By Mike Cugno

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DANIA BEACH (CBSMiami) – The mayor of Dania Beach was once a standout basketball player. Now, she’s adjusting to life in city hall.

CBS4’s Mike Cugno introduces us to two of her mentors who taught her it’s OK to ask for help – no matter how successful you are.

Before Tamara James was going door to door as mayor of Dania Beach, she was pounding the pavement with a basketball in front of her child hood home.

“I come from a basketball family. Both of my parents played basketball. My dad had four girls and no boys, so I was the little boy of the family,” she said.

James shined at every level. The shrine at her parents’ house still displays her illustrious on court resume. This South Broward High product went on to set the scoring records for both men and women at the University of Miami. And then the pros came calling.

Her career would take her as far as Israel.

But back home in Dania Beach, a different life was waiting for her – she just didn’t know it.

“I ended up in politics because of my passion to serve. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a politician. I have no politicians in my family. I’ve never had aspirations to be a politician, but I’ve always wanted to serve,” she said.

James was successful in her own right, but admits you’re never too old for a mentor – especially when entering a new profession.

That’s where former Mayor Walter Duke comes in.

He told her if she wanted to serve the community she’d have to go score votes face to face and earn the community’s trust.

“That’s the secret sauce to any local campaign especially. Door to door meeting the voters,” Duke said.

He was in charge of the Xs and Os for this political rookie.

Under his guidance, 32-year-old James won in a landslide in Broward’s oldest community after knocking on the door of over 1,000 homes.

Duke even made her go down NW 12th Avenue, otherwise known as Tamara James Ave.

“You get a sense when you go into a neighborhood or a street and you look at the voter list and you sort of look at the parties and the ages and what-not,” Duke said. “And when the street is named after the candidate, that’s always a good sign.”

When Cugno caught up with these two, they decided it was time to thank her voters.

“A mentor is very much like a rudder on a ship. You can have a beautiful ship that has everything need, but if doesn’t have a rudder it kind of wanders around and it doesn’t get to where it needs to go,” Duke said.

With her rudder in place, James now captains a new team. But mentors, even at this stage in her life are around every corner.

“She’s like my second mom. Bobbie H. Grace is Mrs. Grace to me. She will always be the mayor to me,” James said.

Commissioner Grace – who was once mayor herself – provides a different kind of guidance while still serving the city of Dania Beach.

“I was the calm person before the storm. To let her know, ‘Yes, you can do this. No, you can’t do that.’ And yes, by all means, get out there and let them know who you are,” Grace said.

They may not always see eye to eye, but the line of communication is always open.

“Emotionally she kept me sane. I am a little different from her. I am a little more confrontational. I’m a little more blunt. Coming from where I come from into political you can’t really lead with your emotions. Shell always reel me back in,” James said.

It’s safe to say James is making her mentors proud. Not just with her public service, but with the foundation she runs which serves to empower children in Dania Beach.

“It’s a philosophy that I have and I think Tamara has the same philosophy. Our parents did not raise us to be a black woman, but to be a productive woman,” Grace said.

Now, she’s attacking politics the same way she attacked opponents on the basketball court.

“When I look at the people, I sit on the desk with. We’re teammates and so I take the best, the good, out of each of them I know that will do well with what we need to enhance the city. We expose people at their greatest moments, just like you have a shooter in the corner who’s not a great dribbler. You’re not going to put them in a position to dribble. You’re going to set them up for that shot that you know you’re going to need,” James said.

Mayor James admits these first few months on the job have been a bit of crash course into politics. But her goal is to bolster education and provide more after school programs as well as take care of the senior citizens of Dania Beach.

If you are a mentor and would like to share your story with us, please email us at

Click here for more Mentoring Matters


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