Uber, the hired-car company seeking to secure its presence in Florida, has taken on former Florida-based lobbyist Stephanie Smith to head up its external affairs in the Sunshine State.
Smith will leave her Atlanta-based post as AT&T’s director of public affairs for Florida and Georgia. She’ll direct Uber’s media and public relations and lobbying efforts.
Smith and Uber representatives declined to comment before the company makes a formal announcement.
She joins the ride-hailing service as it fights on several fronts in Florida, including legislative, legal and public opinion.
Local regulators and taxi companies have bitterly fought Uber, saying it needs to play by the same rules that apply to them, including on vehicle inspections, background checks and insurance requirements.
She has long been known in the Capitol for her sunny disposition and seemingly ever-present smile.
“She really does bend over backwards to be nice to people,” said Kevin Cate, a Tallahassee-based PR consultant. “I can’t say enough nice things about her.”
Cate also was spokesman for Democratic challenger Charlie Crist‘s 2014 campaign for governor. Smith was an official in the former governor’s administration when he served as a Republican, serving as a deputy chief of staff and director of external affairs.
“She’s incredibly good at separating the business from the personal and has this ability to make everyone smile,” said Anna Alexopoulos, an account manager with On 3 Public Relations, also in Tallahassee. “Even if she’s on the opposite side of an issue, people still love her.”
Smith also was the special events coordinator for then-Gov. Jeb Bush and a business development liaison in his Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development.
With Uber, she has her work cut out for her.
Over the last few years, a group of Republican lawmakers has tried to pass legislation helping Uber and similar concerns operate here. They include state Sen. Jeff Brandes, state Rep. Jamie Grant, state Rep. Matt Gaetz, and now House Republican Leader Dana Young.
Bills that failed last year are expected to be filed again soon, including measures that could strip power from local governments to regulate such companies and better structure insurance requirements for their drivers.
Uber, for example, has said it’s not a transportation company and shouldn’t be regulated like taxis and limos. Rather, it’s a technology concern “that connects people who need a ride with people who can provide one.”
Uber drivers don’t work for Uber; they’re self-employed. Customers use Uber’s smartphone app to find available drivers near them, summon them and pay for the ride. The San Francisco company’s business model involves taking a cut of the transaction.