Dec 10, 2022 - News

Meet Tampa Bay's most influential people of 2022

Illustration of two rows of dominos falling with text overlaid that reads Power Players Tampa Bay.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Welcome to our inaugural annual Power Players list, a chance to look back at leaders who left their marks on Tampa Bay this year.

Why it matters: These are the people you need to know. Whether you like them or not, there's no doubt these individuals (and one group) are influential.

How it works: We selected these power players using our own expertise, polling readers, and through interviews with influential people.

  • The unscientific list is produced entirely by the Axios Local editorial team and is not influenced by advertising in any way.

Here's where we landed ...

1. Reshaping Tampa: Jeff Vinik and Darryl Shaw
Jeff Vinik raises his arms in the air on a yacht.
Jeff Vinik, center, celebrates the Tampa Bay Lightning winning the Stanley Cup in 2021. Photo: Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Any conversation about power in Tampa Bay this year will settle quickly on the two men who've been reshaping and remodeling downtown Tampa's eastern edge and Ybor City.

In Water Street Tampa, Jeff Vinik and Strategic Property Partners have built a city inside of a city in a few years time, rivaling even V.M. Ybor in leaving a mark on Tampa's built history.

  • With a $3.5 billion investment, the company has helped transform a previously barren and warehouse-filled section of downtown, situated around the Amalie Arena, where the hockey team Vinik bought in 2010 has since won two Stanley Cups.

Biggest move of 2022: Vinik sold a minority share of the Lightning to Arctos Sports Partners, a private equity firm based in New York and Dallas.

In the works: Lobbying the league for an outdoor hockey game in Tampa.

Darryl Shaw sits in a suit on a red chair wearing jeans.
Darryl Shaw. Photo: Courtesy of Amy Pezzicara

After quietly buying up derelict properties over a decade, Darryl Shaw is lovingly restoring and rebuilding historic Ybor City and planning a massive new development called Gas Worx just a plank's walk away from Water Street.

  • Civic leaders respect the man who grew up in Carrollwood Village, graduated Berkeley Prep and bought his first building in Ybor City at age 22 β€” a failed project.
  • Now he's building a $500 million mixed-use district that spans 50 acres between Ybor City and Channelside.

Biggest move of 2022: Shaw is under contract to buy some 26 acres along Ybor Channel.

What we're watching: He's still hoping to lure the Tampa Bay Rays to Tampa.

2. Power couple: Jane Castor and Ana Cruz
Ana Cruz speaks at Tampa Mayor Jane Castor's re-election campaign launch event.
Ana Cruz speaks at Tampa Mayor Jane Castor's re-election campaign launch event. Photo: Courtesy of Jessie Stehlik/FotoBohemia

Jane Castor, the former Tampa police chief who turns 63 this month, was elected mayor in a landslide in 2019 and has led Florida's third-largest city through a summer of civil rights marches, a pandemic and a development surge.

  • Her partner, Ana Cruz, is managing partner at the influential lobbying firm Ballard Partners, where she's been advocating to get federal funds for municipalities.

Castor's biggest move of 2022: Castor has overseen a construction boom and continued development along the Hillsborough River.

  • One of those deals was the development of the Rome Yard truck lot, which came under scrutiny when the Tampa Bay Times learned that Cruz had given a personal tour of the property to the eventual winning bidder with the mayor's nephew.

Cruz's biggest move of 2022: Helping Winter Haven become a cutting-edge city for water infrastructure by securing nearly $4 million in funds.

  • She also helped secure nearly $10 million in FEMA funding for Nashville, which was in jeopardy for a hazard mitigation project that would construct a flood wall to protect the city's critical infrastructure.

What we're watching: Castor filed for re-election recently and has no well-known opponents lining up to challenge her.

  • What's more, Cruz's mother, outgoing state Sen. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa), lost her re-election bid in the midterms and announced she was running for a seat on the Tampa City Council, which could strengthen the mayor's power.
3. The activist: Zander Moricz
A headshot of Zander Moricz wearing a light blue shirt and a rainbow sticker, staring off into the distance.
Photo: Courtesy of Barbara Banks

Sarasota teen Zander Moricz made waves in May with his graduation speech about curly hair, a thinly veiled way to talk about his queer identity and his fight against Florida's Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed "Don't Say Gay" by critics.

