Two weeks ago, I broke the story that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was pursuing an investigation into allegations of absentee-ballot fraud in the March mayoral elections, despite contrary reports in the Orlando Sentinel. A few days later, the FDLE took boxes of records from the Supervisor of Elections Office; by last week, press accounts were tossing around the word "racketeering."
It wasn't a good week to be Buddy Dyer. Granted, it's unlikely that Ken Mulvaney will prevail in court and force a delayed runoff election which he'd probably lose anyway and it's nowhere near certain that the FDLE investigation will amount to anything, particularly charges against Dyer or Ezzie Thomas, the absentee-ballot collector at the heart of the hullabaloo. But the taint of a disputed election would undoubtedly sully Dyer's second year in office, and perhaps any ambitions he might have for higher office.
So the Dyer-Thomas team went on the offense. Joe Egan, Thomas' attorney, called me into an off-the-record meeting with Thomas, who isn't speaking publicly until the investigation concludes. Without divulging any confidences, I will say that Thomas pled his innocence intently and passionately.
On May 28, Dyer spokeswoman Lauren Hames called me and said she was sending over something the mayor wanted me to see. It was an e-mail from civil-rights attorney Gabe Kaimowitz, which Hames forwarded with Kaimowitz's original subject headline, "Exculpatory evidence, concerning FDLE investigation."
Kaimowitz, longtime Weekly readers might remember, is the crusader who has repeatedly sued the city for institutionalizing racism in its neighborhoods. As local Democratic party chairman Doug Head told us a few years back: "There's a saying that a stopped clock is right twice a day. Gabe is a stopped clock."
However, if Dyer and company think a reading of Kaimowitz's 1,230-word letter is going to assuage any lingering doubts, they should really think again.
Kaimowitz says that a few days after the election, he met with Mulvaney, failed city-council candidate Lawanna Gelzer whom he makes a point of saying he doesn't trust and campaign workers to discuss challenging the March 9 election. Through a long and winding narrative, Kaimowitz describes how he listened to Mulvaney and Gelzer and decided they didn't have a chance of winning in court.
"Listening to the facts at that time, it became apparent to me that the group at the time was engaged in wishful thinking," Kaimowitz writes. "They did not have or did not reveal actual possession of any information which would establish fraud in a civil sense."
Of course, in the two months since that March 15 meeting, the Mulvaneys have established enough to at least interest the FDLE. But at the time, Kaimowitz was right. Furthermore, even if Mulvaney won in court, Kaimowitz pointed out that it would be nearly impossible for him to win a runoff. Right again.
But from there, and without any real explanation, Kaimowitz jumps off into conspiracy theories: "I at that time summed up my belief that something other than a real political challenge seemed to be going on. ... The exchange led me to the belief that I was being used as a lawyer to 'kosher' an effort intended in the main by everyone present to discredit and smear Buddy Dyer and Ernest Page rather than to campaign against them. No one responded by then. ... I now have reason to believe that the pursuit being undertaken against Buddy Dyer is intended to smear his government and restore belief in the prior Glenda Hood Administration. For that reason, I am prepared to provide an affidavit containing the foregoing and to flesh out the basis I have for my belief that the FDLE investigation and the litigation primarily are intended by the so-called whistleblowers to discredit the Dyer Administration, without regard to the effect their effort would have on Orlando."
Two things in this last paragraph caught my eye: One, nowhere in the letter (reprinted in full at www.orlandoweekly.com) does Kaimowitz explain exactly how he reached that conclusion. Second, his assertion that this is an effort to "restore belief in the prior Glenda Hood Administration (sic)" is ridiculous. After all, one of Mulvaney's biggest supporters is Ax the Tax chairman Doug Guetzloe, the man who tried to have Hood recalled. Say what you want about Guetzloe, but don't call him a Hood fan.
The pointlessness of Kaimowitz's letter doesn't speak to either Dyer or Thomas' guilt or innocence. Who cares what this guy thinks? What strikes me is the fact that this is what Team Dyer is putting out to clear Hizzoner's name. And that, dear readers, is pathetic.
So far, Dyer's defenses have done little to help us reach any consensus on what really happened. I must confess, I'm as unsure as anyone else. As I've come to know all the players involved, I've realized that both sides share two common characteristics: Both, as far as I can tell, believe they're right; and both ascribe all sorts of nefarious motives to the other side, none of which I'm inclined to believe.
Ultimately, people will believe what they want to believe. Dyer fans will believe the Mulvaneys are smearing Ezzie Thomas for personal gain or, worse, to suppress the black vote. And Mulvaney's backers will believe the absentee-ballot scandal was just another part of Dyer's dirty campaign strategy, which started with allegedly tarring Mulvaney as a wife-beating, bar-owning carpetbagger in a so-called "push poll" that is now the basis of a defamation lawsuit.
But when the dust clears, I'm willing to bet that uncertainty will still exist and that, one way or another, Buddy Dyer will retain his throne.