They are the mystery players for 2013, the power brokers who will hold influential positions in education, the private sector or the political world. Collectively, their decisions will affect the lives of millions of Floridians. We just don't know their names yet, because the jobs have yet to be filled or the elections have yet to be held. Here are seven positions of power to watch in the new year.
Duke Energy | CEO
The head of the nation's largest electric utility works in North Carolina but holds enormous influence in Tampa Bay since Duke acquired Progress Energy. As part of a regulatory settlement, CEO Jim Rogers must retire by the end of 2013, and it may be left to his successor to make key decisions affecting Florida ratepayers.
Will Duke Energy decide to repair the shuttered Crystal River nuclear plant that was broken when Progress Energy botched a do-it-yourself repair job? Or will Duke shut down the plant for good and build another power plant that uses natural gas? Either way, it is going to be expensive for Progress Energy customers.
Will Duke Energy continue to pursue building a nuclear plant in Levy County? The price has quadrupled, to $24 billion, since it was first proposed. Yet ratepayers already are on the hook for more than $1 billion in costs, thanks to a 2006 Florida law that allows utilities to bill customers in advance for nuclear plants.
University of Florida
The state's highest-ranked university could know the name of its 12th president as early as January, and the job has never been more challenging.
State financial support to higher education has been declining, yet Gov. Rick Scott opposes further tuition increases. University of Florida president Bernie Machen has served the university well since taking over eight years ago, but he was unable last year to persuade legislators to give the university more autonomy in setting its own tuition.
UF is the only university in Florida that is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. Under Machen, research funding is up by more than a third, a new technology park is being developed, and new scholarships have been established for students of modest means. But beyond financial pressures, the next president will face more challenges involving virtual learning, the delivery of health care from the Shands hospitals, and declining political support in Tallahassee for a liberal arts education.
University of South Florida St. Petersburg | Chancellor
The University of South Florida St. Petersburg has a lot going for it. Student enrollment is up to about 6,000, a new six-story student center has opened and the campus has never looked better. But it could use some dynamic, high-profile leadership.
Interviews are expected to begin in early 2013 for a new chancellor who should be selected by May. Bill Hogarth, the former dean of the USF College of Marine Science, has been filling in since August and has applied for the job. This is an opportunity to fill the top job with Hogarth or someone else who can continue to expand the campus to include more student housing, lobby the Legislature for money for a new home for the business school, keep communication lines open with the University of South Florida's main campus, and fight off the occasional attempt by meddling legislators to make USF St. Petersburg an independent institution.
St. Petersburg will elect a mayor in November, and incumbent Bill Foster is expected to seek re-election. He should have several credible challengers, but the field is far from set. Potential candidates include City Council member Leslie Curran and former state Rep. Rick Kriseman. There will be others.
Foster will have to defend his record. He has backed the effort to build a new Pier but failed to sell it to residents. He has had difficulty managing the city budget, and his regressive fire fee was rejected by council members. Foster's refusal to allow the Tampa Bay Rays to look at stadium sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, a self-serving stalling tactic that hurts the city, has produced an unproductive stalemate.
Democratic nominee for governor
Floridians will not vote for governor until 2014, but by this time next year the front-runner to challenge incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott should be clear. Scott's political committee already has raised more than $5 million. He also could spend his own money, as he did in 2010 when he spent more than $70 million of his own cash on his campaign. It will take more than a year for a challenger to raise the millions needed to mount a credible challenge.
Who will emerge as the best campaign organizer, fundraiser and challenger to Scott? Former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who narrowly lost to Scott in 2010? Former Gov. Charlie Crist, the former Republican and newly minted Democrat with evolving views on gay marriage and gun control? Or a late entry with deep pockets?
Tampa General Hospital | CEO
The new chief executive that Tampa General Hospital selects in early 2013 must move quickly to address fast-moving challenges in the business and delivery of health care.
The 1,000-bed hospital is one of the largest in Florida and a national leader in transplant and other complex cases. But TGH will likely soon become the only independent hospital in the region at a time when its competitors are maximizing their resources by joining forces with corporate chains. The entire region has a stake in the hospital's future given its role as the bay area's only Level 1 trauma center, as the main teaching hospital for the University of South Florida and as the region's leading provider of charity care. Improving its relationship with USF should be a top priority for the new CEO.
Tampa Bay & Company
Hillsborough County's tourist promotion agency needs a leader who can improve on the mixed results of recent years and bring local marketing efforts into the 21st century.
Tampa Bay & Company had a mediocre record even before the recession hit. The tax-funded agency operates too much like a private business, which has kept it from reaching out to the public and exploring new opportunities in heritage tourism and other niches that historic cities such as Tampa can offer. The new chief executive should review whether the agency should consolidate with its Pinellas counterpart and market the entire region. It also needs to raise its profile and change its name to something tied to tourism.