50 Most Powerful

Compiled by Mike Boslet, Barry Glenn, Jay Boyar, Shelley Preston, John Kennedy, Mark I. Pinsky and Jennifer Greenhill-Taylor

The people with the most power are the ones who affect how we live.

Government officials have the power to raise or lower our taxes. Heads of big corporations can order layoffs or other spending cuts. The school superintendent has a lot to say about what kind of education our kids get (and what time they have to leave for school). The actions of law-enforcement leaders can influence whether we feel safe. And the decisions of both government and business leaders can determine whether our economy booms or goes bust.

These kinds of individuals appear through-out this year’s list of the 50 Most Powerful People in Orlando. But there also are religious leaders, sports leaders and shapers of public opinion. There are arts backers, educators and just plain do-gooders. All have made a difference.

You’ll find that many people have moved up the list since last year and that some are appearing for the first time. You’ll also notice that some have slipped in ranking —sometimes simply to make room for those whose stars have risen. New to the list is a Hall of Power designation, bestowed on some of the perennial names that make our list. The criteria for being considered Hallworthy are at least five consecutive appearances on the 50 Most Powerful list and a reputation for being influential in political, business or civic circles. Most Hall of Famers likely would be involved, to some degree, in all three.

Here’s hoping that the 50 will continue to use their power wisely. After all, as the Roman philosopher Seneca once said, “Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.’’


50 Most Powerful

1 Rich Crotty

Age: 61  |  Mayor of Orange County  |  Hall of Power

“Leaving the place better than I found it.” That’s how Rich Crotty says he wants to be remembered after he’s left office as Orange County mayor. With a little more than a year remaining in his final term as the manager of the most populous county in Central Florida, he’s going to need all the good karma he can get to make his legacy come true.  

Crotty is captain of a county that, after years of cruising through the calm waters of consumerism at its most self-indulgent, has been rolled over by a tidal wave of economic calamity.  Many sectors of the economy that flowed smoothly on his watch since 2001 have become dangerously choppy: housing, tax revenues, tourism, employment and consumer spending, among others. As political commentator Dick Batchelor (No. 15) observed, with apologies to author Charles Dickens, Crotty is “someone who came into office at the best of times and who served at the worst of times.” 

Never has Crotty’s impact on the region been as pronounced as it is now, which is why the editors of Orlando magazine selected him as the most powerful person in Orlando. How Crotty leads the county through what he described in his recent State of the County address as the “perfect storm of economic hurricanes” likely will be his legacy.

After years of budget growth, the county is cutting back. Crotty says the 2009-10 budget will be downsized, with more than 300 jobs eliminated through attrition (no layoffs are planned), wages frozen and across-the-board cuts in department spending. Plans for new parks are on hold. He’s even using less A/C in his office. Raising taxes is not an option, he says.

He did not, however, apply his newfound tight-fisted posturing to the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority. In a publicly unpopular move in early spring, Crotty, as the chairman of the agency’s board, supported a 25-cent increase at various collection drive-thrus on area toll roads. Crotty justified the increase as necessary to secure high bond ratings, ensuring lower interest rates. But the public was in no mood to have a toll increase shoved down its throat by a group with a shady reputation. 

“Sometimes you have to make tough decisions in this business, and that [vote to increase tolls] was one of the toughest I have had to make,” Crotty told us in late May.

At about the same time Crotty championed the toll increase, a long-awaited grand jury report on the expressway authority’s business practices and political fundraising was released. The probe predated Crotty’s role as chairman and as the reformer of the agency. But the mayor took another public beating, this time because his name was mentioned several times in a grand jury presentment that alleged a “culture of corruption” permeated the agency. The report also said Crotty’s re-election campaign benefited from the agency’s “organized shakedown” tactics.

It was an ugly spring for Crotty, but Batchelor says the mayor still has a lot of “political currency left” despite the recent controversies. “People who have been here longer have a different view of Rich Crotty’s leadership skills than some people who are new to town,” he says.

Crotty has met his goal of diversifying the local economy. There are research parks, hospitals and medical-technology businesses where only a year ago there was undeveloped land in east Orange County. He has worked hard to get the Wekiva Parkway funded and to bring more green technology here. In May, he flipped the switch on the largest rooftop solar-power installation in the Southeast; it sits atop the Orange County Convention Center.

A legacy is a lasting record of achievement, or disappointment. Every powerful person has produced one or the other, and probably both. Crotty can point to more of the former than the latter, but his legacy as mayor is yet to be written.

