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Ernest Hooper: The Most Intriguing People of Tampa Bay for 2017

By Ernest Hooper | Times Columnist
Published: January 1, 2018
Incumbent St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman (left) and former Mayor Rick Baker face each other in the Nov. 7 election.

The editors yelled at me Sunday.

I missed my deadline on this annual column — again.

But every year it’s so difficult to craft a list of Tampa Bay’s 10 most intriguing people.

There are those who intrigue every year (see Richard Gonzmart, Julie Weintraub), those who piqued our curiosity but fell just short (Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy) and those who may find their way onto this list in 2018 (Jameis Winston, Jeff Eakins) for the right reasons. Or the wrong reasons.

I went up to the last minute crafting this year’s list: a mix of well-known and not-so-well-known personalities who made me marvel in admiration — or anguish.

Quinton Flowers

The University of South Florida quarterback capped off a remarkable career that not only helped revive the program, but played a key role in boosting the career of former coach Willie Taggart, whose meteoric rise took him from USF to Oregon and now Florida State. The historic run of Flowers, 23, is made all the more remarkable by the fact that he lost his father at age 7 and his mother to cancer while a high school junior. His pursuit of an NFL career will lend intrigue in 2018.


Susan Glickman

The Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has carried the legislative lobbying torch on energy and environmental issues for three decades, but never has that torch burned brighter. Tampa native Glickman, 53, has played a key role in helping Florida truly move toward solar energy. And in 2018, she will look to help create the West Coast Climate Compact, similar to what has existed in southeast Florida since 2009.

Jack Latvala

The state senator from Clearwater saw his political career stunningly go down in the flames of sexual harassment allegations. I could be wrong, but I suspect Latvala, 66, will not go gently into that good night. In 2018, we will find out if a deposed elected official can influence legislative affairs and gubernatorial races from the outside looking in.

Tony March

Call him the undercover philanthropist. The 66-year-old March spent 20 hours a week volunteering at Metropolitan Ministries as a dishwasher, never revealing to the rank and file that he heads a car dealership empire that earned $672 million last year. Or that he’s a winning professional poker player who has won — and given away — large jackpots. March draws his inspiration from a hardscrabble upbringing, and in the process he inspires all of us.

The Ricks

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, top, and former Mayor Rick Baker, bottom, staged the most memorable local election in recent memory, with Kriseman, 55, emerging victorious after a hard-fought campaign that divided the city along partisan and generational lines and created rifts in the black community. Kriseman moves forward with much to navigate, including completion of a new pier and the uncertain home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Lorna Taylor

As head of Premier Eye Care, this St. Petersburg resident matches business acumen with a big heart and philanthropic grit. Taylor, 60, has earned the respect of the business community by putting people and planet above profit. At the same time, her civic engagement shows a true care for the community.

Roberto Torres

Torres, 39, has been on the scene for some time, but the president and co-founder of Blind Tiger Cafe and Black & Denim Apparel fully emerged as a leading entrepreneur in 2017. He expanded his reach with locations at Tampa International Airport and the Morrison, a new mixed-use development in the SoHo District, but the Panamanian native remained grounded to his roots, advocating for those who hope to follow his immigrant entrepreneurial path.

Andrew Warren

The new Hillsborough County state attorney will draw the focus of the state and the nation when he announces whether he will seek the death penalty against 24-year-old Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, the man accused of killing four people in Seminole Heights. If Warren, who turns 41 today, opts for life in prison he will draw the ire of many, including Gov. Rick Scott, some of the victims’ family members and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who famously told police to "bring me his head." If he seeks death, he’ll disappoint some of his most ardent liberal supporters.

Ruby C. Williams

The work of this Bealsville folk artist found new admirers and rekindled the love of long-time followers in 2017. Williams, who declines to reveal her age, paints brightly colored pictures with catchy slogans, but her best craft may be in capturing the hearts of anyone who takes the time to hear her historic story.

Sophia Wisniewska

The regional chancellor of the USF St. Petersburg campus lost her job because of how she handled preparations for Hurricane Irma. Wisniewska, 65, disputed the initial claims leveled by USF president Judy Genshaft that she left the campus unsafe, and walked away under terms far less egregious than Genshaft’s scathing first draft. It all made for an ugly departure for a woman who had gained praise for her independent leadership, and it made all of us review our preparations for the next hurricane.

That’s all I’m saying.