INFLUENCE Magazine – Summer 2020

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Jared Moskowitz, Florida’s Emergency Management Director

How Florida’s political class is responding to the pandemic



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Influence, in the time of coronavirus


he ghost of C.W. Bill Young haunts me to this day. Seven years ago, when my platform was a young blog and I was doing anything I could to push my profile to the next level, I declared the Congressman dead after receiving an update from a source inside his family. My tweet about Young’s passing was quickly picked up by the national media, including by NBC’s Luke Russert, whose broadcast made it go viral. There was only one problem: Bill Young was not dead. He was dying. And within 36 hours, he would be gone. But to paraphrase Mark Twain, the report about Young’s death was greatly exaggerated. I cannot begin to explain how excruciatingly embarrassing it was to wipe that egg off of my face. It would be a long time before I fully reestablished my credibility. Fast forward to March 2020. An anonymous source sent me a document indicating there was a patient at Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers who had contracted the novel coronavirus. Whispers of that long ago misstep lingered. What to do now? I didn’t want to scare 22 million Floridians by prematurely announcing the coronavirus had arrived. We knew the virus would eventually make its way to Florida, but news of the first case was a big deal and not to be taken lightly. I went back and forth with senior staff in the Governor’s Office and the Department of Health. It was clear they were stonewalling to buy time. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they preempted my reporting by announcing the news itself. But yet we had to find confirmation. Our reporters were digging, but that ghost was still haunting me. Then my source came back to me and said it wasn’t just one case, but two. When I relayed that to the Governor’s Office, state officials scrambled to organize a press conference to announce the pandemic was here. Fast forward, another four months. As of this writing, Florida is losing the coronavirus war. The Not-So-Sunshine State has surpassed New York in total confirmed cases. And as leaders struggle with how to reopen the economy, schools, theme parks, bars and restaurants, there is no end


in sight short of a cheap, widely distributed vaccine. Yet, that doesn’t mean Florida’s elected officials and leaders are giving up the fight. That’s what this edition of INFLUENCE Magazine is about: the first response to what will likely be a grueling slog. You won’t find any mission accomplished banners in this edition, but you will find harrowing tales of Florida Director of Emergency Management Jared Moskowitz and his battle against not only a pandemic but a looming hurricane season. You’ll read about lawmakers who went above and beyond to care for their constituents battling for both health and prosperity. We chronicle city officials tasked with stepping in where the state would not. It’s a collection of individual anecdotes that portray a Sisyphean battle against a disease we barely understand. We’re trying to offer a sense of the purpose — and frustration — felt by leaders like Jane Castor, Lenny Curry and Jason Pizzo as they play whack-a-mole against the coronavirus, solving one problem just as another pops up. This edition also includes features on how Florida’s political class is rising to the occasion. Many of the lobbyists I talk with say they have never worked as hard as they have in the past few months, bridging the gap between government and their clients, some of whom have been devastated by the economic impact of the pandemic. Meanwhile, political life goes on. We are less than 100 days from the most contentious presidential election since, what, the Civil War? Here in Florida, there are hundreds of down ballot races. We talk to campaign operatives and candidates about what it’s like to campaign in the Age of Corona as traditional strategies have been completely upended. There are so many other worthwhile features in this edition. Lobbyist Christian Minor talks about what it’s like to survive the coronavirus, former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Craig

Fugate outlines the lessons he has learned from previous crises. A stunning photo spread from Alex Workman shows what it’s like to work from home. This was not an easy edition to put together. One of our photographers contracted the virus and was waylaid for weeks. Other members of our staff have either had coronavirus or had their families battle their way through an unknown illness. Many of our subjects have had it or are one degree removed from someone who did. Looking forward, and assuming we’re all still here in a couple of months, the next edition will feature the biannual INFLUENCE 100, our essential list of the most influential people in Florida Politics. Because of this unprecedented crisis, the criteria for that list may look entirely different from last year’s. For now, we hope this edition brings peace through knowledge, understanding and camaraderie.

Peter Schorsch Publisher






Peter Schorsch

Phil Ammann

Wins Attention.

Ron Brackett

Christy Jennings


CONTRIBUTORS A.G. Gancarski Rochelle Koff Ryan Nicol Scott Powers Drew Wilson


STAFF PHOTOGRAPHERS Kim DeFalco Abby Hart Mark Wallheiser


Send an email to my elected official on my behalf*

Janelle Irwin Andrew Meachem Jacob Ogles Rebecca Renner

Kristin Piccolo

Colin Hackley Mary Beth Tyson Alex Workman Daniel Dean


INFLUENCE Magazine is published quarterly by Florida Politics, LLC, a subsidiary of Extensive Enterprises Media, LLC. 204 37th Avenue North, St. Petersburg, Florida 33704. INFLUENCE Magazine and Extensive Enterprises Media are not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts, photography or artwork. Editorial contributions are welcomed and encouraged, but will not be returned. INFLUENCE Magazine reserves the right to publish any letters to the editor. Copyright July 2020, Extensive Enterprises, LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited.


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With gratitude for the leaders and healers. Florida will come back stronger because of you. | 850.222.9075 @CapCityConsult SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 5



PHOTO: The Workmans



72 Jared Moskowitz

96 Tampa Bay Leaders

82 Who ya gonna call?

100 Online and on TV

The Division of Emergency Management Director, who crossed the aisle to work for a Republican administration, garners esteem for his work during Florida’s greatest crisis.

PHOTO: The Workmans

When Florida’s unemployment system collapsed under the weight of millions of claims, lawmakers stepped up to help desperate constituents.

68 Hero Lawmakers

In the wake of the novel coronavirus-caused disruptions, legislators come up with creative solutions to the problems plaguing a state in crisis.


Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman pushed for preemptive solutions to the local COVID-19 crisis rather than waiting for the situation to worsen.

Internet providers have successfully kept up with burgeoning demand during the pandemic while creating programs to providing service to people in need of connection.



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Floridians love natural gas! From cost-conscious customers to world-class restaurant chefs, Floridians love having the option of natural gas.

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features continued

70 Living Through COVID-19

Avid runner Christian Minor, Executive Director of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association, shares his journey — and the lingering aftereffects — of his illness.

106 Epic Responses

Across the state, these individuals and organizations saw what was needed during the coronavirus crisis and quickly answered the call for help.

128 Campaigning in the Age of Coronavirus

From fundraising to door-knocking, campaign experts agree: Things are looking a lot different in 2020.

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This stretch of beach towns on the Northwest Florida gulf coast provide the perfect opportunity to get away from it all.

46 #covidwear


A Tallahassee photographer takes a lighthearted look at what folks in The Process are wearing while working from home.


24 18 PHOTOS: Abby Hart, Bill Day, The Workmans

24 Food A trio of stories illustrating the Age of Coronavirus: How food trucks have adapted to the crisis, distilleries statewide cook up hand sanitizer and a reflection on mask-holes.

144 What I’ve Learned with Craig Fugate The former head of Florida Emergency Management and FEMA nationwide talks about a career dedicated to expecting the unexpected.


150 On the Move Political Aficionado’s Guide


Briefings from the Rotunda


Fourth Floor Files


The Big Question


Insider’s Advice 69 Ron Sachs offers guidance on how managers can inspire and encourage staff and clients during this time of ongoing crisis.

In 2019, Florida’s seaports handled $97.4 billion worth of cargo and traded with almost every country in the world. Florida’s prosperity is tied to the definitive advantages we offer consumers and producers. By investing billions of dollars in infrastructure, our seaports are able to move freight and passengers with ever increasing speed and efficiency.

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Memoirs by Front-line Workers BY REBECCA RENNER


n the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, health care workers have been risking their lives to treat the sick. In just a few short months, they have weathered a shortage of personal protective equipment, faced layoffs, and seen hazard pay disappear as quickly as it arrived. If you aren’t a front-line worker, you might not understand how truly taxing these jobs can be. The difficulty of being a doctor or nurse goes beyond the complexity of science and medicine. Health care workers are on the front lines of empathy as well. They often see people at the lowest points in their lives, and to treat them, health care workers have to show compassion and understanding, which can be emotionally draining in the best of times. These memoirs by front-line workers offer a glimpse into their struggle.



BY THERESA BROWN In a hospital cancer ward, nurse Theresa Brown cares for patients as they fight for their lives. Unlike doctors, whose tight schedules allow less and less time with each patient, nurses can share moments of comfort with their patients, listening to their worries and healing their hearts as well as their bodies. In her memoir “The Shift,” Brown focuses on a single day in her life as a nurse, delving into the struggles of her individual patients. As this book shows, every day in the life of a nurse has the potential for heartbreak and miracles.


BY ADAM KAY Life for new medical residents is grueling. With two much work and too little time to sleep, residents would already be stressed, but now, they have to make life and death decisions daily. As a new resident, Adam Kay stole hours in secret to write this humorous memoir about life as a newly minted doctor. He weaves the tale with equal parts hijinks and heart.


BY SANDEEP JAUHAR Like Kay’s “This Is Going to Hurt,” “Intern” follows the life of a doctor during his first year of residency. While Kay’s is more focused on humor, Sandeep Jauhar’s memoir describes the struggle he and other interns faced and argues for a change in how hospitals treat their interns. Jauhar questions whether hospitals can treat their patients with humanity if they cannot extend that courtesy to their own doctors.


BY KEVIN HAZZARD By the age of 26, Kevin Hazzard had tried his hand at sales and reporting for a local newspaper. But the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center caused him to examine life. He realized his routine had become too safe. He was just coasting through life instead of really living it. So Hazard became an EMT. “A Thousand Naked Strangers” follows his days responding to calls in some of the most dangerous parts of Atlanta, entering the lives of others at their toughest hours. In understanding them, he came to know more about himself.


Frank Huyler has spent decades as an emergency medicine doctor. In that time, he has saved thousands of lives and struggled to help others who wouldn’t make it. Huyler pursued his job with passion and purpose, knowing that all that stood between life and death for his patients was his team’s quick thinking. Buy this book when it comes out in August and see into the minds of society through this doctor’s poetic soul. 12 | INFLUENCE SUMMER 2020


BY DAMON TWEEDY When Damon Tweedy became a doctor, he thought he would be leaving much of the racism he had known in his youth behind. Instead, medical school taught him that the racial divide in the U.S. reaches more deeply than he ever imagined, not just in how health care workers treat patients but to the research medical schools use to train doctors. Through his memoir, “Black Man in a White Coat,” Tweedy examines the complicated ways race and medicine collide.


BY PAUL KALANITHI At the age of 36, neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. In a matter of months, he went from someone treating the dying to a patient on his deathbed himself. With the end of his life quickly looming, Kalanithi is forced to confront the spiritual questions he put off while pursuing science. Through lyrical prose, Kalanithi questions ideas he once thought were given and tries to discover the meaning of life, of identity, and to understand his place in the world as his life comes to a close. This might not be the most uplifting doctor memoir, but it is, quite possibly, the most poignant, a must-read that rises to the top of books by front line workers.

Government Procurement Contracts Advocacy Legislative & Regulatory Affairs Economic Development Incentives

Miami * Fort Lauderdale * Tallahassee * Washington, D.C. SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE

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One Day, The Magic Will Return BY SPENCER FORDIN


he shows may go on. But for the time being, they’re not filmed in Florida. Studio and film production in Florida has been shuttered for months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and industry professionals are scrambling to be ready for their return. That means taking steps to make sure their film sets are disinfected regularly and their crew members are healthy and vigilant about wearing a mask. For now, there is no timetable for when large-scale film work may resume in Florida. Miami-Dade County, where much of the outdoor location shooting is done, is under curfew at night and has ordered that all hotels and short-term rentals cancel their existing reservations. That means casts for TV and film productions can not gather, and they can not plan to be in Miami for the foreseeable future. And, in turn, that means that many of the 50,000 Floridians who work in the film, television and digital media production industries are out of work. “When people refer to the ‘gig’ economy, among other industries, they are talking about this industry,” said John Lux, the executive director of Film Florida. “The industry’s freelance workforce are con-


tracted directly for a job, then another job. When a downturn like COVID-19 comes along, they don’t work, which means they don’t collect a paycheck. As an independent contractor, that also means they are not eligible for traditional unemployment benefits. Thankfully, independent contractors were eligible for the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance but they also have been included in the well-documented challenges with Florida’s unemployment system.” Those economic problems don’t just affect independent contractors. Lux said many small companies also have had to wipe out their entire slate of productions because of the pandemic. That’s also true of the bigger companies that film TV shows and feature films in the area. Lux said when a feature film or television series films locally, it can hire 1,500 Floridians and pump $15 to $25 million into the economy in a three to six month span. Local communities can see $150,000 to $300,000 spending per day as a direct result of that work. And though it’s hard to know the timing, Lux is confident the industry will bounce back. “The Florida production community is very resilient. They have come back be-

fore and there’s no doubt they will come back again,” he said. “We are committed to working with legislators and stakeholders to send the signal that Florida is open for business and competing for high wage jobs in the film, television and digital media industry. We sincerely believe putting Floridians back to work and generating new revenues is an important step toward getting the Florida economy back on its feet again. Meanwhile, the products of our work – commercials, TV and movies – are key necessities to rebuild our state’s vital tourism industry seriously hurt by this virus.” What will the film industry look like when it does come back? How will film sets — notoriously chaotic workspaces with many moving parts and professions — transform into healthy, safe spaces? They’re starting out by adopting specific guidelines for clean production sets. Film Florida collected data from a variety of health and medical sources and consulted with industry professionals on how Filmmaking is at a standstill in Florida because of the pandemic, but producers have spent this down time trying to figure out how to incorporate safety into the process. Photo: Jeff Daly




to best implement them into the many disparate forms of film shoots. But the truth is that every set’s compliance will depend on the people enforcing it. Miami-based freelance production supervisors Stacey LaMotte, Patty Simonetta, Danny Alonso and Tonya Tindall have created “Film Safe Florida,” a set safety production team dedicated to helping to implement and maintain the guidelines put forth to stop the spread of coronavirus. For them, it’s just another task on top of the many they already perform. “The production manager works under the producer with budget and coordinating the crew and we help to get the locations permitted. You name it, we do it,” LaMotte said. “So now, it’s fallen on us to figure out the PPE gear and the protection that’s going to be on set. “My team and I decided to get together and decide, ‘Who is going to do this and how is production going to do this on top of their 12 million other things?’ ” LaMotte said she and her peers in Film Safe Florida have taken courses to figure out best practices to keep their sets safe and compliant with guidelines. But more importantly, she said that every film production — and every union that works with film sets — will have their own practices. Basically, it means that everyone on the set — except the actors — will wear a mask. LaMotte said standard practice is to send a survey sheet out to the crew that will ask where they’ve been the past two weeks and whether they’ve traveled or come into contact with people who have been ill. Finally, everyone who comes to the set in the morning will have their temperature taken. And many of the different crew members will be outfitted in gloves and masks to perform their roles. “We make sure that the crew practices social distancing and washes hands when there’s no masks,” said LaMotte about the additional tasks on the list for production managers. “If we’re on an interior shoot, we’ll wipe down door knobs and light switches. We don’t wipe down the equipment; we don’t do heavy janitorial services, but we can recommend companies for that.” But that’s just the beginning of their worries before the shooting even starts. What if people test positive? How do you replace them? What if it’s the lead actor or the director that gets sick? Film budgets are notoriously inflexible, and a delay can cost a set tens of thousands of dollars. LaMotte said productions have budget 16 | INFLUENCE SUMMER 2020

Film Florida Executive Director John Lux said he is confident film production is “resilient” and will return to the Sunshine State. Photo: Jeff Daly lines for everything from parking and permitting to security and craft services. They have to account for casting and the cast, the equipment and the art department. There can be 300 lines in a budget, and now there will be a new one for COVID safety. “Every day. Every minute, every piece of footage is budgeted,” said LaMotte. “You have to think about catering and craft service. We used to do big buffet lines. We’d have food trucks. Now a lot of time it’s ordered before the shoot. You say what you want that morning and bring in boxed lunches. “I have a great craft services person who just outfitted her truck with hand sanitizer and a sink. No more can you reach into the M&M bowl. None of that. Everything has to be prepackaged. They have to stagger the calls for lunch. If they want to start shooting at 7, they probably have to have the crew on the clock at 5:30 or 6 just to get temperature taken, tested and get breakfast.” And still, it’s an imperfect science. For instance, how can a makeup artist stay safe? They may be wearing a mask, but they are in close proximity to people who can’t be wearing masks. Rory Lee, a local makeup artist, said she hasn’t been at work in a studio since March 10, and she and her peers went from having 25 to 30 bookings to nothing overnight. For Lee, that meant immediately trying to figure out how she’ll work on the other side of the pandemic. “I immediately went to shift and pivot into virtual learning mode,” she said. “I took four courses on different kinds of training and certifications to be COVID mitigation ready. I amped up my kit and the whole disinfecting, cleansing, sanitization and sterilization factor way above and beyond OSHA and CDC standards to

get ready for whenever we do actually go into full force production. “Me and my team, we’re totally prepared. But it’s a scary situation on the other hand. How can you socially distance six feet away when my position requires me to be six inches away?” Lee said she looks like “an armored guard” when she works now, because she wears two face masks and a face shield. Sometimes, she’ll have her hair pulled back and covered. She’ll wear an apron over her clothing. And everything she wears is sterilized and sanitized. She said her crew is ready to resume work whenever societal conditions allow work to be resumed. One trick of the trade, going forward, will be making sure the people in the makeup chair are on staggered timing to allow the makeup artists to sterilize and sanitize their work space. “We’re totally ready. We’re prepared and we’re trained. Now the question is how are we going to get the people here and the productions here?” said Lee. “We can do the jobs but we need the people, the productions and the advertising here. We need to have producers willing to book us.” And they need county governments to say it’s safe to work. Lee said that right now a smaller commercial advertising or TV/film shoot is doable provided people comply with guidelines. “I’ve always been one with my company and my team to be above and beyond with our sanitary procedures,” she said. “I want to protect myself and I want to protect other people. “The number one priority is making sure that person feels comfortable when they’re sitting in the chair. They’re creating their whole mindset and their countenance to go in front of the camera.”


CODING THE NEXT EPIC UNIVERSE Academics, research, and internships go hand-in-hand at Florida Poly. Our students intern at prestigious institutions across the country. Computer Science senior Celeste Ramirez interned at animation powerhouse Steamroller Studios in Eustis, Fl. While there, she worked alongside some of the nation’s leading animators to develop video games. The hands-on experience allowed her to blend her passion for the arts and her love of coding. Our students are making the world a better place. ||


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ravel is a priority in our family, and COVID-19 robbed us of several planned trips, including a spring Disney cruise and a summer adventure in France. It became apparent we had to figure something out to make up for all the disappointments delivered to our little girl. Because flying and staying in hotels were off the table, we decided a good-old American road trip would be our summer vacation. The itinerary included camping by lakes, rivers and waterfalls in six Southern states and — most important to me — a visit to Graceland. It’s something I always wanted to do with my late father. That said, we’re not into roughing it, and we do enjoy our little luxuries. So we made the 24-day trip in a 45-foot-long Tiffin Allegro Bus motorhome that included all our musthaves for a comfortable trip — a washer and dryer, a shower/ bathrooms, a full-size refrigerator and a dishwasher. In the spirit of glamping, we also discovered several items that made for a very comfortable and enjoyable trip.


Brava Oven – The most important kitchen gadget for any RV trip. It won’t heat up your RV, and it makes cooking quick and easy. Most importantly, it makes perfect s’mores. That comes in handy for the many nights your kids want s’mores but you would rather not build a campfire. It’s an oven, slow cooker, air fryer all in one and it makes perfect bacon. Starting at $995,

Fireside Outdoor Pop-Up Fire Pit – Not every campsite has a fire pit, but your kid is going to want to make a campfire anyways. Storage space is precious on an RV, so this pop-up fire pit is the perfect solution. $99.95,

Zero Breeze Mark 2 Keeping cool at campgrounds is always a priority. Trust me — this portable air conditioner is the key to surviving cooking dinner over a campfire when it’s 98 degrees outside. $1,399,

YETI Hopper Backflip Cooler Backpack – You need the perfect cooler to keep beverages/ food cold on the beach or a hike. $299.98,

SEVERINO Bug Zapper – One of the best solutions for mosquitos at your campsite. $39.99,

Mattel UNO Attack! – No camping trip is complete without card games. Uno Attack is so much better than Uno. Trust me. $19.99,

VIVOHOME Countertop Ice Cube Maker – Ice is always in short supply. You generally don’t have room in your freezer for a bag of ice, so a great ice machine that can make up to 26 pounds of ice in a day and doesn’t kill your counter space is key. This ice machine makes ice quickly, which is helpful when you forget to turn the machine back on after switching from generator power to electrical hook-up at the campsite. $139.99,



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See the Real Florida in These Documentary Films BY REBECCA RENNER


ven while we’re weathering a pandemic, Florida Man remains the butt of everyone’s jokes. It’s easy to get carried away in the hype, to see only the salacious and melodramatic, the headlines handpicked for mass-consumption from papers across the state, the appearances in scandalous shows

like “Tiger King” and the fictionalized drama of “The Assassination of Gianni Versace.” Although Florida is a hotbed for wild antics, the state is so much more than that. Get to know a deeper Florida through these documentaries about the state’s past and present.

