Editor's note: This is the last in a series of stories about the eight candidates for the Orlando mayor's office. Candidates Buddy Dyer, Tico Perez and Bill Sublette were profiled in previous issues. Derrick Wallace is the subject of this week's cover story.
Pete Barr is old Orlando. Literally. He's old (68), and he's been here for 45 years, which more than qualifies him as a naturalized citizen. He's also the candidate most likely to "stay the course." If you liked Glenda Hood, you'll like Pete Barr. They're cut from the same cloth, though Barr is one of the only candidates who will make a statement even remotely anti-Hood. "She didn't make a lot of the tough decisions she could have made. She had her eyes on an appointment," for example.
Barr is a successful businessman who runs the ad agency Fry-Hammond-Barr Inc. Advertising has been good to him. He claims a yearly income of $280,000, enough for him to run on the promise that he will donate the mayor's salary to charity. "My CPA says I can't give away more than half of what I make," he says.
That pledge is as politically shrewd as it is generous. In this condensed mayor's race it has enabled an ad exec with little name recognition to stand out in a crowded field. But any corporate type worth their stock options knows that if you want top talent, you have to pay for it. What kind of chief executive officer is willing to work for free?
Barr is prone to homey yarns to illustrate his points. He can relate to the homeless, he says, because he was briefly homeless himself at age 16 when his father died, leaving his family to fend for themselves. "Dad was a doctor up in northern Virginia," he says. "When he died the Barrs had no nest egg." He can relate to being a team player because as a young man he played baseball. And though he claims a .400 batting average, he was always willing to lay down a bunt when the coach gave the sign.
He can't relate to the "good-old-boy" label that's stuck to him in this campaign, and he's got a little story about that too: "I had an African-American minister say to me one time, 'Bill, you're old Orlando.' I said, 'Thank you very much, but I wasn't born here.'"
True enough (Barr is a native of Washington, D.C.). But it's accurate to label him a member of the "country-club set" because, in fact, he belongs to the Country Club of Orlando. "That's all I could afford," he says. And yes, before you ask, there are minorities members of the club, Barr says. "We've got African-Americans, Hispanics, Orientals, a number of women, we even have old people." His campaign contribution list is awash with bankers, brokers, executives and developers (including, oddly enough, fellow candidate Derrick Wallace; see "The black vote" in this issue for details.)
And then there's the fact that Barr is in the race at the advice of three-term mayor Bill Frederick, who handpicked Glenda Hood as his own successor. Should Barr win, Frederick will have handpicked his successor's successor.
Talk about old Orlando.
Wayne Rich was the first to join the mayor's race. A Democrat, developer and insider who once chaired the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, Rich first announced his candidacy in March 2001, way back when the rumor mill had Glenda Hood leaving for a job in Washington, D.C., instead of Tallahassee.
His fund raising has been tepid. As of Dec. 31, he's raised just over $53,000, far less than his counterparts.
Recent polls show him fifth behind Dyer, Barr, Sublette, Perez and Wallace. To make matters worse Rich, though competent and well-versed on transportation issues, is dull on the stump. He speaks in a low monotone that makes the listener have to sit forward to hear him.
So Rich is right -- he's not a politician. Not much of one, anyway.
But even with fellow Democrats Dyer and Wallace in the race, Rich isn't throwing in the towel. "I certainly am not backing away from the race," he says. "If this were Democrat-versus-Republican, my thoughts would be different. But I've got considerable support on both sides of the aisle. I'm known as a moderate Democrat. I don't do things wild and crazy."
There are few big-ticket items in Rich's platform. He proposes a downtown urban mall something like "a vertical Winter Park Village," featuring shops, restaurants, office space and a movie theater. Rich says downtown should be family-friendly, but will revisit the issue of later bar hours if need be.
He wants to see a reversible toll lane on I-4 to ease traffic. Before sinking money into light rail, Rich says, the city should settle on an alignment, then offer incentives to make sure there's density -- and consequently, ridership -- along that alignment.
He thinks the county should be given a say in how Community Redevelopment Agency dollars are spent. (The city's Downtown Development Board has come under fire for spending city and county tax dollars to lure high-end apartments and restaurants downtown, instead of on "blighted" areas.)