2008 Rank: 2

2 Ronald Blocker
Superintendent, Orange County
Public Schools
Age: 56

Blocker may be the only one on this list who could point to a single act that substantiates his power. By championing the schedule flip, he changed the routines of thousands of students and parents this past school year. A revamped school board overturned the flip, beginning with the ’09-10 year. Blocker spent much of the last 12 months in crisis-management mode, as he eliminated jobs and threatened school closings in the wake of the state budget collapse. His wildly fluctuating funding-shortfall projections stirred up parents, students and educators, who turned their wrath on Tallahassee. Blocker does get results: Graduation rates and FCAT scores have improved under his reign, and the district achieved an “A” rating.

2008 Rank: 9

3 Rasesh Thakkar
Senior Managing Director
Tavistock Group
Age: 47

On past lists, Thakkar and his boss, Isleworth and Lake Nona developer Joe Lewis, shared a spot on our list. But this time, Thakkar has earned his own ranking. Lewis’ top lieutenant has emerged as the gravitational pull drawing development to the Medical City corridor in Lake Nona. His force has been felt in the deals that brought Nemours, a veterans hospital, the Burnham Institute for Medical Research and the UCF med school to the southeast side of Orange County, near Orlando International Airport. At press time, Thakkar was working on an agreement to bring a solar-equipment maker to Lake Nona. He isn’t all work, however; the UCF alum would be a top candidate for “Mr. Congeniality” if The 50 List had such a category.

2008 Rank: 4

4 Paula Dockery
State Senator
Age: 48

No, she doesn’t live in metro Orlando. But Dockery’s ability to persuade her colleagues to kill SunRail for the second straight year had far-reaching effects on Central Florida—the proposed 61.5-mile commuter rail line would have stretched from DeLand through Orlando and into Osceola County. Her opposition to SunRail defeated a solidified base of support that included Orlando’s political and business power structure. Dockery’s star is still rising: At press time she was considering challenging Bill McCollum in the Republican primary for governor. 

5 Buddy Dyer
Mayor, City of Orlando
Age: 50

What a difference a year makes, huh? In our power issue last July, Dyer led the pack, with a stand-alone profile headlined “Buddy the Builder.” But by late ’08 Dyer’s hopes for downtown’s revitalization collapsed under the weight of all the nearly-empty condo towers. He got through the city’s fiscal ’08 budget crisis by raising property taxes while giving city workers raises. Dyer got out of one sinkhole only to be swallowed by another, the fiscal ’09 projection of a $43 million revenue shortfall. He has threatened to cut city jobs and services, moves that would go over about as well as the tax increase he backed last year. To top off the down period for Dyer, he again was on losing side of the SunRail fight.

2008 Rank: 1

6 Dean Cannon
State Representative
Age: 40

Native Dean Cannon’s political fast-track is suddenly on warp speed.
 Already in line to lead the Florida House next year, the Winter Park resident emerged as a central power broker in Tallahassee this spring following the downfall of House Speaker Ray Sansom, R-Destin. Sansom stepped aside amid reports that he funneled millions in public money to a Panhandle community college that later gave him a six-figure job.
 Although low-key Ocala Republican Larry Cretul succeeded Sansom, Cannon called a lot of the shots in the session.
“I think my biggest job was breaking up political food fights among members, a lot of times over budget issues,” says Cannon. “But, sure, circumstances have put me in the middle of many issues.”
 Enough issues that even some members of his own Republican Party privately dubbed him “the shadow warrior.’’
“I think that comes from his style,” says Rep. Ron Saunders, a Key West Democrat. “You get the impression from other Republicans that they’ve got to check with Cannon before they agree to something. But he doesn’t like to negotiate publicly.”
 In his own career, Cannon has been a remarkable dealmaker. Within months of his first election, he outmaneuvered a rival Republican to secure enough pledges and be designated House speaker for the 2010-11 Legislature, becoming the first freshman lawmaker to win the vaunted title.
 A lawyer formerly with Orlando’s GrayRobinson, Cannon had already cut his teeth representing the firm’s interests at the Capitol before running and winning, unopposed, for the House in 2004.
 Cannon, though, didn’t win every legislative brawl this spring. He was a major backer of SunRail, which failed in the state Senate, and his proposal to possibly open Florida’s waters to oil drilling was quickly dismissed.
 But the setbacks likely won’t hurt his influence as the speaker-in-waiting.
 “I didn’t come up here to Tallahassee just to tread water,” Cannon says.