“Pahokee” tells the true story of a small, tight-knit agricultural town on the shores of Lake Okeechobee.


directed by Randall Maclowry First up on this cinematic tour of the Sunshine State is PBS’s “The Swamp.” Inspired by journalist Michael Grunwald’s book “The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise,” this 2019 feature-length documentary tells the story of a conflict that shaped Florida history as we know it: humanity versus the Everglades. Back in the 19th century, when the metropolis of Miami was little more than a tropic outpost on the edge of nowhere, white settlers believed the vast expanse of the Everglades was little more than

a disease-riddled wasteland. But if they could clear the land and literally drain the swamp, they could all become rich—or so they thought. Their ill-conceived foray into taming that wild land brought unforeseen consequences that continue to impact Florida’s largest national park and the urban centers around it to this day. You can stream “The Swamp” for free on


directed by Lisa Bryant You already know his name. It’s synonymous with the abusive decadence of the rich and powerful. But what you might not know is

that Jeffrey Epstein committed many of his misdeeds in South Florida. From the seclusion of his Palm Beach mansion, Epstein organized an international sex-trafficking ring that targeted underaged girls. His neighbor, crime novelist James Patterson — who appears in and helped executive produce the docu-series — began to suspect something nefarious was happening behind the mansion’s closed doors. In this documentary, several of Epstein’s victims recount their experiences, exposing the details of Epstein’s crimes and the ladder of lies he climbed to the top. “Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich” was released earlier this year. You can watch it on Netflix. SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 21


directed by Christian Moran For many people in the United States and around the globe, when you ask them to name something in Florida, the odds are high that they’ll say Disney World first. Even

though the Mouse seems ubiquitous, there are still interesting things to learn about the history of the parks. For instance, if you didn’t grow up in Central Florida, you might not know that Walt Disney had a very specific vision of the future. That vision didn’t play out quite as he expected. All of our state’s

overly manicured gated communities are the bastard children of that dream. But way before that, Walt envisioned a utopia, a city of tomorrow that ran on electricity. It would be a place of convenience, where jobs could be just as peaceful as relaxation, and no one would have to battle traffic to get to work, because there would be no cars. Sadly, Walt died before he could implement his plans. Shadows of them live on even though his city of tomorrow never came to full fruition. Stream the entire documentary for free on YouTube or


directed by Robyn Symon Based on a book by the same name, this 2015 PBS documentary made its debut at a very appropriate venue, at the Art Deco Museum on South Beach. The movie showcases stories from Miami’s colorful history. Starting before the city’s official inception in 1915, rugged settlers braved this far shore of the Floridian peninsula. As time went on, and a burgeoning railroad system began to connect sunny South Florida with the rest of the country, winter vacationers from the Northeast started making their yearly pilgrimages to the tropics, and the city’s fame and lavish style took off. Next came the real estate speculators, and then the retirees. A military boom took off as troops trained on Miami Beach during World War II. Miami Beach was a magnet for people all over the world, and by the end of the opulent ‘80s, wealthy international investors had turned Miami Beach into a glamorous hot spot where the rich and famous could see and be seen. Stream the documentary on


The documentary “Pahokee” follows the lives and dreams of four high school seniors in this impoverished community of 6,000 people.


directed by Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas Some have called it “the worst town in Florida.” It’s a place where unemployment is high and opportunities are few, unless you become one of the tiny town’s more than a dozen homegrown NFL players. The town’s name is Pahokee. Situated on the southeast shore of Lake Okeechobee, Pahokee doesn’t seem to have much going for it. This documentary, which shares the town’s name, follows four Pahokee teens through their senior year of high school. Pahokee may be in the middle of nowhere, but it still has all of the typical high school drama and fun, from homecoming parades to prom. The thing that makes Pahokee different is the poverty, and the driving force behind this film is the characters’ will to survive and thrive. For some, that means leaving Pahokee behind. Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.

proudly Serving those who serve others. The Florida Sheriffs Association has been coordinating on the COVID-19 outbreak efforts from the beginning. Our staff at the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) remains the central point of contact for all sheriff emergency activities regarding COVID-19, as well as for state-level law enforcement coordination. SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 23

When COVID-19 wiped out the hand sanitizer supply, Florida distilleries answered the need by rosanne dunkelberger


ometimes, the worst of times bring out the best in people. Once COVID-19 burst into American’s collective conscience in March, panic buying ensued, and toilet paper became a precious and unavailable commodity. Not far behind was a wipeout of germ-killing hand sanitizers, as shelves emptied and the supply chain couldn’t meet the demand. One might ask: Where could one find a large supply of alcohol, the main ingredient in hand sanitizers? The answer: your friendly local distillery. Throughout Florida, spirit makers fired up their stills and cranked out hand sanitizers almost immediately after the need became apparent. Using a fouringredient recipe — alcohol, glycerine, hydrogen peroxide and purified water — supplied by the World Health Organization, distilleries were, and still continue, to meet a crucial need. “It was almost scary how many people were calling needing hand sanitizer,” recalled Matt Allen, founding partner of


Tampa’s Cerberus Distillery/Dark Door Spirits. “We provided probably over a dozen hospitals and 10 municipalities, cities and counties. We did well over 100 health care facilities, and not just hospitals. In one day we had over 100 emails from nursing homes requesting hand sanitizer. It was an incredibly desperate need.” Barry Butler, who owns Tarpon Springs Distillery with his wife, Lisa, was able to start making sanitizer the day it was approved because he had three barrels of alcohol onsite for a new product that was about to launch. “We just took that, put it back in the still, redistilled it up to the high proof and immediately turned it into hand sanitizer,” he said. Butler’s new spirit sacrificed for the greater good was called Claresso, which adds Cuban espresso into the mash, creating a drink that he said “almost tastes like an espresso martini.” “I will say that the (original) hand sanitizers smelled really good,” he said. The Claresso liquor has since been distilled,

bottled, launched and is “flying off the shelves.” “For the entire month of April, Mike Cotherman at Cotherman’s distillery in Dunedin … and I were the only suppliers of hand sanitizer to the entire Florida Department of Corrections,” Butler said. “They were buying 100 halfgallon jugs a week, sending guys in a prison truck over there to load it up every Friday. They couldn’t get it anywhere. “That’s crazy, an entire state agency. Think about all the COVID they had in the prisons. It could have been a lot worse if they hadn’t been able to access any hand sanitizer.” Butler added, “If I had any advice, I would say either the state or somebody needs to look at stockpiling this type of stuff for the future so they can get it out to state agencies and emergency responders.” April and May were “intense” for son-and-pop operation Rollins Distillery in Gulf Breeze, said Patrick Rollins (the son). With the alcohol they had on hand, the pair mixed up

and distributed hand sanitizer to first responders, hospitals and nursing homes, setting aside 2-ounce bottles to give for free to the general public. The hand sanitizer supply chain seemed to recover in June, but “now, as there has been another increase in our state — and a pretty significant one — of COVID cases we have seen another spike in demand, but nothing like it was before,” Rollins said. While Rollins sells gallon jugs for $50 to small businesses, they still have 4-ounce bottles available to the public at their tasting room. “Whatever bottles you need, you take and then donate what you deem is fair or what you can,” he explained. “Because we know that a lot of people are affected financially by the COVID and furloughing.” Toast Distillers has had a slightly different experience, according to a story in the Miami Herald.



“The amount of alcohol that’s in a gallon of hand sanitizer would support nine bottles of 90-proof liquor.” – BARRY BUTLER

The Miami-based company has doubled its staff to 30 and now, in addition to distilling the premium vodka Toast, it has created a partnership with the Cosmetic Corporation of America and Veritas Farms to sell its hand sanitizer products in retailers such as Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid. “When the whole pandemic happened, we saw a window of opportunity,” company founder and CEO Dieuveny “DJ” Jean Louis told the newspaper. Toast also donated hand sanitizer to Miami organizations including the Boys and Girls Club of Miami-Dade. Which is not to say that all distilleries are making a killing in the hand sanitizer biz. “Nobody’s getting rich off this. The amount of alcohol that’s in a gallon of hand sanitizer would support nine bottles of 90-proof liquor,” Butler said. “At our sales price, that’s basically right at $300 worth of liquor. And we’re selling it for $50. Allen concurred. “We sell it. We donate a lot of it as well. Being able to sell it has let us keep the lights on here and keep people employed,” he said. The distillers are hoping a focus on their good deeds might open the


minds of legislators and the public to their regulation plight, which keeps their businesses from growing and encouraging tourism. To a person, distillers feel their businesses operate at a disadvantage because of antiquated Florida laws and the lobbying power of alcohol distributors and large liquor retailers. Such restrictions include annual limits on the sale of their products to individuals, a ban on shipping their products and a prohibition on selling cocktails at their tasting rooms — they can only give away drinks for free. For the past few years, suggested legislation hasn’t made it onto the Senate floor. Amy Maguire, who lobbies for five Tampa Bay area distilleries, is hopeful the regulation situation will change for her clients in the near future, but the learning curve is a steep one. “We had great support in the House last year. We’re being told there could be a move afoot in the Senate to support this,” she said. “People just don’t understand. I would even tell you that’s true of legislators that they can’t believe that’s really a fact. But it’s the law.”



I scream, you scream, we all scream around COVID-19 by michael mayo



went for a blueberry shake at my neighborhood ice cream parlor the other day. And then I nearly duked it out with a guy who gave the owner grief – and then some – because he didn’t want to wear a mask in the takeout line. “Excuse me, but masks are required,” the owner said. The guy smirked. “You’re kidding,” he said. “We’re outside. I’m six feet away from anyone.” “No, I’m sorry but that’s the local regulation,” the owner said. “It’s stupid,” he said. “It’s a stupid rule.” “Well, we’ve got code enforcement coming around, and we’re just trying to keep everyone safe,” the owner said. “You know this whole thing is just dumb,” he said. He was loud and defiant. He didn’t seem to care that the owner wasn’t making the rules, just following them, and that she risked fines and closure if patrons didn’t comply. A big sign nearby said, “Masks mandatory in line.” With a dramatic flourish, the guy pulled a surgical mask from his pocket and put it on. “I’m glad you saw this,” the owner said to me. “Now you know what we have to go through.” Jaxson’s of Dania Beach is a place of national renown, a family-run, kid-friendly joint where servers wear candy-striper uniforms, license plates from every state line the wood-paneled walls and free popcorn is dispensed to patrons awaiting footlong hot dogs and sparkler-bedecked sundaes. It has been around since 1956. It has never been around anything like this. In the age of COVID-19, second-generation owner Linda

Udell Zakheim now faces challenges she never imagined. Jaxson’s quickly pivoted to takeout and delivery when its dining area was ordered shut for nine weeks this spring. When Jaxson’s reopened at 50% capacity in May, the restaurant continued to do things right. Staff members wear masks (Zakheim was wearing a plastic face shield the day I visited). Zakheim has removed and spaced tables in the two dining rooms. Her staffers constantly clean and disinfect equipment, tables and themselves. She has installed poles and painted lines 6 feet apart throughout the waiting areas outside. When big lines form during peak hours, staffers calmly remind patrons to socially distance. Yet the COVID-19 numbers in South Florida — and throughout Florida — keep climbing. And patrons such as “masks-are-stupid” guy aren’t helping. “As a restaurant owner, I can tell you that a HUGE portion of South Florida doesn’t give a s--- in terms of following mask mandates and social distancing,” Rob Menendez wrote on the “Let’s Eat, South Florida” Facebook group that I administer. He recently voluntarily closed the six-table dining room at his small Cuban restaurant in Pompano Beach, reverting to takeout and delivery only. “I’m over policing the issue and fighting with people,” Menendez said. “It’s not what I got into this business to do.” No matter one’s feelings about masks, the pandemic or its handling by your Mayor, County Commissioner, local health authorities, Governor or President, customers should understand that restaurants have the right to set conditions for patronage.

“I’m over policing the issue and fighting with people, it’s not what I got into this business to do.”

A social-disanced crowd lines up for ice cream at Jaxson’s in Danie Beach. Photo: Abby Hart


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No shoes, no shirt, no mask, no service. Pretty simple. Does anyone think restaurants and bars want this? You think they’re happy they’re the unfortunate middlemen in a epidemiological nightmare not of their choosing? You think they’re happy that government has the power to shutter them and cap capacity, and that even when allowed to fully open, many of their loyal customers are simply too scared to eat out? You think they’re happy that there’s no clear, coherent strategy to move forward, with a hodgepodge of restrictions and regulations that vary by city and county, leaving many customers confused and frustrated? Going to restaurants is what I used to do for a living. Now it seems all I do is mourn them. Every day, as COVID-19 rages on like a molly-popping South Beach clubgoer, it seems another longtime favorite restaurant or promising newcomer posts notices on doors and social media accounts regretfully informing patrons that they, too, have become victims of a pandemic that can’t be adequately contained. And most in the business say things will only get worse. When emergency loan and payroll protection program money dries up, when landlords become less forgiving and demand full rent and payback of skipped payments, after a business model built on 100% occupancy during prime weekend hours has been hollowed out, and if dining room shutdowns are ordered again, then something’s got to give. And I’m afraid that something is going to be most of our local, independent restaurants and bars. At Jaxson’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream that recent day, owner Zakheim tried being civil as Defiant Guy went back to his car. “Thank you, sir,” Zakheim said. He had already peeled off his mask. “I won’t be back,” he huffed. Then he came toward us, prattling on about the stupidity of the regulations. That’s when my native Brooklyn kicked in. And I snapped. “What’s your problem?” I said. “Oh, you’re going to be a tough guy now,” he said. He came within three feet of me, shouting into my masked face. I cursed him out. He squawked some more, then backed off and left. I apologized for losing my cool. Zakehim told me how she used to be a social worker before taking over the business her late father Monroe started and how she always tries to defuse situations. “I wanted to talk to him,” she said. “I bet he would have come back.” “Who needs him?” I thought. Then it hit me. At this point, restaurants need anyone and everyone. Michael Mayo spent 30 years at the South Florida Sun Sentinel as a columnist and staff writer, the last four as dining critic. He cofounded and administers the “Let’s Eat, South Florida” Facebook group. Follow him on Instagram @mikemayoeats and Twitter @ heymikemayo. Email him at mikmayoeats@


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uring the past decade, Debbie Guy has fashioned four food truck concepts to operate in the St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay area. There’s the Hoke Poke, The Fishin’ Chicken Food Truck, The Dude and His Food and Dochos Latin Bistro. “I like the flexibility,” she said. “If I feel like doing something special today, I can. It’s quality food that’s fast, not fast food.” For Guy, the food truck biz is undoubtedly a passion. “There are women who collect shoes,” she said. “I collect food trucks.” But the coronavirus pandemic has thrown Guy and other food truck operators a curve. “We’re surviving but I’m not sure what will happen if there’s a relapse in the fall,” said Guy. The sudden loss of business from closures of office and government buildings and the cancellations of festivals, parties and sporting events have had a devastating impact on many food truck operators. “We used to go to big events where we’d serve thousands,” said Anthony Garcia, owner of Miami-based King of Racks BBQ Food Truck & Catering, which worked primarily in the artsy Wynwood area. “We cater events and weddings and we had to give back thousands of dollars in deposits for May, June and July.”


Another disadvantage for food trucks — they’re generally owned by a solo operator or they’re a ma and pa business without a lot of financial wiggle room. They also have to cover operating costs including the price of propane regardless of how many sales they make. Food truck owners will tell you they operate on a slim profit margin. “When this first happened, I thought ‘oh my God,’ how are we going to do this,’” said Erick Moody, who owns Mae’s Mobile Kitchen in Tallahassee with his wife, Pam. “I sat down, thought about it and prayed.” Moody decided to “think outside the box” and, for one thing, partnered with City Walk Urban Mission and served about 3,500 meals to the homeless. He also began doing online orders and deliveries. “It’s about adapting and changing what you have to do,” said Moody, who offers a range of dishes including burgers, cheesesteaks, a vegan cheesesteak (made with jackfruit) and homey platters like smothered pork chops and meatloaf. “You have to be creative and innovative.” In Atlantic Beach near Jacksonville, food truck operators are getting a boost from an innovative program, the Socially Distant Food Truck Roundup, set up in a space named The Cultural Corridor.

The roundup takes place every Saturday and features eight food trucks, which rotate to offer more trucks the opportunity to be there. The concept was launched by Jeff Klotz, CEO of the Klotz Group of Companies, which owns the property, and Shane Corbin, City Manager of Atlantic Beach. “We had a lot of property and the chance to do something really good,” said Amanda Trotenberg, director of marketing and communication for the Klotz Group. With 60,000 square feet of open festival space, it seemed like the perfect place to be able to space out food trucks, which are 10 feet apart, she said. “For a while we’ve envisioned bringing food, dining, nightlife and entertainment to the space,” Klotz said. “Our efforts pivoted due to the current circumstances, but we knew we had the capacity to safely accommodate the community. We get the opportunity to support local small businesses that may be hurting otherwise.” The space also features a few artists — “they’re struggling, too,” said Trotenberg — and a kids’ area with games like hopscotch and Hula-Hoop. “Even when it’s busiest, it’s still very spread out,” Trotenberg said.

WHAT IS THE Future of food trucks? by rochelle koff

The gathering is already helping food truck owners navigate the new hospitality landscape. “One food truck owner told me she had made more in one day than she had since March,” Trotenberg said. Another participant, Logan Tysinger, said the Cultural Corridor has been a big help for his food truck, Balu’s Surf Shack. When shutdowns first occurred because of the coronavirus, “I almost lost everything,” Tysinger said. “Then food trucks were considered essential. Now the community has really been supporting us.” Tysinger, who attended the Culinary Institute of Virginia, creates a fun menu of “locally crafted beach food” — gourmet tacos, quesadillas, bowls and desserts like vegan coconut pineapple ice cream — on his food truck. His dream is to open a restaurant, but for now, despite the challenges, he considers a food truck “a good incubator for learning and giving a chef confidence to open a restaurant.” Miami’s Ms. Cheezious started out as a food truck but it became so popular that the owners opened up a small restaurant on Biscayne Boulevard while keeping their mobile kitchen for catering and events.

When the coronavirus hit, like so many trucks, “we had to cancel essentially every catering event we had booked through the summer,” said Brian Mullins, co-owner of Ms. Cheezious, which caters weddings, birthdays and visits large office buildings. Since the virus, the Ms. Cheezious food truck has helped serve “front line workers.” Food trucks can be a “decent way to make money if you can go where there are crowds of people, but there aren’t crowds of people anymore,” Mullins said. The devastating impact of the virus on the food truck and restaurant business “shows how fragile this sector of the economy is,” he said. Food truck owners agree it’s time to shift gears. Many have started using third party ordering or delivery apps or services. To help reach more people, Tysinger has started using an app called which allows the public to preorder food and pay for it online. The food will then be ready at the food truck window for pickup. “Delivery services can charge 30 percent,” said Tysinger. “But using this app, there’s no fee for food trucks and the customer only pays a $1 fee.” The service has taken off since the virus hit,” said founder John Kuhn. “It allows for

contactless transactions. People preorder, pay and they can pick up the food at the window or the truck can arrange for delivery.” Another app, Street Food Finder, also has online ordering that’s free to food trucks (they pay credit card processing fees) and customers pay .50 cents. Many trucks have begun circulating in residential neighborhoods to compensate for the loss of serving offices. “A lot of people are working with homeowners associations,” Guy said. Justo Cruz is taking that a step further. He owns a Tallahassee food truck called Tally Mac Shack (now also a restaurant). Cruz has partnered with the restaurant/bar Madison Social to launch The Tipsy Truck. The way it works: The Tipsy Truck team picks a neighborhood, residents preorder and the truck brings items like mac ‘n cheese and sausage, Crowler cocktails and booze slushies right to customers. “It’s been phenomenal,” Cruz said. “The new normal may be food trucks cooking in your driveway.” For Tysinger, the food truck business has its challenges but he still likes the freedom. “I’ve got two dogs and I’m a surfer,” he said. “I’m cool with it.”


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Briefings from the Rotunda


Mark Delegal and Josh Aubuchon launch public policy and government relations firm


op Florida lobbyists Mark Delegal and Josh Aubuchon have left the Holland & Knight governmental affairs team to form Delegal | Aubuchon Consulting. “This is the culmination of years of experiences,” Delegal said. “And this is the right time and the right business partner. Our client focus will remain strong, and our size will keep us agile and effective.” The two-man Delegal | Aubuchon team will offer public policy expertise and advocacy in agriculture, health care, local government, alcoholic beverages, insurance, regulated industries and general business issues. To help clients effectively navigate the Legislative Process, they will advocate for issues before all branches of state government. “I’m extremely proud to be going into business with Mark,” Aubuchon said. “We’ve worked together for 12 years and make a

great team. I am excited about what we’ll be able to accomplish in this new chapter.” Delegal was most recently a partner in Holland & Knight’s Tallahassee office, where he led the firm’s Florida Government Advocacy Team. With more than 27 years of experience, the University of Florida graduate obtained his law degree from Mercer University. He serves on the Florida Bar’s Governmental and Public Policy Advocacy Committee. Frequently listed on legal elite lists throughout the state and nation, Delegal was named 2015 “Tally Madness” Champion by and 2016 Insurance Lobbyist of the Year by INFLUENCE Magazine, and he has remained listed in the Chambers USA guide to America’s Leading Business Lawyers since 2006. Aubuchon previously served as senior counsel in the Tallahassee office of Holland

& Knight. He is a graduate of the University of Florida, where he went on to receive his master’s degree in political communication, earning his law degree from the Florida State University College of Law. Aubuchon is a member of the Board of Governors for the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Political Institute and the Florida Bar’s Governmental and Public Policy Advocacy Committee, and he is a Leadership Tallahassee Class 30 graduate. He is a frequent contributor to INFLUENCE on the subject of craft breweries — on both regulatory issues and their work product. The team will continue to be based near the Florida Capitol, with offices at 201 E. Park Ave., Suite 200B. For more information, visit



Briefings from the Rotunda

Bascom finds a perfect match with Kristen McDonald Grissom


dding Kristen McDonald Grissom to the team at Bascom Communications & Consulting was like “getting your first-round draft pick,” declared the boutique firm’s President Sarah Bascom. “Once it was decided that we wanted to add a senior consultant to the team, she was the first one on everybody’s mind,” said Bascom. “She was too great of a talent for us to not actively ask if she would like to be a part of our team.” The newlywed McDonald Grissom left Hill+Knowlton Strategies to join Bascom Communications on May 1 when the firm was working remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the transition, said her boss, has been no problem. “She’s a self-starter, go-getter (and) super intelligent. She already knows the political side. She knows the association side. She knows the corporate side. She’s very well rounded and just fit right in with the team immediately,” Bascom said. McDonald Grissom, 32, was a senior account manager at H+K, where she had worked since 2017 advising clients on pending bills, litigation messaging and crisis management, as well as helping clients embrace new ideas. From 2012 to 2016, McDonald Grissom managed communications for the Florida House Majority Office, serving under three different leaders. The Panama City native and Florida State graduate got out of the blocks fast, moving from a communications internship with Gov. Rick Scott to press secretary for the Republican Party of Florida in a year. McDonald Grissom deftly represented the party on a wide range of issues or throwing out lifelines when PolitiFact came calling. She served as the party’s spokesperson through the 2012 election cycle, including two televised primary debates and the Republican National Convention in Tampa. In 2014, McDonald Grissom was named to the list “30 under 30 Rising Stars in Florida Politics.” McDonald Grissom will put her experience to good use for Bascom, a firm that has managed war rooms and protected brands while advising some of Florida’s most influential trade associations, elected officials, CEOs and Fortune 100 executive teams.


Chloe Barr joins Allison Aubuchon Communications


allahassee-based public relations firm Allison Aubuchon Communications is growing with the addition of Chloe Barr, who began her new post as account manager in June. “It’s time for smart growth, said company President Allison Aubuchon, APR. “Chloe is passionate about public relations, poised and professional beyond her years and a joy to work with. Her support, energy and creativity will continue to add value to our purpose-driven client work.” Barr begins her full-time position after a year and a half as an account assistant while a student at Florida State University, where she double majored in political science and public relations. While at FSU, she was recognized by the Garnet and Gold Key leadership honor society for her leadership in the Florida Public Relations Association Student Chapter and the FSU Panhellenic community. She is now an active member of the FSU Alumni Association, the FPRA Capital Chapter and the Tallahassee Kappa Delta Alumnae Chapter. “Allison has been an incredible mentor to me throughout my college years and I look forward to continuing to grow this business with her,” Barr said. I am passionate about making a difference through my work. I have found that through working at Allison Aubuchon Communications, I am able to be a part of creating and influencing positive change.” Founded in 2016, the firm frequently works with clients focused on issue advocacy at the state and community level throughout the Southeast. The team specializes in strategic planning, media relations, messaging and coalition building. Current initiatives support health equity, civics education, consumer protection and a healthy insurance marketplace. To learn more, visit


Bascom Communications & Consulting, LLC has worked inside the halls of government, sat inside the war rooms of campaigns, and advised some of Florida's most innuential trade associations, leaders, CEOs and Fortune 500 executives. Our team’s passion for what we do drives our work product every day, translating into success for our clients. | @BascomLLC | | 217 S. Adams St., Tallahassee, FL 32301 SUMMER 2020 | 850.222.2140 INFLUENCE | 39


Briefings from the Rotunda

Trump taps Andres Malave There’s steady heat and pressure in directing communications for an organization like Americans for Prosperity-Florida, the biggest and most active state branch of the Koch brothers’ political action world. And then there’s the kind of heat and pressure doing the same on the front lines of a presidential campaign in the most contentious political battle America has seen in generations. “I’m right there,” observed Andres Malave. This summer, the longtime Florida Republican legislative aide, campaign operative, and policy communications director left his position of eight years with AFP-Florida to become one of the regional communication directors for President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. He’s also director for Hispanic media outreach for Trump’s campaign. Welcome to the front lines. Malave

MJH ad_influence mag.indd 1


and his wife have moved from Orlando to Washington, and he’s finding his Florida experiences were “invaluable.” “Every issue is on the table,” he said of his new role. “But I think I was well-prepared to address so many of them. At the network, we focused on criminal justice

reform, we focused on tax reform, we focused on a broad swath of economic issues. We focused on health care, we focused on education. And there’s such a dynamic parallel between where those issues intersect and where President Trump’s agenda is going and what he’s been able to achieve. For me the transition is really seamless.” Malave, 36, describes himself as a “Florida Mutt,” who immigrated to Miami with his parents from Venezuela when he was 10, and who went on to Florida State University. He then entered the political scene, first in Sarasota, then on various campaigns including Chris Christie’s successful 2009 New Jersey gubernatorial run. That was followed by eight years of more controlled heat and pressure with AFP. And now the Trump campaign, where there is no next year’s Session, there is no tomorrow, unless they win. It’s a sense of urgency that presses every single day. “This is such an important time for our country and I’m just excited to be able to help the President get reelected,” Malave said.

