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Fair Authority may turn to Steinbrenner

Shipping magnate and New York Yankees skipper George Steinbrenner is in line to take the helm of the Florida State Fair Authority, longtime authority member Doyle Carlton Jr. said Friday.

Carlton, a former state senator who served 12 years as authority chairman, said Steinbrenner is expected to be named chairman in an announcement by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford next week.

"That's my understanding," Carlton said from his Wauchula office. "And I can tell you I'll be very supportive of him.

"I think for a man as busy as George Steinbrenner to offer himself in a position of leadership is commendable. Every time you turn around, he's helping somebody.

"I think he'll be able to attract support for the fair, and with his business experience, hopefully we'll get our financial house in order and go on."

The Fair Authority, responsible for activities at the 600-acre fairgrounds at Florida Expo Park, is being revamped under a law that takes effect today. The authority is reduced from 34 members to 21 under the new law, and Crawford's office is responsible for appointments of all authority members and its chief operating officer.

Friday, Crawford spokesman Pat Ernst said no formal appointments would be made until next week.

"There's going to be some new names, I'm sure," Ernst said. "But we don't yet have all the confirmations of acceptances (from appointees)."

Carlton, who has endured a stormy year in which he was named in an ethics complaint and listed as a defendant in a federal lawsuit, said he expects to remain on the authority.

"I have understood I'll be reappointed," Carlton said.

Florida Expo Park president Steve Eckerson also said he expects to keep his job as the day-to-day administrator of the fairgrounds.

"I've been told the commissioner's office will ask me to stay on, and that they're pleased with the job I've done here," Eckerson said.

Steinbrenner could not be reached for comment Friday. His office said he was out of town because of a death in his family.

But the hard-driving Tampa millionaire is no stranger to the entertainment business or to the fair.

At a ceremony at the fairgrounds in 1993, Steinbrenner was named Outstanding Citizen of the Year for his community service, youth involvement and contributions to the Florida Orchestra.

After a visit to the state fair this year, Steinbrenner and Eckerson exchanged letters.

"He said he was very interested in the fair, and I told him I hoped we could sit down and talk about its future," Eckerson recalled.

Steinbrenner, with a net worth estimated at $225-million, is the owner of hotels and racehorses and is majority stockholder in the Yankees and American Ship Building Co., a reorganized company whose sale is pending. He has been a partner in a Tony Award-winning Broadway production company, a vice president of the U.S. Olympic Committee and guest host on Saturday Night Live.

After a 1990 banishment from baseball for associating with a gambler, Steinbrenner seemed to redouble his efforts in community service. He drove a truck with relief supplies to hurricane victims in Homestead, outfitted a women's baseball team and opened his checkbook for hospitals, Boys and Girls Clubs and youth football teams.

As chairman of the Fair Authority, Steinbrenner would have his hands full. The authority has been racked by a federal discrimination suit, political infighting, a scathing audit by the Florida auditor general and mounting money problems. Those factors led legislators in the last session to ratify a bill turning control of the body over to the Department of Agriculture.

"Commissioner Crawford's people are here to help. They want us to use their resources to expand," Eckerson said. "And I think George Steinbrenner would be a very, very positive force for us. I'm very excited about it."