TALLAHASSEE — The most influential person in Gov. Rick Scott's inner circle is unknown to most people in Florida, including Tallahassee's political elite who make it their job to know everything.
That's because Enu Mainigi, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer and the governor's confidante, prefers to stay in the shadows.
Mainigi, 41, is known in legal circles as a brilliant litigator who successfully defended health care companies, pharmaceutical giants and others against health care fraud, whistle-blower claims and shareholder lawsuits. As a young attorney in the powerful law firm of Williams & Connolly, she joined the team representing Scott in 1997 after he had resigned as CEO of Columbia/HCA and before the company paid its record $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud.
She remained his lawyer, defending him in a contract dispute with Columbia/HCA in 2000, in which he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 75 times, and in the 2010 whistle-blower lawsuit against Solantic, the chain of urgent-care clinics Scott founded and recently sold.
But since 2008, Mainigi's relationship with Scott has morphed into a second career: adviser-in-chief, messenger, chief talent scout and advocate.
When Scott formed a political committee in 2008 to oppose the Democrats' health care overhaul plan, Mainigi helped build his team by introducing him to pollster and political consultant Tony Fabrizio and policy adviser Mary Anne Carter. She knew both from working on Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign.
When Scott decided to self-finance his gubernatorial campaign, Mainigi successfully led the legal fight to challenge Florida's public campaign finance law. When Scott needed a trusted friend and Tallahassee outsider to run his transition team, Mainigi stepped in and took the unpaid job, which lasted five months.
She has been instrumental in shuffling Scott's top staff. She helped lure Steve MacNamara, the longtime Tallahassee insider, lawyer, political consultant and chief of staff to the Senate president, to replace policy director Carter and chief of staff Col. Mike Prendergast.
Through it all, Mainigi says her role for Scott is "just being his friend and sounding board."
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Born in India and brought to the United States at age 5, Mainigi displayed intellect and independence early, said her mother, Kusum Mainigi. "In second grade she said she was interested in becoming a lawyer,'' her mother recalled. "We were amazed."
Mainigi's parents, scientists by training, emigrated from India in 1975, after her father received his green card. They spent much of her early years following research grants around the country before finally settling in Maryland.
During that time, Mainigi skipped a grade, graduated college with honors, worked as a lifeguard in school, and entered Harvard Law School on a partial scholarship. In her second year, she got her first taste of politics, running for president of the Law School Council. The Harvard Crimson described it as "dirty, ugly and bitter," spawned by a dispute between the candidates over whether they had agreed to debate. Mainigi won.
She got the job at Williams & Connolly after working on Bob Dole's campaign and made partner within five years.
Mainigi is a devoted Republican, but acknowledges she is more socially moderate than Scott. She's married to John Walke, a Democrat and director of the clean air program for the National Resources Defense Council. The couple, who met in law school, avoid talking politics.
Mainigi counts among her close friends several former adversaries, such as Marc Raspanti, a partner at a Philadelphia law firm who worked against Mainigi between 2004 and 2006 in a health care case involving a pair of whistle-blower lawsuits against MedCo Health Solutions, a pharmacy benefits manager.
He remembers Mainigi joining the case after returning from maternity leave. He expected a "nice, kindly mom" but instead faced a hard-charging litigator who brought her baby and babysitter to town during the trial.
"Enu is a tough woman in a man's world,'' but that comes at a cost, he said. "She gets shots taken at her because she acts the way a man would — but she can take as well as she can give."
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Mainigi's management style, however, has frustrated many close to the governor and spawned inevitable jealousies. Critics say Scott's administration has often stumbled because of Mainigi's slow decision-making and habit of parachuting in to influence the governor.
Kathleen Shanahan of Tampa, a member of Scott's transition team and chairwoman of the state Board of Education, defends Mainigi against those who she says have rushed to judgment. "Everybody thinks their right is to judge you and it's nobody's right to allow you some learning time,'' she said.
To Scott, who speaks sparingly of his advisers, Mainigi has been "a good friend for a long time." Those close to him say that after he left Columbia/HCA, he moved around, had few close friends and Mainigi filled that void. The only person closer to him is Scott's wife, Ann.
Mainigi's daughter Sonia, now 7, and son Devin, now 4, were in the weddings of both of Scott's daughters, Allison and Jordan. When Mainigi travels to Tallahassee, she stays at the Governor's Mansion. When Scott travels to Washington, he visits Mainigi and her family. Her youngest, Layla, now 2, "loves him" and her children call him "Uncle Rick."
"Enu, I cannot thank you enough for your friendship, your wisdom and your hard work,'' Scott wrote to Mainigi a month after the election.
Even as she worked on Scott's campaign and led his transition team, Mainigi was never paid. But Scott remains a client of her law firm.
In Florida, Mainigi has left few fingerprints. Following the advice she gives health care lawyers at legal conferences around the country, most of the communication she has involving sensitive information is usually done orally. She has yet to share all of the e-mail correspondence requested by the media.
Mainigi's low profile has fueled speculation in the state capital about her power and influence. One political blogger claimed she intended to open a Tallahassee lobbying office for Williams & Connolly — a far-fetched idea, said Bill McDaniels, a partner in the firm. The firm has never opened an office outside of Washington, and it doesn't lobby.
Mainigi says she took the job as transition director after speaking with the transition directors and chiefs of staff for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — who all urged Scott to find a loyal outsider. After the election, she assembled a meeting of the former chiefs of staff of Florida's Republican governors.
Mainigi, who describes herself as a typical Type-A, perfectionist, knew the job would be all-consuming. "I'm kind of all in or all out — I don't like to dabble in things,'' she said. Mainigi and Scott would trade e-mails as early as 4:19 a.m. and as late as 11:22 p.m., covering everything from minutiae and policy to the governor's image.
Before Scott's speech to the Florida Council of 100 in the first days of the administration, for example, Mainigi wrote to top staffers: "This is our opportunity to have Rick deliver an impressive substantive speech that lays out his economic and budget vision to a group of like-minded CEOs in a friendly setting."
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There are few in Tallahassee who will risk criticizing Scott or Mainigi, but many say the recent changes to his inner circle show they both realize change was needed.
John M. "Mac" Stipanovich, a Tallahassee lobbyist and former chief of staff to Gov. Bob Martinez who was among the post-election advisers assembled by Mainigi, said he has watched before as governors come "with a mission to drive the money changers from the temple."
"They show an open disdain for the people that preceded you in the Legislature, the lobbying corps and the press, and then they are surprised when things don't work out for you," he said.
If Mainigi and other Scott advisers had any fault, Stipanovich said, it is that perhaps they didn't know what they didn't know — which spawned problems. "Knowing on the ground how things go is something the intellect won't compensate for,'' he said. "They had read Milton Friedman, paid attention to Russell Kirk and read The Conservative Mind, but that didn't help them with (Senate budget chief) J.D. Alexander. He knew who they were, but he didn't care."
Mainigi acknowledges the first few months for the new governor and his staff were like "the first day of school" and they all had much to learn. She now predicts the new changes, and his current team, "are going to help him carry the ball across the field."
That team will not include her, she says, and, ever the advocate, adds: "He's already accomplished so much. … He's going to be relentless and deliver on his promises."
Times/Herald staff writer Michael C. Bender contributed to this report. Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at email@example.com.