8/5/2019 6:02:54 PM

Briefings from the Rotunda


Amy Maguire wants a better plan Small businesses and nonprofit organizations are likely facing some of the toughest budgetary challenges in the throes of the coronavirus outbreak, but two Florida companies are starting an effort to help ease the financial strain. Be Better Strategies was recently launched to help small businesses and nonprofit organizations in Florida streamline costs. It was launched in the Tampa area by Shumaker Advisors and Stonehill Innovation public affairs advocacy and consultant groups, but the program is aimed at helping businesses and organizations across the state. “Sometimes there’s duplication in nonprofits,” said Amy Maguire, principal at Shumaker. “As COVID hit from March 15 and on… I was working [as a volunteer] at several food pop-up pantries in Tampa Bay, and I just was worried what was going to happen if these organizations got PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] money, what would happen when all that went away.” As she started to broaden her volunteer work, Maguire said, it became clear that there would likely be a need to help nonprofits and small businesses recover as the COVID-19 crisis deepened. Discussions began with Stonehill officials, and, Maguire said, there was agreement to offer consulting to nonprofits and small businesses to help them save money through revisions in basic considerations, such as office space, and other business and administrative overhauls. “For nonprofits that may be leasing or even own their facility, is there a place with the changing world where they don’t need all that space or they could join with partner organizations to share space,” Maguire said. Through the Be Better website, Shumaker and Stonehill can help those organizations revise operating plans and introduce their company leaders to other organizations that might have similar interests or business needs that could reduce overhead costs and enhance marketing and public relations.

Maguire said leadership teams from businesses and nonprofits have started to reach out, and momentum is starting to build in markets outside of Tampa. Some inquiries have started to come in from Jacksonville, too, she said. The project is initially aimed at Florida, but Maguire said they would like to take it nationwide. While the Be Better project is geared for small businesses and nonprofits, the services are not free. Maguire said compensation will be customized for each client, but the payoff will likely come through “shared savings.” That’s when the consultant groups get portions of the money saved from a revised operational plan. For example, if a company or nonprofit saved $100,000 per year because of the operational revisions, the consultant groups would get a percentage of those savings.



Briefings from the Rotunda

Leeann Krieg

Jordan Elsbury

Changes at Jax City Hall: Krieg, Elsbury take on new roles After leaving the position unfilled for months, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry selected his new Chief of Staff. A familiar face in City Hall during the Curry administration, Jordan Elsbury got the bump from his former position as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs on June 15. “Chief of Staff is an integral part of my administration,” Curry said when announcing the pick. “Jordan has proven his knowledge, leadership and experience in meeting the needs of Jacksonville citizens while advocating mayoral legislative priorities at the local, state and federal level. He has also helped build and support invaluable and crucial relationships with government officials and community leaders.” Elsbury steps into the job formerly held by Brian Hughes, who left the position last year to take over as Chief Administrative Officer. Curry further praised Elsbury as being cut from the same cloth as Hughes, adding that like his CAO, he is certain to “perform at the highest level for the people of our city.” Elsbury’s rising profile in Bold City politics is no surprise. In 2016, Florida Politics cited his prescience in betting on


the Curry campaign when it named him one of the “30-under-30 rising stars of Florida Politics.” The move was made more significant by his already notable rise through the ranks in Louisiana Republican politics. He had worked within the Republican Party of Louisiana and for Bill Cassidy’s successful campaign when he hitched his wagon to a mayoral campaign 500-plus miles from home. Upon Curry’s election — a nail-biter against incumbent Democrat Alvin Brown — the Southeastern Louisiana University graduate chose to stick around and work for the administration, initially as Director of Appointments before moving up the ladder to Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. Elsbury’s elevation to Chief of Staff paved the way for another title bump at City Hall. Leeann Krieg, formerly the Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, moved into the director role. The Jacksonville native boasts more than a decade of experience in local and state government, having worked as Executive Council Assistant to Group 4 At-Large Council Member Greg Anderson before joining the Intergovernmental Affairs team in 2018.

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Briefings from the Rotunda

Becker earns ‘go to’ rep in Tally

Yolanda Cash Jackson

Call it a knockout first quarter. One of the state’s top lobby-law firms sure is. Becker reported earning between $500,000 and $999,999 between Jan. 1 and March 31. That period covered the entirety of the 2020 Legislative Session, during which the firm picked up several new clients. The firm’s government law and lobbying team members had their hands in a variety of issues during the most recent Session. Led by Bernie Friedman, the 2020 roster included Alex Alamo, Ellyn Bogdanoff, Michael Casanover, Anna Cherubin, Jose Fuentes, Mike Grissom, Yolanda Cash Jackson, Nicholas Matthews, Shayla Mount and LaToya Sheals. The 2020 Session was a chance for Becker to expand its already diverse portfolio. New clients included the Florida Rural Economic Development Association, the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization, and the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). Florida Memorial University, Florida


Urban Medical and Educational Services, Stilltsville Investments and Ygrene Energy Fund Florida were among the firm’s largest clients during the first quarter, each paying $20,000 to $29,999 for Becker’s services. The firm also boasted a host of prestige clients during the first three months of the year, including AT&T, TECO Energy and Miami-Dade Public Schools. Becker continued its reputation as one of the go-to firms for local governments. The firm represented more than a dozen cities and counties, including Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami. Look for Becker to continue its growth in the months to come. In May, the firm announced it hired Derek Silver to serve as a government relations consultant in the state and local lobbying practice. A veteran of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign, Silver served as the deputy director of government relations in the Office of Insurance Regulation before joining Becker.



We don`t have clients we have partners


120 S. Monroe Street, Tallahassee, FL 32301 O: (850)727-7087 | F: (850)807-2502 WWW.RAMBACONSULTING.COM



Business on the top. Quarantine on the bottom. At the start of quarantine days in March, Tallahassee commercial photographers The Workmans cooked up a way to fill up — and cheer up — their days with a project they called #COVIDwear. Their task was to photograph — from head to toe — local professionals who had pivoted from in-person to virtual meetings. The result? Almost 160 shots of folks who are, as Alex Workman likes to say, “business on the top, quarantine on the bottom” featuring the suit jackets and makeup donned for the Zoom call — and PJ bottoms that the world can’t see. The clever scenarios they have captured feature props like smartphones, MacBooks,

PHOTOS: The Workmans

kids, sporting equipment and coffee, lots of coffee.




THE NEW LEXICON Parenting: The ability to figure out why the iPad isn’t working with the WiFi.



Behind every mask, a hero. Thank you, Florida’s health care workforce.





THE NEW LEXICON Germaphobe: Formerly, crazy people; now everyone except crazy people.



THE NEW LEXICON Covideo: A short video featuring a quarantined individual’s child doing something adorable and/or profane.



THE NEW LEXICON Someday, Noonday, Whoseday, Wednesday? Blursday: Days of the Week.


Advocacy. Strategic Counsel. Experienced Insight. We are a team of high-energy, results-driven lobbyists and advisors determined to help our clients succeed in today’s fast-changing governmental and political landscape. What’s different about us? As a boutique consulting firm, we take a true team approach to serving clients at the local, state and federal levels of government. When you engage our firm, you get all of us—from our principals to our consultants, all of our diverse experience, our deep relationships built for decades, and our complete dedication to your success. We’re proud of our long-time client relationships and our reputation for achieving results while maintaining the highest ethical and professional standards. Get to know us at


Ft. Lauderdale



Washington, DC


THE NEW LEXICON Pan-Demic: A potentially dangerous increase in the baking of bread in a quarantined home.



THE NEW LEXICON Flattening the curve: Trying to fit into your pants after three months of sweatpants.



THE NEW LEXICON Body mullet: What most people wear on Zoom calls: a nice top and, below the waist, underwear or less. (“Business up top, party down below.”)



THE NEW LEXICON Body Oommorphia: Finding your own image on a group video call so unappealing that you are unable to focus on anything else.



THE NEW LEXICON Quorumtine: The minimum number of family members necessary to decide what to watch on TV.



THE NEW LEXICON Going viral: No longer used.


Thank you, Doctors!

The FMA is proud to represent Florida’s heroic physicians, who are serving tirelessly at the epicenter of a global crisis to protect the public health. We thank them for their dedication to patients in times of uncertainty, joy, sorrow, and every moment in between.


Learn more at SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 61


PinPoint Results LLC is a government relations firm specializing in legislative and executive branch lobbying, procurement and consulting.

150 S. MONROE ST., SUITE 303 | TALLAHASSEE, FL 32301 | 850.445.0107


FOURTH FLOOR>FILES WILLING TO CHANGE, BUT HIS CORE VALUES STAY THE SAME Significant other? Children? Grand kids? Wife - Yael, Kids: Jordana, Howie, Sarena, Makayla, and a baby girl coming in August. In 25 words or less, explain what you do. I am managing director of The Converge Companies. I help amazing clients in New York, Miami and Tallahassee get their message out to the public and elected officials. Without using the words Democrat, Independent or Republican, conservative or liberal, describe your political persuasion. I believe in America, freedom and that government is here to help people while also staying out of people’s way and allow them to prosper. If you have one, what is your motto? It’s from Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” I have taken that approach my entire career as a political consultant. I’ve continuously reinvented myself not just to keep pace with the political marketplace, but to always try to be a step ahead. My personality hasn’t changed, or my core beliefs, but I’ve consistently brought forward new ideas and new technologies to stay relevant.

PHOTO: Abby Hart

During your career, have you had a favorite pro bono client? I’ve been thankful to be able to work on behalf of many pro bono clients. The ones that have been most dear to me have been Jewish organizations that I’ve been able to help receive security grants. My three favorite charities are United Hatzalah, Jewish Federation and Chabad of St. Maarten.

Professional accomplishment of which you are most proud? This past year I pushed my dad to retire from 22 years of working for the City of New York and to come work with me. In a matter of months we built Converge NY to represent some of the largest hospitals and universities in New York state. Lobbyists are often accused of wearing Gucci loafers; do you own a pair of Gucci loafers? If not, why not? I don’t. I design and custom make my own shoes. Who is your favorite Florida Capitol Press Corps reporter and why? Peter Schorsch. How can you not love Peter! Other than Florida, your reading list includes … Being that my work spans New York, New Jersey and Miami, I read the New York Post, New York Times, Miami Herald and Bergen Record cover to cover daily. What swear word do you use most often? I don’t swear much. What is your most treasured possession? My family The best hotel in Florida is … Any Ritz Carlton, but I love the one in Naples. You’ve just learned you will be hosting a morning talk show about Florida politics. Who are the first four guests you’d invite to appear? David Johnson, Eric Johnson, Anthony Pedicini, Cesar Fernandez Favorite movie? “National Treasure”

Any last-day-of-Session traditions? A cigar at the Governors Club.

When you pig out, what do you eat? Sushi

What are you most looking forward to during the 2021 Legislative Session? Hopefully being able to go back to the normal routine of Tallahassee. Getting on a plane every week!

If you could have dinner with a historical figure no longer living, who would it be? Alexander Hamilton

Elnatan Rudolph

If you could have another lobbyist’s client list, it would be … José Félix Díaz just so I can be him for a day.



In 25 words or less, explain what you do. I’m a communicator who advocates for our clients and loves to share the good work they do here in Florida. Without using the words Democrat, Independent or Republican, conservative or liberal, describe your political persuasion. Born and raised in Florida, I’m the daughter of immigrants. I believe in freedom, fairness and equality and have seen firsthand the vital role America plays in the world. If you have one, what is your motto? “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel!” — Maya Angelou During your career, have you had a favorite pro bono client? In my role, I’m fortunate to advocate for several great causes. One that I am particularly proud of helps children with neurodiversities reach their highest potential and achieve independence. Three favorite charities. The Humane Society, because one of my greatest passions is rescuing dogs and cats; Breakthrough Miami, for all the opportunities they provide underrepresented children; and Women of Tomorrow, for the great work they do to motivate and empower young girls. Any last-day-of-Session traditions? Work as long as it takes to wrap up all our clients’ issues, then hop on the first overpriced flight back to Miami to enjoy a bottle of California Cab with good friends and family. What are you most looking forward to during the 2021 Legislative Session? I’m excited to see how the lessons and experiences we’re learning through these unprecedented times are going to shape policy and make Florida an even greater state than she already is. If you could have another lobbyist’s client list, it would be… I think we already have the best clients in the world, but we’re always looking to grow our CP family. Professional accomplishment of which you are most proud? I have to say joining the Corcoran Partners team and becoming part of the family. Lobbyists are often accused of wearing Gucci loafers; do you own a pair of Gucci loafers? If not, why not? Stereotype! Luckily, I don’t own loafers, only heels!


Who is your favorite Florida Capitol Press Corps reporter and why? Is this a trick question? POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon for his wit, skills and access to facts. Other than, your reading list includes… FLAPOL is a one-stop-shop for all the top headlines. What swear word do you use most often? Swear word? I never swear… That is… #&*!... what I mean to say is…next question, please. What is your most treasured possession? Old photo albums for the memories of times past that I can re-experience with the flip of each page. The best hotel in Florida is… The fabulous Fontainebleau, of course! I worked for Jeff Soffer for many years before I came to Corcoran Partners, so I’m hugely partial to “The Bleau” and to Turnberry Resort where my husband, Jonathan, and I got married on 11/11/11. You’ve just learned you will be hosting a morning talk show about Florida politics. Who are the first four guests you’d invite to appear? Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, the first Latina to serve as Florida’s lieutenant governor, also from my hometown; First Lady Casey DeSantis, a mentor and accomplished journalist with intelligence, style and grace; Sen. Lauren Book, for her fights against sexual abuse and her continued passion to protect our children; and Renatha Francis, an immigrant who continues to fight for justice and equality as the newly appointed Justice of the Supreme Court of Florida. A diverse group of highly accomplished women who are making a difference and setting an example that empowers the leaders of tomorrow. Favorite movie. One of my fondest childhood memories was watching “The Sound of Music” with my mom, though “Pippi Longstocking” is also at the top of the list!

Andrea Tovar

When you pig out, what do you eat? Sushi, Carvel ice cream cake and a good bottle of California Cab… all in one sitting! If you could have dinner with a historical figure no longer living, who would it be? Policarpa Salavarrieta is considered a heroine of the independence of Colombia. Like Simon Bolivar, Policarpa fought for Colombian independence, and till this day, we celebrate the Day of the Colombian Woman on the anniversary of her death.


PHOTO: Abby Hart

Significant other? Children? Grand kids? I’m married and a mother of two fur babies: a schnauzer and a cat.

WE R EPRESEN T the more than 1.4 million workers who make up Florida’s $111.7 billion hospitality industry.

#JoinFRLA 850-224-2250



ACCOUNTABLE CFO Jimmy Patronis and his office are working to identify vendors in Florida who are majority owned or controlled by the Communist Party of China as a means to offset the costs incurred to the state by the COVID-19 pandemic. Patronis surveyed over 95,000 vendors registered with the state, many of whom are positioned to receive taxpayer money, requesting for vendors to self identify whether they are majority-owned by the Communist Party of China. The Department of Financial Services has received more than 17,000 responses to his request. The survey was launched after Patronis wrote a letter to China’s ambassador to the U.S. demanding restitution for their handling of COVID-19.

95,000 SURVEYED When the letter went unanswered, Patronis followed through on his commitment to identify those majorityowned by the Communist Party of China. The information collected by the survey will be used should Florida need to withhold payments to these businesses as federal leaders sort out potential financial impacts caused by China’s negligence. This is an important step in holding China accountable for covering up the severity of the virus, and for their incompetent and fraudulent actions in response to the early outbreak of COVID-19. Their irresponsibility has caused untold human suffering and economic harm to the State of Florida––lives could have been saved had their government been transparent.

CFO Patronis will continue his fight until restitution is paid by the Communist Party of China. Learn more by visiting or following CFO Jimmy Patronis on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

@JimmyPatronis @JimmyPatronis @JPatronis


FOURTH FLOOR>FILES In 25 words or less, explain what you do. As a government relations professional focused on technology, I connect the dots between elected officials, governmental bodies and stakeholders to create the appropriate partnerships for community advancement. Without using the words Democrat, Independent or Republican, conservative or liberal, describe your political persuasion. As a fifth-generation Floridian, I am passionate about ensuring that the least, the left out, and the forgotten among us in this great state have more-than-adequate funding and services to fulfill their God-given potential; that government ensures all men and women are granted full and equal treatment under the law. When you pig out, what do you eat? Asian Food, anything at Lil Greenhouse Grill in Miami’s Overtown, Apalachicola fried oysters and Table 23 grouper bites, and my homemade “2020 Quarantine Bowl.” Significant other? Children? Grand kids? Two kids: Adrianna, a senior neuroscience major at Duke University, and Alan Louis, an 11th-grader and future ESPN sports journalist.

Who is your favorite Florida Capitol Press Corps reporter and why? Wow, that’s a hard one, it was for a very long time Bill Cotterell (the Capitol Curmudgeon), but I guess I think that it’s a toss-up between Mary Ellen Klas and, I can’t believe I am saying this, Gary Fineout. What swear word do you use most often? Shit What is your most treasured possession? My mother’s love (I am a true mama’s boy); my children; my Highwaymen paintings. The best hotel in Florida is … The Breakers

If you have one, what is your motto? Difficult takes a day; impossible takes a week!

Favorite movie. “Coming to America” and “Love Jones.”

During your career, have you had a favorite pro bono client? Children’s Home Society of Florida

If you could have dinner with a historical figure no longer living, who would it be? Not historical to many of your readers, but nonetheless, historical to me, would be my big brother Randy Williams, who passed away at the age of 22 in 1985 in Hurricane Kate while trying to help a stranded pedestrian outside of Thomasville, Georgia. He was killed when a tornado struck the area he was in. I was only 10 at the time, but God made it possible for me to see him one last time on the day he passed away. I remember the last thing he gave me was a glass bottle of CocaCola, and he said, “I will see you tomorrow.” I never saw him again! There were so many life lessons I wish I could have learned from him, but I think he gave me the greatest one on his last day on this Earth, “Be of service to your neighbor.” I love you Randy!

Three favorite charities. Florida A&M University Foundation, Children’s Home Society of Florida, Second Harvest of the Big Bend. Honorable Mention: Seminole Hard Rock BlackJack Table Charity Any last-day-of-Session traditions? A celebratory toast with my colleagues from the Meenan Law Firm, somewhere downtown. What are you most looking forward to during the 2021 Legislative Session? Not getting COVID-19, while at the same time watching how Florida’s leaders will grapple with one the most challenging times our world has ever faced. This is when real leadership matters, and when the adults in the room have to step to the forefront and make tough but reasoned decisions on behalf of all of us. PHOTO: The Workmans

resources he has given me. Professional accomplishment of which you are most proud? Being the author of the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame Bill with Sen. Tony Hill; authoring the Florida Online Voter Registration Bill with now Senate Majority Leader Kathleen Passidomo; serving as a 2012 member of the Electoral College for the reelection of President Barack Obama.

If you could have another lobbyist’s client list, it would be … Ronnie Book with all of Jeff Sharkey’s tech clients, but actually, I am happy with what God has blessed me with. I want to make the best use of the talents/

Alan Williams


BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS DEVELOPING SOLUTIONS ACHIEVING RESULTS RSA is a full service consulting firm with expertise in areas of government & community affairs, strategic planning, fundraising & event planning, as well as media & public relations. Visit


{ insiders’ ADVICE ron sachs says the goal is to protect, engage and keep employees while still serving clients and customers.

Communications are key for employers to meet coronavirus challenges


very sector of Florida is drastically disrupted by the threat of the coronavirus pandemic. New ways to function are boosted by the vital communications tools of nearly any public, private or nonprofit sector organization. Virtue today is defined by isolated virtual working space. So long as a team has computers, phones and internet access, organizations can be effective and efficient. Technology alone will not ensure success. Communications is key to not just surviving, but even thriving in this darkest era with high stakes, no playbook and no end in sight. It requires steady-handed leadership, good instincts, strong controls, and a healthy dose of humanity. This crisis will leave us all transformed. Those who adapt and innovate could emerge from these uncharted waters stronger and more resilient – and poised for higher levels of achievement. Working from home requires new work patterns, policies, modes of communication and unprecedented flexibility. Resilient organizations have figured out how to still be highly productive in this difficult new reality. Old-school leaders can learn that they don’t need to see someone, face-to-face, to ensure that they’re working productively. But it’s still necessary to ensure the productivity and work product among all staff and teams. In recent years, many of us have reconfigured our offices to allow for greater collaboration. Now, in a virtual office, we’ll have to depend so much more on technology to unite us, keep us connect-

ed and effective, leveraging collaboration tools like Google Docs, Slack, Zoom and others. Employees unaccustomed to working from home may benefit from these tips from a WFH veteran: Set a start and end time for the workday and create boundaries; don’t spend the day mixing in personal tasks. Get physically ready to shift into work mode – don’t just shuffle over to the screen in your fuzzy slippers. Have a designated workspace that’s quiet and conducive to work. It’s the daily responsibility of leaders to rally the team, lighten the mood and inject some fun and constant support into a dark and scary time. Stay positive and help your team members find the blessings and the humor in every day. Be a trusted source of information. In an extended crisis like this, team members and clients will take their cues from the style and substance of the C suite execs. Don’t radiate stress. Provide regular updates, dispel rumors and misinformation, and if there’s bad news, make sure you’re the one to share it. Keep calm – and trust that providing the facts and truth will always be the right path to follow. It’s vital to do a regular temperature check on your team’s mood, and connect people to counseling, financial advice and other resources as needed. Help solve problems – more than ever. It’s also a great time to show a little extra love, whether it’s providing staff vouchers for takeout meals or helping your team access things in short supply. We’re all in this together. By taking care of our employees, our customers and our community, we can strengthen bonds that will never be shaken. This challenging, extended moment in our lives should melt away any differences of politics, race, gender, geography, religion or other silos that regularly divide us. Whatever it costs to get through this time together is not nearly as important as what it saves: the ability to weather this historic invisible storm and come out from it united, stronger, prepared for anything that follows. SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 69


PHOTO: The Workmans

God, I don’t want “ Dear to die from this ... ”


What it’s like to have COVID-19 by christian minor as told to renzo downey


hristian Minor was 2 miles into his routine run when a stabbing pain in his back was too much to bear. The former Division I runner, who still put in 50 or 60 miles on the road each week, felt disoriented. And his lower back felt as if knives were sinking into his spine. After measuring a nearly 103-degree fever, Minor, Executive Director of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association, wound up battling COVID-19 for two weeks in June. In that time, his symptoms came and went before flaring up again one night, sending him to the emergency room. “Recovery-wise, I would say in just two weeks, it probably set me back … a year’s worth of training,” he said. “Just even starting to run again, my lungs — even right now, almost a month after — still burn when I run.” But the unexpected symptom of COVID-19 for Minor, who considers himself in top cardiovascular shape, was the anxiety and fear of the unknown. For a disease that has rocked the world through most of 2020, medical experts know little about its symptoms and lasting effects. The list of symptoms go far beyond the usual respiratory disease, with reported long-lasting effects include blood clotting and brain fog. Even with contact tracing, it’s impossible to know how a person caught the virus. The recovery rate is likely high, particularly for those under the age of 65, but it’s still an unknown. And for someone who lives alone, the fear and

anxiety bring out a person’s vulnerabilities at a time when people are already isolated, Minor said. “It’s like one of the first times in my life I was lying in bed and I was like, ‘Dear God, I don’t want to die from this,’ ” Minor said. “Of all the dumb things I’ve done in my life, I don’t want COVID to be the one that does me in.” He had worn a mask, he had only ventured out in public to go to the grocery store, but he still contracted the virus somewhere along the way. Fears of the assumptions people would make about how reckless he was, or “COVID-shaming,” compounded the physical and psychological isolation. “I think one of the big things, too, that we’ve seen is that people are really afraid to even address or talk to people about it because they feel like they’re going to be shamed. People feel as if they’ve done something wrong, like … you were reckless, and that’s not the case,” Minor said. He was afraid to share his diagnosis publicly at first, but he had a confidant in Democratic state Rep. Shevrin Jones, the first lawmaker to publicly acknowledge testing positive for the virus in Florida. Jones became his support network, Minor said. And while he feels safe to go out for dinner now, he’ll only enjoy time in public about a month or a month and a half longer, ahead of the presumed expiration date of COVID-19 antibodies. “I guess I’m even more aware of my surroundings since then because I’ve experienced it and I know the effects that it can have,” he said. “... I don’t want others to experience what I had to go through.”