2008 Rank: 41

7 Lawson Lamar
Orange-Osceola State Attorney
Age: 67

The lead prosecutor in Central Florida uses the secretive grand jury process to do his bidding, grabbing headlines along the way. Faced with a contested re-election in November, he went to the grand jury and got Casey Anthony indicted for murder—two months before her daughter’s remains were found. He took a personal interest in the grand jury probe of an Orlando police officer shown on videotape pushing a woman down a flight of stairs. The grand jury declined to indict the officer—of anything. Lamar’s hat trick was the grand jury report on the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority that maligned the agency and embarrassed its chairman, Rich Crotty, with the “culture of corruption” accusation.

Last Ranking: 45 in 2004

8 John Hitt
President, University of
Central Florida
Age: 68

He heads the nation’s fifth-largest university, which has become a high-tech mecca. A medical school is about to open on his watch, and he is closely involved in the UCF area’s development as a research and development sector. Hitt and Tavistock executive Rasesh Thakkar (No. 3) are two of the most influential and powerful nonelected members on our list. Hands down. But Hitt took some hits over the last 12 months. UCF’s football program came under intense scrutiny in the aftermath of a player’s death during a workout, prompting calls that Hitt fire head coach George O’Leary. Hitt stood by him, even after a dreadful season led to student and alumni discontent. Maybe it was the $5 million buyout that saved O’Leary. Hitt could use some of his coach’s pay for education; the state budget crisis portends cuts in faculty and programs at UCF.

2008 Rank: 3

9 Harris Rosen
Founder, Rosen Hotels
and Resorts
Age: 69

The slumping hotel occupancy rates may be hurting his business but they aren’t stopping Rosen from growing his 35-year-old hotel empire: He’s spending more than $100 million on renovations and expansions at a time when the construction industry desperately needs the work. Beyond his economic impact, Rosen is a leader in green lodging, with the only hotels —three altogether—in Central Florida to achieve Two Palms (out of three) status in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Lodging Program. Late next month, Rosen’s latest act of philanthropy (and there have been many) comes to fruition: The Jack and Lee Rosen (the names of his late parents) Southwest Orlando Jewish Community Campus opens.

2008 Rank: 11 

10 Helen Donegan
Vice President, Division of Community Relations,
University of Central Florida
Age: 62

A Libra, Helen Donegan says it’s her nature to help others. She is such the helper that boards, charities, arts councils, business groups and politicians curry her favor. No doubt she gets a power boost from being married to Bill Donegan (No. 19), the politically connected Orange County property appraiser. But she engineered her UCF position into a nexus of civic involvement. Helen Donegan knows everyone who makes decisions that affect the Orlando area. A star attraction among women in powerful positions, she founded the “Friends of Helen Executive Women’s Networking Group” as a quarterly lunch so she could meet en masse with her peers. Don’t let the tightly pulled back hair fool you; she has a warm and unpretentious personality.

2008 Rank: 29

11 Alex Martins
COO, Orlando Magic
Age: 45

Say hello to Mr. Downtown. The point man for Orlando’s NBA franchise, Martins is a driving force behind the construction of the events center, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2010. He’s a member of numerous influential organizations and he is the face of the Magic’s community service work, in particular on projects that help disadvantaged kids. Plus he has dominion over marketing and ticket sales. As the Magic have gained in stature, so has Martins.

2008 Rank: 25

12 Meg Crofton
Walt Disney World Resort
Age: 55

Named this year’s Businesswoman of the Year at the Orlando Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business awards, Crofton is a central figure in the area economy. If the largest employer in Central Florida gets the sniffles, Orlando gets a cold. And how Crofton takes care of her company’s health impacts thousands of residents here.

2008 Rank: 5

13 Lars Houmann
President and CEO
Florida Hospital
Age: 51

Houmann is at the helm of a boom at Florida Hospital, which celebrated its 100th birthday with the opening a 15-story patient tower last fall. Disney is preparing to open its pavilion in the pediatric wing next year, and construction of the Florida Hospital-Burnham Clinical Research Institute, specializing in diabetes and heart ailments, is moving along. As if that weren’t enough, Houmann also heads bioOrlando, a group organized to encourage the biotechnology and life sciences industries in the Orlando area. That set of accomplishments moves him up on our list.

2008 Rank: 19

14 Clarence Otis
Chairman and CEO,
Darden Restaurants
Age: 53

These penny-pinching times aren’t good for restaurants, but Orlando-based Darden is weathering them better than most. Part of the reason is because of a savvy CEO who also happens to have a conscience. Under the guidance of Otis, the world’s largest casual-dining restaurant chain continues to outperform its peers. But just as important, Otis and Darden continue to build a reputation as good community citizens, with a foundation that gives millions to support the arts, education and social services. Otis will move the operation into a $100 million headquarters in south Orlando later this year.

