1. Opinion

Six leaders to watch in 2013

Published Dec. 29, 2012

Take a breath, Florida and Tampa Bay. There are no national, state or countywide elections in 2013. But there will be plenty of opportunities for state and regional leaders to make a difference. Here are six difference-makers to watch.

Pam Bondi

Florida attorney general

Pam Bondi spent the first half of her first term as attorney general staking out very conservative positions that surprised many of her friends and former colleagues in Tampa. At times she appeared to be taking direction from Gov. Rick Scott as the two more seasoned Cabinet members distanced themselves from the governor and established their own identities.

Bondi, 47, is on a losing streak. She lost her fight to overturn the federal health care law in the U.S. Supreme Court, and she traveled the country as a high-profile surrogate for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. She also had difficulty resolving a fight with legislative leaders over how to divide up $300 million in home foreclosure settlement money, making Florida one of the slowest states to spend the money.

With a re-election campaign less than two years away, 2013 is the year for Bondi to demonstrate she can set her own agenda and is more interested in holding public office than waging partisan battles on cable television.

Judy Genshaft

President, University of South Florida

Judy Genshaft has led the University of South Florida for more than a dozen years, but 2013 will be particularly challenging. She will be at the center of two big civic initiatives: cementing the university's place in the health care market and leveraging USF to transform the region's economy.

Genshaft, 64, needs to grow USF's brand as a provider of health care and as a leading teaching institution for medical students and working professionals. She will need to strengthen USF's position in the market and improve the relationship with its main teaching partner, Tampa General Hospital.

At the same time, Genshaft will be working with political and business leaders to draw on the university's research, technical expertise and economic clout to build new economic opportunities in the fields of commercial medicine, marine science and other high-tech industries. And if that's not enough, the Big East is falling apart and Genshaft has to make sure the Bulls are not left out in the cold as big money drives the musical chairs in athletic conferences.

Jerome Ryans

President and chief executive, Tampa Housing Authority

Jerome Ryans has become a key player in Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's plan to enliven downtown and connect the city center with the surrounding neighborhoods.

The housing authority is building a massive mixed-use community on the northeast side of downtown, between Ybor City and the Channel District. The complex of apartments, offices and shops will occupy 12 city blocks, and it will fill the gap between downtown and the historic inner-city neighborhoods to the north. In December, Ryans secured $30 million from the federal government for the project — the single largest grant in the country. The authority also is set to rebuild a vast area of parks and public housing on the western side of the Hillsborough River, across from downtown.

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Ryans, 63, will shape not only the new gateways into the city center, but two entirely new communities that could generate $1 billion or more in economic development. It's a rare opportunity to build an entire neighborhood from scratch, and it will help shape the city for decades.

Jeff Vinik

Chairman and governor, Tampa Bay Lightning

Jeff Vinik is far more than the owner of the region's National Hockey League team. He has quickly become an active and philanthropic player in the community, as he promised when he bought the team in 2010. But now that role is set to expand.

Vinik, 53, has control or interests in at least 12 acres in and around the team's home, the Tampa Bay Times Forum, in downtown Tampa's Channel District. Many hope to see him emerge as a master builder of sorts to bring a sense of identity to the southern part of downtown.

Vinik attempted earlier in 2012 to take over the nearby Channelside Bay Plaza retail and entertainment complex. While those plans are on hold, the Lightning owner has a vision for energizing the area, and his civic goodwill is what city and port officials are looking for in a private sector partner to develop the area.

Will Weatherford

Speaker, Florida House of Representatives

Just 33 years old, Will Weatherford is the youngest House speaker in recent history and the first from Tampa Bay in eight years. He demonstrated his mettle by leading efforts to draw new House districts that are fairer and withstood scrutiny by the courts. But the Wesley Chapel Republican helps lead a party that lost a few House seats, isn't deep in experienced leadership and remains bruised by President Barack Obama's victory in Florida.

The economy has brightened but remains challenging. There also are other difficult issues facing the Legislature, including cleaning up the elections mess and deciding the fate of the discredited "stand your ground" gun law. Weatherford has pledged to pursue ethics and elections reforms, which will not be easy. He leads an inexperienced House, where more than one-third of the 120 members are freshmen, and will negotiate with a Senate led by older, more experienced lawmakers.

Ken Welch

Chairman, Pinellas County Commission

Ken Welch is poised to lead the Pinellas County Commission in a more moderate direction as it faces long-term challenges. The new chairman is joined on the seven-member board by two fellow Democrats who defeated conservative Republican incumbents. The impact has been immediate: The board already has voted to resume adding fluoride to the drinking water in March.

Welch, 48, works well with the three mainstream Republican commissioners. The commission should spend 2013 setting the stage for a voter referendum on mass transit that could occur as early as 2014. Welch already is a leader on homeless issues, and he will become more aggressive in pushing for public discussions with the Tampa Bay Rays about a new stadium. There also should be a fresh attempt to bring financial stability to the EMS system.

After years of micromanaging, expect this commission with Welch's leadership to have more vision and work more collaboratively. And if Welch loses a lawsuit over term limits and has to give up his commission seat, he can always run for mayor of St. Petersburg.


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