A prominent Tampa lawyer-lobbyist and political insider, Ron Christaldi, played a key role in the move last week by appointees of Gov. Ron DeSantis to revamp New College of Florida.
Christaldi, Florida head of the Shumaker Advisers government relations consulting firm, is a Democrat but supports and contributes to political candidates of both parties. He is also a New College graduate and vice chairman of its board of trustees.
New appointees to the board by DeSantis have said they intend to convert the school into a Florida version of the conservative Christian Hillsdale College in Michigan.
Although not one of those new appointees — he was appointed by the university system Board of Governors in 2019 — Christaldi voted with them in firing college President Patricia Okker and supporting other changes, and was confirmed in his role as vice chairman of the board during the meeting.
In an interview, Christaldi declined to discuss the merits of the board’s moves but said his actions in the meeting were intended in part to help Okker out of an awkward situation in which she faced a difficult choice.
It had become clear the new board intended to replace her with DeSantis ally Richard Corcoran a former legislator and education commissioner. Okker said she could not continue as president under the new board’s direction.
But if she resigned, she would have lost substantial severance benefits, including a year’s paid leave. During the meeting, Christaldi asked her to hold off announcing a decision to wait for the board to act on her employment status.
“My yes vote on terminating her was borne out of my assessment that she was in a very uncomfortable situation and it was the right thing to do for the university and her,” he said.