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Orlando’s 25 Most Powerful People

August 20th, 2007 · No Comments

Here are the top 25 of Orlando Magazine’s list of the most powerful people in Orlando with many of them residing right here in Southwest Orlando. I’ve made the Southwest Orlando residents bold in the list below.

1. When John Hitt was chosen as Orlando’s Most Powerful person last year, it could have been seen as an at-a-boy for landing a new medical school. But Hitt just keeps on coming. The medical school is moving along nicely, upcoming at the campus is a new convocation center and a new stadium, and Hitt shows no signs of slowing down. By this time next year, UCF should be a real community center for everything from football to concerts.

2. Joe Lewis could be standing in front of you right now and odds are great that you would not recognize him. He likes it that way. The British import made his fortune in theme restaurants and financial dealings before acquiring Isleworth and starting Lake Nona. His Orlando real estate holdings initially seemed like just another one of his worldwide investments, but Lewis is taking more than an investment interest in Orlando. He is also one of those people who gets what he wants. One of the things he wants is the new Nemours hospital to be built on his Lake Nona land.

3. State Senator Dan Webster continues to be a power in Tallahassee. Because Sen. Gary Siplin is the joke of the Senate, Webster has ended up representing two districts and doing it well. But his power position on this list gets a boost because many people think he will be Orange County’s next mayor.

4. State Representative Andy Gardiner seemed to have been eclipsed briefly by another Orlando officeholder, Dean Cannon, who had buzz as a future House speaker. But Gardiner continues to be the workhorse, while Cannon has emerged as a nice enough fellow. Gardiner has earned points by taking on the Orange County school board even though he doesn’t help his political career by doing so. Gardiner may soon be moving up the political ladder.

5. Al Weiss now has worldwide responsibilities for the Disney theme parks, but he still calls Orlando home and is still viewed as the tourism heavyweight in Orlando.

6. Most of the people on the Power 50 list make it because of their jobs. Harris Rosen makes it because of the hotel empire he’s created. He added his upscale Shingle Creek to his hotel lineup and continues to play a major role in the tourist industry.

7. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer will find out soon if he gets a free ride in next year’s election. He’s raising lots of money for his campaign, but the financing for the venue projects remains shaky, and Dyer could overextend the city’s already less-than-rock-solid finances.

8. Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty is in his last term and determined to spend as much tax money as he can before he heads off into the sunset. He has three years to go, but quacks are already being heard from this lame duck.

9. The 2006 elections sent Senator Mel Martinez from the majority party to the minority party. Ordinarily, this would send him down the most powerful list. But thanks to his pal, George Bush, Martinez has a part-time job as chairman of the Republican National Committee. This gives Martinez a big say over party spending, which gives him lots of IOUs.

10. Clarence Otis took over at Darden Restaurants just a few years ago, and he’s moved to put his mark on the company. He’s made it clear the company is open for acquisition and dropped money-losing restaurants.

11. Dick Batchelor moves up the list thanks to the Democratic victories in the 2006 election and his role as Hillary Clinton’s biggest local supporter. Batchelor continues to play a leading role in challenging the ineptness of the Orange County School Board while leaders such as Dyer and Crotty have decided to concentrate on picking out their skybox seats.

12. Jim Seneff’s CNL empire is a major economic force, and Seneff is active on a number of local boards—such as at Rollins, Orlando Regional, United Way and United Arts—that make him a power.

13. Tom Williams’ Universal Studios will get a boost from a new Harry Potter attraction, but he still has a lot of work to do to figure out how to make his original park as popular as Islands of Adventure.

14. Jim Pugh has gone from highly successful but little-known business executive to the high-profile leader of the drive to get a new performing arts center in Orlando. He’s faced just about every possible obstacle, but has shown he can overcome them.

15. Local attorney John Morgan moves up dramatically on this year’s list because his long exile in the political desert is finally over. He is one of the area’s most successful attorneys and, with the Democrats taking power in Washington and a presidential race underway, Morgan is a power to be reckoned with.

16. Rick Walsh has given up his day job at Darden, but his influence has remained potent. He’s been elected chairman of the UCF Board of Trustees and remains active in a slew of local organizations. His name comes up for just about every appointive job that comes along.

17. It’s been a year attorney Hal Kantor might want to see the back of. It turns out that his law firm, Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor and Reed, was bankrolling some nefarious activities of perennial nuisance Doug Guetzloe. This would never have come to light if State Attorney Lawson Lamar hadn’t released a slew of documents he uncovered during his investigation of Guetzloe. Still, it showed that Kantor was willing to do almost anything to help his clients, and he remains an attorney who can get things done.

18. Senator Bill Nelson moved from the minority to the majority and now is getting the attention that used to be reserved for the Republicans. That moved him up the list, but he still isn’t the local power that Mel Martinez is.

19. Craig Ustler’s real estate empire continues to grow along with his restaurant lineup. His connections give him plenty of clout, and he’s a major influence in the development of downtown Orlando.

20. Richard Kessler’s hotel empire has expanded in the last year, and there is more on the horizon. Kessler is already planning a second downtown hotel, and a performing arts center across the street should make his Grand Bohemian even more of a center.

21. Lars Houmann has moved quickly to put his stamp on Florida Hospital. Houmann took over from Don Jernigan last year and has continued the rapid growth of the health-care giant. With a biotech company on the way and a medical school set to open, Orlando will become even more of a medical center.

22. Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Thomas has emerged as the leading voice at the daily. He can be counted on to take on the powerful and go against the grain.

23. Downtown developer Phil Rampy is growing his companies despite the slowdown in real estate, and he wields vast influence in downtown affairs. Rampy and Craig Ustler recently added another swank restaurant to downtown’s lineup—Citrus on Orange Avenue.

24. Attorney Fred Leonhardt is one of the city’s leading attorneys and is well connected in Republican Party circles.

25. Developer Picton Warlow IV has raised his profile with his downtown film festival and his role in making Orlando better.

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