AIF's new CEO: Could it be ex-Rep. Tom Feeney?
Associated Industries of Florida will hold an important board of directors meeting Thursday in Orlando, where the self-described "voice of Florida business" is expected to name a new chief executive officer. Speculation is that former U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney of Orlando has the inside track on the lucrative and high-profile post, which pays nearly a half million dollars a year. The job has been vacant since former CEO Barney Bishop was ousted Aug. 10. Bishop, who is paid about $420,000 a year, will officially leave AIF Dec. 31.
Feeney, 53, is a logical choice to lead AIF in some ways: As a former state House speaker, he keenly understands how Tallahassee works, and he compiled a strong pro-business record in Tallahassee and Washington. But his career in Congress ended in disgrace in 2010 when the stain of his close association with Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff resulted in him losing his seat to Democrat Suzanne Kosmas. Abramoff is working to rehabilitate his image with TV appearances and recent publication of a memoir, Capitol Punishment.
After leaving Congress, Feeney, a lawyer, joined the Orlando law firm of Fowler & O'Quinn. He's a contract lobbyist in Tallahassee representing various clients, including the cities of Altamonte Springs and Dunnellon and Florida Crystals of West Palm Beach, a sugar grower. Florida Crystals lobbyist Gaston Cantens, a former Miami legislator, is a member of the AIF search committee seeking Bishop's successor. The search committee is headed by another ex-lawmaker, Trey Traviesa of Brandon.
Another interesting question is that Feeney is a longstanding critic of expansion of gambling and AIF is busy pushing for passage of state legislation that would establish three new major gambling casinos in South Florida. Many Orlando-area legislators, in Feeney's backyard, strongly oppose more gambling.
Feeney did not return a call seeking comment. AIF's board meeting, closed to the public, is at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Hyatt hotel located at Orlando International Airport.