It’s all coming back to us now. With one swift bump of the holiday-hangover head against the faux-wood news desk, the overhead-baggage compartments unlatch, revealing the dirty socks and broken promises of the year that compassion forgot. Wait, are we crashing? No, no, no. It’s just time for our annual tradition of simplistic summation known as our Happytown™ year in review – hopefully in fewer than 600 words. Put your head between your legs and think happy thoughts.
It was the worst of times and the worst of times (some more) as 2010 nosedived into the political morass of an election year. Relatively inconsequential municipal races early in the year saw Orlando Commissioners Daisy Lynum and Robert Stuart cakewalk back to their seats, though in the case of Lynum that involved an ongoing lawsuit from bathroom-banging challenger Vibert White. A wild and crazy county mayoral stakes soon followed, with chilly librarian Teresa Jacobs finally coming up roses in the fiscal shitstorm; also, we’ll probably never have to utter the name Matthew Falconer again, so that’s good.
But the real political gloves wouldn’t come out until primary season. That’s when Florida politics plummeted into absurdity thanks to cash cows Jeff Greene and Rick Scott. Greene’s expensive bid for the Democratic U.S. Senate seat was lost in the cocaine splash of tabloid headlines, but Scott’s gubernatorial pay-to-play was an unmitigated success, despite a history of Medicare fraud in a state that lives and wheezes on the iron lung of that program. How did that happen? Look no further than hapless Democratic haircut Alex Sink and her rootsy drawl down the political middle. American psycho Marco Rubio whizzed his way into the U.S. Senate on the backs of nowhere man Kendrick “Weak” Meek and party-dropper Charlie Crist. Our man Alan Grayson finally nailed his own coffin with his leaden tongue, allowing crotchety old “Taliban Dan” Webster to ascend to the U.S. House. And then we all died.
No, we didn’t! Instead we endured as the national spotlight shone on the Sunshine State due to pratfalls from unhinged zealots. First there was the sneaky rentboy scandal tied around the lifted ankles of one George Rekers, who was considered an anti-gay expert until the lying lube fell out of his tented pants pockets. Then it was all about a man, a mustache and his religiously intolerant lighter when Gainesville nightmare Terry Jones crept out of the Bible and forced the world to contemplate what might happen if a redneck burns a Koran. Answer: He doesn’t do it but gets a free car.
On the local front, a bunch of political cigars got busted for clogging up some luxury humidors with power-mingles under the moniker of the “No Name Club.” The whole city’s jaw dropped at the feel-good story of the century when some swans absconded from Lake Eola were safely returned to their retention roost. A stupid dream became a glassy reality when Rich DeVos’ Golden Pleasure Dome™ swung open its doors under the inscrutable banner of “ENTERLEGEND.” Exit broke.
Living piece of performance art Brian Feldman married a girl he didn’t really know in a distinctly Orlando protest of the gay marriage ban. Speaking of gay, Orange County finally passed a half-cocked version of a Human Rights Ordinance, and Miami gay man Martin Gill finally got to legally keep the kids he selflessly raised, thus (at least for now) ending the state’s ban on gay adoption. Hooray! So it wasn’t all bad, was it? Please remain seated. It’s about to get worse.
Perhaps the year’s biggest uncertainty, though, remains the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The former Pin-Drop Palace™ – it lost that playful designation when DPAC killed the only worthwhile portion of the project (the acoustic hall for local performing arts groups) in favor of a worthless Broadway box – is apparently in over its head. We caught wind two weeks ago that bottle-blonde party princess Kathy Ramsberger had taken her can-do PowerPoint down to the Orange County offices, peddling her wares with her standard script of nonsense numbers pulled out of the ether. In short, she needed the county to pull out some of its own imaginary numbers – say, $30 million worth of them – to help close an unforeseen budget gap (the city has already pledged $31 million it doesn’t have). Apparently even building just one phase of the $383 million behemoth is going to cost an unexpected $283 million. Ramsberger is starting to sweat. Rather than laugh directly in her slightly pulled face, the county cooled off long enough to raise its concerns in e-mail form. We obtained a copy of that e-mail and, ohmygod, the county is totally smarter than the city.
Among the whys and wherefores of the 14 listed gripes are all of the questions that Ramsberger and Co. have been so anxious not to answer ever since the project’s inception: How’s the broke city going to pay for its portion? What exactly is the timeline these days? Now that it’s a “staged” deal, could somebody please divine an actual date for phase two? How much is it really going to cost to operate? Also, why is it that donations are sometimes reported at $80 million and sometimes at $65 million? In short, what the fuck have you guys been doing?
There probably won’t be answers forthcoming so much as tinkling distractions. Likewise, there probably won’t be a performing arts center ever. Happy New Year and we told you so.
Trigger fingers have been getting quite the workout this year. Dec. 18 saw the seventh shooting in 2010 involving an Orlando Police Department officer. That’s a record for the past decade, and it’s leading some to wonder if cops might be getting too serious about the fitness of their index fingers. On Dec. 20, city police Chief Val Demings defended her fellow officers to members of the press at police headquarters.
“If you point a gun at an Orlando police officer, we are going to shoot you,” she said matter-of-factly, aggressively enunciating a November Orlando Sentinel headline that read: “If cops fire, are we safe?” The Sentinel’s article, however, came after an incident in which the only guns present were those of Orlando police – the assailants’ weapon was a van, operating within the confines of a Target parking lot. The incident harkened to May of last year, when officers unloaded six shots into the vehicle of 23-year-old Vales Delices Jr., who was attempting to flee after plowing into cars and narrowly missing pedestrians in front of the downtown club Antigua. (Delices died shortly afterward.) But even with these counterpoints at its disposal, the Sentinel chose not to rock the boat: “[I]t’s understandable if Ms. Demings sounds like a mama grizzly when her people are threatened,” a Dec. 22 editorial mewed.
Back at headquarters, the cops-under-siege theme continued with a PowerPoint slide titled “Increased Violence Against Law Enforcement Officers.” The slide indicated that the number of incidents in 2010 (641) was higher than in 2009 (624) or 2008 (540), but after we inquired as to what the 641 instances of “increased violence” against police actually entailed, police spokeswoman Barbara Jones wrote in an e-mail that the number referred to instances in which OPD “attempted to make a physical arrest of a suspect but that physical arrest was met with some type of resistance.” Like what? A finger?