for them. The majority of respondents said it took them more than 30 minutes to get to work or school.” By Michael Maurino, Government Relations Coordinator, Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce
We have been talking about transit for over 35 years in this region, something has to give. This is the type of issue that will only improve by changing the landscape of those making the decisions. This is where you realize that the people controlling the conversation are elected officials that are not bold enough to make policy decisions that change how we look at transit and what we do to help fund it. This is where you go out and find the people that have the knowledge and will to help change that landscape. This is where you choose to sit on the sidelines and listen to the same tired arguments over and over again or you step up and participate in the process.
HC Young Dems: What is one of the most valuable lessons you have learned in your career? And is there anything additional that you would like to add?
Lorena Hardwick: You should never stand on the sidelines. If you are in a meeting, speak up if you have something valuable to say, don’t wait for someone else to say it. Ask questions, and if you think something needs change then find a way to change it. In politics, too many people complain about the lack of leadership or complain about our bench and how we don’t have one. Then do something about it. Run for office, or help someone on their campaign. Don’t be shy about inserting yourself into an important discussion. We don’t have to all be political fundraisers, you may have relationships or specific expertise/ advice that could be very valuable to the candidate you want to support. Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you, learn from them, engage them, and be bold, or stand behind someone that wants to take the lead and be the force that helps them achieve their goals and in doing so, you will achieve some goals yourself.
HC Young Dems: Thank you so much for your time and your commitment to the area it been a pleasure speaking with you!
Please continue to follow us on our #LeadHillsborough campaign our next meeting is Tuesday July 21st at 6:30 pm at CoWork YBor our guest speakers will be Florida State Representatives Janet Cruz and Ed Narain.