Biggest move of 2022: Becoming the youngest plaintiff in the first federal lawsuit against the Parental Rights in Education Act, which bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through 3rd grade.

What we're watching: As a freshman at Harvard, Moricz is still fighting for Florida's LGBTQ community.

4. The artist: Ya La'Ford
A black-and-white photo of artist Ya La'Ford sitting on the ground cross-legged.
Photo: Courtesy of Playbook Public Relations

You don't have to look far to find impressive public paintings, sculptures and installations from St. Pete artist Ya La'Ford, who unveiled two ambitious pieces this year at Water Street Tampa and West River.

Biggest moment of 2022: In September, La'Ford unveiled her public art installation, "Boulevard Flow," which includes a labyrinth-shaped park and a 10-foot sculptural metal sphere atop a pedestal.

What we're watching: Where will she turn up next?

5. The organizers: Moms for Liberty
A woman wears a shirt that says Moms for Liberty with her fists pushing down on stacks of books.
Jennifer Pippin, president of the Indian River County chapter of Moms for Liberty. Photo: Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images

When members gathered in Tampa in July, this conservative moms movement claimed to have 195 chapters in 37 states and nearly 100,000 members.

  • That's fast growth, considering the nonprofit known for opposing mask mandates in schools was formed in Sarasota in January 2021.

Biggest move of 2022: Transforming formerly nonpartisan school board races with successful endorsements.

What we're watching: How those newly elected school board members are reshaping school systems to align with Republican ideals.

6. The photographer: Carlton Ward Jr.
Florida wildlife photographer Carlton Ward Jr. smiles while posing submerged in a swamp.
Photo: Courtesy of Veronica Runge

A decade ago, Florida wildlife photographer Carlton Ward Jr. completed a 1,000-mile pilgrimage from the 'Glades to North Florida to bring public attention to the need to protect the interior wilderness greenbelts that serve as migratory routes for animals.

  • He wasn't alone on the trek, but the Davis Islands resident became the face of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, an effort to protect 18 million interior acres from development that was enshrined in state law last year with unanimous bipartisan support.

Biggest moves of 2022: Supporters of the corridor held their first big summit in Orlando in April, then announced $2 million in grants for innovative conservation projects and a marketing campaign called "Live Wildly."

What we're watching: We're literally watching a documentary Ward and cohorts filmed about the effort to save big cats, called "Path of the Panther."

7. The listener: Meiko Seymour
Meiko Seymour smiles while wearing a black sweater.
Photo: Courtesy of Zion Bloom

Meiko Seymour hasn't made headlines in the last year β€” but that doesn't mean he hasn't been influencing Tampa Bay.

  • The pastor, equity leader and blogger wields a gentle, empathetic power as the person leaders of St. Petersburg seek out to get counsel.

Biggest move of 2022: Becoming a St. Petersburg Housing Authority commissioner.

What we're watching: His Uncommon City "Listening Project," elevating voices throughout St. Pete.

8. The ones to watch
Headshots, from left to right, of Timothy Burke, Andrew Warren, and Justin Garcia.
From left: Timothy Burke, Andrew Warren and Justin Garcia. Photos: Courtesy of Timothy Burke, Thomas Simonetti for The Washington Post via Getty Images, and Justin Garcia

Communications expert Timothy Burke's command of Twitter has always been something to behold, but this was an especially big year for the raconteur.

Andrew Warren is out of a job, but the suspended Hillsborough prosecutor is far more widely known since he came into the crosshairs of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

  • His lawsuit to get his job back would be a huge victory. Win or lose, a future in politics is in the cards if he wants it.

Reporter Justin Garcia, who broke the story about the Tampa police chief flashing her badge to get out of a traffic ticket, has helped make Creative Loafing a vital read once again.

  • Full disclosure: Justin took a journalism class Ben taught at USF, but Ben takes no credit. Justin's reporting is speaking up for the poor and reporting clearly and transparently on power.

Go deeper: See all 200 of Axios Local's Power Players in 2022

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to clarify that Andrew Warren is Hillsborough County's suspended prosecutor, not former, as a Florida Senate review for his removal is paused while Warren challenges his suspension in court.

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