2008 Rank: 6

15 Dick Batchelor
Political Consultant,
Public Schools Watchdog
Age: 61

When the Orange County School Board threatened to close schools in a move to save money, Batchelor threatened to sue, saying it had no legal grounds to do so. The board reconsidered. When the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority passed up on a chance to adopt a tighter campaign ethics policy, Batchelor was the media’s go-to critic of the GOAA’s decision. Batchelor, a Democrat, is firmly entrenched in Orlando’s political and social circles. His influence is also felt through his commentary on Orlandosentinel.com, WESH-Channel 2 and WMFE-FM.

2008 Rank: 21

16 Bill Nelson
U.S. Senator
Age: 66

A longtime champion of Florida’s Space Coast, Nelson recently became a vocal supporter of Charlie Bolden, having urged President Obama to nominate the former astronaut to head NASA. (Not incidentally, Bolden commanded the 1986 space mission that included Nelson.) In addition, there’s the senator’s long and respected political career—he’s a moderate Democrat with a record of supporting the environment. Central Florida gets a boost from Nelson and his Republican counterpart, Mel Martinez (No. 28), living in Orlando.

2008 Rank: 12

17 Lee Constantine
State Senator
Age: 56

He battled hard for commuter rail, then ran head-on into the Paula Dockery Express. But just leading the fight counts for a lot on our power meter. Despite the SunRail loss, the Altamonte Springs Republican came through as the go-to guy for UCF (where he was student body president in the 1970s), making sure its medical school didn’t lose out on critical funding. After nearly two decades in the state House and Senate, Constantine’s time is up because of term limits after next year’s session (and another probable SunRail fight).

2008 Rank: 31

18 Tom Williams
Chairman and CEO,
Universal Parks & Resorts
Age: 61

Money from every corner of the world flows into Orlando to buy a taste of Universal’s extreme thrill rides and superhero fantasies. Keeping it coming is Tom Williams with his dedication to creating world-class amusements within Universal Orlando’s two parks. The new Simpsons Ride was a huge hit last year, but at press time we were still waiting for the new Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller-coaster to open at Islands of Adventure. The debut of the Harry Potter “theme park within a theme park,” also at Islands, is still set for sometime next year. That opening could help spur a turnaround in the tourism market here.

2008 Rank: 16

19 Bill Donegan
Orange County
Property Appraiser
Age: 69

Most county residents know him only by going onto the property appraiser’s Web site, which prominently displays his photo. But determining home values and recording homestead exemptions didn’t get Donegan on our list. His connection to political power did. Like his wife, Helen (No. 10), he is involved in various civic and leadership groups that bring together influential people. He is in tight with Republican leaders. When Governor Charlie Crist announced he would run for the Senate, Donegan’s cell phone lit up with a call from a political insider eyeing the governor’s mansion. Would Donegan lend his support, he wanted to know? Well, Bill?

20 John Hillenmeyer
CEO, Orlando Health
Age: 61

Sometimes you just can’t argue with success. Hillenmeyer­, who has been with Orlando Health 27 years, 12 of them as president and CEO—plans to retire next year. On his watch, the non-profit has had many shining moments—among them the opening of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. Most recently a five-story patient tower opened at Dr. P. Phillips Hospital. The main campuses of Orlando Health and Florida Hospital form the north-south bookends of the city. On the south end, it’s easy to see that the proximity to a vital Orlando Health complex has helped the SoDo residential-business development take hold.

2008 Ranking: 48

21 Alan Grayson
U.S. Representative
Age: 51

The rookie Democratic representative of Florida’s 8th Congressional District hit the ground running when he arrived in Washington. He made national headlines when he opposed bonuses to executives of government-bailed out companies and when he proposed that most American workers get a week (at least) of paid vacation. And considering that our local economy depends a lot on vacationers, that latter idea is pretty popular hereabouts. Populism, in fact, seems to be what Grayson, a wealthy attorney who makes his home in the Dr. Phillips area, is about.

22 Bill Segal
Orange County Commissioner,
Candidate for County Mayor
Age: 59

He’s considered the front-runner in the race to replace Rich Crotty, who steps down in 2011. Segal represents the county’s District 5, which takes in Winter Park—where he lives–and a good chunk of College Park. Twice elected as the district’s commissioner, he has a base of support that’s very political and influential in all things Orange and Orlando. Segal isn’t a charismatic politician, nor a populist. But neither is Crotty, and voters overwhelming supported him. One of Segal’s biggest assets is name recognition, a result of his ability to seemingly be in three places at once. 

