End of the year? Check. Short attention span? Hi! How are you? Well then, it must be time once again for Happytown™'s Year in Review in 425 words or less! And what a crappy year 2009 was. In no particular order …
Unemployment soared to 11.5 percent statewide, and 11.8 percent in the Orlando-Kissimmee metropolitan statistical area. Tiger Woods crashed his car because he was having so much sex with so many women that driving had become impossible. Orlando city council hopeful Ezell Harris' political career was cut short by his alleged career retailing pharmaceuticals. The Magic made it all the way to the NBA finals, only to get their butts kicked by a team from a much cooler city. Ten gay couples attempted to march on the Orange County courthouse and score marriage licenses, but were turned away. God smote Orlando's iconic fountain with a well-placed bolt of lightning, clearly in response to the fact that city leaders did not jail the homosexuals. Loser/stereotype Jason Rodriguez, 40, went on a shooting rampage at his former downtown office, killing one person and injuring five more, then ran and hid at his mom's house. Orlando ranked No. 17 in crime, according to the boosterish types at Congressional Quarterly, and No. 1 in terms of risking life and limb while walking, according to the boosterish types at Transportation for America. In a classic show of piling on, Forbes magazine ranked us as the most overpriced city in the country when it comes to housing. The bottom continued to fall out of tourist tax revenues, which are supposed to pay for the new stadium and just about everything else around here. Mayor Buddy Dyer continued to tell us that everything is going to be just fine. A zaftig female sang at the Orlando Opera, which closed its doors and sold off all its assets, just like your neighbors. NPR station WMFE (90.7-FM) gave up on classical music and went to all news and talk. Orlando's favorite congressman, Alan Grayson, couldn't stop talking and became a household name for pointing out that Republicans want sick people to die quickly, and for impugning a woman's chastity, which oddly enough is a crime in Florida. Billy Mays died all too quickly in June. Our 400-foot-tall "Great Orlando Wheel," set to be built somewhere on I-Drive, got canceled, and with it went our aspirations to have a higher place to shag than London. A grand jury declared in March what we already knew: The Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority is a writhing snake den of corruption and influence-peddling. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson introduced a Senate resolution to abolish the Electoral College and elect presidents by popular vote instead, proving to skeptics that he does indeed exist and occasionally works on "legislative issues"; the resolution went nowhere. We finally got SunRail shoved through, meaning commuters will finally be able to commute between Poinciana and DeBary.
And if you thought 2009 was a dreadful hangover complete with racing 5 a.m. thoughts of petri dishes and sexually transmitted diseases (or at least an unwanted baby) you can only expect that its sequel, 2010, will make it all better, right? Probably not. Here at Happytown™ HQ, we've got a good eye for how things are going to go, thanks to our crystal meth ball. Whenever you scream into it, the ball just sits there, rattles a little, then coughs out a "no." We love our crystal meth ball.
But we consulted the damn thing nonetheless, and here's what it had to say about 2010. Call it the Year in Preview, because we are.
This year in city politics, ain't nobody going nowhere. The one swinging seat on the city's vaunted dais — that belonging to Daisy Lynum forever — swung to a relative standstill late last year when magical forces surrounding Lynum (or the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation) saw to it that her main foe, loudmouth Ezell "E-Z" Harris, took a fall for his alleged love of prescriptions. He probably never stood a chance anyway, given Lynum's incredibly effective use of Stockholm Syndrome for political gain. Commissioners Robert Stuart and Phil Diamond — who together are like a commercial for golf shirts — will be unchallenged in the March 9 election, so keep napping.
The real drama is in the city's giant outer concentric blob, where three sitting county commissioners and one used-teabag salesman are vying for the county mayor seat being vacated by Rich Crotty. It's a tough race to call right now, mostly because we keep expecting establishment hero Bill Segal to jump out of his current box of silence (with a whiskey bottle!) just in time to swallow the heads of his foes. Linda Stewart has completed her very public transformation into a gay man, Mildred Fernandez can basically walk with the Hispanic vote, and Matthew Falconer, whose now-common brand of backwoods populism used to be a joke but now just isn't funny, has earned enough mad-as-hell support to register in early polls. Our meth ball says Falconer, if only because that's how fucked up everything really is.
You can expect Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer to ride his SunRail buzz straight through the first half of the year, then hop the booster rocket of the opening of the Amway Center in October, an event that will be celebrated as an economic engine hitting on all cylinders. Forgotten will be the fact that the only reason it got built as quickly as it did — unlike the other two venues approved as a greasy-palmed civic three-way — was to line the pockets of Magic owner and King of Snake Oil Rich DeVos. While a partial groundbreaking has been promised for the new performing arts center in the spring, the revamp of the Citrus Bowl will drift away like smoke on the horizon. You mean we've all been had? Yes.
2010 being a midterm election year, all that dense rhetoric that made the whole month of August go up in rhetorical flames won't be leaving us anytime soon. A couple of ballot issues years in the making are predicted to finally pop up on the Florida ballots in November: fair districting and Florida Hometown Democracy. The former couldn't be more timely — the census is in 2010 and all of the gerrymandering we've come to love in Florida politics is based on those numbers — and is already facing scoffs of abhorrence from the usual Republican suspects in Tallahassee. Meanwhile, Florida Hometown Democracy — a measure meant to allow public input into major growth-management issues — will probably pass, ironically on the back of the new government-hating populism. Everybody wins!
Except gay people. There are bills that won't pass and Florida Supreme Court cases that won't happen attempting to overturn the state's Anita Bryant—suckled ban on gay adoption. Oh, and assuming that comprehensive health care reform does pass federally, State Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, and State Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, have a joint resolution on hand to exempt Florida from enjoying its reforms. As far as offshore drilling goes, Senate president Jeff Atwater has so far indicated that he's in no rush to penetrate, although that opinion could be swayed with the wave of a Republican no-tax budgetary wand.
Even with stimulus money included, the state legislature is expected to face a $2 billion budget shortfall in its March session — one that will double in two years when the stimulus runs dry — so there will be cuts and more cuts. Meanwhile, the governor presiding over the whole mess, Charlie Crist, will be double-timing as a lame duck, trying to keep up with the thundering idiocy of Senate opponent Marco Rubio while not losing his unique ability to say nothing about anything of consequence. (Except waffles.) Alex Sink should become our next governor. Bill McCollum will become our next governor. And we'll just sit here, mouths agape, and take it all in with you. Happy New Year!
This week's report by Billy Manes and Bob Whitby.