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City People

Mary Alvarez chooses a smoother path

Almost done with politics, the well-coiffed elder stateswoman will nourish her ambitions differently.

By JANET ZINK
Published February 9, 2007


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TAMPA

After nearly eight years on the Tampa City Council, Mary Alvarez has had enough of the rough and tumble world of politics.

She plans to end her public life after the city elections in March and move on to something more, well, cultured.

And what might that be?

Yogurt.

Yes, Alvarez, who entered politics in 1999 when she won the City Council seat that represents West Tampa, is putting her money and time behind Lorraine Marchetti, founder of Lorraine's Yogurt.

"It's not like yogurt you get in the store," Alvarez said.

Indeed, this yogurt is creamier than most big-name brands and comes in pumpkin, mango, cranberry-orange and papaya as well as more standard flavors.

Marchetti mixes it up at home. But by this summer, she plans to manufacture it in a plant on Cypress Street. Marchetti said she has letters of intent to sell Lorraine's Yogurt from Nature's Harvest, SweetBay Supermarket, Wild Oats, Old Meeting House and Whaley's.

She's counting on Alvarez to help her make her business a success. Alvarez will serve on her company's board of directors, offer financial backing, and act as a friend, adviser and motivator.

Alvarez first sampled the yogurt in a Tampa restaurant where Marchetti made and sold it. After Marchetti closed the restaurant, she started thinking about focusing solely on yogurt, and Alvarez cheered her on.

"She said, 'It's time to walk the walk,' and she grabbed my hand and said, 'Come on, let's go,' " Marchetti said.

Alvarez helped her find a warehouse, reviewed her business plan and helped organize a launch party.

Running a business is nothing new for Alvarez. She had her own bookkeeping service for nine years before running for the City Council.

Now, while five current City Council members plan their campaigns for city elections in March, Alvarez is counting the days until she can step down from the dais forever.

When asked why, she cites her age.

"I'm 72 years old," she says. "It's time for somebody to take over that's younger."

But when pressed, Alvarez, who drives a Jaguar, has her nails done weekly and her hair done twice weekly by hair stylist Joseph Citro, a District 4 City Council candidate, admits that she's just not cut out for political life.

To run again, she'd have to pursue a citywide seat because of term limits. She'd have to take on a fellow council member.

Alvarez says she wouldn't be comfortable dealing with her colleagues almost daily in the middle of a possibly ugly campaign.

"I'm not a politician," she said. "I don't like mudslinging."

Her feelings were hurt by public criticism. And the sometimes-bitter debate among council members, between the council and Mayor Pam Iorio, and between the council and the County Commission turned Alvarez off.

"I was uncomfortable with that," she said, singling out former council member Rose Ferlita's criticisms of the mayor.

"It was a little personal with her, and she was carrying those feelings into her council work," Alvarez said. "I don't like that. You don't get anything done."

That's not to say that Alvarez doesn't get passionate.

She stormed out of the council chambers when her colleagues voted 4-2 for a property rate tax cut she opposed. She sparred with Ferlita more than once. And she frequently deems protracted discussions or slow bureaucracy "ridiculous."

Alvarez has at times unwittingly evoked giggles as a council member, like the time she said she would approve an increase to the city's stormwater fee because it would cost most people "less than a pack of cigarettes or a six-pack of beer" each month. Or the time she asked the city's utilities administrator if a period of heavy rains had contributed to flooding problems.

But she has an earnest approach, asking staff members for one-on-one explanations of complicated issues and reading from a prepared statement when explaining why she wouldn't force historic designation on cigar factory building owners.

Those days, though, are over. For the past few months, Alvarez has frequently joked that controversial matters should be put off until she will be busy peddling yogurt.

Recently, her colleagues complied.

When scheduling a staff report on expanding city marinas, council member John Dingfelder made this request: "Out of deference to Mary, let's wait until April."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Fast facts

What's next

Mary Alvarez, who is barred by term limits from running for her District 6 City Council seat representing West Tampa, is retiring from the council. Newcomer Lisa Tamargo and former council member Charlie Miranda will face off during city elections March 6.

[Last modified February 8, 2007, 10:58:03]


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