23 Craig Ustler
Real Estate Developer,
Age: 40

If you enjoy a downtown lifestyle, you may have Ustler to thank. Ustler practically has a monopoly on everything hip about Orlando. His Urban Life Management Group runs some of the trendiest restaurants in town, including Hue, Citrus and Kres Chophouse, the latter two frequented by the city’s elite. While other big-time developers crashed and burned in the downtown real estate slump, Ustler moved ahead on building a $32 million office complex on the southwest corner of Summerlin Avenue and South Street in the South Eola District. His vision of a livable downtown has changed the face of Orlando and his influence likely will last for decades.

2008 Rank: 26

24 Otis Smith
General Manager,
Orlando Magic
Age: 45

As the person who decides on player personnel for the Orlando Magic (we still can’t get over that sweet Rafer Alston trade), Smith holds the power to put O-town basketball fans in good moods for years to come. And good moods get people fired up about the team and bring them to the arena. The 2008-09 rise of the Magic to the level of NBA title contenders gave Orlando national exposure beyond its usual identity as a tourism town. Having a winning major sports team boosts civic pride, if only until the beginning of the next season.

25 Jacob Stuart
Central Florida Partnership
Age: 60

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, if that name is Stuart and you’re talking about the Orlando area. In fact, the longstanding local prominence of that name helps to explain why native-son Jacob Stuart continues to make our power list. A board member of the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce, Stuart is also president of Central Florida Partnership, a long-term planning group of local movers and shakers that includes both business and civic leaders. It certainly says something that last year, in our “Best of Orlando” poll, readers voted Stuart the “person who most exemplifies Orlando.”

2008 Rank: 23

26 Mark NeJame
Defense Attorney
Age: 54

You may know him from his brief but very dramatic association with Cindy and George Anthony. Beyond the publicity, which does overshadow his reputation as a tenacious trial lawyer, he has parlayed his high-profile status and passion for liberal Democratic issues into political influence. NeJame is in tight with rookie U.S. Representative Alan Grayson (No. 21). Orange County mayoral candidate Bill Segal (No. 22) calls NeJame “very influential,” a friend and ally. NeJame, along with his wife, Josie, works the charity circuit, too. The couple chaired this year’s Fashion Funds the Cure Orlando event, raising money for pediatric-cancer research. Look for NeJame’s law firm to expand its presence this year, as it branches out into personal injury, domestic and immigration law.

Last Ranking: 42 in 2007

27 Mel Martinez
U.S. Senator
Age: 62

Orlando’s Republican senator took his lumps because of his ties to one of the most unpopular presidents in history, and one November poll showed his approval rating below 50 percent. Shortly after, he announced he would not seek re-election. But Martinez is still in power—his term doesn’t run out for another 18 months. Until it does, he remains a critical link between the GOP and Latino voters. And once he gets back to Central Florida, he’s sure to have a big influence on regional politics.

2008 Rank: 14

28 John Morgan
Attorney, Founder
of Morgan & Morgan
Age: 53

Thanks to the ubiquitous commercials for his law firm, John Morgan is always in all our faces. A deep-pocket contributor to the Democratic Party, Morgan has the ears of politicians, even Republicans, at all levels of government. He tends to favor liberal- to moderate-minded politicians, supporting Democrat John Edwards in the presidential primary and Republican Charlie Crist for governor and now for Senate. Crist picked a Fort Myers-based Morgan & Morgan lawyer as his lieutenant governor, the peripatetic Jeff Kottkamp. Morgan’s gotten his mug on the TV news lately with his involvement in a lawsuit against Casey Anthony.

2008 Rank: 13

29 Gary Sain
President and CEO,
Orlando Orange County
Convention and Visitors Bureau
Age: 58

The sour economy has put Sain in a hot seat as the drop in tourism affects not only the visitor industry but locals who for years believed their prosperity had nothing to do with Mickey or Shamu. Think again. A former advertising executive, Sain can move the tourism needle with his ideas for marketing the area to would-be visitors. The tourism tax-funded CVB’s “Free Smiles” campaign pitches Orlando as a bargain destination, and Sain is eager to see the latest marketing blitz yield an uptick in hotel and theme park business. Sain drew public criticism in late 2008 for spending $9,300 on roundtrip air travel to Dubai, but the CVB board backed the expense. If he gets the tourist market back on its feet, all will be forgotten about that Dubai trip.

