Lawyer, Gator, Policymaker
Ask any Floridian who survived the 2004 hurricane season, and you will get an earful about the epic quartet of storms that ravaged the state. Mark Kaplan ’88 rapid-fires, without a breath: “Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne — but who’s counting?” Kaplan, who had previously worked for several years as a lawyer in different government-facing roles and leading the state’s affordable housing agency, “returned to government to help lead the permanent housing response after the four hurricanes hit Florida and damaged 700,000 homes.” The Jeb Bush administration was focused on finding permanent, affordable housing for the 16,000 families living in FEMA trailers and the many others impacted by the storms.
Kaplan served as chief of staff for Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings, then chief of staff for Governor Bush. Kaplan stayed on until 2007. “The volume and velocity of issues could feel overwhelming at times, but you have the ability to change people’s lives for the better based on programs you are driving, policy decisions you are helping to make — that was incredibly gratifying.”
“I’m a big believer that we have to tell our story, and we have to do a lot of listening.”
Kaplan’s career has taken him from Gainesville to Atlanta to Tallahassee to Minneapolis to Tampa, and back to Gainesville again. His roles are many, among them, clerk to a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, a lawyer in a statewide law firm, executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, and senior vice president for public affairs at the Mosaic Company.
In June, Kaplan became the university’s new vice president for government and community relations, and he is ready for the job. “There’s a real focus on creating excellence in everything we do across the university, and that’s pretty exciting,” he says. “I want to share that excitement and engage partners in Tallahassee, Washington, and here in Gainesville to help us become a Top 5 public university.”
Kaplan says he still uses tools he learned as an undergraduate in political science professor Michael Martinez’ and Father Michael Gannon’s history classes and wants to bring the understanding of political behavior and storytelling to his new position. “I’m a big believer that we have to tell our story, and we have to do a lot of listening.”
The Kaplans are a Gator family — both his wife, Sherry ’89, and his daughter, Mary Summers ’20, are Gators. In fact, Summers lived in the same dorm Kaplan did and also has a major in political science (and Spanish).
“What really drew me back” he says, “is doing something that really matters — to me, my family, my state. There’s a lot of enthusiasm here right now, and I want to be a part of that.”
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