Our list of the people, places and things that shape Orlando, or should
That other newspaper, the name of which escapes us at the moment, publishes an annual list of the 25 most powerful people in Central Florida that is, frankly, depressing as hell. It's as chockablock with developers, politicians and high-level business execs as you'd guess such a list might be in a town constantly criticized for lacking any real cultural spark. Are we really so hidebound that the average "player" on such a list is a 57-year-old white guy?
But we also know there's another Orlando out there, one that isn't (always) ruled by the almighty dollar. And it's populated by folks who don't necessarily see it as their mission in life to make that other paper's list; they'd rather live in an interesting, dynamic city than rule in a dull one.
So here's our list of people who wield some measure of influence in that Orlando, or should. We're not saying the other paper's list is wrong; to the contrary, it's all too right. But maybe Orlando would be a little less parochial if a few of the following folks made that annual compendium.
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Managing partner, NeJame, LaFay, Jancha, Barker and Tumarkin
He's short, he's pushy, he's funny, he's impeccably groomed – and in this town, Mark NeJame is a player. He's been a high-profile, media-savvy (he was once married to WESH-TV anchor Wendi Chioji) criminal defense attorney for years, unafraid to open his files to local media (us included) when he thinks it will help his client. He defended I-Drive mogul Jesse Maali when the Feds accused him of being a terrorist, and for the last two years, he's had the thankless job of defending city commissioner Ernest Page. NeJame won the protracted battle over Page's disputed, and narrow, 2004 election victory, but for good reason – the law was clearly on his side. This year, with criminal charges hanging over Page's head, things might not be as easy. Still, if Page wants someone who can work the cameras as well as the courtroom, he went to the right place.
But more importantly, NeJame is a mover and shaker on the downtown scene. He's not just the majority owner of Tabu – which has been open longer than most of Orlando's nightclubs – but he's also an advocate for bar owners all over downtown and one of the leaders in the (now on hiatus) push for longer drinking hours. When that becomes an issue again – and it will – expect NeJame to be front and center, lobbying for the city to treat its citizens like adults.