Ask almost anyone who is the most powerful non-elected individual in north Pinellas and the name Ed Armstrong is almost always mentioned.
He advises local political leaders on policy and how to deal with the media, and he represents developers before them. Employees of the Clearwater firm where Armstrong has made his name, Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel & Burns, give thousands of dollars to campaigns each year.
The Church of Scientology has turned to him in the past, as did the Tampa Bay Rays when they needed help keeping alive a plan for a waterfront ballpark in St. Petersburg.
A profile in the Tampa Bay Times said that critics of Armstrong contend he has a “dark influence” over the Pinellas County Commission. But even those critics agree that Armstrong is perhaps the closest thing Pinellas politics has to a rainmaker.
But in a move that is sending shockwaves through north Pinellas’ legal and political circles, Armstrong on Friday left Johnson, Pope for Tampa-based law firm Hill, Ward, Henderson.
There’s no word yet on why Armstong decided to leave Johnson, Pope, as calls to Armstrong, Hill Ward Henderson, and Johnson Pope have not been returned.
A source close to the developments tells me that Armstorng is taking Katie Cole along with him to Hill Ward Henderson. The same source says that attorney Steve Williamson is taking over much of Armstrong’s previous responsibilities with Johnson, Pope.a
As for the political ramifications of Armstrong’s decision, as Clearwater Chamber of Commerce president Nick DiCeglie observes, “As long as Ed Armstrong continues his uncanny ability to identify winning candidates and successfully raise money, he will rain an influential political figure in Pinellas County.”
Johnson, Pope, however, could suffer from Armstrong’s leaving, although it is still Clearwater’s most prominent land-use law firms.
Material from the Tampa Bay Times‘ Will Van Zant was used in this post.