1. University of South Florida president Steven Currall
Steven Currall begins his first full year as the seventh president of the University of South Florida, and there are high expectations in both Tampa Bay and Tallahassee that he is the right leader for the times. Currall takes over a regional economic engine that is raising its national standing. He won the job by vowing to maintain an accessible student environment while continuing USF’s march toward academic excellence. Currall will need to demonstrate the political and organizational skills to successfully consolidate the university’s three campuses and to raise USF’s profile in the state capital to ensure its equitable support as a preeminent institution.
2. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor
Jane Castor set a fast pace after her landslide runoff victory for Tampa mayor in April, releasing a forward-looking transportation plan and retooling an oft-sluggish City Hall bureaucracy. Though she suffered an early defeat by bowing to critics who prematurely opposed a project she inherited to convert treated wastewater into a drinking water supply, Castor has earned high marks for her inclusiveness, accessibility and positive nature. Her plans for expanding mass transit depend heavily on a favorable outcome to a legal challenge to Hillsborough County’s new transportation tax that the Florida Supreme Court will hear in February. She also appears poised to play a leading role in keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in the region.
3. Laurel Lee / Tom Lee
This power couple from Tampa Bay will be in the spotlight this year. Secretary of State Laurel Lee will oversee Florida’s cybersecurity efforts in the runup to the 2020 elections. State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, has been assigned by Senate President Bill Galvano with creating a response to the most recent spate of mass shootings. While these are two very different issues, each is fraught with political overtones in a swing state sharply divided along partisan lines and on gun rights. Both public servants are regarded as thoughtful, independent policymakers. Their challenge is to find broad consensus for sensible solutions, and the stakes are high.
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4. Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg
Will he stay or will he go? Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg says the right things about not abandoning the region and moving the baseball team from Tropicana Field before its lease expires after the 2027 season. But there are no guarantees, and the clock is ticking. Another year with no action reduces the odds that the franchise will stay for the long-term. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman prematurely squashed the Rays’ efforts to split home games with Montreal. Now it’s Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s turn to step up and develop a long-term solution. For anything to work, Sternberg has to get more personally involved in building regional support.
5. Robert Blackmon / Deborah Figgs-Sanders
These two new St. Petersburg City Council members will hold public office for the first time and could provide a change in perspective. At 30 years old, Blackmon will be the youngest council member and also has experience redeveloping residential properties. He is expected to act more independently and check some of Mayor Rick Kriseman’s excesses. Deborah Figgs-Sanders will be the second African American on the council and could be another forceful voice for more redevelopment south of downtown. Expect more lively discussions and fewer slam dunk votes for the mayor.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.