Florida Director of Emergency Management Jared Moskowitz is a rare figure in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration. While the administration suffers unrelenting criticism for what many, particularly Democrats, see as a weak response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Moskowitz has worked diligently, often in the shadows. He has avoided ire from either side of the aisle. Perhaps it’s his unwavering dedication, which has kept him away from his family for days on end or his presence as a balancing force as a Democrat in a Republican administration. Whatever the case, Moskowitz found himself at the center of a pandemic at a time when his attention would have been largely on preparing for hurricane season. Now, he faces both.

PHOTO: Marybeth Tyson


His Sho

Jared Moskowitz


by jacob ogles SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 73



ocial distancing and closed schools delivered challenges this year to most Florida families. Classes over Zoom, balancing work schedules with lesson times. Finding something to do with the kids in the afternoon. But while many parents complained about spending too much of the spring with children running around the house during the workday, Jared Moskowitz suffered the opposite problem. Since the first positive test for COVID-19 on March 1, the Director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management spent his days managing resources and visiting high risk environments like emergency rooms and field hospitals. When Moskowitz wasn’t working, he quarantined himself from the outside world. And while his schoolage children — like so many around Florida — found themselves stuck in their homes, Moskowitz found himself hundreds of miles away. “It’s been a personal struggle for me, being away from my kids for so long,” he recounted. “My wife is basically dealing with this pandemic on her own back home, and I’m trying to do everything I can from being away.” It has been rare to even see his sons Sam and Max, and at first he had to be careful about giving them hugs. There was still too little known about the threat posed by the novel coronavirus. The idea of Moskowitz keeping his children two yards away for social distancing purposes seems more cruel after hearing so many associates describe him as a devoted family man. “I’ve gotten to see them now a little bit in the last couple of weeks, but in the beginning, I didn’t see them for a couple of months,” Moskowitz said. “I didn’t sleep in my bed one night.” But through it all, Moskowitz remained steadfast among the state’s leaders in the COVID-19 response, a rare figure suffering few arrows from the left or right. Now, even as he undertakes the unenviable role of reminding everybody it’s hurricane season and the virus is still spreading, he elicits enthusiastic respect and support. 74 | INFLUENCE SUMMER 2020

Jared Moskowitz (left) stands by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (center) and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Marie Núñez at a 2019 press conference discussing Hurricane Dorian. It was a tall task, but one that would seem only a distant memory months later as hurricane season threatened in the middle of a pandemic.

most well spoken but probably one of the most brilliant people I know.” “Jared is not only one of the


Maybe it’s because of the ability he has already shown to aid a traumatized community after the Parkland shooting. Or it’s nothing more complicated than a practical ability to work with both sides developed from his days as a state lawmaker. “Jared is not only one of the most well spoken but probably one of the most brilliant people I know,” Rep. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat, said. “When you meet people with Jared’s level of competency, you realize they rise quickly,” said U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz,

a Panhandle Republican. It’s how Moskowitz has emerged as one of the most high-profile members of the young administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a man he didn’t vote for in the last election and openly campaigned against. And many see him as the most likely to rise to bigger and better things in government, regardless of the political forecast. Moskowitz didn’t become good at disaster recovery by accident. Before his years of public service, Moskowitz

“When you meet people

competency, you realize they rise quickly.” – U.S. REP. MATT GAETZ

found himself on the road a lot traveling with AshBritt Environmental to regions struck by hurricanes, helping to clean up debris and bring utilities back online for stranded families. While a private sector job that reportedly pays much better than heading up a state government agency, it’s a line of work decidedly focused on helping people. Moskowitz felt the call to public service at a young age, first elected at 25 to the Parkland City Commission. A graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he found politics a powerful calling and success came easy. After a few years holding local office, Moskowitz ran for the Florida Legislature. Even as a member of the minority party, he garnered attention around the Capitol. Jared Rosenstein, a veteran House aide looking for a new job at that time, recalls meeting Moskowitz shortly after the Democrat’s arrival in the House and being struck immediately by the personality. While Rosenstein had worked exclusively for Republicans like Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff and Rep. Holly Raschein, he decided to interview with Moskowitz. He ended up taking the job and has since followed Moskowitz into the Emergency Management Division. “I was told by some people in Tallahassee that it would be the end of my political career in a Republican town,” Rosenstein said. “But it has turned out to be quite an adventure.” What gripped the aide was the fact Moskowitz always worked with grit and purpose. So many legislators, regardless of party affiliation, can treat trips to Tallahassee like social engagements, prioritizing fraternization over policy achievement. “I was impressed with how sharp and witty and no-nonsense he was right like that,” Rosenstein recalled. “He said ‘We go up to Tallahassee for 60 days and we leave our families behind, we leave our jobs behind. I’m not going to go up there and waste my time. So if you work for me, we’re going to get a lot of stuff

with Jared’s level of

done. If you work for me, you are going to work really, really hard.’ That just struck me. OK, he wants to go up there and hustle.” And hustle they did. Moskowitz developed working relationships in his own caucus and across the aisle. For Jones, who met Moskowitz at candidate forums in Broward County but developed a stronger connection when the two became deskmates on the House floor, his colleague brought a stunning level of energy. “He jokes about a lot, but he takes the job seriously,” Jones said. An almost intuitive sense of diplomacy set Moskowitz apart as a lawmaker. The ability to make fast friends but always have a goal in my mind with professional interactions turned Moskowitz as a freshman lawmaker into a standout in his class. Stridently progressive but always focused on finding common ground, he could casually float between philosophical peers and foes all the while making progress to win them over.

It struck Gaetz, who chaired the Finance and Tax Committee in 2014 when Moskowitz served as the ranking Democrat. “When you are working together on issues in the trenches, you can gain a different level of respect working across the aisle than you do working with your own team,” Gaetz said. That proved the case with Moskowitz. While the two came in representing different philosophies, both also boasted a certain independent streak that set them apart within their caucuses. During an era when the House found itself at philosophical war with an incentives-loving Gov. Rick Scott, Gaetz and Moskowitz worked handin-hand on a Herculean task: creating a corporate tax package that would garner enough support among Republicans and Democrats and find a way to a receptive Governor’s desk. “This was a billion-dollar tax cut and he voted for it and whipped enough Democrats to vote for it,” Gaetz said.

PHOTO: The Workmans



SO WAS HER CHOICE OF HOSPITAL. Tonya Cajuste needed a new heart. And kidney. After emergency surgery at her local Palm Beach hospital, doctors knew she needed a double transplant to save her life. But no hospital would take her. Except TGH. As one of the busiest and best transplant centers in the nation, TGH has performed over 10,000 transplants—with shorter wait times and world-class outcomes. Like Tonya’s.

Read Tonya’s story at


Moreover, Moskowitz, by playing such a central role, was able to contribute substantially to the final contents of the bill. Jones recalled even he was convinced to vote for the bill after starting out a skeptic. “He brought me along on that, because Jared is a negotiator,” Jones said. “He knows how to choose his words.” That said, politics is a game where friends can turn to foes in short order. Gaetz recalled just as vividly watching Moskowitz in a few minutes on the House floor rhetorically dismantle a plan to raise state workers’ wages, but by an amount lower than increased health care costs. “It was a devastating rebuke,” Gaetz recalls. But such work drew its own level of respect. And the relationships developed on both sides of the aisle would prove invaluable leading up to the greatest challenge in Moskowitz’s legislative career, a moment he never desired, a challenge

that even a professional disaster response manager could only anticipate in his worst nightmares. On Valentine’s Day of 2018, Moskowitz was in Tallahassee wading the morass of wonky policy debates that come in the weeks before the end of Session. “We were debating the tourist development tax on the floor of the House when my phone rang,” Moskowitz recalled, a topic so mundane it would be forgotten but for its outrageous contrast to what he would soon hear. His wife, Leah, called after seeing reports on the news of shots fired at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, his alma mater located blocks from his district office. The Representative stepped away from the fiscal disputes to call staff in Parkland. Rosenstein, working in the district that day, quickly walked the short distance to the campus. “I remember seeing on the corner they were triaging kids,” the aide said. “I showed up when law enforcement

Jared Moskowitz (second from the left) meets with stakeholders to discuss the response Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

presence was just getting heavy. I just thought, ‘Oh my god, this is real.’” Moskowitz caught the next flight from Tallahassee home and turned his full attention to the unfolding situation. Ultimately, 17 people, 14 of them students, were killed in what was one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. He counseled families that lost children and spoke to victims recovering from the attack. “I cared about gun violence but I never did think I would go back to my old high school and see the images that I would see,” Moskowitz said. “You couldn’t even picture it if you weren’t there. Bullet holes in the windows of the classroom. Papers and backpacks scattered all over the parking lot. And then going to funeral after funeral, driving past funerals to attend other funerals. “Anyone who goes through that experience and comes out the same way is not human. We’ve all come out differently.” The gunman in the Parkland shooting didn’t evade police custody and was caught the day of the shooting. But Moskowitz saw immediately this event’s fallout couldn’t end with bringing a single person to justice. Moskowitz set about on the defining task of his legislative career, drafting a school safety bill and the most meaningful set of gun reforms to pass in the Florida Legislature in decades. Those relationships on both sides of the aisle served him well in this critical moment. Moskowitz called then-Speaker Richard Corocoran and insisted he visit the scene of the shooting. “I still remember [Corcoran] peered down the hallway of the first floor, and he looked at the windows shot outside,” Moskowitz said. “He looked at me and said, you know, we are going to fix it. And everybody who went to the school felt the same way, that we had to fix it.” Moskowitz set about doing just that in Tallahassee, but found himself the only Democrat in the room most of the time. Any package that would pass in the conservative House needed to be developed in concert with Republican leadership. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat whose own community suffered through the Pulse shooting in 2016, found himself speaking with Moskowitz late at night. “It made me sleep a little easier SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 77


“He is an

effective legislator.

No other Democrat commands the level of

respect from Republicans like Jared does without being a sellout, and he’s no sellout....” – REP. CARLOS GUILLERMO SMITH knowing he had a seat at the table,” Smith said. “He is an effective legislator. No other Democrat commands the level of respect from Republicans like Jared does without being a sellout, and he’s no sellout. But the process of putting that bill together was very behind-thescenes. Every Democrat was shut out of conversations with Republicans, except for Jared. “I’ll tell you something, He helped craft all the good parts of that legislation.” The final product was something that drew a lawsuit from the National Rifle Association. The bill imposed a threeday waiting period on the sale of all firearms, including semi-automatic rifles like the one used in the shooting. It raised the minimum age to purchase a gun in Florida from 18 to 21, and it banned the sale of bump stocks, devices that effectively turn a semi-automatic weapon into a fully automatic shooting machine. Millions were set aside for renovations at the high school as part of the massive legislative package. But the bill also included provisions that ultimately splintered the Democratic caucus, something that stunned Moskowitz. There was a guardian program allowing for more personnel on school campuses to carry firearms, a move many Democrats feared would lead to more shootings rather than defending against them. Smith labeled the program a poison pill. Jones, who describes Moskowitz as a brother, pulled him aside and said he couldn’t go along with this legislation. When the Democratic caucus raised the prospect of taking a position against the 78 | INFLUENCE SUMMER 2020

bill, Moskowitz found himself in disbelief. But he wouldn’t change his approach. If he sponsored a bill to Democrats’ liking, it likely wouldn’t get off the House floor “I wanted to go slightly farther than we went. But what was clear to me very early on is I needed to push the envelope as far as I could push it, push it, push it to the absolute line because I knew the bill had to be bipartisan. I could not pass that bill otherwise,” he said. “The Democrats didn’t have the numbers in either chamber. This had to be a Republican-led effort. And the idea that we were going to pass what became the most sweeping gun reform in two decades, that we were going to roll Marion Hammer, the foremost NRA lobbyist in the country and a former NRA president, we were going to roll her A-plus-rated NRA members. That’s a tall order. We didn’t get the assault weapons ban. I knew ultimately we weren’t going to get everything we wanted.” While Smith couldn’t ultimately support the final product, he doesn’t question Moskowitz carrying the bill. Smith went to Pulse survivors and asked their thoughts, and the majority said the guardian program went too far. But the families of those killed in Parkland unanimously backed the gun reform package. And Smith balked when discussion arose about the caucus calling on all members to vote no. “It was not appropriate for the caucus to tell Rep. Moskowitz and Rep. (Kristin) Jacobs, may she rest in peace, and others from the area what to do,” Smith said. “Their community was rallying behind this legislation. Representa-

tive democracy is what we are supposed to be doing.” Moskowitz still values that support, even if he couldn’t win Smith’s vote. “He told me I was where you are now after Pulse and I didn’t get the opportunity to get a bill,” Moskowitz said. “He said I’m not going to vote to lock you down.” Ultimately, the bill passed and was signed by Scott. The guardian program has since been expanded to allow teachers to carry firearms. But Moskowitz feels the legislation, indeed, made safer school environments. And while he says he didn’t like the guardian program any more than his Democratic colleagues, it was a necessary provision to pass the gun reforms. And it’s not as if the dire predictions of teachers shooting students and students stealing guns have come to pass. At least not yet. The 2018 election played out in predictable fashion, though it certainly didn’t provide the outcome Moskowitz initially hoped for in the Governor’s race. With a blue wave helping Democrats nationwide take control of the U.S. House — including two flipped seats in Florida — the party hoped a public angry at President Donald Trump would rebel and install a Democrat as Florida’s top official for the first time this century. “I was obviously an Andrew Gillum supporter,” Moskowitz said, referencing the Democratic nominee for Governor. “I did fundraisers for Andrew Gillum during the campaign.” Democrats came within 33,000 votes of breaking a decades-long grip Republicans held on the Governor’s Mansion, close enough to force a machine recount. But as the dust settled, Moskowitz prepared to return to Tallahassee as a member of the minority caucus in the House dealing once more with a Republican Governor, a man he had never met. But then he received an unexpected phone call from Gaetz. The Panhandle Congressman, now a staple of cable news programming, headed Gov.-elect DeSantis’ transition team. Considering the incoming Governor’s tiny margin of victory, it made sense to include Democrats in the administration, at least in apolitical positions. Emergency management fit that bill, and Gaetz arranged a meeting in Bro-

ward County between his former colleague and the Governor-elect. “Instantly the two of them just clicked,” Gaetz said. “I knew within five minutes he would be the Governor’s choice.” On Dec. 6, 2018, DeSantis announced he had picked a Democratic lawmaker for a spot in his administration. “Representative Moskowitz will be a great leader for the future of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, preparing our state for situations that need rapid response and real-time execution in the face of crisis,” DeSantis said. “Florida has a long history of being a model for the nation in emergency preparedness and response, and with Jared at the helm, I am confident this legacy will continue.” Taking the gig certainly gave Moskowitz some pause. He would leave his home district without representation for the coming Session. Working for a Republican could mean the end of his career in Democratic politics. More than that, the job no longer meant spending 60 days in the spring away from his family, this would be for the entire year. Moskowitz said that in normal times — “blue skies” as he puts it — he’s working in Tallahassee five days a week, then coming home on weekends. Then there’s the “gray skies” times when he can’t predict how much time he can enjoy at home. Nick Iarossi, a lobbyist in Tallahassee who regularly communicates with Moskowitz on disaster spending, said he knows the job has its challenges. There’s no guarantee of 52 weekends a year with kids; it’s almost a given that won’t happen even when Florida faces a mild hurricane season. As the entire world battles a pandemic, every day brings new challenges. But Iarossi said the state has weathered the crisis better than most in part because Moskowitz had exactly the right skills for the moment. “The Governor made a smart decision in putting political party affiliation aside and just picking the best person to handle emergency response in the state when he chose Jared,” Iarossi said. “We know we have the best emergency management director in the country to deal with hurricane response and to respond to a 100-year pandemic.” Indeed, there has never been a di-

saster like COVID-19. An invisible novel coronavirus spreads across the entire globe and into the United States, killing more than 120,000 Americans in a matter of months. Experts in February issued dire warnings almost too ridiculous to believe about the potential impact of the disease — and those for the most part have come true. In Florida, it has been a divisive public discourse whether the virus has ever been contained adequately enough to justify a reopening barely two months after the first recorded case in the state. But for the most part Florida beat expectations. DeSantis will in turn boast about proactive protections for vulnerable populations in nursing homes and deride models predicting Florida would become the next Italy as an epicenter of illness. And while a spring surge in cases fueled criticism that the Governor pushed too aggressively to reopen, the health care infrastructure in Florida to

date hasn’t been overwhelmed. There are more tests than needed for current demand, field hospitals have been assembled but never used, and there is no longer any shortage of protective equipment, intensive care beds or cotton swabs. Many credit Moskowitz’s years in disaster prep and his tactician’s nature. He’s accustomed to planning for the worst. When it doesn’t come, such as when Hurricane Dorian threatened Florida’s East Coast in 2019 but ultimately veered away, Moskowitz backs up the Governor in saying there’s no harm in overpreparation. Then when disaster does strike, as it has with COVID-19, Moskowitz moves forward with a surprisingly reassuring ease, knowledgeable that if the worst case scenario unfolds, the state will be prepared. “In Florida, we have the experience and we understand emergencies,” Moskowitz said. “We understand FEMA. Our

Jared Moskowitz delivers a briefing ahead of the 2019 hurricane season about a statewide hurricane exercise.



Jared Moskowitz (second from left) stands next to Broward County Mayor Dale Holness (second from right) at a press conference in Fort Lauderdale on April 17, 2020, at which Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the opening of Florida’s first two walk-through coronavirus testing sites.

residents heed warnings.” The director credited a team of professionals and a responsible public for weathering this enduring and invisible storm. And while some of his old Democratic colleagues in the Legislature toss barbs at Moskowitz’s boss, the director defends the state response as a whole. Indeed, he even adopts some of the media defensiveness that has come to define the DeSantis administration’s rhetoric in the face of punditry attacks. “What should be apparent to everybody is this pandemic and this time of national emergency got politicized on both ends by the national media. And both sides are equally as guilty,” Moskowitz said. “That’s because the national media business model is now totally built around dividing Democrats and Republicans over everything. All the late night shows and all the networks, you know which way they lean. “It makes you wonder, are we past those 9/11 moments when the country was able to come together?” Moskowitz may quickly eschew political engagement today. He won’t start lobbying the Legislature on gun control that could put him at odds with DeSantis, or involve himself in budget talks with nary an overlap with emergency management. But there’s plenty who still hold fond memories of Moskowitz the lawmaker. 80 | INFLUENCE SUMMER 2020

Rep. Dan Daley, who filled Moskowitz’s seat after he vacated it to take the administration job, knows there’s a big role for him to fill in the House. Just the Parkland bill alone, legislation Daley expects to reshape school safety for generations, serves as an opening act few want to follow. Like Moskowitz, Daley graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and knows the massive desire in Parkland for some policy change to come from that. “A lot of that was thanks to Jared’s ability to navigate both sides of the aisle,” he said. Certainly, that’s the type of lawmaker Daley hopes to be. It’s a type of lawmaker many hope to see back in the Legislature. Jones, who is running this year for a Senate seat in District 35, jumped at the news that Sen. Kevin Rader wouldn’t seek reelection in District 29, where Moskowitz’s family lives. The Democratic lawmaker remains on a text chain that includes himself, Moskowitz, Moskowtz’s wife, and his partner Matthew. He terribly misses sharing a desk with his Broward colleague on the floor of the House and thought an open Senate seat could mean a reunion in the upper chamber. “I was the first to call him,” Jones said. “I told him this is our opportunity.” But Moskowitz demurred. No, he would not leave a Republican administration in the middle of a pandemic to

run as a Democrat in South Florida. But that decision didn’t shock many. “Jared recognizes he still has a job to do, and he has done a heck of a job,” Daley said. “I think it says a lot about him as a person.” Moskowitz said, in the end, he never gave the prospect much thought. It’s not just the pandemic. He committed to DeSantis that he would hold this job for a certain period of time (though he won’t disclose what that time frame may be). “But what kind of leadership would that be to leave now to do anything other than what I’m doing?” Moskowitz said. “What kind of leader would I be to my staff to totally abandon them? And in the greatest crisis in the state of Florida’s history? What kind of message does that send to the Governor who gave me this opportunity? That’s just not who I am.” There may be better opportunities in the near future anyhow. Whether President Trump wins reelection or Democrat Joe Biden moves into the White House, it’s likely the job of director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency will open during the next administration. Whether he arrives with a reference from close Trump ally DeSantis or garners attention from a Democratic President seeking a solid member of his own party with appropriate experience, it’s hard to imagine anyone in the country with a deeper resume than Moskowitz.

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Answering The Call(s) by jacob ogles

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, is shown here working the phone for jobless constituents needing help. Photo: Allison Lynn Photography


When the state’s broken unemployment website went into freefall, stranding thousands of jobless Floridians, these lawmakers provided a parachute, working overtime to get people paid. SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 83



he well-documented collapse of Florida’s unemployment website didn’t just leave many Floridians desperate for claims. It kept phones ringing for months at legislators’ district offices around the state. That’s part of the job, of course, for Senators and Representatives, who before tackling the philosophical debates fueling campaign trail coverage must help constituents navigate state agencies. While every lawmaker in Florida reports a change in focus to helping claimants collect benefits, some turned their entire offices to makeshift job centers serving citizens far beyond their own constituencies. Here are just a few lawmakers who morphed offices into crisis centers in the midst of a pandemic.

Sen. Jeff Brandes

There’s a one in three chance these days that when someone calls Jeff Brandes’ Senate office, the St. Petersburg Republican will be the one picking up the phone. “We’re a full-time unemployment office without the correct tools,” he said. He thinks back to the early days of the pandemic in March when companies of all kinds started laying off large segments of their staff and the office faced a deluge of calls. While there are always problems constituents face when navigating a bureaucracy, these complaints bore startling uniformity. An overwhelmed and heavily condemned website could not handle hundreds of thousands of unemployment claims hitting the system at once, and

the vast majority of people didn’t know where to turn. “It’s to the point now where we’re surprised if it’s not an unemployment call,” Brandes said. “It used to be those were few and far between.” Now, citizen concerns unrelated to the unemployment system make up maybe 5% of calls to the office. The Department of Economic Opportunity has come under intense scrutiny for its failure to scale up to the challenge at hand. Less reported, Brandes said, is how the 160 legislative offices across Florida become the second place many Floridians called, and with office staffs of three to five, many found themselves unequipped to handle the caseload. With the state website crushed by traffic, Brandes set up different platforms to Floridians in need of assistance, notably a Facebook Group where his staff would sift through specific complaints posted by users. Realizing every Senate office faced overloads, Brandes at some point decided his staff should try to handle complaints from around the state. He has no idea these days exactly what percentage of those he assists live in District 24. Of course, well after the current onslaught in complaints subsides, Brandes knows the Florida Legislature has its work cut out fixing a system clearly not built for crisis. “It’s a problem where software was never designed to handle this many people at the same time, and where you are inputting new government programs into a legacy system,” he said.

