As we have worked our way up the year's list of "The 25 Most Powerful People in Central Florida," we passed CEOs, philanthropists, political players and rising stars.But now we've reached the top and find five people who have control over the roads on which you drive, the college degrees you can get, the parks in which you can play and the jobs available for you and your family.
They are four elected officials and one education leader. And, according to our panel of 16 plugged-in observers, they have more direct impact on our community than anyone else.
5.John Mica. This one is interesting. The senior Republican among Central Florida's U.S. House delegation has never before appeared in the top five. And yet he pops up now -- after his party becomes the minority in Congress. So why did our panelists deem him so powerful? Primarily because he was downright dogged in his pursuit of commuter rail -- and ultimately successful. For more than a decade, the 64-year-old from Winter Park pursued his dream, despite one roadblock (or is that track-block?) after another. One panelist suggested his autobiography be named The Little Light Rail and Congressman That Could. It's worth noting that Mica -- who seems to tick off his own constituents less often than some others in our congressional delegation -- is the only member of the U.S. House to ever make this list . . . or, really, even come close.
4. Mel Martinez. If this poll had been taken six months ago, I'm not sure Florida's junior senator would've ranked this high. That's because, six months ago, he was leading the Republican National Committee and taking flak for everything from his immigration stance to accusations that he was ignoring the Sunshine State. The man was a walking target. But then, Martinez stepped down from the RNC post, and things started to calm down. It was a good move. The 61-year-old former county chairman has had a few missteps since he went to Washington and needs to focus on his job if he wants to get re-elected. Our panelists seem to think that's just what he's doing. No matter what, he and Charlie Crist are still the two top Republicans in this very politically important state. And most power-brokers also seem to respect the fact that Martinez stays more involved on the local scene than some who get their paychecks from D.C.
3. John Hitt. For years, the president of the University of Central Florida went about his business on campus in east Orange County. But then the campus kept growing. The student body kept increasing. And UCF was soon doing everything from building a new medical school and sports facilities to playing a leading role in the emerging medical community out east. Those are things that have impact far beyond the campus walls. For those reasons, Hitt, 67, has become key to much of what goes on in Central Florida.
2. Buddy Dyer. One could actually make a pretty compelling case that the Orlando mayor deserves the top spot this year. In fact, several panelists did. While he and the No. 1 guy passed the package of downtown venues together, there's little question that this billion-plus-dollar effort was Dyer's baby. Dyer, 49, also commands influence because he seems to have the entire City Council at his beck and call. Whether that's a result of smart politicking or simply go-along-get-along council members, what Hizzoner wants, Hizzoner gets. Dyer's biggest challenge may be proving that he can do more than just build things like stadiums and skylines -- and deal with the everyday issues and problems down at street level.
1. Rich Crotty. The Orange County mayor has ruled this power-ranking from its first incarnation. And he continues to do so. Regardless of which mayor led the venues effort, it was Crotty, 59, who ultimately made the deal happen -- largely because he controls a lot more money. And when others on this list were merely waving pompoms, Crotty and his staff of financial watchdogs took the time to more closely study the finances of the deal. The veteran of nearly three decades in public office has also nearly perfected the art of politicking. For instance, when scandal at the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority started to erupt, Crotty didn't hide. Rather, he stepped into the spotlight, trying to play the part of cleanup man and make many forget that he had been with the authority when much of the stink started. The big questions for Crotty: What's he going to do during his last two years as mayor? What does he want his legacy to be? And, assuming he stays scandal-free, what does he want to do next?
You're outta here!
Some panelists seem to wonder whether Kuhn and Lamar were flashes in the power pan. Kuhn has been dogged with questions about his financial stability. And much of Lamar's hype about government corruption has fallen flat or has yet to pan out. That has some wondering whether Lamar has the fortitude, desire -- or maybe even the ability -- to truly clean things up.
Brown and Fuqua are Republican rainmakers who have seen their clout drop as Democratic donors, such as Jim Pugh and John Morgan, have seen theirs rise.
Jennings is simply now out of office -- and yet still commands enough respect to pop back on this list if she takes another prominent post.
