Meet the Mayor: Joe Ayoub
Patch recently sat down with the 36-year-old to discuss a number of topics, including his top priorities for Safety Harbor.
When Joe Ayoub was sworn in as successor to outgoing mayor Andy Steingold on Monday night, it marked the culmination of a whirlwind period in his political life.
Five years ago the 36-year-old bachelor was elected to the Safety Harbor City Commission Seat #1, and seven months ago he was chosen to replace the departing Steingold, who had to step down when he decided to run for circuit court judge.
But the sudden rise from being an accountant to the highest elected office in the city of Safety Harbor didn’t make Ayoub nervous or have him doubting his ability to be the leader of a growing community.
In fact, the Countryside High grad believes he is plenty qualified to be mayor.
“I never thought I’d run for mayor. It never crossed my mind,” he said. “But Andy decided to run for judge and had to resign his position…I thought I was very qualified, so there was no doubt in my mind I would run.”
Recently, Patch sat down with Ayoub to discuss his rise through the ranks of the Safety Harbor political scene, and what his plans are for the city as the new mayor.
A numbers man
Ayoub was born in Brooklyn, but his family moved to Palm Harbor when he was just six months old.
After graduating from Countryside High in 1994, Ayoub attended the University of South Florida, where he received a Masters degree in accounting in 1999.
Shortly after college, he moved back to New York to work for corporate giant IBM; but his heart wasn’t in the Big Apple, and he returned to Florida a year and a half later.
“It was a good experience, working in corporate America. But I knew it was temporary,” he said. “I had two little sisters here, and I wanted to get back.”
Upon his return, Ayoub got a position with the prestigious accounting firm Ernst & Young. In August of 2011 he landed with rising tech firm Data Blue; he is currently the director of accounting for the Atlanta-based business.
Ironically, it was Ayoub’s love of numbers that got him involved in the political side of Safety Harbor.
“I started on the budget advisory board. Actually, Mayor Steingold suggested it because of my background,” he said. “From there I thought I had something to add to the city.”
Meteoric rise up the political ladder
Having gotten his feet wet in the world of community service, Ayoub soon set his sights on bigger prizes than finance committees.
In 2007, when a city commission seat opened up, he decided to run for office to see if he could do more for the community than just help balance budgets.
“I’ve always had an interest in government, but I never thought I’d seek elected office,” he admitted. “But given my roots here and my love of the community, I thought I could make a difference.”
Five years later, not only is he the mayor of the city, but he’s the senior member of the city commission despite being its youngest member.
“When Andy decided to run, I realized, ‘Hey, I’m the old guy here!’ I’m the one with the most experience, but I’m the youngest one here!”
Still, the combination of youthful exuberance and seasoned experience should suit Ayoub well when it comes to guiding the rapidly growing city.
“I feel like I have a lot of support in the city,” he said. “I respond to every email I get, I call people back."
"Everyone’s not always going to agree with me, but I want to hear what they have to say.”
Plans for the Harbor
As quickly as Ayoub shot to the top of the heap, his stay is not guaranteed to be a lengthy one.
Because Steingold had only a year left on his term, Ayoub is only allowed to serve out the remainder before he has to step down or run again.
But that isn’t deterring him from trying to get things accomplished. In fact, it might just make him work harder to affect positive change for the community’s future.
"Honestly I've never done anything for short term gain," he said. "When we do something, we need to think 10, 50 years down the road."
That being said, what are Ayoub's top priorities while he occupies the mayor's chair?
“My focus right now is to balance the budget. We need to get the budget balanced without relying on reserves,” he said. “We’ve decreased our dependency on reserves, but we need to eliminate our dependency.”
“One of my biggest priorities over the next year is to get it open,” he said of the park, which the city purchased for $2.7 million eleven months ago. “We used taxpayers dollars to purchase the property for the public, it’s time to get it open and let them use it.”
“I think the park is going to be the crown jewel of the city,” he added.
As for Firmenich, he said he is keeping an open mind when it comes to all new development proposals in the city.
“I’m keeping an open mind,” he said. “There’s obviously a benefit to a company investing $50 million in the community, but it’s got to be balanced with what the community wants.”
Whatever happens over the course of the next year, Ayoub wants the residents to know his decisions will be made with the best interests of the community in mind.
"My biggest focus will be executing the community's vision of the park and try to get a more vibrant downtown."
“I see some changes being made, but there’s more work yet to be done.”
Note: An earlier version of this article listed an incorrect start date for Ayoub's current position at Data Blue. Also, he got his undergraduate degree in accounting from the University of Florida.