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PHOTO: J.D. Casto

Rep. Anna Eskamani. an Orlando Democrat, said she was “answering calls late into the night.”

Any replacement needs to be assembled carefully, not in a rush, Brandes said, and it must be easily scalable to levels of demand when there’s a tsunami of new claims. He would also like any state system to develop relationships with local government. He favored turning libraries, closed for the pandemic, into temporary unemployment offices so those with local knowledge of a job market could aid individuals in need of employment. But for now, his staff soldiers on with the system in place. “It’s [similar to] the Donald Rumsfeld line,” he said. “You go to war with the equipment you have, not the equipment you want.”

Rep. Anna Eskamani

As an Iranian immigrant, Rep. Anna Eskamani knows what it’s like to be poor. “I have a lot of empathy and personal connection to working class people,” she said. “We were in debt and couldn’t save money paying off credit cards and hospital bills when my mom was sick. We would desperately need government help.” So the lawmaker takes it seriously when citizens entitled to unemployment claims flood the phone lines unable to navigate a broken state system. She converted her office into an economic triage station, she said, dedicating staff to troubleshooting problems with applications and streamlining the application process for claims. “We work more than a 40-hour week, that’s for sure,” Eska-

mani said, “answering phones late into the night.” Sometimes assistance has required creativity. When the DEO could not handle applications in live time, Eskamani’s office set up a Google form that allowed individuals to fill out the information required for an application, then dedicated staff to transferring that data onto official applications whenever the digital queue cleared. As the system has been retrofit to demand, Eskamani’s office has adjusted as well. The intent at all times has been to plug work into the existing DEO infrastructure, all while honoring existing regulations. For the Orlando Democrat, the cost of the unemployment crisis in Florida hasn’t just taken up her time. At moments, she has dipped into her own wallet, designating a portion of her pay as a state lawmaker to help supplement rents for constituents in fear of losing homes despite a moratorium issued by the Governor on foreclosures and evictions. But as that move became publicized, individuals from around the state have called offering financial assistance for the same efforts. Working with the House ethics office to make sure she didn’t stray from a ban on gifts, Eskamani has found a way to establish a fund for assisting individuals. She has also played a key role in a support network for other lawmakers dealing with the same demands. The more who understand the problems with the system today, the better able policymakers can address shortcomings in the future. SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 85

PHOTO: Allison Davis


Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Miami Democrat, spent weeks working in Tallahassee, rather than from his home, to get people paid.

Sen. Jason Pizzo

The unemployment crisis has stressed Sen. Jason Pizzo’s office capacity, but it hasn’t killed his sense of humor. The Miami Democrat in April posted a Facebook image of his own well-coifed mug alongside that of former Gov. and nowSen. Rick Scott. “If the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity hits 80% payout for all unemployment claims by May 1, I’ll let them shave my head to look like the guy who spent $77 million of your money on the website,” Pizzo wrote. Months later and Pizzo’s coif seems as well manicured as ever. The DEO couldn’t come near addressing a majority of complaints with the system by the start of May, and it still faces criticism today as individuals struggle with processing. Pizzo’s office, like most, has been besieged with constituents desperate for checks, and even as jobs come back on line, many have yet to receive back pay owed to them for the period when they were out of work. He’s now calling for a formal investigation or inquiry into how the DEO website got quite so broken, and he wants a catalog of any changes made between 2012 and 2016 to be studied by a joint committee of House and Senate members. “The Governor executes the laws that we as legislators make,” Pizzo said, “so it’s critically important to get involved.” He has fixes in mind already for the system, including amending state law to permanently adjust base qualification 86 | INFLUENCE SUMMER 2020

periods and decouple 12 weeks from prior third-quarter unemployment rates. He would like to see an option for employers to provide unemployment assistance payments that could later be reimbursed or get tax credits, if not simply getting an advance in funds. That could help many employers who kept employees on board even when they could not work in large part because the state couldn’t properly funnel unemployment payments to the workers fast enough. Lawmakers should discuss requiring real-time employment status between employers and the state, reducing wait time for ID and wage verification in times like this. Oh, and he’s ready to scrap that website. The state instead must institute an expedited process “based on increased employer participation in a pre-application process.” He’s also likely to authorize CareerSource and other job centers to be able to change applications. something allowed in the midst of the pandemic. Pizzo very much wants to see Florida become proactive on decisions. He complained about the Governor two months in a row putting off a decision on extending eviction moratoriums to the final hours, something unfair to tenants and landlords alike. “We keep waiting to the midnight hour on all these decisions,” Pizzo said. “We had to push, push, push to get an announcement that the eviction moratorium would be extended.” It will be smart, he said, if Florida can find its way ahead of economic troubles for constituents, and avoid the ramshackle fixes made to the broken software systems and other networks now.




HEROES OF THE PANDEMICÂ Legislators go above and beyond to help Floridians through pandemic crises by rosanne dunkelberger


hen state legislators voted on a budget, wrapped up the 2020 Session and went home to their districts in March, many expected to spend the spring and summer kicking off their election-year campaigns. Others looked forward to time with family. But instead of door-knocking, town halls and glad-handing, they found themselves rising to confront the trials of an unprecedented event: a deadly pandemic. The vast majority have risen to the challenge, helping constituents during a time of fear and uncertainty, and then there are some standouts who have come up with creative ways to provide support to Floridians during this ever-evolving health crisis.


“I’m proud that we have quickly learned to adapt to this unique threat and be a major force in protecting Floridians.” – Anthony Sabatini

REP. RAMON ALEXANDER FINDING FOOD FAST In mid-April, Rep. Ramon Alexander learned that Gadsden County Schools had shut down all of its food distribution sites after a food service worker was hospitalized with a possible case of the coronavirus. The Democrat from Tallahassee immediately shifted into crisis mode and worked the phones, participating in an emergency conference call with Democrat Sen. Bill Montford, also of Tallahassee, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Gadsden School Superintendent Roger Milton. While Alexander agreed with Milton that safety was a primary concern, he also worried about the welfare of his constituents in one of Florida’s poorest counties. “Yes, we are living in uncharted times, but our babies still need to eat,” he told the Tallahassee Democrat at the time. The next day, they developed plans — teaming volunteers with the state’s Farm Share program and the nonprofit 4Roots — to deliver food for hot meals at seven locations that could serve 3,600 children and their families.

REPS. BRYAN AVILA AND ANTHONY SABATINI CALLED UP FOR SERVICE IN THE ‘ALWAYS READY, ALWAYS THERE’ NATIONAL GUARD Although they hail from opposite ends of the state, Republicans Anthony Sabatini of Clermont and Bryan Avila of Hialeah were activated with the National Guard to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Avila has been stationed in Homestead as part of the accountability and administration of personnel at community-based testing sites. In Tallahassee, Sabatini has been stationed at the state’s Emergency Operations Center as a liaison officer. “I’ve been a Florida Army National Guardsman for 11 years and this is the most unique challenge I think we’ve seen,” Sabatini said. “I’m proud that we have quickly learned to adapt to this unique threat and be a major force in protecting Floridians.”



REP. ANNA ESKAMANI CREATING A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE FOR COVID INFORMATION IN CENTRAL FLORIDA When the Legislature was still in Session, Orlando Democrat Anna Eskamani sent long emails updating her constituents on the looming threat of COVID-19. She quickly decided to put all the information she was sharing in one place and the online Coronavirus Guide for Central Florida (cflcovid. com) was born.It’s a one-stop site with information on the novel coronavirus, including such things as shutdown and reopening dates, social distancing advice, statistics, testing sites, unemployment, small business help and more. Most of the contact information is directed to local resources and the guide also is available in Spanish.In ad-

“I think a lot of the anxiety that people have experienced around his entire pandemic has been caused by just the lack of clarity of information. We try really hard to improve that and make sure folks know they’re supported, their questions are valued and that we’re here to help any way that we can.” – Anna Eskamani


dition she has created complementary guides relating to topics such as unemployment and evictions.One of the youngest members of the House, 30-year old Eskamani also is active on social media. Since the pandemic began, she holds an hour-long “virtual office” visit on Facebook at 5 p.m. each Friday.“It complements the guides that we have” when answering pre-submitted and live questions. Her office also answers questions “in real time, especially through Twitter,” she said.“It just helps to make sure that folks are getting information in a clear, easy way,” she said. “I think a lot of the anxiety that people have experienced around his entire pandemic has been caused by just the lack of clarity of information. We try really hard to improve that and make sure folks know they’re supported, their questions are valued and that we’re here to help any way that we can.”

“The public has a right to know the real-time status of the pandemic in Florida, as well as the actual real-time ability of our health care facilities to respond to the surging infection rate.” – Audrey Gibson

SENS. GARY FARMER AND AUDREY GIBSON SPEAKING DEMOCRATIC TRUTH TO REPUBLICAN POWER While their power is pretty much at low ebb in the halls of the Capitol, during the pandemic, Democratic legislative leadership is shining a bright spotlight on what they consider the shortcomings of their Republican brethren, most notably the guy in the top spot, Gov. DeSantis. In the pandemic’s early days in April and May, Sen. Gary Farmer of Fort Lauderdale pushed back against the lack of transparency of not naming nursing homes where COVID-19 had been found and the effort by such facilities to be exempt from civil or criminal lawsuits. Farmer, who will become the Democratic leader after November’s elections, also pushed for an extension of the Governor’s executive order to prevent foreclosures and evictions and pressed for the expansion of coronavirus testing. But, by far, the most pressing issue in the first six to eight weeks of the pandemic was the collapse of the unemployment claims process. “We were getting hundreds of calls a week in my office and dozens came from people outside of our district from all over the state,” Farmer said. “It was startling, the amount of people and the level of frustration — we literally referred three or

four people to suicide hotlines. And there were dozens more where we were almost playing like a counselor role. Just trying to tell people it was going to be OK — give them a little bit of hope — and try to get their claims pushed through.” “Restarting Florida’s economy and restoring the public’s confidence to reengage in that economy requires more than just issuing a phased-in ‘all clear’ signal, Democratic Party Leader Sen. Audrey Gibson said in an early July letter to DeSantis. “The public has a right to know the real-time status of the pandemic in Florida, as well as the actual real-time ability of our health care facilities to respond to the surging infection rate.” A Desantis news conference later that month led the Senator from Duval County to again take the Governor to task. “Wash, rinse, and repeat. Everything we heard today is more of the same, and a refusal to admit that the virus is winning this war in Florida, not the Governor,” she told the Capitol Soup website. “There is no effective plan in place to halt the spread, like other states have effectively deployed.” “I believe we were able to call attention and get some coverage on these various issues and highlight a lack of action by the executive branch,” Farmer said. “I would hope that maybe by highlighting some of those things, it led to additional action or implementation of some things that I think we’re sorely lacking.”



“We can only ask people to be patient for so long without providing realistic time frames for which they can expect resolution.” – Erin Grall

REPS. ERIN GRALL, CYNDI STEVENSON AND OTHERS HELPING PEOPLE NAVIGATE UNEMPLOYMENT Between an unprecedented influx of unemployment assistance applicants and a Department of Economic Opportunity website that wasn’t up to the task, state lawmakers came up with creative solutions to help constituents. For Rep. Erin Grall that meant advocating for clear and timely information from DEO. After days of frustrating attempts to get answers for constituents about the reemployment process, the Vero Beach Republican reached out to the office of Gov. Ron Desantis. “We can only ask people to be patient for so long without providing realistic time frames for which they can expect resolution,” Grall wrote in an April 15 email. In that same email, she proposed a solution: an online dashboard with the number of applications submitted and processed and the number of people


receiving benefits. “Even if someone knows that they will have to wait a time certain to receive benefits, it is useful information that will help them make alternative plans,” she said. One week later, DEO announced the launch of its Reemployment Assistance Claims dashboard. In St. Johns County, Rep. Cyndi Stevenson began blanketing the more rural parts of her district with copies of paper reemployment — that’s how the state refers to unemployment — applications as soon as they became available. She was concerned constituents in her region may not have access to the internet, a home printer or a FedEx Office, where the applications could be printed for free. Other lawmakers, including Republican Reps. Chuck Brannan, James Buchanan, Mike Caruso, Randy Fine, Amber Mariano, Toby Overdorf, Holly Raschein and Ardian Zika, printed and mailed applications to people who needed them and helped answer constituent questions about the process. Overdorf also has been hosting Facebook Live events, drawing thousands of views, to connect with constituents, hear them out and answer their questions.

SENS. LINDA STEWART AND RANDOLPH BRACY TAKING THE UNEMPLOYMENT FIGHT TO TALLAHASSEE In mid-May, after fielding hundreds of calls from people trying to apply for unemployment benefits, Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Ocoee Democrat, decided to take a road trip to the capital after hearing from one desperate constituent: “This person reached out to me and said they had considered suicide because their situation was so dire; a single parent who had weeks, two months now, of unemployment, no response, and she reached out in desperation,” Bracy told Florida Politics.

He and Orlando Sen. Linda Stewart were able to meet with DOE officials and Jonathan Satter, tasked by DeSantis to get the system to work. While she was there, Stewart, a Democrat, dropped off hundreds of unemployment applications. Her staff had printed thousands of copies of the seven-page application that could be picked up at her office by people frustrated by the constantly crashing online website. “More people are going to be applying and we can’t get this system under control waiting in line for three or four months,” she told television station WKMG before taking another trip to Tallahassee with applications in July. “I just have to make them aware of what people in the street are facing.”



“My hope was that as I felt led, my colleagues would be inspired to do the same by identifying a local organization they could assist.” – Jayer Williamson

REP. JAYER WILLIAMSON AND OTHERS USING THEIR PAY TO PAY IT FORWARD When Rep. Jayer Williamson decided to donate his April legislative pay to help with the COVID-19 response for kids in crisis, the Republican from Pace invited fellow lawmakers to donate their checks, too. He was blown away by the response. “Our salaries are paid for by the people that we represent, and many of them are struggling to make ends meet right now,” Williamson said. “My hope was that as I felt led, my colleagues would be inspired to do the same by identifying a local organization they could assist.” Williamson said several other House Republicans reached out to tell him they would be following his lead.


Republican Rep. Bobby Payne of Palatka donated his April salary to support several organizations — $800 each to the food bank in Bradford/ Union counties, Putnam Bread of Life and the Lee Conlee Domestic Violence Shelter in Palatka. Williamson donated $2,500 to the Milton-based Santa Rosa Kids’ House — a nonprofit he has been involved with from its founding — to help ensure that children in a home crisis during the pandemic can have a safe place to go. Other representatives who committed to donating their pay included Reps. Travis Cummings, Blaise Ingoglia, Tom Leek, Ralph Massulo, Bob Rommel, Paul Renner, Ray Rodriguez and Clay Yarborough. “It was humbling to see that a simple challenge, fueled by one tweet, could make a difference,” Williamson said.



A tale of two cities

(doing it right)

by janelle irwin


he Tampa Bay area has been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in Florida, trailing only Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties in the number of total cases to date. Yet despite being only a secondary epicenter, Mayors of the region’s two largest cities have been national voices on pandemic response. They are often sought after to contrast the statewide response, criticized in national media as being too little, too late. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has been making her rounds on national networks since late March when the virus began its stranglehold on Florida’s economy and its public health. Asked about media cameos, Castor’s office provided a list of links so extensive, they crashed a web browser. There were countless local media hits, punctuated by interviews in publications and outlets na-


tionwide including ABC, News Day, Axios, The New York Daily News, the New York Post, Philadelphia Examiner, The World News, Business Day, WSB-TV Atlanta, The Weather Channel, and on and on. She has made live appearances on CNN, MSNBC and NPR, among others. The same holds for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, whose television cameos have only trailed in as much as his city isn’t quite as large, or wellknown, as Tampa. Both Mayors have found national praise where state leaders, particularly Gov. Ron DeSantis, have been met with rebuke. Both Mayors implemented business restrictions ahead of the state. Both led the region in collaborative decision-making aimed at preemptive prevention rather than reactionary back-pedaling. Though there were differences. Castor was cautious not to directly criticize DeSantis.

Mayor Jane Castor

Castor was ahead of the state in limiting restaurant capacity, calling for half-capacity and early closures on March 17. Two days later, she restricted all gatherings to no more than 10 individuals. When the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group declined to issue a stay-at-home order March 23, Castor followed up the next day with her own for Tampa, prompting the county to revisit the order and pass one March 25. Over the course of 72 hours, the policy group went from expressing serious reservations about implementing a stay-athome order for residents and visitors to approving almost the exact same plan they had previously rejected. Six of the eight members balked at Castor’s initial stay-athome proposal — all of the board’s Republicans and one Democrat. They only came around after Castor implemented a citywide order, one that includes most of the county’s population. Castor also pushed for a mask order in mid-April, a move that wasn’t taken until the end of June. In response to the policy group’s mask denial, Castor instead worked with private partners to get giants like Publix and Target to begin having employees wear masks. Like the stay-at-home order, Castor’s own citywide mask mandate predated the countywide order. While it might have been easy to politicize decision-making in Hillsborough County, Castor rejected the temptation. “If you want to know about

strategy, I would advise all to focus on and make decisions in the best interest of your community. Avoid politicizing the virus,” Castor urged. Castor’s approach has always hinged on pragmatism. “It is difficult to be proactive in dealing with COVID 19, as there is still so much that is unknown,” she said. But as more data becomes available and research begins showing more and more evidence about how the virus spreads, Castor said it’s becoming easier to respond. “I’m part of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and, in talking to Mayors on the West Coast of the country who were first to deal with COVID-19, the one thing that I kept hearing was ‘we wish we would have shut down sooner’ so we, as the EPG, instituted the Safer at Home,” Castor said. “This is all about the health of our community, shutting down businesses and seeing our streets empty is not an easy decision for any leader but science and data showed that’s what we had to do to protect our residents and stop the spread while flattening the curve.”

Mayor Rick Kriseman

Like Castor, Kriseman took early action to protect his city as COVID-19 was just beginning its wrath in Florida. Kriseman’s actions have not been quite as high-profile as Castor’s, but that’s due less to his efforts and more to broader cooperation among county officials. And he has still made the rounds on national media. Kriseman was the first elected official in Pinellas County to implement restrictions on bars and restaurants, ordering them, as well as movie theaters, gyms and bowling alleys, to half-capacity. He also banned gatherings of more than 50 people, including on private property.


PHOTO: Eye Imagined Photography

Kriseman had no such qualms. Castor forced her county to act by taking singular action; Kriseman counted on his county to take appropriate action, which it did.


Gov. DeSantis didn’t take action statewide until April 2. Pinellas County Commissioners approved a countywide stay-at-home order March 25. “I have been on video calls facilitated by the Bloomberg-Harvard City Leadership Initiative and U.S. Conference of Mayors with fellow Mayors from around the nation and the world and I always learn quite a bit during these calls, but I haven’t really compared my approach to others. This is a global pandemic but my approach is St. Pete specific. That includes not just what I do or say, but how I say it,” Kriseman said. “The key is authenticity. I admire the way Governor [Andrew] Cuomo has communicated throughout this crisis, but I know his leadership style is his own and it is specific to New York. I just strive to be myself, share the data, and share what’s on mind to best keep everyone safe.” Kriseman also led the way on mandating mask-wearing, announcing an order June 17. Pinellas County didn’t approve its mask mandate until June 23. The county’s order was generally based on Kriseman’s order. Where Castor was forced to play a continual leadership role, Kriseman was able to fall back on the county once the two were aligned. He didn’t have the partisan divide on Pinellas County Commission that Castor struggles with on the Emer98 | INFLUENCE SUMMER 2020

Top: St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman (center) stands socially distant with city workers and first responders including Vice Mayor Kanika Tomalin (back, center left) and Police Chief Anthony Holloway (back, center right.) Photo: Benjamin Kirby Bottom: Health care workers prepare testing supplies at a public testing site. Photo: Eye Imagined Photography

gency Policy Group. That group hinged on chaos at times — implementing a curfew only to almost immediately undo it, for example. Castor was forced to be nimble in her policy recommendations, bending to a reluctant EPG to mandate much of anything. But in Pinellas, St. Pete and the county have been mostly in lockstep. “The ideal approach to a public health crisis like this is to have national or state directives. If not that, I prefer regional or county directives and uniformity. If not that, I’ll do what’s best for St. Pete and hope that it sparks county and state actions — and it usually has,” Kriseman said.

“We’ve been out front most of the time. It basically comes down to the fact that if I’m going to err, I want it to be on the side of public health and saving lives. But none of this is easy; not for the Governor, not for county leaders, not for anyone.”

The law enforcement angle

Both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties have enjoyed broad support from their respective Sheriff’s Offices. Both Republicans, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister, have been willing to buck some intraparty pushback to support safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chronister, early on in the crisis on March 19, released 164 inmates from the Hillsborough County jail to reduce the risk of spreading the virus in a facility where social distancing isn’t much of an option. It was a move many in his county balked at. But it paid off. As of July 7, Hillsborough County had just 12 cases reported in correctional institutions, a statistically insignificant number compared to the more than 16,000 total cases countywide at that time. The state, meanwhile, had 4,232 reported cases in correctional institutions, 2% of the overall cases statewide. Gualtieri didn’t make the same move, but he has been one of Pinellas County’s top leaders in combating the virus. While he initially pushed back on closing the county’s beaches, he eventually became a fierce advocate for it. When the time came to reopen the beaches, he shored up the resources to have a law enforcement presence at every public beach

access point to ensure adherence to social distancing requirements. Gualtieri’s approach has favored public health while also preserving some semblance of personal freedom, a value his party holds most dear. He promised to enforce orders where necessary but also vowed not to use the heavy arm of the law unless it was absolutely necessary, favoring instead public education and outreach to change behaviors rather than handing down punitive measures. Week after week, he reports success, with few arrests and plenty of success stories.

