Orlando’s 50 Most Powerful People of 2021: Politics & Government

Meet the leaders in politics and government!

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2 Jerry Demings

Orange County Mayor

What was your greatest achievement over the past year? Playing a leadership role in shepherding Orange County residents through the pandemic and getting businesses back on track. We did this without laying off any Orange County employees during the pandemic. What Orange County projects are you most eager to see come to fruition? First is the creation of Housing for All, a plan of action and trust fund to assist with affordable housing. Second is advancing the transportation infrastructure tax. I look forward to advancing it to the ballot in 2022. Third is a review of the system of care for the mentally ill and abused in our community. Best advice you’ve ever been given? Best advice was encapsulated by Bishop Carolyn Guidry of the African Methodist Episcopal Church: “Pray first, aim high, stay focused.” What is No. 1 on your bucket list? I’m going skydiving. Most influential person in your life? My mother, Josephine Demings, was the glue that kept my family together. She passed away at the age of 95 in August 2017. —PL


3 Buddy Dyer

Orlando Mayor

Most influential person in your life? My mother. She has been a steady influence throughout my entire life. Alternate career if your current position was not viable? I think I would choose to be the host of the TV game show, “Family Feud.” Best advice you’ve ever been given? To work hard at every single task you are given, no matter how minor it may seem because you don’t know who might see you performing at your best and give you an opportunity. Three things you can’t live without? Susie, my wife. Sammie, the city’s “first dog.” Good, local barbecue. What is No. 1 on your bucket list? I have only been to Africa once—to visit Morocco—so that’s a continent I really want to revisit, explore and experience more. How many terms as mayor is enough? I get up excited every day just as excited as I was on the first day I took office as mayor, and if that feeling ever goes away, that’s when I’ll know it’s enough. —DT


4 Dr. Raúl Pino

Director, Florida Department of Health in Orange County

What do you enjoy most about working in public health? What I probably love the most is serving our clients—getting a smile after you serve someone, or showing somebody out there that, no matter who they are, we are here to care for them. What is the best advice you’ve ever been given? I have a very good friend from Ghana; her name is Yvonne Addo. When my professional career was starting to take off she said to me, “Always remember, the people you are going to meet on your way up are the same people you would meet on your way down. Be kind to everyone.” What is something about you that most people don’t know? I am very shy at heart. There is nothing I like more than my anonymity. How do you like to wind down from the job? It could be an occasional glass of wine—it must be red and from Rioja; after all, I am half Spaniard. But, generally speaking, unwinding is not part of the job. I have to remain on call 24/7. —PL


5 Anna Eskamani

State Representative House District 47

Most influential person in your life? My mom, Nasrin. She passed away to cancer when I was 13 years old, but she’s always with me. Alternate career if your current position was not viable? Investigative reporter. I love asking the tough questions and digging into the weeds. I have also planned a few weddings before and am almost done with my PhD. Best advice you’ve ever been given? From my mom: The people who say they know everything know nothing. Three things you can’t live without? My iPhone, MacBook and Apple Watch. What is No. 1 on your bucket list? Write a book. What do you want your legacy to be? I hope my work inspires everyday people to know their power and to get involved in the political process. My legacy will be the people who come after me. What’s your next step: congress, state senate? Right now, I’m running for re-election to continue serving the great people of House District 47. —DT


6 John Mina

Orange County Sheriff

The most influential person in your life? My father. He rarely got angry or upset, always treated people with kindness and had an incredible work ethic. He never took days off or called in sick. [But] he always took time to play with his three sons. The biggest challenge in your role? Recently, balancing the needs of the community and of my employees. Your guilty pleasure? To relax on the weekends and watch football while having a couple of beers. Proudest moment? My career accomplishments and the lives I have had the opportunity to touch and change. Personally, it’s watching my two sons grow up to be kind and good men. Greatest pet peeve? People who are committed to misunderstanding law enforcement. Alternative career? I honestly can’t imagine doing anything [else]. But I might have become a prosecutor if I’d left law enforcement earlier in my career. Best way to end the day? With a good workout or run. I think it’s best to work out all that stress by exercising and not bring it to the dinner table. —CH


7 Stephanie Murphy

U.S. Representative, District 7

How do you describe yourself? Resilient, compassionate and an avid angler. What’s your happy place? Some of my most cherished childhood memories are fishing trips with my dad. Now I take every opportunity to enjoy fishing and spending time in the Florida sun with my family. What’s your perfect getaway? We’re lucky to live where other people vacation. I never get tired of exploring my home state. Best advice you’ve ever been given? The late General Brent Scowcroft told me, “I ask you to consider public service, not because it is easy, but because it is hard, rewarding and necessary. How well the wonderful things this great nation stands for will be preserved and protected depending on the quality of the people whose hands are on the helm of the state.” This is, in part, why I decided to go into public service. What’s your favorite recent read? On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Vietnamese American poet Ocean Vuong, a heartbreaking and extraordinary book about the immigrant experience. —CH


