Nine years ago, we decided to publish a list of the 100 most powerful people in Sarasota. For several months, we collected, analyzed and squabbled over an ever-growing list of names, then struggled to encapsulate each person’s achievements, personality and place in the town’s hierarchy in a 40 to 50-word description. Finally, exhausted and alarmingly behind on everything else, we sent the story off to the printer and waited, with a mixture of pride, glee and apprehension, to see how it would be received.
Well, the earth didn’t move and we didn’t make publishing history, but we sure received a frenzy of phone calls, letters and comments; and that March 1993 magazine became our single most-requested issue ever. People still trickle in and ask for it. Publishers notice things like that, and for several years ours has been prodding us for an updated version.
Happy as we were to laze on our laurels, we had to agree a new list was long overdue; power, as Herodotus noted, is precarious, and few hold it forever. Besides, in a city with so many newcomers-and so many old-timers as well-the players change even more quickly than in places with more stable populations.
And, in fact, although our definition of power remains the same-the ability and inclination to make things happen, especially things that affect the shape and character of the city-the overwhelming majority of the names on the 2002 list, which begins on page 46, are new. What else is different? Nine years ago, some of the town’s biggest power brokers were bankers, but only four bankers made this year’s list. Because of consolidation and other changes in that industry, today’s bankers often enter and exit the local scene quickly; with neither the roots nor the autonomy to get deeply involved, they’re less likely to devote themselves to the community.
We also seem to have fewer of the multi-faceted visionaries Sarasota is famous for-articulate, sophisticated people who understand and care about the arts, politics, and the civic good as well as business. Maybe that wider vision and sense of social responsibility were more highly developed in the generations that are now passing, or maybe the town is just getting too big for anyone to take in the entire view. But as a newspaper old-timer commented in one of our meetings, those folks were fun and fascinating in a way that some single-issue newcomers simply aren’t.
Any good list, of course, tells a story, and despite those small changes, the story our list tells about Sarasota is unchanged in its essentials. About one-third of our power is concentrated in the arts, not-for-profits and the retired; about 10 percent comes from government and politics; and the number of people in real estate and development far outweigh those in other businesses. Some smaller centers of power: Six people represent tourism and the hospitality industry, seven are attorneys and seven come from the media (usually from the business rather than the reporting end, we were miffed to note). In other words: Sarasota is still a town that’s primarily about retirement, leisure time and real estate. Also, in an era when many rapidly growing cities are becoming more multi-cultural, we remain overwhelmingly white. Only a smattering of minorities show up on our list (or in our census data), although we do have more than we did in 1993, including some Hispanics.
Every story needs some surprises and a villain or two, but you’ll have to read ours to decide who they are. And once again, we’re braced for your reaction. If, as Seneca said, "To be able to endure odium is the first art to be learned by those who aspire to power," how much truer that is for those who aspire to write about the powerful!