The fight isn’t over

While much of the action regarding virus response happened in late March and early April, both counties are still facing staggering increases in new coronavirus cases. As of July 7, Hillsborough County had already surpassed 16,000 cases, serving as the state’s epicenter outside of South Florida. Pinellas County

is also one of the state’s most impacted counties with nearly 10,000 cases. Both counties are regularly seeing positive testing rates above 10%, the threshold for which health officials say there is significant concern. Leaders are still grappling with testing difficulties, with high demand and a tapped out system. People are still dying. As of July 7, four Hillsborough hospitals and three in Pinellas had no adult ICU bed capacity. Only three in Hillsborough and five in Pinellas had more than 10% capacity. Deaths and hospitalizations are also lagging indicators, meaning the worst may still be yet to come. That means officials will continue to face difficult challenges including whether to revert back to some of the stay-at-home precautions that had been in place. But if the past is any indication, officials in two of the state’s most populous counties will be ready to lead efforts to bring the crisis back under control.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman fills bottles with hand sanitizer at 3 Daughters Brewery, a local company that repurposed its facility to make hand sanitizer to donate to those in need. Photo: Benjamin Kirby


VIRAL CONTENT: Lenny Curry’s COVID-19 policy box by ag gancarski

PHOTO: Associated Press


he coronavirus is still with us, and major cities throughout Florida — as elsewhere — have gotten the worst of it. COVID-19 has affected population-dense corridors. Yet in Northeast Florida, Jacksonville avoided some of the worst aspects of the pandemic, at least through late July when this was written. Republican Mayor Lenny Curry, reelected without much of a fight in 2019, faced the greatest challenge of his tenure: The economy flatlined as the shutdown aimed at stopping the virus wreaked its havoc, and a significant portion of


the populace saw the public health mandates as an abridgement of freedom. Curry, in contrast to some Republicans, said the stakes were high, in a way that may have seemed hyperbolic on March 17 but is prescient now. Striking a note of gravity, Curry alluded to the Great Depression, World War II and 9/11 as comparable crises, saying history would judge leaders on their response to the coronavirus. “Our kids and our grandkids will look back on this moment and time and judge us,” Curry said. “Our kids are watching,” he said, describing a “critical mo-

ment” in which people “must stand united to answer this call … and come out of this crisis.” Months later, the critical moment continues, including for small businesses. The Mayor described in March “economic disaster” for those sectors and attempted policy moves to ease the pain, with limited success. Beach closures on March 20, though controversial in some quarters, looked judicious as days went on and other jurisdictions dawdled. The city was forward in closing bars and dining inside restaurants, though a stay-at-home order was delayed to such a de-

“Our kids and our grandkids will look back on this moment and time and judge us.” – Lenny Curry gree that the state’s directive rendered it redundant, coming out the same day. Jacksonville got creative, expanding outdoor seating for restaurants, and to-go drinks kept bars somewhat functional during the first wave of bar closures that ended in June. Federal funding also did its trick. The city received more than $160 million in Federal CARES Act funding and earmarked $40 million for residents to help with mortgage and rent payments, with an additional $25 million to be disbursed in a second wave of funding if needed. The money helped in other ways: $25 million was earmarked to offset revenue declines, including inspection fees and taxes on rent, with an ongoing moratorium on those fees. By the middle of April, with coronavirus not having hit Jacksonville the way it did the Miami area, moves toward normalcy began. “With our curve flattening this was a very measured opportunity,” Curry said, with positive testing rates hovering around 5% at that point. The Mayor was pushing for quicker reopenings on a number of fronts, at times getting ahead of the messaging of Gov. Ron DeSantis. Vacation rentals were

one flashpoint. Jacksonville’s Twitter account had signaled, prematurely, the sector going back online on May 4. But Duval County’s plan was not approved until May 21, irking at least some in the Mayor’s Office. The Mayor noted that vacation rentals must adhere to safety guidelines and would help stabilize the economy. If there was a pivot, it would have been in late May, when the city began to make its play for the Republican National Convention. Emboldened by successful hostings of professional wrestling and mixed martial arts events in empty city facilities, Curry opened the door to what was hoped, at that point, to be a full-scale convention. The Mayor tweeted that Jacksonville “has strongly demonstrated the ability to host large events in a safe & responsible way.” The Mayor’s confidence continued May 30, when he said at a press conference, “I’d like to see bars open sooner rather than later.” By the end of the month, Curry had become something of a Republican success story, fighting the virus in a way similar to the President and the Governor. In testimony to Congress, he played that up. He said Jacksonville was

“well-served” by “President Donald Trump‘s leadership” and Gov. DeSantis, who “provided the foundation our local response was built on.” Responding to questions from U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, Curry noted that the city did not impose strict requirements, such as mandatory masks. “This isn’t a police state,” contended Curry. “It’s the land of the free and the home of the brave.” June and July, however, would provide a reckoning. In the wake of reopened bars and street protests, a wave of new coronavirus cases besieged the city, creating pressures especially on UF Health, the city’s safety-net hospital. On a day when Curry himself was self-quarantining because he had been around someone with the virus, the Mayor issued an order requiring masks in Jacksonville. The order, a “mandate,” had no real enforcement component. But it earned Curry a lawsuit championed by state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Lake County Legislator building a rep on challenging local mask orders. The coronavirus has tested Mayor Curry in ways no one anticipated when he ran for reelection. And that test is far from over.




sharpened the role of an

internet leader

PHOTO: Greg Owen


ess than a year and a half after getting slammed by Hurricane Michael, leaders in the Florida Panhandle had another crisis on their hands. This time the damage would not be contained to specific areas or hold to predictable patterns. It wasn’t even visible. Florida Internet and Television, a professional association in Tallahassee representing six major players including Comcast and Charter Spectrum, found itself facing a challenge affecting its 3.7 million subscribers and the state as a whole. The new coronavirus presented a test, not only for health care, emergency workers and related government agencies, but also for the internet that allowed them to ferry critical information between them. Would the pandemic reveal weaknesses in our capacity to transmit large amounts of vital information? “Many are wondering if the internet can handle the strain of rapid traffic growth and increased latency,” an Internet Society blog post noted in early March. “Will it cause a catastrophic failure of the internet?” That question is now settled and the answer is no. “In Florida we saw 98.2 percent normal peak usage, which means no impact on customer experience,” said Madeline Holzmann, who heads up


communications for Florida Internet and Television. The company saw just 0.1% of “substantially elevated peak usage,” which would indicate a mild impact on performance and user experience, she said. In China, by contrast, popular streaming services, educational platforms and office applications including WeChat Work all reportedly crashed in pandemic-related traffic surges, according to the same Internet Society post. Pillars of connectivity in the U.S., including core infrastructure providers, cloud-based services and streaming applications like Netflix and YouTube, fared much better, buttressing a theory that any significant connection issues can likely be traced to the insufficient storage or bandwidth of the companies offering internet connection themselves. Positive thinking aside, only the coolest heads would have bet on the 99.9% success rate Florida Internet and Television achieved during a pandemic. “It surprised me because I was bracing for something different,” said Brad Swanson, the company’s President and CEO. “And when I had the chance to speak with our operators, the people who provide the service, they said our network was above capacity.”

by andrew meacham

Brad Swanson, President and CEO

“In Florida we saw 98.2 percent normal peak usage, which means no impact on customer experience.” – Madeline Holzmann

Most of the state (98.6%) of Floridians have access to wired broadband of 25 megabits per second or faster, the threshold for the designation “high-speed,” the company reports. Ninety-six percent also have access to broadband at least 100 mbps. Maximum speeds have nearly quadrupled over the last few years, according to Internet and Television Association reports, from 505 megabits per second to 2 gigabits. Of course, physical access doesn’t matter to individuals who can’t pay the bill. Florida Internet and Television’s members have signed on to the FCC’s “Keep America Connected” pledge, which ensures companies won’t shut off service to residents or small businesses because of disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Comcast and Charter Spectrum have developed their own programs for qualifying customers who are eligible for free school lunches, Supplemental Security Income or similar government programs. Others have waived late fees, opened WiFi hotspots to anyone who wants to use them or stopped charging for educational programs. These are all heavy-hitting companies, whether locals realize that or not. Florida Internet and Television members Cox Broadcasting and Mediacom might not have a huge imprint in the state, but they are the thirdand fifth-largest cable companies nationally. Formed in the nascent computer era in 1965, the association has seen quantum leaps from cable television to cell phones, shepherding many of them through the state Leg-

islature in one way or another. Swanson took the helm four years ago, drawing on a background that combines industry knowledge with government, lobbying and fundraising. Holzmann was a math and statistics major at Florida State University who worked with Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody before moving to Florida Internet and Television. Along the way, she was recognized as a change-maker by INFLUENCE magazine’s “Thirty under 30” feature. The association lobbies on behalf of the industry. Notable issues over the past 20 years include simplifying state and local communications taxes; working to stiffen penalties on the theft or interception of cable services; and moving authority to grant cable franchises from local to state government. For Swanson, the work is about staying on the leading edge, affecting the lives of Floridians in myriad ways. Examples in recent years include the growth of telehealth, already an emerging technology that has shot upward since the pandemic; and a dream of holographic gaming in which characters jump off 32-inch video screens in 3-D animation. “The industry has to continually innovate,” Swanson said, “and to grow and meet the speed of technology. We went from having one television to households with four TVs, plus an iPad and iPhone all running off the same router or modem. So the industry was already ahead of demand because they frankly had to deal with just normal pre-COVID-19 usages, with those billions of dollars in investments.” The pandemic and shutdowns have driven home the same point the state told its workers, that those who provide internet connectivity are “essential workers.” “It’s kind of like water,” he said. “You only notice it when you turn the handle on your sink and it doesn’t come out.”



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Fearlessly Moving You Forward | SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 105


by rosanne dunkelberger





At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Airbnb began hearing from countless hosts who were eager to provide a comforting home to health care workers, first responders and others on the frontlines of the pandemic. That led to the launch of Frontline Stays, a global initiative to help connect those responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with clean and convenient places to stay while they carry out their critical work. Since late March, front-line workers have booked more than 100,000 nights in free or subsidized accommodations, including many in Florida, as part of this initiative. Airbnb’s community of generous hosts in the Sunshine State have offered more than 7,000 places to stay for front-line responders. These Airbnb hosts are housing nurses and other medical professionals often for weeks and often for free or at reduced rates. Airbnb is waiving its fees on the stays. From the moment Airbnb launched Frontline Stays, the company knew that opening doors to first responders alone would not be enough. It wanted to connect front-line workers to homes as efficiently and simply as possible. So Airbnb turned to local officials to connect the dots, with the financial support necessary to be impactful. In Florida, Airbnb and Jackson Health System in Miami announced a partnership to provide accommodations to employees fighting COVID-19. Through this partnership, Jackson Health System employees receive direct access to book stays at no cost through the Frontline Stays program. Airbnb committed up to $250,000 to fulfill these stays at no cost for front-line responders via the Airbnb platform and HotelTonight (part of the Airbnb family). Front-line workers in need of temporary accommodations can visit to learn more. Airbnb also launched a donation tool to help cover even more stays for relief workers while they do their critical work. To donate, go to

For many of our members, being able to use our training to help fight back during this crisis wasn’t even a question.

Florida Society of Anesthesiologists h In June, WFLA investigative reporter Mahsa Saeidi interviewed a COVID-19 patient fighting for her life in Pinellas County. In response to a question about her biggest concern, the patient answered, “I ask every day if I’ll be going home soon…. They can’t tell me because on a turn of a dime, I could wind up in ICU.” According to Dr. John Greene, the chief of infectious diseases at Moffitt Cancer Center, ICU care for critically ill COVID-19 patients requires ventilators. And, ultimately, what the news station found from its investigation was that three out of four of Florida’s intensive care unit beds equipped with ventilators were already occupied. Hospitals and patients like the one Saeidi interviewed would be destined to be caught in a dire, and deadly, situation – until Florida’s physician anesthesiologists found a way to step in. When it became clear that hospi-


tals would need to get creative to take on rising numbers of cases in need of ventilators (almost 50% of critical COVID-19 patients), they began to modify anesthesia machines to do the job. While anesthesia machines allow for the basic operation of ventilation, they do not have all the same vital sign indicators that critical care ventilators need. With a shortage crisis on their hands and little time to waste, hospitals and critical care units turned to those who were best suited to provide the necessary skill set to pivot – anesthesiologists. Anesthesiologists are trained for years, with thousands of hours of clinical training and emergency hands-on experience to simultaneously monitor patients and be ready to respond within seconds if anything goes wrong. These physicians were already trained to be human vital sign and problem detectors, exactly what

the modified machines needed. Faced with a challenge to administer care with the critical delicacy and attention to detail needed for this crisis, anesthesiologists stepped up. These physicians clock in 12,000 to 16,000 clinical hours before they even get their title, and they are specially trained to respond to a high-stress, intensive, every-second-matters crisis at any time. “Our position already has such a unique role to play in day-to-day patient care,” Dr. Frank Rosemeier, president of the Florida Society of Anesthesiologists, said. “For many of our members, being able to use our training to help fight back during this crisis wasn’t even a question.” The combination of the modified machines and the anesthesiologists who were able to pivot on the spot meant thousands of patients were, and will, be able to receive care without compromise.



Strategies in the fight against COVID-19 have shifted quite a bit since March. Back then, the new coronavirus was considered only a mild threat to younger patients, the list of symptoms had just a few entries, and public health officials were iffy on whether masks would help flatten the curve. The need for testing, however, has been a constant. And on that front, Ascension Florida delivered. The largest nonprofit health care system in the country — and the largest Catholic health system the world over — serves 200 miles of the Gulf Coast under the Sacred Heart Health System and much of Northeastern Florida through the St. Vincent’s Health System. On March 16, the day the state issued its first coronavirus case report, Ascension hospitals stepped up and opened the first mobile COVID-19 testing sites in their respective regions in response to the growing need for tests. In Pensacola, Sacred Heart opened its drive-thru facility on the same day and tested anyone who called in and matched the prescreening symptom criteria. Ascension operates more than just hospitals and drive-thru testing sites. Sacred Heart and St. Vincent’s both have extensive 108 | INFLUENCE SUMMER 2020

infrastructure, replete with primary care centers, skilled nursing facilities, outpatient centers and outreach ministries. Most importantly, they have labs. In the early days of the pandemic, Ascension Sacred Heart was the only hospital processing tests at its in-house lab. That proved vital, as it allowed front-line health care workers to get tested with a quick turnaround so they could show up for work without fear of infecting patients. Later on, the rapid clip empowered Ascension to pull more weight and process tests conducted at other hospitals in the region. Squashing outbreaks requires timeliness, and with a pathogen this viral, getting results even a few hours quicker can make a substantial impact. “We knew hospitals were burning through PPE quickly while they waited for those persons under investigation test results to come back and if we could provide those results more quickly, it could save us the valuable PPE we all needed,” said Dawn Rudolph, President of Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital. Ascension Sacred Heart has tested more than 13,000 individuals since it began. Ascension Florida similarly set up drive-thru testing sites in Destin, Panama City and Jacksonville.

We knew hospitals were burning through PPE quickly while they waited for those persons under investigation test results to come back and if we could provide those results more quickly, it could save us the valuable PPE we all needed.

AT&T h


Connectedness was profoundly important well before the pandemic. When the coronavirus’ spread shuttered schools and businesses, its importance only grew. For swathes of Floridians — from K-12 and college students to 9-to-5ers and seniors — internet and cell service was the sole tether to the outside world. AT&T was prepared. One of the biggest names in the business, AT&T is constantly working to improve connectivity throughout Florida. Even amid an unprecedented public health crisis, it managed to cap off a three-year, $3.3 billion effort to bolster wireless coverage and grow its broadband service footprint. The telecom giant hasn’t been solely focused on satellites and cell towers, however. When it became clear the pandemic had taken root stateside, AT&T’s response was immediate and robust. In midMarch, long before the virus’ peak, AT&T launched the Distance Learning and Family Connections Fund backed by a $10 million commitment.

The fund is aimed at bridging the digital divide, the breadth and depth of which was made abundantly clear as schoolchildren — some of whom never had a computer or tablet in the home — were forced to finish out the school year online. For the millions of Floridians who found themselves suddenly jobless, AT&T offered leniency. The company announced early on, and often reiterated, that it would not cut service over a pastdue bill. It went further, pledging that no late fees would be added to delinquent accounts during the crisis. Outside of communications, AT&T’s philanthropic arm has been working overtime to ensure urgent needs are met in the communities it serves. In Florida, the AT&T Foundation has shipped grant funds to Baptist Health in Jacksonville to feed homebound senior patients; to Orlando Health to cover living expenses for essential health care workers; and Jackson Health System in South Florida got some assistance to purchase meals and personal protective equipment for its front-line staff. SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 109


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Dental care is essential. "The Florida Dental Association recognizes the 14,000+ Florida dentists who played a role in donating PPE to front-line workers at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, continued to ensure patients had access to emergency dental care at all times, and are going above and beyond to ensure the dental office continues to be a safe place for patients to get the care that they need. Dental care is an essential part of health care and maintaining overall health. Florida's dentists are glad to be back to work." Dr. Rudy Liddell President of the Florida Dental Association, Co-chair of the American Dental Association’s Task Force for Dental Practice Recovery and Member of Governor Ron DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force Industry Working Group




I’ve fielded so many calls from unemployed people, and I just decided that we’re going to do as much as possible to try to fill in the gap until our economy gets back to where it needs to be.


As millions of Floridians have filed for government assistance during the coronavirus pandemic, Sen. Randolph Bracy has helped bridge the gap for his constituents with a series of events to distribute food to those in need. Bracy has been active on the unemployment front, pushing the state to increase benefits for those out of work. In the meantime, Bracy has hosted a half-dozen food distribution events to help feed those impacted by the economic slowdown. “I felt the need,” Bracy said after weighing the impact of the outbreak. “I’ve fielded so many calls from unemployed people, and I just decided that we’re going to do as much as possible to try to fill in the gap until our economy gets back to where it needs to be.” The first of those events was April 3 in Orlando, just after the pandemic began to take hold around the state. Then came another event in Orlando on April 24 at Experience Christian Center. Bracy also partnered with Farm Share for events in Gotha and Zellwood. His most recent food distribution took place in Bracy’s home of Ocoee at Ocoee Elementary School on July 16. “We’ve seen lines for blocks,” Bracy said of the demand he has encountered since April because of the pandemic. “It’s definitely hit some people hard, and once we started to see the reaction, then we just decided we’re going to keep doing them.” Bracy is one of several lawmakers throughout the state who have looked to serve the community during this time of need. Those food distributions have been drive-thru only in order to comply with social distancing guidelines set by the state. Each individual event typically provides enough food to feed more than 500 families. Items available include bread, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, juice and water. Bracy said he worked with Farm Share before the pandemic and typically participated in about two of these a year. Now, he says there’s no end in sight for the ongoing charity work. “At this point, we’re going to keep going indefinitely.”

Being asked for body bags changed our perspective on this growing crisis in an instant.

CDR Maguire h


CDR Maguire came into the world of COVID-19 logistics in the worst way imaginable. Time was short. The need was high. “Find us more body bags” was the directive. “Being asked for body bags changed our perspective on this growing crisis in an instant,” Executive Vice President Tina Vidal-Duart said. With the scarcity of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing supplies, along with fierce competition to acquire them, many worried over how to protect their communities and front-line workers. But how to make it happen? And who can get it done? Vidal-Duart and CDR Maguire President Carlos Duart weren’t sure what they could secure or how quickly, but given years of experience in the health care industry, they knew they had a unique ability and distinctive reach into the marketplace. After hours on the phone with colleagues, and by tapping into their collective pool of resources, the couple found they could, in fact, get the job done. Within 48 hours of the state’s initial request, CDR Maguire secured and delivered body bags and a whole host of supplies, including 5,000 viral test kits. From there, CDR Maguire established a consistent supply of tests and protective equipment for our local communities even as others’ supply commitments be-

came tenuous. In just three short months, CDR Maguire was able to secure and deliver more than 325,000 viral test kits. With an established line to test kits and supplies and COVID-19 cases on the rise, CDR Maguire asked again, “How can we help?” At the behest of the state, CDR Maguire took on the herculean tasks of helping coordinate the management and logistics of local test sites, overseeing field hospitals, and securing more viral kits and lab services. With an 80-year history and over a decade of providing full-service emergency management support, CDR Maguire was able quickly to pivot, mobilize and deliver essential assistance in Florida. Under their testing structure, patient results notifications increased from 1,000 a day to more than 10,000 a day. “CDR Maguire is committed to making sure that our communities have everything they need to be safe during this pandemic, and we will continue to honor that pledge and do everything in our power to help Floridians until this crisis subsides,” Carlos Duart said. At its heart, CDR Maguire’s business is helping communities respond to and recover from disasters. Its work surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has been no different.




While the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything that our state and country have ever experienced, infection control and personal protective equipment (PPE) have been a core part of dentistry for decades. Understanding the importance of practicing effective infectious disease control protocols is an essential part of dentists’ education and training, and it is practiced in dental offices every day. From the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, dentists across Florida donated their PPE to help protect front-line workers. In April, the pandemic caused the postponement of the 2020 Mission of Mercy, a twoday clinic providing free dental services to underserved and uninsured Floridians. The Florida Dental Association Foundation donated the PPE collected for the event, including 500 type 3 masks, 37,000 type 2 masks and 31,000 pairs of gloves. “Dental care is an essential part of health care and maintaining overall health,” said Dr. Rudy Liddell, President of the Florida Dental Association and co-chair of the American Dental Association Task Force on Dental Practice Recovery. “Florida’s dentists are 114 | INFLUENCE SUMMER 2020

glad to be back to work, continuing to use the strictest infection control procedures we have had in place for decades, to ensure that Floridians get the care they need to stay healthy and out of the emergency room.” Liddell played a critical role in helping Florida’s more than 14,000 dentists safely get back to business and treating their patients. In his role on the health care industry working group of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force, Liddell represented the dental industry’s decades of preparation in infection control protocols to protect patient safety as the state prepared to resume elective procedures. At all times, Florida dentists ensured Floridians continued to have access to emergency dental care, while protecting the safety and well-being of their patients and staff. By getting patients critical care to address urgent issues such as infection, trauma and excessive pain and swelling, they also helped keep the strain off hospitals and limit patients’ exposure. As of June 15, more than 98% of Florida dental practices were open and providing their patients with care.

Florida’s dentists are glad to be back to work, continuing to use the strictest infection control procedures we have had in place for decades, to ensure that Floridians get the care they need to stay healthy and out of the emergency room.

Farm Share i


Amid historic unemployment and economic pain caused by the new coronavirus, the nonprofit food bank Farm Share was there to help. Already a year-round lifeline for millions of Floridians living with food insecurity, Farm Share jumped into action to address the record demand forced by the pandemic. Across Florida, residents who were suddenly out of work found themselves unable to pay for the necessities of life. Making things worse, schools were closed, cutting off the primary source of nutrition for many children. From the early days of the crisis through June, Farm Share distributed more than 41 million pounds of food statewide, the equivalent of more than 34 million meals. “Food insecurity was already a challenge for many families before COVID-19, and this global

pandemic has only intensified the problem by making it so much harder for Floridians to get their next meal,” said Stephen Shelley, President and CEO. “Our incredible team at Farm Share and the countless partners and volunteers who pitch in have worked around the clock to make sure food gets into the hands of families who truly need it most.” The pandemic presented more challenges than just higher demand. A key part of Farm Share’s food distribution efforts has traditionally been walk-up events at which Floridians would arrive empty-handed and leave with bags or boxes of food. In the face of COVID-19, crowds became a problem, walk-up events had to be restricted, distance needed to be maintained, masks became a priority. Farm Share distribution events always demand a high lev-

el of coordination, but COVID-19 pushed that to a whole new level. But Farm Share was ready to rise to the occasion, enlisting the help of both old friends and new partners. Working with its communications firm Sachs Media Group, Farm Share forged innovative partnerships across the state. Rideshare company Lyft gave free door-to-food-to-door rides to South Florida residents. Nestlé Waters North America donated more than 250,000 bottles of water to Farm Share that were distributed to Floridians in need. Partnerships have long been a part of Farm Share’s approach. The organization works closely with school districts, state legislators, local officials – actually, anyone who can legitimately support its mission trying to make sure no person goes hungry and no food goes to waste.

Our incredible team at Farm Share and the countless partners and volunteers who pitch in have worked around the clock to make sure food gets into the hands of families who truly need it most. SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 115


By working closely with the Governor and his administration, we’ve supported extraordinary people working to keep vulnerable residents as safe and well as possible – and succeeding far more than recognized.



Even before COVID-19 unleashed its full fury on the Sunshine State, it was clear that Florida’s large population of elders left the state particularly vulnerable. Nowhere was this more clear than in the state’s nearly 700 nursing homes, which generally house older residents with health issues that put them especially at risk. The Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) was ready – as ready as anyone could be for such an unprecedented event. The state’s largest organization of nursing homes has a regular role in Florida’s emergency response operations, and throughout the crisis has maintained staff in the state Emergency Operations Center. During the earliest stages of the COVID-19 crisis, FHCA worked in close partnership with the state to develop protocols to keep nursing home residents and staff as safe as possible. Because of an ever-shifting landscape as federal, state, and local guidelines rapidly changed, FHCA hosted daily briefings for providers with representatives from the Governor’s Office, Agency for Health Care Administration, and Surgeon General. An extensive website and a steady stream of communications also kept providers up to date. “There is no question that nursing home residents are at the highest risk for the challenges presented by COVID-19, and long-term care centers have dealt with unprecedented challenges faced nowhere else,” said


FHCA Executive Director Emmett Reed. “By working closely with the Governor and his administration, we’ve supported extraordinary people working to keep vulnerable residents as safe and well as possible – and succeeding far more than recognized.” FHCA collaborated with hospital representatives to facilitate nursing home and hospital partnerships across the state to smooth the inevitable movement of COVID-positive elders from nursing homes to hospitals and back again. The association also served as a vocal advocate for securing sufficient personal protective equipment for nursing homes and promoted an innovative measure to help ease tremendous staffing challenges by creating a state-approved Personal Care Attendant program to support resident care needs. As a result, providers were able to add to their workforce during the crisis and displaced workers gained a pathway to a career in long-term care. Even as it helped nursing homes deal with the ongoing challenges, FHCA convened a task force of infection control experts, clinicians, and nursing home and assisted living representatives to craft a plan for what reopening long-term care centers should look like. The task force’s recommendations to the state will likely serve as the basis for the eventual reopening of nursing homes across Florida.

