No. 10 on the list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians: Bob Gualtieri

Bob Gualtieri
The Sheriff made headlines in the past year for his no-nonsense approach to COVID-19 mitigation.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri fell three spots this year after being named No. 7 in the previous list for his work in leading statewide school safety efforts

Gualtieri is recognized as one of the most measured and straight-faced Tampa Bay politicians. He made headlines in the past year for his no-nonsense approach to COVID-19 mitigation and a successful reelection campaign.

“Bob Gualtieri is as straightforward as they come. He’s got a clear sense of who he is, how he got here and where he wants to be. From detention deputy to lawyer, to his appointment and subsequent reelection as Pinellas County’s chief lawman, Sheriff Gualtieri’s deep experience has served him exceedingly well over the years,” said Preston Rudie, Founder of Catalyst Communications Group. 

The Republican Sheriff had a wildly successful reelection campaign, earning 63% of the vote in November. His opponent, Democrat Eliseo Santana, mustered only 37% of the vote. 

Gualtieri’s ranking this year may have taken a slight hit as the Pinellas County Sheriff is no longer serving as the Florida Sheriff’s Association President. That position, which now belongs to Gilchrist County’s Bobby Schultz, made him not only Pinellas County’s top cop but also perhaps the most influential local law enforcement officer in the state.

However, the Sheriff was still a force to be reckoned with amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Gualtieri came down hard on Pinellas County bars and restaurants at the start of December after leading an investigation that showed a rising trend of establishments not in compliance with COVID-19 ordinances.

The Sheriff scrutinized business places for not meeting staff masking requirements, not distancing tables by at least 6 feet, and allowing patrons to congregate. He made it clear that he would crack down on restaurants and bars if the problem is not addressed.

In the past year, Gualtieri also carried out several reforms in the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, including adding body cameras to all deputies in the agency, at a price tag of $3 million a year from the Board of County Commissioners.

The Sheriff also expanded a deputy-social worker unit tasked with responding to mental health-related calls.

Gualtieri initially made it into the list’s Top 10 last year after spearheading school safety initiatives statewide and pushing legislation to prohibit sanctuary cities.

After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Gualtieri headed the MSDHS Public Safety Commission. Under Gualtieri’s leadership, that group released a 500-page report highlighting school safety recommendations.

Gualtieri was initially appointed Pinellas County Sheriff by former Florida Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 after then-Sheriff Jim Coats stepped down to care for his wife. The incumbent was reelected in 2012 and again in 2016. 

In October, Gualtieri was given the 2020 Leadership Award by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). Gualtieri was the first Sheriff to receive this recognition in the 25 years PERF has presented the honor.

“He’s built a strong support network both at the local and state level and continues to grow his brand, despite seeing his share of challenging stories. Sheriff Gualtieri makes his case, sticks to it, and overcomes, often unscathed. It’s that kind of resilience that gives him serious political security in his current job and a solid launching pad for a bigger one,” Rudie said.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


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