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The Jacksonville Port's CEO is "the best of the best," a Tampa official says.

A. Paul Anderson is poised to become the Port of Tampa's next leader.

The Tampa Port Authority's governing board voted unanimously at a special meeting Tuesday to hire Anderson, who emerged as the top candidate during the four-month selection process, as its next executive director and CEO.

Anderson, 53, the CEO of the Jacksonville Port Authority, was appointed without discussion or debate in a meeting that lasted just minutes.

"We got the top-notch," said port board chairman William "Hoe" Brown. "We got the best of the best."

The next step will be for Tampa to negotiate a contract and salary with Anderson, who made $320,000 annually in Jacksonville. He has been at JaxPort for 22 months and brings a mix of private and public maritime experience to the position - and a very healthy political resume.

Before he took over JaxPort, he worked as a senior fellow on the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. President George W. Bush appointed Anderson to the Federal Maritime Commission in 2003, and he served five years. He also spent time as a lobbyist and served as a special assistant to former U.S. Sen. Paula Hawkins.

On the political side, he served on the GOP campaigns of President Bush, Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Connie Mack III - and the Democratic campaign for former Sen. Bob Graham.

Anderson was the top pick of a selection committee that submitted a short list of three candidates to the full board. But Anderson was the only one of the three with experience running a port. He's also served in leadership functions on the Florida Ports Council and is chairman of the Florida Ports Financing Commission.

Anderson could not be reached for comment. He and the other two finalists spent Monday and Tuesday in private meetings with the board. He was nominated by port Commissioner Lawrence Shipp and seconded by Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman.

The only dissent came from the audience: Hillsborough activist Marilyn Smith, who addresses the port board whenever it meets, blasted Anderson before he was even nominated.

"I am not really happy that a great deal has been put on there about who-you-know politically," Smith said. "We have had enough of that this summer (during the Republican National Convention) with enough wasted money."

Anderson's $320,000 annual salary in Jacksonville is $70,000 more than that of his Tampa predecessor, Richard Wainio. Salary doesn't appear to be an issue, though. Brown said Tampa would likely at least have to match Anderson's salary in Jacksonville. The board chairman and the Tampa law firm of GrayRobinson will negotiate with Anderson.

"You've got to pay for talent," said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who serves on the port board. "You don't want to sell the city on the cheap."

Brown wants the deal done by December and Anderson to start Jan. 1. The authority is a public agency, but the port generates income from several sources, including dock fees, taxes, and building and land leases.

Meanwhile, it doesn't appear that the Jacksonville Port Authority will try to outbid Tampa to keep Anderson. Jim Citrano, the chairman of JaxPort's board of directors, released a statement Tuesday thanking Anderson for his service and announcing a search for his successor.

The Port of Jacksonville has attracted the kinds of cargo that the Port of Tampa needs: containers. In 2011, it led the state with 900,433 cargo containers. That year Jacksonville handled 8.1 million tons of cargo, 189,000 cruise ship passengers and took in $51 million in revenue.

The Port of Tampa, however, took in just under 40,000 containers in 2011. Last year, the port made $42 million in operating revenue and handled 13.7 million tons of cargo and nearly 900,000 cruise passengers.

But cargo containers make ports the most money, and the Port of Tampa needs to grow that sector to compensate for the loss of its traditional reliance on bulk cargoes like phosphates.

Port Commissioner Patrick Allman wanted a CEO with a deep well of contacts to sell the Port of Tampa to the rest of the maritime world and attract new business to the port.

"If you look at Paul's success at outreach, he's very strong," Allman said. "Whether he did it, or whether he got it done, the marketing of the Port of Jacksonville has been done very well."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at or (813) 226-3404.