Rich believes commercial development in Parramore will drive revitalization of that area. When property values rise, and the area's poor residents are displaced, Rich says he'll ensure that all new housing in the area has an affordable component.
He's against full-on consolidation of Orlando and Orange County governments, but thinks consolidating services to save money is a good idea.
Jeffrey C. Billman
He doesn't hand out slick campaign brochures, put up yard signs or bother people with recorded phone calls. He doesn't have much campaign cash and many people still ask, "Who?" when his name comes up.
Still, Alex Lamour thinks he is as capable of winning as any of the eight candidates because there isn't enough time for the big spenders to empty their campaign accounts. "It's such a quick one that the best you can do is go out and talk to the public."
Lamour, 71, is the oldest mayoral candidate. He is from San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he served eight years as the aide to former Mayor Hernan Padilla.
Lamour speaks with an accent, walks with a slight limp, drinks eight cups of coffee each morning and flouts his passion for the military whenever possible. For an interview last week, he wore a leather jacket, combat boots and a ball cap with the emblem of the U.S.S. Cape St. George, a guided missile cruiser Lamour has visited.
During candidate forums, Lamour scores points when he gestures toward the other candidates and says they will be unable to deliver on campaign promises because they're locked into a city budget that runs through September. Lamour emphasizes his experience managing a large city, saying he will cut unnecessary expenses to save for next fall's budget. "Any problems you have here in Orlando we've already dealt with in San Juan," he says.
He wants to bring a two-year college to downtown, and he's already picked out a name for it (Orlando City College). It could be funded through federal and nonprofit grants, he says. He also wants to revitalize downtown by bringing together the different "fiefdoms" -- members of the business, artistic, homeless and governmental communities.
He is against a light-rail system and doesn't believe the city should pay $30 million to build a new police station in the middle of the Parramore neighborhood. "There were cost overruns when we built the county courthouse," Lamour says. "I don't want that to happen with the police station." He prefers as many as six small police substations spread around the city.
It's that kind of thinking Lamour says will lead him to a surprise victory, one voter at a time. "We're not making too much noise," he says. "We're working quietly behind the scenes but the end result will be very, very pleasant."
William Dean Hinton
Sitting in a booth at Pebbles Restaurant on Church Street last week, Sharon Leichering was one brave woman. On the end of her fork was a small, wet helix pomatia, better known as the edible snail. For the first time in her life, the 50-year-old Leichering was daring to put one in her mouth. "Soft," she reported. "Tender. Flavorful."
Leichering is attempting a delicacy typically associated with the elite at a time when she seeks to be become one of Orlando's aristocrats. That's quite a leap in less than a year's time. Only seven months ago, she was an $18-an-hour city employee, teaching safety tips at the Children's Safety Village on West Colonial Drive. But in a bizarre twist, Leichering, who had an exemplary personnel file, was canned June 18 for firing a weapon on city-owned property.
Leichering says she brought a BB gun to work at the request of an Orange County sheriff's deputy because children at the Safety Village were horrified by an osprey preying on ducklings in the area. According to Fire Chief Charlie Walker's termination letter, Leichering told employees she fired the gun, then denied it to investigators.
Leichering didn't challenge the termination, and it has been, for her, a blessing in disguise. "I'd never be running for mayor if this had not happened," she says.
On the stump, Leichering comes across as an unpolished candidate who often pauses too long between sentences, giving listeners the impression that she's forgotten what she wants to say.
She wants to cut city spending by axing obscure budget items such as the $500,000 slated for a Colonial Drive study, or the $91,000 Leichering says was paid to a PR flak to publicize the city's homeland security efforts.
She was also outraged some city managers were given as much as a 26 percent pay increase annually while city employees received only modest 4 percent increases (according to her figures).
She wants to beef up firefighter and police salaries, as well as study why many public-safety officials seem to be falling terminally ill.
Leichering is counting on the public remembering her from her days as a neighborhood ambassador, the job she worked for a decade before moving to the Children's Village in 2000. But will those same voters go along with her Cinderella story? We'll find out Feb. 4.
William Dean Hinton