TAMPA — They want someone who could do more than just run the Port of Tampa.
The Tampa Port Authority's governing board also wants the port's next leader to see the big picture. They want a savvy political operator. They want a CEO with a smartphone full of contacts who could bring in new business.
Jacksonville leaders say A. Paul Anderson is exactly what Tampa wants.
But will it get him?
Anderson, 53, the CEO of the Jacksonville Port Authority, was named the leading candidate to be the Tampa Port Authority's next CEO and executive director by a search committee on Monday. Tampa's governing board could make a decision as soon as today.
His career in short: in the 2000s he was appointed to the Federal Maritime Commission by President George W. Bush; in the 1990s he was a lobbyist for maritime and other companies; and in the 1980s he was a special assistant to former U.S. Sen. Paula Hawkins.
Jim Citrano, the chairman of JaxPort's board of directors, said Anderson's connections are the reason why Jacksonville hired him for its top job 22 months ago.
"That's his stock and trade," Citrano said. "He's a wonderful guy.
"I hope you don't get him."
Salary could be an issue: Anderson makes $320,000 a year at JaxPort, according to the Florida Times-Union. He would be making even more had his proposed raise not stirred recent controversy. In September, he asked the Jacksonville City Council to postpone a 5 percent raise, which would have made his salary $336,000, and a $50,000 bonus.
By comparison, the salary of the CEO he could replace — former Tampa Port Authority director Richard Wainio — made $251,118 when he stepped down Sept. 7.
The Tampa Port Authority's selection committee picked three finalists on Monday. Anderson was No. 1, receiving four first-place votes from the committee of five.
The second-ranked candidate was John V. Keenan, 55, who recently served as the CEO of manufacturer Flux Drive Inc. and is a principal at his own executive coaching firm in Texas, Keenan Coaching and Consulting LLC. He received the other first-place vote.
The third choice was Brian W. Taylor, 53, the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the domestic shipper Horizon Lines LLC of Charlotte, N.C.
All three finalists were to meet individually with the port's board of commissioners — private meetings exempt from public records law, the port said.
The board is set to vote at 1:30 p.m. today. The commissioners could select Anderson or one of the other candidates. Then the port staff would begin contract negotiations. Or, if the board isn't satisfied with the candidates, it could restart the search.
Since Tampa hasn't officially offered Anderson a contract, Citrano could not say on Monday whether Jacksonville would attempt a bidding war to keep its CEO.
Under Anderson in 2011, the Port of Jacksonville handled 8.1 million tons of cargo, 189,000 cruise ship passengers and took in $51 million in revenue. It handled 520,142 vehicles last year, the nation's second-busiest vehicle port. In 2011 it led the state with 900,433 cargo containers.
The Port of Tampa, by comparison, handled just under 40,000 containers and made $42 million in operation revenue in 2011. But Tampa also handled more total cargo, 13.7 million tons, and nearly 900,000 cruise passengers.
Cargo containers are a lucrative sector for ports, and the Tampa Port Authority's board wants a well-connected CEO who can grow that side of the business. Tampa needs to attract more cargo containers to compensate for its diminishing share of bulk cargoes like phosphates.
Port Board Chairman William "Hoe" Brown, who served on the search committee, said he ranked Anderson his top choice because of his experience and connections.
"He understands the Florida political world," said Brown, "and he understands Washington, which is all about funding. There is no learning curve there. He's proved that everywhere he's gone. That's why I voted him No. 1."
Anderson has Broward County roots and the Republican Party of Florida figures prominently in his past. His resume says he served as a co-chairman of former Gov. Jeb Bush's election finance committees in 1994, 1998 and 2002. He was also on the Bush-Cheney national finance committee in 2000.
But Anderson's resume also listed Democratic Party organizations and campaigns and said he's raised money for former U.S. senators from both parties, Bob Graham and Connie Mack III.
"He works both sides of the aisle masterfully," said Mike Hightower, vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida and a former head of the Duval County GOP. Hightower said he's also Anderson's neighbor and friend and was stunned to hear Monday's news.
"I wouldn't say he's active politically," Hightower said. "I would say he's connected politically. Gov. (Rick) Scott knows him well."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3404.