Oh, glory days! Skies were blue and the sun was beaming on Lake Eola May 1. It was oath of office day in the City Beautiful, and Orlando’s dandies were in attendance to watch the swearings in of commissioner Patty Sheehan, Mayor Buddy Dyer and brand-new commissioner Tony Ortiz and his mustache. (Commissioner Sam Ings and his mustache renewed their vows earlier in an intimate ceremony.)
Then came the speech: “Watch out for professional wrestlers and angry pit bulls!” joked Dyer from his flower-lined Buddy pulpit, before recasting a Dave Barry–like list of things he’d learned by age 50 into something accommodating the ups and downs of his own tenure. Dyer pumped the environment, the police, the venues, the now-dead commuter rail, the stillborn creative village and everything else under the sun until the whole thing threatened to pop. You know, like the economy. But! We are soon going to be getting energy from wastewater sludge (poop!) because we are just that forward-thinking. And you, citizen of Orlando, better get ready for your “carbon diet.” So sayeth the Buddy.
Then things got musical!
Seems that guest vocalist Radha Mehta, a local engineer, had a talk with her brother a couple of weeks ago and they came up with the notion that Orlando doesn’t have a theme song. Bullshit! Two years ago in this very space we extolled the virtues of Bert McCree’s “Remember Orlando,” an ode to a simpler time of hoop skirts and closeted gays. (It’s called “research,” folks.)
Anyway, Mehta warbled through a tune called “The City Beautiful” like a first-round American Idol hopeful until the whole sonic mess threatened to pop. Like the economy.
Buddy told the media that he was all about “continued collaborations and partnerships” in a region that used to be hindered by “jurisdictional pettiness.” Our great leader also said, “I continue to be optimistic about commuter rail.” Shows how in-the-loop he is.
The next day, May 2, Senate Majority Leader Daniel Webster declared commuter rail dead, a victim of provincialism and special interests. (Interesting how we can get almost $2 billion worth of venues no ordinary citizen really wanted pushed through with lightning speed, but commuter rail – which came with more than $300 million in federal funding attached – limps along in the slow lane for years, then dies an ignominious death at the hands of a few people in Lakeland pretending to be outraged and a gaggle of trial lawyers; but we digress.) The line was to run from DeLand to Poinciana with stops all along the way, and it would have created an alternative to I-4. You know, infrastructure you can use, unlike the performing arts center, Rich DeVos’ Golden Pleasure Dome and the tragically ridiculous Citrus Bowl.
As if to reinforce the message that Central Florida’s leaders are as visionless and spineless as they come, May 2 was also the day that Forbes magazine named Orlando the fourth-worst city in the nation for commuters. Drivers here have it worse than Dallas, Houston and Washington, D.C., in terms of how much time they spend on the road trying to get to work, according to the magazine. Even hellish Los Angeles treats its drivers better. The only thing that saves us from being as godawful as Atlanta, ranked the worst city for commuting, is our size.
So when your grandkids are floating in traffic on I-4 in their hovercars, they can curse Central Florida’s crappy leaders of yesteryear.
“Dude-bro, what was with the tunage blaring from in front of City Hall Saturday?”
“Dunno, man, something about legalizing the crippy. Speaking of which, you gonna pass that?”
“Yeah, chill. Must have been like two dozen people from the University of Central Florida’s chapter of the National Organization for a Reform of the Marijuana laws out there. I think I heard some Pink Floyd, meaning these cats were probably really old.”
“I’m sure the man in City Hall took note and the point was made. It was a Saturday and all.”
“Totally. I expect the weed will become all legal-like by this weekend at the latest. Speaking of which, gimme that back.”
“Awesome. The people have spoken. Here you go, man.”
What’s this? Another Florida law whose unwritten purpose seems to be to undermine the democratic process? Say it ain’t so.
The AFL-CIO and the League of Women Voters filed a federal lawsuit in April challenging a Florida law that would result in hefty fines for groups and individuals who register voters and don’t get the forms in quick enough. Both groups cancelled petition drives across the state because of the fines that could come into play. A fine of $50 was set to follow for each voter registration form turned in more than 10 days after it was collected, $250 for each form turned in past the registration deadline and $500 for each lost form. Fines apply to each individual, group or chapter and were to be capped at $1,000 per individual or group.
“This law makes it extremely risky for our volunteers and for our organization to conduct voter registration drives in Florida,” says Dianne Wheatley-Giliotti, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “The escalating fines make voter registration drives prohibitively expensive, even for individuals who just want to help once a month.”
The new voter registration laws already had been put into place, but a temporary restraining order awarded April 30 means it can’t be enforced until July at least. (Traditionally, disenfranchised groups such as blacks and those from Spanish-speaking homes have been twice as likely as white voters to register at drives.)
But there’s no way that the intent of the law is to keep minorities and non-English speakers from voting. This is Florida, where disenfranchisement is just a word most people can’t spell, not a place that tries to systematically strip people of their rights.
We scurried over to Metro-
West April 30 to get a first peek at the newest police station in the city’s newest crime-
ridden mock suburb. It’s nice.
Tucked into a strip center next door to a Starbucks, the Southwest Community Police Office was opened to improve response times in the area and up the police presence. Just over 50 cops will be stationed at the new office.
We knew it was going to be a blast when we saw cops on ponies and an officer decked out in a plaid kilt holding bagpipes.
“This is really long overdue,” said city commissioner Sam Ings, who noted the station was under consideration when he retired from the Orlando Police Department in 2003. “It makes me feel almost like I want to put on that blue uniform again so I can work from this substation.”
Police Chief Val Demings suggested he keep his day job. We’re not so sure that’s the best course.
This week’s report by Billy Manes, Deanna Morey and Bob Whitby.firstname.lastname@example.org