They determine whether your taxes rise or fall.
Some control massive work forces. Others decide what kind of entertainment your family can enjoy. Some of them even mete out justice and influence what you can vote on.
They are Central Florida’s power players.
And for the ninth year, this column is pulling back the curtains on those who pull the strings in this town.
To compile this list of “The 25 Most Powerful People in Central Florida,” I tapped a diverse panel of nine plugged-in observers from the political, nonprofit and business communities — including a mayor, a business exec, a nonprofit CEO and a pastor. These folks cast their votes. I simply tallied them.
The list isn’t scientific. But it does provide a closer look at some of the people who shape the community in which we live — for better and for worse. So let’s get started.
25. Craig Ustler, Ustler Development (Last year’s ranking: 20th). While some developers come and go, Ustler, 43, has been a steady hand in downtown Orlando, starting with his revitalization of Thornton Park. Said one panelist: “While others have fallen and declared bankruptcy, Ustler is still standing.” His current challenge — turning the former Amway Arena into a mixed-use development — will help determine whether this big thinker can turn loftier ambitions into reality.
24. Deirdre Macnab, League of Women Voters of Florida president. (Last year: Not ranked.) For years, this statewide group of electoral watchdogs lacked bark or bite. Macnab, 57, of Winter Park helped change that. The League is now a formidable force on the state political scene. Legislators know she is watching — and flanked by nearly 30 statewide chapters of plugged-in members ready to hold politicians accountable.
23. Val Demings. Former Orlando police chief. (Last year: Not ranked.) It’s a rare person who loses an election and still rises in prominence. But panelists seem confident that Demings’ strong showing in her congressional bid against incumbent Dan Webster won’t be this 55-year-old’s last run for office. She has attracted national attention and is viewed as an asset for Democrats, who have a shallow bench in this state. Plus, she’s married to a powerful ally, which brings us to …
22. Jerry Demings, Orange County sheriff (Last year: 11th). Some top cops crave the spotlight and pander to the public with publicity stunts and tough-on-crime gimmicks. Demings, 53, seems mostly focused on simply doing his job. He also made easy work of getting re-elected last month, ensuring that his voice will remain the most prominent when it comes to law enforcement in Central Florida.