Hey, did you know that Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer's up for re-election next month? Of course you did. As it does every time there’s a municipal election, the ugly head of scandal has been effectively reared just one month out from the April 3 city elections. Two of Dyer’s challengers, Mike Cantone and Ken Mulvaney – joined by forever candidate for anything Lawanna Gelzer, who is running for Sam Ings’ District 6 commission seat – announced their intent to repeat the chaos of 2005 by accusing Dyer and Ings of illegally requesting absentee ballot forms via campaign staffers. Voter fraud! Though most of the media (and the officials the media talked to) dismissed the outlying candidates’ claims as somewhat frivolous, it’s hard to deny the scent of a purchased Dyer victory in the air; he does, after all, have a boatload of money and a Super PAC on his side. But wait, there’s more!
According to documents obtained by the Orlando Weekly, Dyer shot a campaign ad featuring kids and their parents on Feb. 4, which doesn’t sound so bad on its face. But considering that the kids and parents involved would be students of the Central Florida Leadership Academy and the city’s own After-School All-Stars program, it gets a little fishier. You may recall the deal the city struck to move the Central Florida Leadership Academy into its current home on Primrose Avenue – thereby moving the previous tenant, Florida Safety Council, into our own headquarters – cost the city some $200,000 in taxpayer dollars back in 2010. Between that and the even less tenuous relationship between the city and the All-Stars, a city-funded after school program, there’s certainly the appearance of an icky quid pro quo here. The commercial – apparently including the children from the school saying "Buddy gets it done!" – aired at least once on MSNBC on March 2. (Dyer’s campaign did not return calls for this story).
And then there’s the issue of the presence of Dyer campaign signs on presumed city property. This one’s hilarious! We caught wind of campaign signs posted at the entrance of downtown’s superfluous CityArts Factory (see above) – which was funded $1.75 million by the city and county between 2006 and 2009 and currently receives $125,000 a year via the CRA downtown taxing district – and decided to run down and check it out. Sure enough, we saw the sign right at the front entrance and snapped a photo, walked around the corner to see if there were more, then returned only to find that the sign had been removed. What?
“One of our patrons put them up and they’re really big donors, but when I saw you taking pictures, I called the campaign office and they said it probably wasn’t a good idea,” reveals Downtown Arts District executive director Barbara Hartley.
City spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser says that all city leases – including that of CityArts Factory, which is effectively just a sublease – require tenants not to have political collateral in their windows.
“As soon as we knew, we asked them to take them down,” she says, not knowing that we actually saw them take them down. “We are proactively reaching out to our tenants now. We are reiterating that piece of the lease.”
Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles says that while he didn’t think there was anything patently illegal about Dyer’s apparent commingling with his own city resources for campaign purposes, that doesn’t change the appearance of impropriety.
“As you know, perception is the biggest thing that we deal with,” he says. “People’s perceptions of what’s right or wrong.”
Not satisfied with the lukewarm results of our frivolous investigation, we reached out to the normally quiet City Commissioner Phil Diamond, who is quietly running for Dyer’s vaunted seat, for a more dynamic response.
“It would be nice if you could walk by a polluted lake, take a picture and all that pollution would be gone,” he laughed, adding (with all due outrage), “I think it’s reckless and irresponsible for the mayor and his staff to encourage charitable organizations and nonprofits to engage in improper activity that is against the rules.”