2008 Rank: 36

30 Jerry Demings
Orange County Sheriff
Age: 49

His wife is the police chief of Orlando. So if you do something wrong in these parts, chances are good you’ll have to answer to one or the other Demings. The new sheriff, a former Orlando police chief himself, now holds sway over a $140 million budget and 2,400 employees. Low-key and deliberate, Jerry Demings is just the opposite of his outspoken predecessor, Kevin Beary. But he isn’t afraid to use his “fire power’’—as demonstrated recently when he forced out a deputy who initially blew off a critical tip that eventually led to the discovery of Caylee Anthony’s body.

31 Scott Maxwell
Orlando Sentinel Columnist
Age: 37

Whether exposing tax loopholes for certain industries or blasting state legislators for arguing over a Jesus license plate instead of the broken budget, Maxwell zeroes in on the cluelessness that makes citizens’ blood boil. Maxwell matters—namely because he’s one of the few watchdogs the decimated Sentinel has left. He’s an ultra-versatile journalist, mixing in social news (like the wedding plans of TV anchors) and compelling short features with his breaking news and pointed commentary. It all adds up to a column that’s a must-read.

2008 Rank: 27

32 Deborah German
Dean, UCF College
of Medicine
Age: 58

Deborah German believes that power is an asset better shared.
“It’s what we do together that is powerful,’’ she says. “It’s the work that is powerful.”
Nevertheless, when you build a medical school from scratch, you can’t help but gain influence —and respect. German has done just that as the founding dean of a school that will be at the hub of a huge biotechnology and medical research cluster near Lake Nona.
Rasesh Thakkar, senior managing director at the Tavistock Group and a key developer of the “Medical City,’’ calls German’s collaborative leadership style “the glue that holds it all together.’’
“For us at the Medical City that is the single biggest key to putting the city in turbo boost, and having this cluster form much faster,’’ Thakkar says. “Deb German collaborated with us, and with each one of the health care systems.”
The impact-study numbers are impressive—Medical City is expected to bring in $7.6 billion a year and provide 30,000 jobs by 2017. That’s a big deal, especially for a community looking to diversify its tourism-based economy.
German believed the school needed to be nationally competitive for the top med students from the get-go, so she went about raising money to fund full scholarships, $6.4 million for the 40-student charter class. UCF received 4,307 applications for the slots, each worth $160,000 in scholarship money.
In addition, German has secured preliminary accreditation for the college and supervised the construction of 400,000 square feet of medical school space. Classes are set to begin in August.

33 Rich Maladecki
President, Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association
Age: 55

If you want to succeed in Orlando’s vast hospitality world, Rich Maladecki can help make it happen. Besides fostering business-to-business relationships within the visitor market, CFHLA has political and social clout. Politicians who want the hospitality community on their side regularly woo Maladecki and his board of directors. Maladecki’s role with such fund-raising events as Bacchus Bash and the Hospitality Gala, which provide scholarships to hospitality students, has earned him a spot as a high-profile community leader. He’s also a board member of the power-heavy Dr. Phillips Rotary Club.

2008 Rank: 40

34 Thomas Wenski
Bishop, Diocese of Orlando
Age: 58

Some believe that the Lord is one of Bishop Wenski’s Facebook friends. Certainly, there’s little question that the outspoken cleric is a power player, with a flock of 400,000 Central Florida parishioners. He continues to campaign for immigration reform. And he recently blasted Notre Dame for its “clueless’’ decision to give an honorary degree to President Obama, an abortion-rights advocate. The bishop went so far as to celebrate a “mass of reparation’’ to make amends for the Catholic university’s deed. Next time a U.S. cardinal’s post comes open, don’t be surprised if the name of our Harley-riding prelate comes up.

2008 Rank: 37

35 Sara Brady
Vice President, Public Affairs and Community Relations,
Bright House Networks,
Central Florida Division
Age: 52

A close friend of Helen and Bill Donegan (Nos. 10 and 19, respectively), and best buddy of former Sentinel publisher Kathleen Waltz, Brady runs in many circles of influence. Her role with the cable-TV operator makes her a powerbroker in how Bright House spends its community outreach funds. Just as important, she is the public face of Bright House, the media’s go-to person and the gatekeeper of access to the Bright House suite at the UCF football team’s home field, aptly named Bright House Networks Stadium. This year Brady moved into the center of powerful women in Orlando by chairing the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women campaign here.
Her BlackBerry alone could make this list.