8 Orlando Rolón

Orlando Police Chief

Your draw to Orlando? I’m fortunate to live in a city that has become very diverse. To serve in my role in a desirable major U.S. city is a true privilege. Your favorite movie/TV depiction of someone in your role? I don’t have a favorite. But I enjoyed “Courageous” [2011], which centers on four police officers and the importance of fatherhood. Your favorite way to wind down? Spending time with my wife, Giorgina, going on cruises and doing home improvement projects. The greatest reward in your role? To serve the citizens of the community where I grew up and to work under the leadership of a visionary mayor and city council. What makes a good cop? To always remember we are … entrusted to keeping everyone safe. [Defusing] difficult situations while protecting everyone’s safety is more difficult than many people can imagine. What does a good day look like? Professionally, it’s knowing our citizens are protected against those who prey on the innocent, and that our officers returned home safely. Personally, each day is a gift. —CH


9 Carlos Guillermo Smith

State Representative, House District 49

Most influential person in your life? President Barack Obama. He inspired me to leave my career in retail management and be part of the progressive movement. Best advice you’ve ever been given? Someone told me the best thing I could do was to become a super-volunteer with as many campaigns or politically-minded organizations as I had time for. Three things you can’t live without? Love. Music. Food. What holds the No. 1 position on your bucket list? Travel to New Zealand and visit the filming locations for Middle-earth [from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings]. What do you want your legacy to be? Being a civil rights leader who always championed the values of fairness and equality. How would you rate the COVID-19 response of Gov. Ron DeSantis, with 10 being the best and 1 the worst? Three out of ten. “Seniors First” was great, but … his anti-science, head-in-the-sand approach to an unprecedented public health crisis put Floridians in harm’s way and made our state a national embarrassment. —DT


10 Darren Soto

U.S. Representative, District 9

Greatest moment so far? Passing the National Pulse Memorial locally, knowing how much trauma and pain our community has gone through. Favorite local hangout? I’m torn between Ember and Oh! Que Bueno. What motivates you? Helping people and seeing the results of it. I constantly hear folks give us positive feedback about [the ways we helped them]. That motivates me to continue to do this very challenging job. Favorite movie? “Dune,” which came out in the 1980s. There’s a big remake coming out, and I’m a little worried about whether it’s going to be as good. Best health practices? I usually lift weights twice a week and run three times a week at home. In Washington, D.C.. I walk 12,000 to 15,000 steps a day, so just doing the job in D.C. can be rigorous physically. Without health, you have nothing. How do you want to be remembered? My hope is to leave the district with better prosperity and quality of life than when I was elected. —CH


11 Kelly Cohen

Managing Partner, The Southern Group

As managing partner with The Southern Group, what was your greatest achievement over the past year? I am incredibly proud of how our entire team unified and thrived during the unprecedented adversity of 2020. Our team embraced and leveraged technology to ensure we maintained the highest quality of service to our clients. In Orlando, we added a new team member, Tasi Hogan, to our office. All of our strategy and innovation resulted in The Southern Group being the top earning lobbying firm in the state of Florida for the first and second quarter of 2021. What was your proudest moment personally over the past year? Fully committing to a healthy lifestyle. I set fitness and weight-loss goals and completed them. Best advice you’ve ever been given? Never stop learning and evolving. What are you currently reading? The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson. Most adventurous thing you’ve ever done? Hands down going hot-air ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey. Three things you can’t live without? Outside of my friends and family, including the furry additions: books, travel and music. —PL


12 Mayanne Downs

Orlando City Attorney & General Counsel, GrayRobinson

Most influential person in your life? I can’t pick any one person: My father, who taught me to question all assumptions. My mentor, the late Judge Jacqueline Griffin, who taught me that if you can’t find the answer, you haven’t worked hard enough. Mayor Buddy Dyer, who has the discipline to lead while allowing others to shine. The late David King, who was a great trial lawyer. My client Craig Mateer, who is the most original thinker I know. Alternate career if your current position was not viable? History professor. Anything else that would allow me to use my brain. Best advice you’ve ever been given? If you can see another’s behavior toward you as a reflection of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over time, cease to react at all. What is No. 1 on your bucket list? Greenland and Romania’s painted monasteries. What do you want your legacy to be? That I helped many people and inspired a few. Your favorite type of music? Hard rock. —DT

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