They are three politicians, the leader of Central Florida's premier university and the head of the region's largest employer.
They are four men and one woman with strong roots in the community whose phone calls are promptly returned.
After working our way up this year's power ranking, we have finally arrived at the five people who our panel believes can most dramatically affect Central Florida. They are:
5. Toni Jennings. It's hard to find a politician as roundly respected as Jennings. No one knows that better than Gov. Jeb Bush, who tapped her to be his lieutenant. At one point, this construction-company exec looked as if she might have been a strong contender for governor this year. Those plans, however, seemed to disappear quietly, if also mysteriously. Still, as a member of the Florida Women's Hall of Fame -- the only Republican woman to lead a legislative chamber, and the only senator to serve two consecutive terms as Senate president -- she holds clout no matter what she does. And, assuming she doesn't run for another office this year, Jennings, 56, and No. 3 in last year's ranking, will bring that clout back home to Orlando.
4. Al Weiss. The president of Walt Disney World seems to befuddle our panelists. Some ranked him as high as No. 1. A couple left him off their ballot all together. Still, most gave Weiss, 51, high marks, saying there is no doubt he controls the biggest game in town. Disney hasn't always been on the front lines of communitywide efforts to improve such amenities as schools and transportation. But Weiss personally led the region's economic development commission and has gotten more involved. Plus, whatever clout he's had with Disney -- one of the nation's largest companies -- is about to be magnified, since Weiss was recently promoted to president of Disney's Worldwide Operations. He's up one notch in this year's ranking with plans to remain in Orlando.
3. John Hitt. The president of the University of Central Florida held on to the third spot, but this year nearly finished second. He and the top two finishers were the only three to be included on virtually every ballot. Hitt, 65, has overseen the transformation of UCF from a second-tier school to one of the largest in the nation -- one that now has a real shot at getting a medical school. Such a school would be a significant shot in the arm to Central Florida's image as a low-wage, low-education mecca. Hitt has also displayed a calm head and steady hand in times of controversy and crisis, such as plans for a new football stadium and the shooting death of a school police officer. Plus, let's be honest: Running a successful football program doesn't hurt.
2. Buddy Dyer. Considering that nine months ago, the Orlando mayor was turning himself in at the Orange County Jail, it's somewhat remarkable to see him on this list at all. The scuttled effort to charge him with obscure and previously ignored campaign crimes obviously rattled Dyer, 47. But after treading lightly for his first few months back in office, he re-emerged with force. He is largely credited with changing the skyline of downtown Orlando and invigorating the area with an increasingly wealthy class of people living there. His ambitious goals now include renovating the TD Waterhouse Centre and Citrus Bowl, and building a performing-arts center. It's a lot to bite off. But our panelists respect him for trying and have kept him in second place.
1. Rich Crotty. The Orange County mayor topped this list last year, too. We can start with his position. He controls a budget of $2.5 billion and 6,000 employees. But more importantly, he has been a go-to guy on virtually every major community effort, from a new NBA arena to changing the face of Central Florida's low-paying economy -- though it's worth noting that neither of those efforts have been completed. Crotty, 57, rarely engages in high-profile fights with others, preferring instead to work things out behind the scenes. And in the handful of cases where he has butted heads, such as last year's budget battle with Sheriff Kevin Beary, public opinion was on his side. Put his demeanor, resources and 27 years of holding public offices all together, and you have a man whose blessings can make or break a dream.
The rest of the list
6. Jim Seneff, CNL Financial Group chairman
7. Mel Martinez, U.S. senator
8. Cameron Kuhn. downtown developer
9. John Mica, U.S. representative
10. Kathy Waltz, Orlando Sentinel publisher
11. Harris Rosen, Rosen Hotels & Resorts founder
12. Clarence Otis, Darden Restaurants CEO
13. Jacob Stuart, Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce president
14. Jane Healy, Orlando Sentinel, vice president, editorial page
15. Jeff Fuqua, Amick Construction president
16. Andy Gardiner, Florida House majority leader
17. David Brown, Broad & Cassel chairman
18. Fred Leonhardt, GrayRobinson partner
19. Dan Webster, state senator
20. Allan Keen, Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority chairman
21. Bill Nelson, U.S. senator
22. Dick Batchelor, former legislator
23. Joe Lewis, The Tavistock Group founder
24. Rich DeVos, Orlando Magic owner
25. Jim Pugh, Epoch Properties chairman
BREAKING IT ALL DOWN
Now you know who ranks where. But there were also some interesting trends and amusing asides discovered when studying the people who made the list -- and when looking at what was said about those who didn't.
This list continues to lack diversity. The average power player is essentially an over-the-hill white guy -- 57.4 years old, to be exact. Out of 25 powerful people, only three were women. One was black. One was Hispanic. Oh, and their names are pretty boring: Dick and Jane, John and Joe.
Panelists offered interesting votes and comments for several locals who didn't make the list. They include: Tiger Woods ("If he leaves," wrote one panelist, "Orlando will lose its highest-profile -- and classiest -- ambassador."), Sentinel restaurant critic Scott Joseph ("He can make or break a restaurant.") and Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie ("She continues to be a politician with no baggage except truth.")
Embattled schoolteacher Jan P. Hall snagged one vote. The panelist who cast it noted that her letter, which painted an unflattering picture of Puerto Rican teachers and students, had the power to generate a controversy that turned the Orange County school district on its head and prompted community debates over everything from ethnic relations to freedom of speech.
The broadcast media was mostly ignored this year -- though getting a bit of attention were the likes of WTKS 104.1's tough-talking afternoon talk-show host Jim Philips and WKMG-Channel 6 general manager Henry Maldonado, who merits attention with both his on-air editorials and his station's charitable focus. One reader also suggested that an overlooked power player in Central Florida's broadcasting industry actually resides in Texas: Clear Channel chairman Lowry Mays, who can decide what we hear -- and don't hear -- on seven different radio stations in town.
This list is heavy with Republicans -- a reflection of the GOP's strength in Florida. If the Democrats ever figure out how to win some statewide races, big-time liberal fundraisers such as developer Jim Pugh (who actually snuck in at No. 25) and lawyer John Morgan (a near miss) will wield more clout.
Law-enforcement types are considered major power players in many communities. Not here. Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary and State Attorney Lawson Lamar were essentially ignored by the panelists . . . for the second year in a row.
There may be a leadership opening that a respected faith leader could fill. With the departure of Howard Edington of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando and the announced retirement of First Baptist Church of Orlando's Jim Henry (who received a couple of votes), Central Florida will have lost two of its best-known pastors. Among those whom are panelists are watching: Randolph Bracy of New Covenant Baptist Church of Orlando and Orlando Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Wenski.
OFF THE LIST
There are inevitable ebbs and flows in any dynamic community. These are the six folks who made last year's list, but missed the cut this time -- some barely missing out. Some received the same number of votes as last year but were eclipsed by newcomers who received even more. Others simply slipped off the radar. They are: Orlando Regional Healthcare President John Hillenmeyer, Orange County Commissioner Teresa Jacobs, lawyer John Morgan, Sentinel columnist Mike Thomas, Darden Vice President Rick Walsh and retired SunTrust exec Tom Yochum.
Scott Maxwell, who can decidedly declare that he's the most powerful columnist on Page 2 of the Local and State section . . . well, at least three days a week, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-6141.
2005 Most Powerful People in Central Florida
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