HCA Healthcare f



With 45 hospitals in Florida, HCA Healthcare has provided care for nearly one-third of the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations. But the company’s outsized impact has been felt well beyond Florida and the other states in which it operates. Not only has HCA Healthcare taken care of patients at its own hospitals, but at the same time it has supported the resource needs of other health systems. Winning the war against COVID-19 has largely been a battle of logistics for health care providers and government officials — getting the right equipment and supplies where they’re most needed, when they’re most needed, and then moving them to the next hotspot when necessary. At the onset of the pandemic, HCA Healthcare was an early adopter of the collaborative public-private effort among health care providers to face the COVID-19 battle head-on. HCA Healthcare’s CEO Sam Hazen said, “One of the guiding principles we had when we went into this COVID-19 battle was to find partnerships — partnerships with other components of the health care industry, partnerships with other health systems, and partnerships with governments, both local and federal.” The company has done just that. When the New York metro area faced a dire need for ventilators and personal protective equipment, HCA Healthcare stepped up to make things happen — redirecting respirators from its nationwide network of hospitals to get them to hospitals in New York and New Jersey, even though HCA isn’t located in those states. Then, in April, the White House introduced the Dynamic Ventilator Reserve program. The goal was to help deal with the shortage of life-saving ventilators by forging partnerships so hospitals could lend extra unused ventilators to areas in need. The program formalized the process of hospitals working together to combat the spread of COVID-19, and HCA Healthcare was one of the leading participants in the program. As the ongoing COVID-19 battle collides with the 2020 hurricane season, HCA Healthcare is prepared to keep up with increasing and varied demands. The company has shown in the past that it’s able to nimbly move supplies where needed quickly and effectively, within the state or around the country. During Hurricane Michael, for instance, Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center was the only hospital in Panama City to never close its ER. Although COVID-19 is now impacting people across a larger footprint, the extraordinary logistical effort to support the New York area shows the kind of approach that can, and will, work once again in the Sunshine State.

One of the guiding principles we had when we went into this COVID-19 battle was to find partnerships ... SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 117


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None of us can save the world by ourselves, but if each of us who can does our part, we can do what Americans have always done in times of crisis — rise together.

Randy Fine h


Randy Fine woke up on April 20 feeling down. It was his birthday, and his family wanted to know what he wanted to do, or if there was a gift he was hoping to get that would make the day feel special. Nothing came to mind. With more than a million Floridians jobless and a good chunk of them unable to put food on the table, indulging didn’t seem appropriate. Not even on his birthday. But the Brevard County lawmaker did find a way to enjoy his 46th. It started with simple pledge — to donate his entire legislative salary that month to Farm Share, a nonprofit that makes sure needy families have fresh, nutritious 120 | INFLUENCE SUMMER 2020

Florida-grown food. When he announced the plan, he said he hoped to feed 500 families at each of the weekly food giveaways his office planned for April and May. It was a lot of work, but many hands showed up to help get it done. Fine, his staff and a legion of volunteers — about 30 a week, and more than 100 overall — spent their Saturdays handing out food from the back of a semitractor-trailer parked in front of his district office in Palm Bay. It wasn’t a start and stop effort, the people helping box and hand out the food were in constant motion. Cars lined up around the block. Fine says lines were three or four hours long, with

cars wrapping around the block to the point he couldn’t see the end. In the end, it was a birthday, or birthday month, for the record books. Fine not only met his goal, feeding 3,000 families across six events, but Farm Share estimates the crew delivered nearly $200,000 worth of food to needy families at the height of the pandemic. Fine, though, said he was just doing his part. “None of us can save the world by ourselves, but if each of us who can does our part, we can do what Americans have always done in times of crisis — rise together.”

No child should ever have to go to bed hungry, and during the current climate, it’s more important than ever to ensure the most vulnerable children in our community, as well as in communities throughout our country, have access to free, nutritious meals,

Moore i


When it comes to helping fight food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis, Tallahassee’s Moore communications agency cast a very wide net — and then brought their efforts very close to home. Partnering with Feeding America, Moore donated 10,000 meals to children and families in need through the hunger-relief organization’s network of food banks. The national nonprofit estimates an additional 17.1 million people could be food insecure as a result of the pandemic, a 46% increase. Agency owners Karen and Richard Moore matched their company’s national donation, funding a new Summertime Food on the Move program, a mobile food truck style distribution system that delivers free grab-and-go meals. The program, administered by Second Harvest of the Big Bend, aims to distribute 11,000 meals to children in the 32304 ZIP code — ranked among the lowest-income ZIP codes in the nation — and surrounding areas. “The Big Bend has the highest level of food insecurity in Florida — almost 100,000 individuals in our community experience hunger on a regular basis — but the need is so

much greater amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Monique Ellsworth, CEO of Second Harvest of the Big Bend. “We had to reimagine how to effectively connect children to meals throughout the summer, and thanks to community partners like Moore, we are able to lessen the burden of worry for children and families by delivering healthy, nutritious meals to children.” Karen Moore explained her personal and business commitment to fighting hunger. “No child should ever have to go to bed hungry, and during the current climate, it’s more important than ever to ensure the most vulnerable children in our community, as well as in communities throughout our country, have access to free, nutritious meals,” said the CEO and founder of Moore. In addition to making meals available, the agency is donating books and activities in the 32304 ZIP code to provide access to enrichment activities throughout the summer via Second Harvest and the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services’ Summer BreakSpot program.



It was clear to us that Florida was about to be hit with a challenge like none of us had ever experienced before and it was essential that key leaders talk to one another — to exchange knowledge and perspective, and to make sure they were all on the same page.

Sachs Media Group h

Gadsden County hero, nurse Zach Woods, volunteering in New York City during the peak of its COVID-19 crisis.



In late February, long before the COVID-19-related “shutdown” of normal life — and before any regular national, statewide, or local briefings about it had begun — the looming threat of its spread to the U.S. was beginning to clearly emerge. In Florida’s Capital City, leaders from all spheres were working within their own lanes to prepare, but they had not joined as a group to embrace a unified strategy and message to the community. That’s when Sachs Media Group organized a gathering of the community’s key institutional leaders — including executives from the city, county, school system, FSU, FAMU, TCC, Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare, Capital Regional Medical Center, Capital Health Plan, the Florida Department of Health/Leon, local law enforcement, and the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce. Only two cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in all of Florida at the time, but SMG’s experienced 122 | INFLUENCE SUMMER 2020

crisis managers recognized that something needed to be done immediately to prepare the city for what would become a full-blown public health crisis. Hosted by Tallahassee City Hall, the leaders agreed to create an initial set of talking points to immediately share with local residents about what to do and not to do — to protect themselves and their families, neighbors, friends and colleagues. “It was clear to us that Florida was about to be hit with a challenge like none of us had ever experienced before and it was essential that key leaders talk to one another — to exchange knowledge and perspective, and to make sure they were all on the same page,” said Ron Sachs, Founder/CEO of Sachs Media Group, now in its 25th year. “Since that initial meeting, all of those key stakeholder groups have continued to seamlessly work together to protect the community.” Around that time, Sachs Media began weekly statewide surveys to gauge public opinion on how well Floridians

have been dealing with the massive changes to normal life wrought by the COVID-19 crisis. Topics have covered everything from work-from-home to remote schooling, from mandatory face masks to vote-by-mail, from haircuts to maintaining emotional balance. The results of this donated ongoing work have helped arm policymakers and leaders in multiple spheres of influence with insights into how Floridians adapt to the “new normal” (short answer: pretty well) and provided some relevant related sentiments as various aspects of life reopen, or close, again. Meanwhile, Sachs Media Group has stepped up its efforts for clients facing unique issues amid the pandemic. With a client roster that includes nursing homes, hospitals, medical providers, disinfectant manufacturers, local governments, and even a food instability nonprofit, the firm has been deeply involved in providing important information to the public – most recently working with Healthy Start on an initiative to ensure that pregnant mothers have access to prenatal care during the pandemic and launching a COVID-19 is Real campaign for the Gadsden Community Health Council.

South Florida Farmers h


In early March when it became clear the COVID-19 virus had reached the U.S,. South Florida farmers began taking steps to provide for their communities when food and critical supplies started to become scarce. As “critical infrastructure,” farmers took early steps to protect employees, vendors and communities and to remain open and producing food. Actions included closing operations to nonessential visitors; daily temperature checks; mandatory face masks; enhanced disinfecting of touchpoints, equipment and facilities; social distancing; and strict adherence to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines helped keep essential food production jobs and people safe. Led by sugarcane and vegetable farmers, food donation sites were set up throughout the Everglades farming communities in Fort Myers, Naples, Indiantown, Stuart, Royal Palm Beach, Wellington and Greenacres. The companies partnered with Cheney Brothers to make deliveries, and vegetable packaging companies like Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Branch and Pioneer Growers to provide fresh staples such as green beans, sweet corn, organic rice, and bags of sugar to neighbors in need of food. U.S. Sugar, Florida Crystals and Sugar Cane Growers Co-

operative formed the “Neighbors Feeding Neighbors” program to provide Glades residents with almost 600 meals per day from local restaurants over several weeks for a total of more than 20,000 meals served. Additionally, farmers provided more than 11,000 crates of locally grown Florida sweet corn and 120,000 servings of green beans to residents across Southwest and South Florida, benefiting organizations such as the Harry Chapin Food Bank, the Salvation Army, Matthew’s House in Naples, Charlotte County Public Schools, Feeding South Florida, churches, and local, police, fire and first responders. U.S. Sugar provided N95 masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves to all Glades-area first responders, local hospitals and many independent medical providers. Farmers feed others every day and during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Florida farms are open for business and continue to provide fresh food. In the fall when harvesting starts again, farmers say they will continue to look for more ways to bring fresh produce to their South Florida neighbors, even as the state and the nation continue to face economic uncertainty.



Safely delivering clean and resilient natural gas to Florida’s homes and businesses through crises is what we do best,


Just as Florida began to shut down and order residents to stay safe at home, TECO Peoples Gas committed to keeping the energy flowing for people who could not pay their bills. The utility suspended disconnections for failure to pay and also pledged $1 million to help Floridians financially impacted by COVID-19. Half went to the Share program, administered by the Salvation Army, to help families pay their utility bills. The other $500,000 was committed to charitable organizations providing meals, housing, child care and other crisis support. Peoples Gas workers have remained on the job, among the essential employees keeping Floridians alive and well during the COVID-19 “stay-athome” orders — ensuring natural gas remains accessible, reliable and affordable to the more than 400,000 customers they serve in the Sunshine State. As if there weren’t enough uncertainty related to the pandemic, hurricane season, which began June 1, adds another layer of anxiety to Floridians in 2020. “Safely delivering clean and resilient natural gas to Florida’s homes and businesses through crises is what we do best,” said T.J. Szelistowski, President of Peoples Gas. “Hurricane or global pandemic, this is exactly what we’ve prepared for and trained to execute.” Peoples Gas customers range from homeowners who rely on natural gas for generators, stove-top cooking and tankless water heaters, to major hospitals in the region that consider natural gas a critical source to power their operations. In addition, nursing homes depend on natural gas to support their backup generators when the electricity is out because of a major weather event or ordinary system failure. 124 | INFLUENCE SUMMER 2020

Tampa General Hospital has a vision to become the safest and most innovative academic health care system in the country,

Tampa General Hospital h


The team at Tampa General Hospital has contributed to the safety and health of thousands of Floridians during the COVID-19 crisis, but the work of a couple of TGH team members inspired people around the globe. An impromptu photo of nurse anesthetists and spouses Ben and Mindy Cayer staring into each others’ eyes through multiple layers of personal protective gear went viral on social media earlier this year. The couple’s photo and encouraging messages of love and hope were shared by hundreds. Mindy said it has been difficult for patients to be alone while facing a scary health challenge. Ben said, “I’ve told a couple of patients, hey we are your family today.” That has been the motto of TGH since the pandemic began. Tampa General, a 1,006-bed non-profit academic medical center, is the Tampa Bay region’s Level l trauma and comprehensive burn care center. It is one of the nation’s busiest organ transplant centers and is the primary teaching hospi-

tal for the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. In response to COVID-19, TGH has partnered with many organizations and businesses in the Tampa area, including the Florida Aquarium, to assist them in instituting health care safeguards to protect employees and visitors. Additionally, TGH collaborated with other local health care systems to share data, develop dashboards and implement best practices to treat patients diagnosed with the coronavirus. “Tampa General Hospital has a vision to become the safest and most innovative academic health care system in the country,” TGH President and CEO John Couris said. “This data is helping us join forces as health care leaders and systems to fight this global pandemic affecting our entire world.” Mindy Cayer felt the same way the day she and Ben took the photo seen ‘round the world. “We’re all in this together. Now is the time we need to pull together so we can overcome this.”



We thought about where the most need would be ... It would help the thousands or tens of thousands who have been laid off or furloughed, the thousands of businesses that have shut down, and those who are less fortunate and having trouble putting food on the table.

Jeff Vinik h


Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his family are using the trusted Lightning brand for a public outreach campaign informing residents where they can turn for help during the pandemic-induced economic crisis. The Viniks are running ads in newspapers and on the radio, social media, various websites and on billboards pointing individuals to resources to help with unemployment, small business and food assistance. “We thought about where the most need would be,” Vinik told the Tampa Bay Times. “It would help the thousands or tens of thousands who have been laid off or furloughed, the thousands of businesses that have shut down, and those who are less fortunate and having trouble putting food on the table.” The Vinik family also donated $300,000 to Metropolitan Ministries to help fund additional food assistance to meet soaring demand. The nonprofit has


seen its food assistance requests jump from about 200 food boxes a week to 300 and it has a backlog of other assistance requests. With their donation, the Viniks provided some 6,600 food boxes in April, a boost that provided as many as 80,000 meals for families in need. Some of the funding also went toward Metropolitan Ministries’ rent and utility payment assistance program. It’s not the only help Vinik has provided. He donated $50,000 to the University of South Florida’s United Support Fund through the Vinik Family Foundation. The fund was established to help USF students displaced or otherwise negatively impacted by closures related to the novel coronavirus. Under the program, students were able to apply for up to $1,000 to pay for things like rent, utilities, food or unexpected travel home.

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he times, they have a-changed. In the time of coronavirus, there

has been death, illness, lost jobs, lost businesses, lost almost everything for some. Pain. Heartache. Anger.

It seems that the problems of candidates and their

teams don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. But they do matter. Politics always matters. So we gathered some of Florida’s sharpest political minds to ask how the times have changed for candidates and campaigns. James Blair is a Republican political consultant and public affairs strategist and former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Ron DeSantis. Lydia Claire Brooks is a fundraiser, lobbyist, and political strategist. Reggie Cardozo is a Florida based Democratic strategist and corporate consultant. Eric Johnson is president of Johnson Strategies, a political consulting and government relations firm. Steven Marin is a communications and public affairs strategist and president and founder of Marin & Sons, a Miami-based public affairs firm. When they gathered in a Zoom room on May 27 with Orlando-based political reporter Scott Powers, the coronavirus crisis was leveling off and Florida

CAMPAIGNING was reopening. But did anyone expect politics to return to normal anytime soon? We asked. Little did any of us know the upheaval the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed would have on the political landscape in the days to come. All they knew for sure, as they stated before Floyd’s death was a national movement, was that there will be new, unprecedented challenges, “that we cannot predict today.”


There is little or no door-to-door canvassing. There are few or no political rallies. There are few or no live fundraisers. There are few or no political house parties. There are few or no campaign offices packed with volunteers. There are few or no deep-into-the-night bull sessions at watering holes. There are few or no face-to-face meetings with journalists. Am I wrong? STEVE MARIN: No you’re not. It’s a new day for campaigns. There’s going to be a lot of pivots moving forward,

in the

AGE of


on how to communicate, when to communicate, if appropriate to communicate. REGGIE CARDOZO: That’s right. I think campaigns are trying to figure out what’s appropriate, what’s not appropriate, when certain things become appropriate. And in an unprecedented time, we’re trying to prepare accordingly.

Are we going to be changing back to normal, and if so, how soon? LYDIA CLAIRE BROOKS: The view from Tallahassee where I sit right now may look a little different from oth-

er parts of the state. I am starting to get phone calls from candidates about fundraising, asking for money. I think quietly, locally, smaller events. And I also know that some campaigns are making a strong pivot to virtual, digital approaches to campaigning while they can. JAMES BLAIR: You just kind of have to get back to it even if it’s not necessarily ideal. But I think the bigger question is: What do people do with their resources? I think this will change resource allocation in some significant ways, just depending on where your candidate is in a given race and what sort of money they have.



And yet, necessity is the mother of invention. Are you seeing innovations that work now, and will work forever more? ERIC JOHNSON: I think that virtual Zoom type fundraisers, forums and certainly candidate interviews have been very successful and people like them. I think they will be a part of campaigns long after this virus is gone. Also, with so many stuck at home, there has been a huge increase in consumption of over-the-top ads on platforms like Hulu and on channels people watch through Apple TV and Amazon Firestick. The expanded reach and inventory are allowing campaigns to target TV ads much more like digital, which is a very efficient way of buying. 130 | INFLUENCE SUMMER 2020

MARIN: Tallahassee is different than Miami. Miami is different than Broward. When you’re dealing with older voters, Hispanic voters, it’s very different than dealing with English-speaking voters. You’re not going to get older Cubans, older Hispanics on Zoom or on Facebook Live. I will tell you that until now, if your conversation doesn’t start with COVID or coronavirus, it’s not happening. That’s as simple as where they can grab some food to what the hours are at the pharmacy. The other thing that I think everyone on this call is seeing is which one of your candidates is ready, and at what point are they ready to kind of hit the grassroots. And again, your constituents, what are they accepting? Are they accepting a social dis-

tancing knock on the door? Are they accepting being at different places? Again, it’s all geographic. We’re playing it day-by-day.

What would you advise candidates about what sort of image they need to project and embrace regarding the coronavirus crisis? JOHNSON: Incumbents — especially those in executive roles — have an even larger advantage than normal because the public is craving experience. The bomb-throwing outsider looking to shake things up is not appealing now. This is a rare time when people really see a need for government. Incumbents better be helping people get services, talking about how to fix the unem-

ployment system and keep people safe. Challengers should lean on other relevant experience. It has been awhile since “experience” was a great buzz word for candidates. BLAIR: The advice is similar I think to all candidates, but how you do it is different: How they are being helpful. I’ve advised my clients to stay out of the partisan fighting to the degree that they can. But if you’re an incumbent, you can simply be talking about what the response is, depending on what party you are. But still trying to not just be a knife-fighter all the time, but really just pushing helpful information, and using your campaign assets to be helpful. We’ve done that in some cases, where we’ve converted phone-banking operations, which of course are all remote, to just calling and asking people how we can help. If you’re an insurgent or a challenger, I still think you need to talk about it and how you can do better, or why it’s doing well, depending on where you fall on the spectrum, and what your views and beliefs are. But you have to be representing that if you were an elected official today, how would you be reacting. You can’t just bury your head in the sand and talk about everything else. CARDOZO: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think you’ll have Democrats singing one tune. And you’ll have Republicans singing another tune, possibly contradicting each other. In terms of some of the stuff we’re doing, I think James is right, incumbents have a little bit of an advantage here in terms of being able to communicate with constituents. One of the things that we did until very recently in three or four of our South Florida campaigns: We were able to use our volunteer capacity and staff capacity to be making wellness calls, just making sure that our constituents in the height of this coronavirus pandemic were getting the information and resources, or access to the resources that they needed to survive. BLAIR: I do think, obviously at the SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 131


national level, there are increasing levels of debate around the response, and the management in general. I think all of that is going to be pretty significant issues for this campaign, from the state level, all the way to the national level. And there are micro issues within that. We all know there is going to be robust public debate in Florida about unemployment and the unemployment system. We know there is going to be robust public debate at the national level, about China’s role, and the federal government. I do think there is a time and place for that. In terms of posturing, we’re still getting out of the woods.

James Blair

Eric Johnson 132 | INFLUENCE SUMMER 2020

How easy is it to raise money? You’ve not only got fundraisers that are physically difficult to bring together, you’ve also got people who would say, “You’re asking me for money right now?” BROOKS: I think etiquette looks a lot like it normally looks. You’ve still got some email fundraising, you still see some quiet call times being done, which is not public. And I think that comes from knowing your donors, knowing your network, knowing what you can and can’t ask for, and whom you can and can’t call right now. I think it’s really going to highlight who has done the work leading up to their candidacy, who has a network, who has really been involved in their community and can now call on their resources without offending somebody. MARIN: You measure it. Quiet fundraising. You call folks you know and you get a reaction. And you measure it on that reaction. CARDOZO: Tallahassee money is starting to move in a quicker, get back up to speed way than personal money. For some of the personal networks and non-institutional money for some of our clients, we’ve been able to do some of these friends-and-family Zoom-type fundraisers.

MARIN: The thing it comes down to is: who works the hardest. The two that you mentioned: very, very hard workers. It’s different. It’s a matter of the wellness side. The folks that can communicate information. We saw the same thing, the folks that can connect with their constituency can get them accurate information I think will do the best right now. The candidates that are out there on the phone, in the food distribution lines, doing what they need to do are the ones who are going to benefit the most. BROOKS: It really advantages candidates who have a history of doing that kind of thing as well. After a hurricane, have you been the one handing out bottled water and helping your community? I think if you have the history of doing that work, that’s really going to put you at advantage over folks who just don’t have the background of putting in the work. MARIN: A lot of folks in Miami pivoted hard to the electeds that have always been out there in the line, especially in the hurricanes. There are a handful that have been out there front and center. And for non incumbents, the folks who have been active in the community, it’s more natural for them. BROOKS: There are a lot of ways to lead that don’t need, necessarily, being elected. If you’ve been doing that all along you’re going to have a much better road. CARDOZO: Totally agree. Those are the candidates we see, they’re

Lydia Claire Brooks

Steve Marin SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 133

PHOTO: The Workmans

Retail politics. I suspect some candidates would be at keen disadvantage, and some at strong advantage. A serial hugger like Gwen Graham’s probably going to have trouble. A serial headline grabber like Matt Gaetz might thrive. What sort of candidates might benefit from this new age, and why?


not on the level of the incumbents, but they’re definitely getting more traction than some of the candidates who weren’t as involved.

How big of an issue do you think coronavirus is going to be in October?