Up 'n' comers
This was the first year we asked panelists to also name a few Up 'n' Comers -- people whom we might see on the list in future years. Women did well here, including two panelists. And, although I didn't ask for any certain age bracket, strangely enough, four of the five who made the cut are 37. Among those getting attention were: Mears Transportation executive Roger Chapin, 37; Blood Centers CEO Anne Chinoda, 48; Fry Hammond Barr VP Laura Guitar, 37; Burnham Institute VP Elizabeth Gianini, 37; and Walt Disney World VP Shannon McAleavey, 37.
*No wonder crime's a problem. Not a single person in law-enforcement -- be it a sheriff, police chief or prosecutor -- made this list during a time when many people cite crime as a No. 1 concern.
*Shortchanged. Two people who I thought deserved a bit more consideration from the panel are Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie and Orange County School Superintendent Ron Blocker.
*Hey, remember Myregion.org? Even when panelists from outside Orange County participate, we end up with an Orlando-centric list. That makes sense to some extent. But it seems that some folks in outlying counties might be worth noting -- such as Seminole County Commissioner Carlton Henley, Osceola Commissioner Paul Owen, Lake County developer Gary Morse and maybe the France family in Volusia.
*Slowly diversifying. Even though white men account for about 3 out of every 4 people on this list, that's actually a bit more diverse than in years past.
*Got religion? Since the first year of this ranking, I've highlighted the lack of religious leaders on this list. Two men are finally getting closer: Bishop Thomas Wenski of the Orlando Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church and the Rev. Joel C. Hunter from Northland -- A Church Distributed.
The rest of the list
6. Jim Pugh, developer
7. Harris Rosen, hotel magnate
8. Meg Crofton, Walt Disney World president
9. Bill Nelson, U.S. senator
11. Dean Cannon, Florida House speaker-designate
13. Rasesh Thakkar/Joe Lewis, the Tavistock Group
14. Jacob Stuart, Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce
15. Alex Martins/Rich DeVos, the Orlando Magic
16. Dick Batchelor, consultant and former legislator
17. Jim Seneff, CNL Financial Group CEO
18. Fred Leonhardt, GrayRobinson partner
19. Dan Webster, state Senate majority leader
20. Andy Gardiner, state legislator
21. Jane Healy, Orlando Sentinel editorial page editor
22. Kathy Waltz, Orlando Sentinel publisher
23. John Morgan, attorney
24. Teresa Jacobs, Orange County commissioner
25. Harvey Massey, pest-control executive
How this series was prepared
To compile this list, Taking Names columnist Scott Maxwell assembled a panel of 16 plugged-in observers who are in a good position to judge influence in Central Florida. They come from the political, business, nonprofit and educational communities -- and are as diverse in ethnicity, age and gender as they are in their professions.
Their mission was simple: Compile a list of the most powerful people in Central Florida -- those people who know how to get big-scale results through influence, contacts, diligence and fortitude. Each panelist started with a blank slate and was asked to come up with 25 names and rank them in order. The higher the rank, the more points a power player earned. Then, we just added them up.
Panelists were prohibited from voting for themselves. Still, a few of them made the list, which we expected from the start. (Who better to judge the influential than those who can tell us who influences them?)
Sincere thanks to the 16 people below who put a good deal of time and thought into this exercise:
*Rita Bornstein, former Rollins College president
*Cathy Brown-Butler, Bank of America, senior vice president
*Rich Crotty, Orange County mayor
*Bob Dallari, Seminole County commissioner
*Buddy Dyer, Orlando mayor
*Daryl Flynn, Orange County School Board
*Elizabeth Gianini, Burnham Institute vice president of external relations
*Patrick Howell, Orange County Log Cabin Republicans president
*Henry Maldonado, WKMG-Channel 6 general manager
*Shannon McAleavey, Disney World senior vice president
*John Morgan, Morgan & Morgan president
*David Odahowski, Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation president
*Belvin Perry, Orange-Osceola chief judge
*Marytza Sanz, Latino Leadership president
*Robin Smythe, Central Florida News-13 vice president/general manager
*Kathy Waltz, Orlando Sentinel publisher