Profile: Stephanie Kopelousos
Florida's new transportation chief wants to take the state in a new direction. Mapping it out will be tough in an era of diminishing resources.
As she works on the state and federal issues, Kopelousos has no small share of departmental challenges. Her leapfrog ascension may have prompted an exodus of senior management at DOT. Two assistant secretaries — for finance and administration and for intermodal systems development — are among several who’ve left in the past year; the agency’s popular chief engineer, Ananth Prasad, is the latest to leave for a private firm. Her defenders point out that the agency always struggles with losing talented staffers to private engineering firms, a particular problem in this era of privatization.
They also think her political skills and depth of knowledge more than compensate for not knowing the technical specifications of concrete mixes. “She’s the person who can lead us to that new place,” says Marcos Marchena, chairman of the Florida Transportation Commission. “I’m not saying she can do it by herself, but she is the leader with the right mix of knowledge of the transportation industry and a whole lot of political savvy.”
Kopelousos, now working to rebuild her senior staff, remains ever-conscious about making connections, whether human or intermodal. It’s a lesson she carries from Fowler, her mentor, who died of a brain hemorrhage in 2005. The other powerful woman in her life, her mother, also died suddenly of a brain aneurism — in 1984, when Kopelousos was only 14. Always in the back of her mind, she says, is the question she imagines her mother and Fowler would ask: “Is it the right thing?”