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All hail King Bill Frederick and Sentinel cuts back on coverage

by and


The ink was hardly dry on Buddy Dyer's suspension from office when the powers that be – from the Sentinel on down to the bigs of both political parties – anointed Bill Frederick his successor. Frederick, the city's mayor from 1980 to 1992, stoked the fire with a suggestion that he and he alone run in the city's forthcoming special election. There was a touch of resistance from a few potential candidates, but then everyone rolled over for King Bill.

People with mayoral aspirations decided this wasn't the time to challenge King Bill. What we've got left is last year's runner-up, Ken Mulvaney; former police Capt. Sam Ings; some guy named Ed Lopes; write-in candidate Tom Levine; and Orlando Weekly's own lovable dark horse, Billy Manes, who should win on the strength of his slogan alone: "Little, yellow, different."

But this is Orlando, not a cool place where cool people actually exert their God-given right to boot the geezers, so it should shock no one that Frederick is polling far ahead of his competitors. Ho hum. A Democrat-turned-Republican who ran the city from back rooms, he has the clout and connections to exert his will when he desires.

Of course, nobody wants to get on Frederick's bad side, or anger the well-oiled machine he represents. Candidates will need his help – or at least, they won't want him as an enemy – in the next, more permanent election.

Now, Happytown™ has no reason to doubt Frederick's good intentions. We believe him when he says he wants to keep the ship afloat until this mess is cleared up. He's right when he says the city needs a modicum of certainty in uncertain times. And while we doubt Frederick's brand of closed-door-and-stogies governance is good for a city on the verge of growing up, we don't begrudge him the role of stopgap.

But we do wonder if the whole special election wasn't set up to crown Frederick from the start. Consider that within moments of his announcement, Frederick had already lined up a who's who of campaign staffers and top-shelf endorsements, not to mention a $300,000 war chest. Consider that Frederick pledged to be Dyer's stand-in, making Dyer's priorities his own and keeping Dyer's senior staff in place.

Dyer was indicted on the afternoon of March 9. Nearly 24 hours later, city attorney Dykes Everett announced that the city, in conjunction with the governor's office, had reached the conclusion that it had no choice but to hold a special election. It was all there in the law, they said. The city had no choice. At the March 21 city council meeting to approve the election, two outside, ostensibly independent lawyers reached the same conclusion as Everett.

Still, two council members voted against the election, in part because the city attorney offered no dissenting opinions. Orange County Democrats later sued, saying the special election was illegal. A judge disagreed, but the Dems' lawyer, Steve Mason, says he'll appeal.

It's worth noting that all four lawyers in favor of the special election (two on the city payroll, two outside) are connected insiders; some have ties to the Frederick campaign itself. A touch incestuous, no?

Assistant city attorney Jody Litchford wrote the pro-election legal opinion. Litchford is the daughter of William Mateer, head of the Mateer Harbert law firm. Mateer Harbert employs Scott Gabrielson, former city attorney under Glenda Hood. Gabrielson was on the speed dial when the city called for an "outside" opinion on the special election. Guess what? He agreed with Litchford.

Outsider No. 2 was former Orange County attorney Tom Wilkes, now in the employ of the powerhouse law firm Gray-Robinson. Within days of Frederick entering the race, Gray-Robinson founder and chairman Charlie Gray – Wilkes' boss – was on Frederick's team. Guess what? Wilkes also sided with Litchford.

Then there's current city attorney Dykes Everett, Litchford's boss. He's been pals with Dyer since law school, and the two even worked at the same firm, Winderweedle, Haines, Ward & Woodman.

Everett, Litchford, Wilkes and Gabrielson all have solid reputations. And their conclusion may well prove correct. The governor's general counsel agreed with the city, as has a judge.

But the city didn't go very far outside the family tree to reach its conclusion. No one else – including lawyers with differing opinions in the council chambers March 21 – was allowed to speak. The deal was done without debate, without discussion. That's the way things used to get done in Orlando when Bill Frederick, and later Glenda Hood, ran the show.

And so, if you're a cynical sort, you might wonder if this election was held solely for Frederick's benefit. Keep in mind that Frederick was the man responsible for the Orlando Magic's 1989 arrival. Assuming he wins, he may be hailed as the man who keeps them here.

"It seems like there's this snowball rolling," Mason told Happytown™ after his court hearing. "We've got to have an election, we've got to have a new mayor."

All hail Bill Frederick, the once and future king.

You don't need to do much to get professional actors talking – take it from Happytown™, which has even made the fatal error of giving some of them beer – but that didn't quell our concern when Orlando's theatrical grapevine recently started buzzing with rumors that the Sentinel was going to start cutting back on its play reviews. Depending on whom you talked to, the daily was going to restrict its critiquing activity to shows at "professional" (i.e., actor-paying) theaters, "established" operations or some even less definable variation thereof.

When we called Sentinel A&E editor Mary Frances Emmons for comment, she swore that her paper definitely wasn't cutting back on its theater coverage (a move that could potentially hit many struggling venues and producing entities in the wallet, no matter how deeply we believe that Orlando Weekly is The Only Paper That Matters). But Emmons went on to enumerate some changes that sounded like "cutting back" to us. College productions, she said, will be reviewed less frequently, now that the daily has become "uncomfortable holding students to professional standards." More ominously, certain community-theater-type establishments may be reviewed "more selectively than in the past," Emmons foretold, specifically ones that, in the Sentinel's opinion, award roles to "folks of wildly varying experience and ability."

Why the increased "selectivity"? In part, because the paper is a "victim of [its] own success," Emmons says, having helped to create the Central Florida Theatre Alliance (now the Central Florida Performing Arts Alliance) and the Downtown Arts District – thus swelling the amount of local theatrical activity to the point where the daily's critics can only review a smaller percentage of it at any given time. That's their story, anyway.

"Conditions have created more theater than even two and a half people can get to," Emmons said. She was referring to working reviewers Elizabeth Maupin, Rebecca Swain Vadnie and Roger Moore – though figuring out who counts as half a critic is something we'll leave the referenced trio to mud-wrestle out for themselves.


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