36 Jim Pugh
Chairman, Dr. P. Phillips
Orlando Performing
Arts Center
Age: 72

Jim Pugh has been an important influence in Democratic politics, offering his Winter Park home as a base for fundraising campaigns. A developer of multi-family properties across the country, Pugh has also been a longtime supporter of, and donor to, the local arts. As chairman of the DPAC, Pugh has come front-and-center in that cause. But in this poor economy, funding for the arts—and for the center, in particular—has dried up. Until that situation changes, Pugh has an uphill fight.

2008 Rank: 8

37 David Siegel
Owner, Westgate Resorts
Age: 74

Asked if he should be on the 50 Most Powerful list, the timeshare resort titan replies in his characteristically off-the-cuff manner, “I don’t know if I qualify to be on the list.” Wait for it. . . . “I’m only the largest private employer in Central Florida.” Touché, David, you’re on the list. Siegel doesn’t get much credit for the support (read: lots of money) he gives to local causes and the arts, so we’re giving it to him here.

38 Martha Haynie
Orange County Comptroller
Age: 58   

Haynie’s motto should be: “Hey, wait a minute.’’ As in “Hey, wait a minute, is this 25-cent toll increase really needed?’’ As the county’s financial watchdog, Haynie was a burr in the bucket seat of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority earlier this year. The agency raised the toll anyway. But using her power to ask questions like that, causing some red faces, and to keep an eye on spending gets Haynie a spot on our list.

39 Ann Sonntag
Publisher, Orlando Business

Sonntag heads a publication that helps to set the agenda for Central Florida’s business community, as well as keep it informed of new developments. In these trying times for business people, that’s more important than ever. In addition, Sonntag helped to create the Women Who Mean Business awards to recognize female business leaders in our community.

2008 Rank: 47

40 John Mica
U.S. Representative
Age: 66

In his ninth term as the representative of Florida’s 7th Congressional District, Mica is well regarded by his fellow power brokers. The standing of this Winter Park resident, however, has slipped since last year, partly because of the GOP’s loss of clout in Congress and his unsuccessful backing, for the second straight year, of SunRail.

2008 Rank: 18

41 Joel Hunter
Pastor, Northland,
A Church Distributed
Age: 61

When Joel Hunter’s picture appeared on the front page of the Sunday The New York Times a few months back, it only confirmed the Longwood mega-church pastor’s rise to national prominence. Hunter has helped build Northland, a Church Distributed, into a high-tech congregation of 12,000 whose cyber-tentacles stretch from its $32 million sanctuary throughout Central Florida and the world.
 In the past year, he has been profiled by New Yorker magazine and on PBS, and in April he was appointed for a one-year term to President Obama’s White House Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Hunter first connected with Obama after a campaign forum at Messiah College in Pennsylvania during that state’s primary. Asked by a campaign aide if he would give the candidate a few private moments, Hunter recalls, “We talked some and then held hands as we prayed. No mention of this was ever made to the press. It was not for the public; it was for him. It’s a memory that will always stick with me.”
 Later, Hunter, a registered Republican who is a strong advocate of addressing global warming, was asked to deliver the closing prayer at the Democratic National Convention and in the fall prayed with Obama by phone on Election Day. According to the Times, Hunter is one of five pastors now considered closest to the president.
 Hunter’s influence may be more pronounced outside Central Florida than in it. Over the past five years the departure or retirement of area mega-church pastors have left a vacuum that Hunter has not yet chosen to fill. Perhaps his greatest impact locally has been to mobilize his congregation for conservation and energy-saving efforts, which the pastor prefers to call “creation care,” rather than environmentalism.

42 Mike Thomas
Orlando Sentinel Columnist
Age: 54

Thomas is like the grumpy old uncle at Thanksgiving: He always shows up but you never know what he’s going to say. The veteran columnist offers clear-headed observations on everything from the Everglades to the expressway authority, with commentary that can seem liberal one day, conservative the next. But anybody who’s got the chops to say that Charlie Crist “can no more control himself than a Labrador running after a tennis ball’’ should be able to write anything he wants. Thomas isn’t as visible out in the community as his Sentinel counterpart Scott Maxwell, both of whom have suffered in our rankings because of the newspaper’s overall slippage. Still, Thomas’ voice is important.

2008 Rank: 17

43 Charles Gray
Chairman, GrayRobinson
Age: 77

Gray is no stranger to our list, hence his status as an inaugural Hall of Power inductee. Gray is an insider’s insider, having sat on more boards than a lumberyard worker, while working full time (when he’s not sailing) at GrayRobinson, one of the largest and most politically connected law firms in the state. The firm he founded recently added a big name to its roster when Charles Wells joined it after retiring from the state Supreme Court, on which he served 15 years as a justice.

