They determine whether your taxes rise or fall.
Some control massive work forces. Others decide what kind of entertainment your family can enjoy. Some of them even mete out justice and influence what you can vote on.
They are Central Florida's power players.
And for the ninth year, this column is pulling back the curtains on those who pull the strings in this town.
To compile this list of "The 25 Most Powerful People in Central Florida," I tapped a diverse panel of nine plugged-in observers from the political, nonprofit and business communities — including a mayor, a business exec, a nonprofit CEO and a pastor. These folks cast their votes. I simply tallied them.
The list isn't scientific. But it does provide a closer look at some of the people who shape the community in which we live — for better and for worse. So let's get started.
25. Craig Ustler, Ustler Development (Last year's ranking: 20th). While some developers come and go, Ustler, 43, has been a steady hand in downtown Orlando, starting with his revitalization of Thornton Park. Said one panelist: "While others have fallen and declared bankruptcy, Ustler is still standing." His current challenge — turning the former Amway Arena into a mixed-use development — will help determine whether this big thinker can turn loftier ambitions into reality.
24. Deirdre Macnab, League of Women Voters of Florida president. (Last year: Not ranked.) For years, this statewide group of electoral watchdogs lacked bark or bite. Macnab, 57, of Winter Park helped change that. The League is now a formidable force on the state political scene. Legislators know she is watching — and flanked by nearly 30 statewide chapters of plugged-in members ready to hold politicians accountable.
23. Val Demings. Former Orlando police chief. (Last year: Not ranked.) It's a rare person who loses an election and still rises in prominence. But panelists seem confident that Demings' strong showing in her congressional bid against incumbent Dan Webster won't be this 55-year-old's last run for office. She has attracted national attention and is viewed as an asset for Democrats, who have a shallow bench in this state. Plus, she's married to a powerful ally, which brings us to …
22. Jerry Demings, Orange County sheriff (Last year: 11th). Some top cops crave the spotlight and pander to the public with publicity stunts and tough-on-crime gimmicks. Demings, 53, seems mostly focused on simply doing his job. He also made easy work of getting re-elected last month, ensuring that his voice will remain the most prominent when it comes to law enforcement in Central Florida.
21. Jim Pugh, developer/philanthropist (Last year: 13th). Pugh, 74, is the force behind Central Florida's long-awaited performing-arts center — as well as a benefactor to many local charities. The arts center seems to keep hitting bumps. But the fact that it soldiers on is a testament, in large part, to Pugh and the cast of fellow heavy hitters he has assembled to promote the arts.
20. Sherrie Sitarik, Orlando Health CEO (Last year: unranked). Sitarik marks the second health-care executive to make this list — and the first woman. Orlando Health is big and growing bigger. And medicine is an increasingly significant part of Central Florida's economy. Sitarik, 56, seems determined to keep Orlando Health at the forefront.
19. Deborah German, University of Central Florida College of Medicine dean (Last year: 22nd). UCF's med school was meant to tell the rest of the world that Central Florida is serious when it comes to health care. And German, 62, is a key part of that. She's respected and determined. And her stock keeps rising.
18. Alan Grayson, U.S. House member. (Last year: unranked.) Talk about a comeback. The outspoken Democrat was bounced off this list when voters bounced him out of office in 2010. But a new Dem-heavy district gave Grayson, 54, new life when he won it last month. He can be brash, grating and partisan. But panelists said his smarts and outspoken ways make him impossible to ignore. Said one panelist: "He has real ideas and isn't afraid to pitch them to whomever will listen — even if he has to do it on YouTube."
17. John Mica, U.S. House member (Last year: ninth). Year in and out, this 69-year-old Republican from Winter Park remains the dean of Central Florida's congressional delegation. He got the rail system he always wanted and easily beat back a challenge from fellow GOP incumbent Sandy Adams after their districts were redrawn. The big question for Mica, who has now moved past transportation: What's next?
16. Jacob Stuart, Central Florida Partnership president (Last year: 21st). Better known as the head of the Chamber of Commerce, Stuart, 64, proved his influence during the debate over mandatory sick time. Local activists had earned the right for the matter to go on the ballot. But Stuart instructed county commissioners to ignore them and do the business community's bidding. The elected officials did just what he told them to.
15. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed. (Last year: Not ranked.) Hunter, 64, is the first religious leader to ever make this list. He's widely respected locally. And nationally, he's known for having prayed with presidents Obama and Bush. This past year was a tough one for Hunter's family, as his son fell from grace leading another church. But Hunter's thoughtful and serious approach to faith continues to attract thousands every week to his Longwood-based congregation.
14. Bill Nelson, U.S. senator (Last year: 15th). Florida's senior senator is the highest-ranking member of Congress on this list. He was easily re-elected. He has the president's ear. And he's the most prominent Democrat in the state. Nelson, 70, might have ranked higher, except that most of his energy is directed to national issues rather than local ones.
13. Bill Sublette, Orange County School Board chairman (Last year: eighth). Sublette could make this list based solely on the numbers. He helps run one of the largest work forces in the region — and one of the largest school districts in the nation. The challenge for Sublette, 49, is balancing everything from demoralized teachers to school-bashing politicians in Tallahassee. The next couple of years will be crucial.
12. Belvin Perry Jr., chief circuit judge (Last year: 12th). The Casey Anthony-obsessed media hordes have moved on, leaving this 63-year-old jurist to focus on what he cares about most: running a judicial system that serves everyone. Perry is a tireless advocate for everything from fair court funding to the wrongfully convicted. And he does it all in a no-nonsense way that earns him major respect from many panelists.
11. Sandy Shugart, Valencia College president (Last year: 25th). Last year, Shugart debuted on this list in 25th place after his school was recognized as the best community colleges in America. And his stock keeps rising. Shugart, 56, stays plugged in beyond the walls of his campus, serving on many nonprofit boards — while keeping mindful of his key mission: graduating students who are prepared to fill jobs.
Off the list: Several folks dropped off this year's last, including former state House Speaker Dean Cannon, former state Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Tavistock executive Rasesh Thakkar, Florida's Blood Centers board President Rick Walsh and Universal Orlando President Tom Williams.
The panelists. Nine leaders from the nonprofit, business and political sectors helped compile this list. They cast votes anonymously, couldn't vote for themselves and didn't know who the other panelists were. Their help is greatly appreciated. They were Roger Chapin, Mears Transportation vice president; Leticia M. Diaz, Barry University School of Law dean; Martha Haynie, Orange County comptroller; Deirdre Macnab, Florida League of Women Voters president; Bruce Mount, Eatonville mayor; Bryan Nelson, state representative, R-Apopka; Lauren Rowe, WKMG anchor, host of "FlashPoint"; Case Thorp, First Presbyterian Church of Orlando associate pastor; and Brent Trotter, Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida CEO.
Coming Wednesday: The Top 10.
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