People and Community

Two leaders from the University of Miami named 2020 Herald Influencers

Through the end of this year, they will join a group of statewide leaders from a variety of perspectives and industries in assessing the major challenges facing the state of Florida.
Herald Florida Influencers series logo

Rudy Fernandez, the University’s senior vice president for public affairs and communications and chief of staff to the president, and Dr. Hansel Tookes, assistant professor at the Miller School of Medicine, were tapped as influencers for the Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, and Bradenton Herald 2020 Florida Influencers series.

They will join other prominent Floridians through the end of 2020 in assessing the biggest issues facing the state and in finding solutions to its problems.    

Tookes, a faculty member in the Department of Infectious Diseases, has been a tireless advocate for needle exchange programs to help reduce the rate of HIV since his years as a medical student.

In 2016, the Florida legislature allowed the University to establish a pilot needle-exchange program by passing a law called the Florida Infectious Disease Elimination Act, or IDEA.

Last year, the state legislature passed a bill to expand the Miami-Dade pilot program, allowing additional counties to take part in the needle exchange, with approval by county commissions. Counties can contract with hospitals, health clinics, or medical schools to operate the programs.

“I spent the last decade working to change policies to improve the lives of some of our most vulnerable communities, and I learned most of all that both sides (blue and red) ultimately want what’s best,” said Tookes. “We have made considerable progress in this state, but there are forces at work that threaten our progress. And, I’m excited to share my perspective and keep everyone honest as we fight for social justice and equality.”

Fernandez, a respected community leader with extensive experience in government affairs and communications, served as a special assistant to the president in the George W. Bush White House before joining the University in 2007.

When asked to identify the biggest challenge facing the state of Florida

Fernandez said that he believed the most pressing issue facing Florida is environmental sustainability.

“We must continue to invest in infrastructure to create a more resilient Florida,” he said. “Our waterways are one of our most precious resources—a feature that sets us apart and helps drive our economy. To ensure our long-term viability, the public and private sector must work collaboratively to find innovative solutions that protect our ecosystem.”

In its third year, the Florida Influencers series brings some of the best minds in the community together to discuss the state’s most pressing problems. Past Influencers from the University include President Julio Frenk; Mary Anne Franks, professor of law at the School of Law and Dean’s Distinguished Scholar; and Xavier Cortada, professor of practice and triple University alumnus.

Read more about what the influencers have to say here