2008 Rank: 35.

44 Val Demings
Orlando Police Chief
Age: 52

Her husband is the Orange County sheriff, so most Orlando-area residents are policed by a true power couple. Val Demings’ use of power has raised some eyebrows, though: When somebody stole her gun and ammo, Demings waited a month to announce it, and only then because a tipster went to the media. Soon after, she threatened to sue a citizen who runs a Web site critical of her (valdemings.com). In the next year, though, Demings will have more serious issues to worry about: She must reassure a city nervous about crime amid budget cuts that may give her fewer officers on the front line.

2008 Rank: 20

45 Carla Warlow
Partner, The Sigman
Warlow Group
Age: 41

Warlow has managed to get herself into the two inner circles of power in Orlando: the Old Guard and the Up and Comers. About a year ago she started a public relations firm with Noah Sigman, landing such downtown heavyweights as Baker Barrios Architects, Morgan & Morgan and Ustler Development. Her roles on boards, including those of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Florida, Florida Hospital for Children and the Dr. P Phillips Orlando Performing Arts Center, put her in contact with some of the most influential players—old or new—in the area. She and her husband, real estate developer T. Picton Warlow IV, often lend their support to downtown arts and fund-raising projects.

46 Jennifer Quigley
Co-founder, WBQ Design & Engineering; Arts Supporter

You may not know what you were doing on October 1, but Quigley certainly does. Mayor Buddy Dyer declared it “Jennifer Quigley Day” to honor her efforts for the city. As a honcho at WBQ Design & Engineering, a downtown civil engineering firm, Quigley is in the thick of such high-profile projects as the new Magic arena and the Dr. P. Phillips Orlando Performing Arts Center. And like her fiancé, Ford Kiene (No. 47), she is a workhorse supporter of local arts: A past chair (and still a member) of the board of the city’s Downtown Arts District, Quigley has recently joined the Orange County’s Arts & Cultural Affairs Advisory Council. 

47 Ford Kiene
President, City Beverages;
Arts supporter
Age: 60

Kiene owns the local Anheuser-Busch distributor, a position that gives him a lot of clout with the owners of bars and restaurants in the area. But it’s the arts scene here that Kiene quietly goes about trying to influence and gently prod into something better than ordinary. Kiene’s commitment to the arts is reflected in his membership on Orange County’s Arts & Cultural Affairs Advisory Council, by his ownership of the Gallery at Avalon Island and by his financial sponsorship of the Downtown Concert Series, CityArts Factory and other arts enterprises. That level of commitment brings with it a certain measure of influence—and that, in this case, brings a new name to our list. 

48 John Stemberger
Lawyer and Director,
Florida Family Policy Council
Age: 47

Stemberger is passionate about family values. Not just his, but yours, too. As director of the Orlando-based Florida Family Policy Council, he was the hammer behind the campaign last fall to pass Amendment 2, banning gay marriage in Florida. Determined to maintain a focus on marriage, he’s now supporting a bill that would increase the marriage license fee and counseling hours in an effort to make it more difficult for heterosexual couples in Florida to marry or divorce.

49 Matthew Falconer
Government Watchdog,
Probable Candidate for
Orange County Mayor
Age: 48

“I’m a big believer that you can do more from the outside,” the government watchdog told us in March. By May, Falconer seemed to have a change of heart, saying he expected to enter the race to succeed Rich Crotty as Orange County mayor. A wealthy developer, Falconer founded the Orange County Taxpayer Budget Review Board and LowerTaxesNow.org, groups that tend to zero in on government spending, the pay and benefits public workers receive, and the tax burden on small businesses. County Commissioners Bill Segal and Linda Stewart may be the better-known contenders in the race, but Falconer’s outsider label could be an asset if voters are in an anti-insider mood.

50 Jim Atchison
President and CEO,
Busch Entertainment
Corporation, owner of
Age: 43

This young executive, who has spent his entire career with Busch Entertainment, found himself in charge of 23,000 employees in 2007 when Anheuser-Busch handed him the reins. Besides operating SeaWorld, Discovery Cove, Busch Gardens and Aquatica from Orlando headquarters, Atchison is responsible for the company’s national and international entertainment ventures as well. Under his watch, a new roller coaster opened ahead of schedule at SeaWorld and its new water park, Aqautica, is a huge hit. Atchison’s fate is in the hands of InBev, which recently purchased BEC from Anheuser-Busch, and it’s rumored they want to sell. Atchison was inducted into the UCF Rosen College Hospitality Industry Hall of Fame, and Governor Charlie Crist recently reappointed him to a second term on the Florida Commission on Tourism.


Categories: Features