Reggie Cardozo 134 | INFLUENCE SUMMER 2020

JOHNSON: I do a lot of Democratic primaries and in polling. Concerns about coronavirus are blotting out the sun. I think it will still be the biggest issue in October as people focus on how incumbents handled it and how each party handled it. If not the virus itself, we will be focused on the repercussions to the economy. Certainly, if the virus makes a comeback, it is front and center. BLAIR: The exact issue is, though, exactly how that’s discussed. I think is an open question. If there is, God forbid, a resurgence of cases, then obviously we’re going to be right back to the response, actively, as its unfolding. Let’s assume that’s not the case, and I think we all certainly hope that’s not the case. I think there will be an emphasis on the underlying issues that have been raised that were not as much in focus before the coronavirus. In the federal case I think there’s going to be a lot of discussion around disaster management, the health care system, international alliances, international trade, international organizations, you know, the World Health Organization. Immigration. And of course, the economy, at the national level. And the same thing at the state level: There’s going to be discussion around disaster management, the health care system, health care access, unemployment. I think this election a lot is going to hinge on the general topic of coronavirus. CARDOZO: I don’t think we really know. I think we are trying to prepare our clients for two or three different scenarios, depending on where the world is at that time. I think the list of policy topics James said is spot

on, all the way down from President to dog catcher. If we are in a world where this virus is contained, and people are getting back to their social normals, I think campaigns will be heading more in the direction of normalcy. But I think coronavirus and all the issues that surround it will be a topic for November elections, no matter what.

Time for closing thoughts on campaigning in the time of coronavirus. JOHNSON: We are in absolute uncharted territory right now. Many of the South Florida races I do are traditionally dominated by retail campaigning in senior communities. It is impossible to gather people for a bagel breakfast in the current climate. Vote by mail participation is going to be greater than ever, mak-

ing it harder to predict with whom to communicate and more difficult. Anyone who tells you they aren’t making it up as they go along right now isn’t being completely honest – we are all making educated guesses. BLAIR: Campaigns that are really well run are not static. They are dynamic by their nature. Coronavirus is certainly different than most beasts, but every campaign has its own set of unpredictable factors. I think with all races the folks and the teams that are the most dynamic, most adaptable and the most creative will generally fare well. And the quicker you can adapt and intake information and readapt, and change the plan, you will be better off. BROOKS: Campaigns are already changing from cycle to cycle. We’re learning new digital tools, new strategies, new techniques, shifting the time frames when people are actual-

ly voting. The most predictable thing I can say is we will have something new between now and November. There will be some new challenge, some unknown that we can’t possibly predict today. MARIN: I feel we’re seeing across the state how great our communities are responding to this. We wear the hats of campaign managers, campaign strategists, but the last few months I think have taught us again how great our communities are and how we’ve come together. CARDOZO: I agree with everybody. We are in unprecedented times. I think there will be challenges between now and November that are not only unforeseen challenges but never seen. Unprecedented challenges. Our job is to prepare our clients for as many different scenarios as we possibly can.


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find your happy Leave behind your cares and woes and find your happy year-round on this stretch of North Florida beaches by rosanne dunkelberger photos by mark wallheiser


o matter your vision of a perfect beach vacation, one of the 16 communities along Scenic Highway 30A is sure to fill the bill. For starters, the 27-mile long stretch of Northwest Florida coastline boasts the state’s most beautiful beaches. Over the eons, pure Appalachian quartz made its way to the area, creating sand that is blindingly white, fine and so soft it squeaks when you walk on it. Don’t believe me? Take the word of Stephen Leatherman — aka Dr. Beach — who this year dubbed Grayton Beach State Park as the No. 1 Best Beach in the U.S.

And because of reflection or refraction or some trick of the prism (science is not my strong suit), the clear Gulf waters can appear brilliant blue, emerald green or somewhere in between. Each of the beach communities has its own “personality,” allowing vacationers to choose an ideal spot: from ultra-luxurious accommodations to romantic getaways, to bustling resorts to rustic, back-to-nature living. It’s easy to hop from a lazy day enjoying sun, surf and sand to a rollicking night of entertainment. The only high-rise buildings can be found in Sandestin and at the Sandes-

tin Hilton on the western end of 30A (actually, they’re not exactly on 30A, but rather U.S. 98). Local laws restrict the maximum height of buildings to 50 feet, creating a more natural skyline with glimpses of the sand and water peeking through. Just in case you want to get a closer look, there are nine public beach accesses along the way. 30A’s high season is Memorial Day through Labor Day; fall and spring are shoulder seasons and winter is the off season. October and November are the area’s best-kept secret. During the fall months, the weather is mild (unlike the blazing hot days of summer) and the

(Left) Doughnuts aren’t the only sweet treat available at The Donut Hole restaurant at Inlet Beach. (Right) The Village of Baytowne Wharf in Sandestin is a great place to dine, stroll, shop and have fun.


The accommodations at Alys Beach are all painted white and perfectly positioned to catch the Gulf breezes.

Gulf is swimmable, accommodations have lower rates and the local tourism councils plan all sorts of festivals and entertainments to lure visitors. A note on COVID-19: Unlike in most of Florida’s resort cities, hotels aren’t the main accommodations in Walton County. Fully 87% are vacation rentals, said David Demarest, director of communications for the Walton County Tourist Development Council. Most of the rentals are contracted with large agencies that represent a variety of rental possibilities and offer centralized check-in services. When Gov. Ron DeSantis enacted a ban on short-term rentals in the spring, business in the area cratered during a time when many were hoping to recoup the losses of the slow winter season. Some were able to get around the ban by offering monthly rentals

to folks who decided working from “home” at the beach in Florida was better than, say, a condo in Chicago. Openings, closings and seating limitations for bars and restaurants are changing, based on the status of the coronavirus. Restaurants are encouraging reservations and have also switched to to-go menus. Because of a tweak in the law approved by DeSantis, that now includes cocktails to-go, too. Many popular festivals scheduled for springtime were rescheduled to the fall, but they could be canceled altogether if circumstances warrant. Just because you check into a particular community doesn’t mean you have to stay there — or drive. The Timpochee Trail, a 19-mile stretch that meanders alongside 30A, connects the hamlets, and biking is a favored method of perambulating from place to place.

Seaside’s town center is a popular stopping point. In addition to shopping opportunities, it is also home to the area’s oldest and best-loved restaurant, Bud & Alley’s, as well as Airstream Row, a lineup of the classic trailers serving hot dogs, barbecue, sandwiches, frozen treats … even crepes. Speaking of food, the choices are legion. Pick your price point, cuisine and atmosphere and there is certainly one — actually many — that will fill the bill. If there’s a special occasion to celebrate, Seagar’s at the Hilton Sandestin Beach is a superb choice. The AAA Four-Diamond steakhouse prides itself on its prime meats, tableside preparation (bananas foster, anyone?) and 600-label wine cellar. For more casual fine dining, consider Cuvee 30A at Inlet Beach, celebrity Chef Tim Creehan’s flagship restaurant. Another high-pro-

The neighborhoods along 30A abound with casual and outdoor dining possibilities.



Most resorts offer bicycle rentals. They’re a great way to explore all the communities of 30A, via the 19-mile long Timpochee Trail.

file chef, Emeril Lagasse, opened Emeril’s Coastal at Grand Boulevard in Miramar Beach with a menu featuring Italian cuisine and Gulf-fresh seafood. It’s temporarily closed until July 31. Believe it or not, there is a Red Lobster down the road a piece, but why, when there are well north of 50 restaurants serving seafood that many times has been plucked out of the water a day or two earlier. I have it on good authority from a local fishmonger that here, you’re eating the very

best the Gulf has to offer: the leftovers that don’t get eaten locally are what’s shipped off to New York City. Stinky’s Fish Camp in Dune Allen can hook you up with something delicious grilled, blackened or fried, as well as oysters “all days, all ways.” If you’re waiting on a table, decamp to Stinky’s Bait Shack next door, belly up to the bar and grab a locally brewed beer. If you like your seafood raw, family owned Sushimoto in Miramar Beach is open for takeout only because of

COVID these days. They have traditional sushi and stir fry as well as specials featuring fusion cuisine. For casual dining, The Donut Hole in Inlet Beach is a local favorite. While breakfast, lunch and dinner are served here, in the morning there are lines out the door of people hoping to snag fresh doughnuts and other sweet treats. Trust me, the glazed cinnamon raisin bread is worth every last carb. The breakfast and lunches at Chanticleer Eatery in Santa Rosa Beach are

WaterColor’s FOOW restaurant (left) recently got a makeover. It provides a fabulous water view and overlooks the multimillion-dollar refurbishment of the resort’s pool deck. Park the car (right) and bike your way around 30A.


After burning to the ground in February 2019, Grayton Beach’s The Red Bar has risen from the ashes to provide a fun and funky time for patrons.

delicious and the decor is unique and colorful. Hope you like roosters! Where to stay, where to stay? Hilton Sandestin Beach offers all the amenities of a hotel stay — bellmen, three pools, a full service spa, half a dozen restaurants and every room has a water view. Rosemary Beach recently added the new luxury boutique hotel, The Pearl, to the neighborhood. It, too, has a spa offering poolside massages and Havana Beach Bar & Grill, designed as an homage to Ernest

Hemingway’s favorite Cuban bar. As noted before, most of the accommodations are privately owned and managed by large rental companies. Some specialize in particular neighborhoods, others offer a varied portfolio. Staying in certain locales — Sandestin, Rosemary Beach, Seaside, WaterColor and Alys Beach come to mind — gives guests special access, including beach clubs, fitness centers, recreational equipment and special events. The South Walton website (vis- is chockablock with information about the accommodations you can find along 30A as well as food, recreation, rentals … you name it. It’s definitely a key guide when planning your beach vacation. I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the activities available in the region and completely left out some: golf, art, hiking, shopping, just to name a few. You will never be bored — unless the idea of sitting still, doing nothing is your idea of a perfect beach vacation.

Pick up something to nosh on at Airstream Row (left), or re-provision your cottage (right) at one of Seaside’s several shops.



At a glance: The Neighborhoods of 30A INLET BEACH


If you want to go to a spot that has been a local favorite for years, this is your beach. Move inland a bit and you’ll find great shopping and creative cuisine.


The location hops the highway, so guests can enjoy the luxury and hospitality of the beachside WaterColor Inn & Resort or get back to nature paddling on Western Lake.

Another carefully planned community, Rosemary Beach offers natural beauty, walkability and a variety of shopping and dining experiences.

GRAYTON BEACH Funky and full of activity, Grayton Beach is home to artists, restaurants and bars with a laid-back attitude.



With a distinctive green and white palette, the newest neighborhood is expanding to include more shopping and dining possibilities as well as a beach club and Zuma — not quite a spa or fitness club, but “a place for fitness, restoration and an elegant spirit of balance.”

The “mountain” here is 65 feet high and the pace is slow, a favorite for beachgoers.


Perfect for those seeking a quiet, yet family friendly spot to unwind and enjoy.

The area’s largest and one of the earliest beach neighborhoods, there is a great variety of accommodations and things to do. Also home to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who caused a brouhaha trying to get the beach in front of his $7 million house declared private property.



A private community, you’ll find a touch of the Eastern seaboard in its beach cottages and more modern condos.

The “artsy” section of 30A, it’s lively and family friendly.


Ideal for nature lovers, it includes three coastal dune lakes — some of the only such lakes in the world — and Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.


With oak trees and magnolias, Seagrove combines a natural look with upscale shopping and dining experiences.

SEASIDE Oozing charm and memories of the good old days, Seaside is the region’s original New Urbanism neighborhood, intentionally designed to encourage walking, biking and connecting with others.


MIRAMAR BEACH/SANDESTIN/SEASCAPE Home to two of the area’s largest resorts, Sandestin and the Hilton Sandestin Beach. If you’re looking for lots of action and amenities, these are right for you. And they’re just a hop, skip and a jump from the massive Silver Sands outlet mall.

Grayton Beach State Park is home to three rare dune lakes. Some of the lakes are self contained, but others occasionally “blow out” and connect with the Gulf of Mexico.





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What I’ve Learned

Craig Fugate 61, Gainesville Master of Disaster in Florida and the U.S. AS TOLD TO ROSANNE DUNKELBERGER

ABOUT HIS EARLY DAYS: My dad’s family is from Alachua. He was in the Navy when he met my mom, and I was born at Jacksonville Naval Air Station. We ended up moving up and down the East Coast. I lived in Maryland, Chesapeake, Virginia, and Jacksonville. My mom passed away when I was 10. My dad was still in the Navy so me and my two sisters went back to Alachua County to live with his mom. Pretty much, I’ve lived in Alachua County ever since. ABOUT HIS START IN EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: I went to both Florida State Fire College and Santa Fe College for my EMT and paramedic training. As a new lieutenant, I had to work on an administrative project. I chose one updating the county’s emergency plan. I was doing some online courses at the University of Cincinnati and one of the classes I was taking was disaster planning. So I thought I could actually use updating the county’s plan as part of my project I was working on for my classes. The two-week assignment kept extending. This was right after Hurricane Elena had occurred, and they’d been doing all these reviews of the county plans and stuff like that trying to figure out which way they were going to go. I was asked to brief a new County Commissioner and County Manager Bob Fernandez. That led to Fernandez saying I should stay on. So, I transitioned full time into emergency management.


PHOTO: The Workmans

“If you let politics be your only guide in this business, you’re going to be very short-lived. You’ve got to be willing to sit down with everybody — people that don’t agree with you and don’t agree with your President.” SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 145

SEND IN THE CAVALRY! Crisis Communications Political Consulting Public Affairs



Craig Fugate appears with Gov. Jeb Bush during the 2005 annual hurricane briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. Photo: David Bujak.

ABOUT HIS TIME AS DIRECTOR FOR THE FLORIDA EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT DIVISION AND “THUNDERBOLTS”: I think of my spark as, “How do you solve problems and how do you change outcomes?” There are a lot better planners than me. I found my skill was helping define what success looked like and establishing the framework for the team to work through — and then get out of the way of smart people. When we run the state emergency operations, we have agencies from all over state government and the private sector. We have voluntary agencies in there, and the solutions they come up with a lot of times just amaze me. What I realized was plans don’t respond, people do. If we build the right environment, EOC is really a problem-solving engine. Thunderbolts were no-notice exercises I would just randomly call. They were something to get the teams to think beyond what they were doing on a daily basis, especially after 9/11. We began looking for things that could happen that hadn’t happened, or things that challenged the way we operate in a way that got people really thinking about how to think about disasters, how to do more than just react to or follow the plan. You weren’t making disasters fit the plan, you were adapting your plan and team to what was in front of you. ABOUT HIS TIME AS FEMA DIRECTOR: I worked for Gov. Jeb Bush, and the Obama administration actually thought they got a crossover pick until they found out I was a Democrat. It was almost a scandal. I know politics. I understand politics. I have a lot of my own

opinions, but we have to be apolitical and seen as honest brokers. If you let politics be your only guide in this business, you’re going to be very short-lived. You’ve got to be willing to sit down with everybody — people that don’t agree with you and don’t agree with your President. The late Sen. Tom Coburn was known as Dr. No to everybody on both sides of the aisle. His chief complaint was the waste and abuse of federal taxpayer money. He had an annual report called the Wastebook — a list of the stupidest things the government spends money on. And FEMA was usually prominent in that book. The first time I testified before him, he basically ate our lunch. We couldn’t do anything right. The only thing we could tell anybody was how much money we spent. My staff really didn’t like working with him or his staff. I said “Set up a meeting. We’re going to get bashed in these hearings, at least let’s sit down and see if we can find any common ground.” In person Coburn was very, very pleasant, but he was very firm about his positions. He said “Craig, if you’ll just give me the information, we can work together.” In 2009, FEMA was called in on the problem of unaccompanied immigrant children along the U.S. border. We had several thousand kids in detention centers. We were asked by the National Security Council staff to see if we could help. I was told “You need to call Sen. Coburn and brief him on this.” We placed a call. And Sen. Coburn starts off, “Hey Craig, how could I help?” This is the guy that everybody at the Department of Homeland Security was afraid of and his question to me wasn’t on immigration policy. How’d it get so screwed up? Why was FEMA there? His only question was “Craig, how can I help?” ABOUT THE GENESIS OF THE WAFFLE HOUSE INDEX: In 2004 Florida got hit by four hurricanes. The first was Charley down in Southwest Florida. I ended up staying in Charlotte County for a couple of weeks. The only meal we could count on was breakfast. We’d head onto the interstate to go look for something. There was nothing open where we were. We ended up driving south and got to a Waffle House that was open. They gave us a mimeographed sheet and said “We lost power. Everything in the freezer is gone. The only thing we have is stuff on this menu.” Turns out Waffle House is one of the most resilient food chains that we’ve ever worked with. They don’t close as a business model for anything short of emergencies. The two folks I was with were Tad Warfel, now a colonel in the Florida National Guard although he was a major at the time, and Ben Nelson, who was our state meteorologist and is now with the National Weather Service. We were color-coding counties like a stoplight — red was bad, yellow was progress and green was OK. They slipped the Waffle House Index into my (PowerPoint) deck. If they’re open with a full menu it’s green, if they’re open with a limited menu it’s yellow and if they’re closed it is red. What happened next was what made it, I guess, into disaster lore. That year, we started responding to hurricanes as soon as the winds died down; we weren’t even waiting for an assessment or a request for assistance. But the question was: How do you know you’re in the hard-hit area? Where do you get off the road and go to work? That became the shorthand: the Waffle House. If you get to the Waffle House and they’re SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 147

WHAT I’VE LEARNED open they’ve got a full menu, then it’s probably not that bad, keep going. If you get there and they have a limited menu, we’re probably dealing more with mass care issues because of power outages. People lost all their food, stores have been closed, things haven’t come back online. But if you get there and the Waffle House is closed because of the storm, that’s pretty bad. That’s probably where you want to start going to work. Think of the Waffle House as one of those vital signs. It won’t tell me everything about the area of impact, but at a very quick glance, the status of the Waffle House can tell me a lot about what’s going on in that community. ABOUT WALKING OUT ON THE MSNBC COVID-19 INTERVIEW: This was before we hit our first big milestones and deaths, and I was getting a lot of requests to talk because FEMA wasn’t talking. I’m not a debater. I don’t get up and I don’t advertise myself as a talking head to get up there and debate. I pretty much deal with what I know. When the other guy started ranting and raving about “we need a single point, one leader” …. I was very vocal that that was a bad idea for a lot of reasons. This idea that some military leader or some genius is going to come in and save us all doesn’t work, hasn’t worked, never seen it work. And I wasn’t even going to get a chance to respond to that. I realized I am now sucked into a debate that is totally meaningless. I just could not get over this sense that we’re debating and blaming and nobody was understanding the tsunami of deaths that was coming and how bad this was going to get. They needed to be doing stuff, tools like the Defense Production Act. FEMA had a lot of programs that could have been turned on that ultimately Congress dealt with in the CARES act. ABOUT RETIRING: Somebody tweeted that I was retired and I responded back, “Retired? I’m not dead yet.” I don’t really ever see myself formally retiring. This is what I do. This is my passion. As long as I am able to contribute, as long as people are interested in what I have to say, I don’t ever see myself retiring. I may slow down. I may get to the point where I’m no longer able to do what I do. But I don’t really see this “Yeah, I’m going to work until I’m 65, retire, and go off and drink boat drinks and hang out and live the Jimmy Buffett fantasy life.” I may do boat drinks, but it won’t be because I retired.


I don’t really ever see myself formally retiring. This is what I do. This is my

passion. As long as I am able to contribute, as long as people are interested in what I

have to say, I don’t ever see myself retiring.

TOP: Fugate, at right, speaks with the Rev. Franklin Graham at a memorial service for victims of Hurricane Charley in Arcadia in 2004. BOTTOM: Michael Chertoff, left, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Gov. Jeb Bush appear with Fugate at a briefing on Tropical Storm Ernesto in August 2006. Photos: David Bujak.



Our team extends our gratitude to our heroes and first responders in the war against COVID-19. Thank you to the doctors, nurses, grocery workers, restaurant staffers, manufacturing and research teams, essential government workers, and so many others.

(850) 205-9000 SUMMER 2020 INFLUENCE | 149

The Big Question



ALLISON AUBUCHON, President, Allison Aubuchon Communications: Drop everything and see your mom and dad down in Stuart. Get and give all the hugs. Soak up every minute. LILLIAN BLESSING, Real Estate Consultant: Make sure you and yours take good care of each other. KATIE BOHNETT, State Campaign Organizer, REFORM Alliance: To invest in Zoom! Also, to be thoughtful about my home set up as we spend a lot more time here these days while it serves many additional functions than it had pre-COVID. And, ranging from co-workers to colleagues to friends and family, lots more people now get a glimpse inside my living and working space. GUS CORBELLA, Senior Director, GreenbergTraurig: Rather than worry, I hope you will use this time to be close to and care for those you love. My hope is that you will consider this uncertain time a gift, and that you will fill that space with something you will be proud of when we come out of it safely on the other end. And buy more wine. TOWSON FRASER, President, Fraser Solutions: Forget the toilet paper and Lysol — there will be plenty. Worry about the three Bs — Stock up on booze, bacon and beef!


JENNIFER GREEN, President and owner, Liberty Partners of Tallahassee: Pandemics stop business but they don’t stop fundraising calls. MARION HAMMER, Executive Director, Unified Sportsmen of Florida: Looking forward, people will behave like idiots. People who say they value freedom will surrender it without question. Political persuaders will pass themselves off as medical experts. Benjamin Franklin warned us: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

DEBRA HENLEY, Assistant Dean Career Services & Professional Development, Florida State University College of Law: Don’t wait till “later” to travel and see the world.


CASH JACKSON, Shareholder, Becker & Poliakoff: It is really true that there is no time like the present. Therefore, cherish every minute as if it were your last. Knowing what I know now, I would have traveled more, laughed more and lived more.

Converge Government Affairs: Your new dishwasher and new oven will both break by mid-July from overuse. Call in advance for parts.

DAVID MILLNER, President, The Millner Group: Stock up on toilet paper. RICK OPPENHEIM, President & CEO, RB Oppenheim Associates: Have courage and be creative! Don’t worry about working remotely; you’ve got a good team and the right tools. Trust them. Consider new paths and alternate ways of doing business. Adapt or die! Oh, and buy Zoom stock. SEAN PHILLIPPI, Democratic strategist and Managing Member, TLE Analytics: Never take the blessings of today for granted. Keep reminding yourself that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, and even if it does come to pass, it may look dramatically different from what you expected. Aggressively practice gratitude as you may not get another opportunity to do so. NOAH PRANSKY, Investigative & political reporter, NBCLX: Size matters! Choosing an apartment with a short walk to the office doesn’t mean much once that apartment permanently replaces your office. Squeezing a full TV studio into your home isn’t as easy in Manhattan as it was in Florida. EVAN ROSS , Government & Public Affairs, Public Communicators Group: I would tell myself to hug my mom more. It’s not that I didn’t hug her every time I saw her. It’s just that having not hugged her since the end of February reminds me of what’s important.

RON SACHS, CEO, Sachs Media Group: I would direct myself to have face-toface meetings with every member of my family, near or far, and every friend, colleague and client — to let them know how important they are to me, and to give them a safe and hearty hug. MIKE SCUDIERO, Senior legislative aide, Florida House: Live your absolute best life in January and February, because the rest of 2020 is going to really, really suck. And be careful around other people and crowds, damn it, or you may not be alive next January. JOHN P. “JACK” SEILER, Principal, Seiler, Sautter, Zaden, Rimes & Wahlbrink: Don’t delay grabbing the pint of Guinness with your buddies, be sure to hug your parents every time you see them and get to the barber shop! LANE STEPHENS, Partner, SCG Governmental Affairs: If you build it, they will come. Invest in Zoom!

ANNETTE TADDEO, State Senator, District 40: Hmm, I’m getting this urge to buy stock in Zoom. Or … Hey look, Publix is having a sale on toilet paper, let’s buy extra rolls. STEVE VANCORE, President, Vancore Jones: Cherish the ones you have near you and be mindful that nobody is promised another day. RICK WILSON, Author, Republican consultant: Zooming with friends isn’t the same as sitting on the porch with them, talking too loud and opening too many open bottles of wine.




We honor and thank the heroes of the war against COVID-19 — the doctors and nurses, the grocery workers, the restaurant staffers, the manufacturing and research teams, the essential government workers, the people who deliver our mail and packages, and so many others.


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