They are familiar faces playing familiar roles, a longtime role model rising to the top job and a newcomer to the region leading a venerable local institution. They are among the five most interesting Tampa Bay leaders to watch in 2018:
Hillsborough County commissioner
Longtime Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan faces a critical year as the point person in the effort to build a new baseball stadium in Tampa for the Tampa Bay Rays. Hagan is dogged in pursuit of his priorities, and he knows how to work the system. But soliciting public support for an expensive new stadium will be a challenge in an election year, especially for a Republican. Hagan also has the disadvantage of being largely alone among Tampa-area elected officials in focusing on the stadium issue. He will have to be creative with a stadium financing plan and build broader public and political support to make this work.
Hillsborough schools superintendent
Superintendent Jeff Eakins promises 2018 is finally the year for a financial turnaround at the Hillsborough County School District. Eakins has phased out hundreds of jobs, cut spending and services, and worked to shore up cash reserves. But he says he still needs 2018 to right-size the staff and stabilize the budget for the long term. He has to satisfy a number of tough constituencies, from the credit rating agencies to the School Board — and three board members are up for re-election this fall. Given the district's standoff with the teachers in 2017 over pay raises, Eakins can't expect much support from the rank-and-file as he faces tough choices.
TECO president, CEO
Two years after purchasing Tampa Electric, its Canada-based parent company, Emera, dispatched Nancy Tower from the corporate office to become the new president and CEO of the local utility. This marks a shift in the home-grown leadership for which TECO was famous. Tower will oversee the response to the serious accident at the utility's Big Bend power plant in June, which killed five workers. She will guide the investor-owned company as the industry faces new calls for competition and greater use of cleaner energy. And she will be tested on Emera's commitment to civic service in Tampa, which has long been TECO's strong suit.
St. Petersburg College president
Two barriers fell when Tonjua Williams was tapped as St. Petersburg College president in June. A 30-year SPC employee who rose through the ranks, she became the college's first female and first African-American leader. Williams is adjusting to being in the top job, and she's determined to expand SPC's role in alleviating poverty and creating economic mobility. She's focusing on what she calls the "four C's": Culture at the college, community engagement, collaboration through local partnerships and creativity in decisionmaking.
St. Petersburg mayor
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman narrowly won re-election after waging a partisan campaign for a nonpartisan job. Now he has to unite the city and steer big projects to completion. The new police headquarters is well under construction, and the new Pier is in the early stages with issues such as a public art installation, naming rights and restaurant space still up in the air. Kriseman also has to follow through with expensive sewer repairs, and he has an opportunity to transform the city by redeveloping the 85 acres at Tropicana Field with or without a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.