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City Hall's failed coup



Glenda Hood had little reason to expect a fight from within the ranks. In her eight years as mayor, she'd steered the Orlando City Council in the same collegial manner as her three-term predecessor had -- and wielded the same unseen club. A parade of mostly unanimous votes hid any divisions. If one of her colleagues had a competing vision for the city, he kept it to himself.

But the facade masked frustrations a-plenty. And when Hood unexpectedly engineered a short-lived revival of a light-rail line in September 1999, the troops grumbled, then turned to outright revolt. The result last spring was the city's first genuinely contested race for mayor in 20 years, and certainly one of its nastiest.

United behind College Park commissioner Bruce Gordy, a majority of the six-member council insisted that Hood ruled like a dictator, voiced positions that resembled scoldings, and kept them in the dark, limiting their role in decision-making. Ironically, the complaints echoed those that came near the end of previous mayor Bill Frederick's tenure -- with then-commissioner Hood among those who felt excluded. Seeking a third term as mayor, however, Hood conceded that bruising egos was just a byproduct of being in charge.

Gordy quickly stole some of Hood's key backers, and raised more money. And there was great potential for debate: about Hood's drives against the club culture; about the city's costly failure to turn around the Parramore neighborhood; about the mayor's push to build a performing-arts center and bid for the Summer Olympics; about arts fund-raising and downtown redevelopment.

Still, Gordy couldn't find his foundation. He promised to be a more inclusive manager, yet never came up with a real reason to elect him. Voters open to new ideas ultimately couldn't embrace someone who positioned himself merely as the anti-Hood -- and the real Hood, after all, still had a firm base in the neighborhoods, where grants bearing her stamp have subsidized good deeds from colorful plantings and welcome signs to computer labs. Hood won, 55 percent to 33 percent.

A slightly chastened council returned with her, and with two new members: Patty Sheehan, the city's first openly gay commissioner, and Vicki Vargo, who took over from Gordy and, by refusing a council-approved pay raise, seems poised to become the most recalcitrant one.

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