Last Tuesday, Orlando voters gave Mayor Glenda Hood good reason to smile. Following what was the city's most expensive and probably most viciously contested mayoral election, residents endorsed Hood's bid for a third term. Whether they backed her because they liked what she'd done or because her chief challenger, Bruce Gordy, brought little more to the table than criticism of Hood's governing style hardly seems to matter any more.
But the public's ringing endorsement -- 55 percent for Hood, to 33 percent for Gordy -- is not necessarily echoed by the City Council with which Hood must work. Insisting that Hood rules like a dictator, often shutting them out of the decision-making process, a majority of the six-member body backed Gordy, their council colleague. The dissension peaked on Feb. 21, when the Gordy majority pushed Hood off the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority board, replacing her with Don Ammerman in a move that Hood called political posturing.
Now, like it or not, she and the council are stuck with each other. (Two seats -- one held by Hood supporter Bill Bagley, the other to be filled by Gordy's replacement, still must be decided in a runoff.) That means the first and greatest challenge of Hood's administration will be to reconcile herself with the council that has so recently maligned her. In debates as the campaign wound down, she stressed the need for healing. What must be done to make that happen?
"The City Council is a democratic body, not an aristocracy," says Commissioner Ernest Page, who backed Gordy. He says the key is communication -- particularly that which needs to flow better from the mayor's office to city commissioners.
"We're part of the decision-making process," agrees Ammerman. The council members, he adds, must be allowed to register their own opinions, rather than simply processing Hood's agenda.
Bagley says he understands the complaints against Hood, and hopes that the contentiousness of the election will serve as a wake-up call for her. "I think she'll be more open to better lines of communication," he says.
That thought is shared by Gordy backer Betty Wyman. "She's going to have to come back and work with commissioners and be open," she says.
Says Page: "If she doesn't `communicate better`, she won't get anything done."
For her part, Hood took exception to the commissioner's complaints in a pre-election interview. Asked if she expected that she'd have to redouble her efforts to work with them after the election was over, she replied: "I always engage them and make sure that they get all the information that they need. I want to encourage them more and more ... to get involved in those discussions that are taking place on a regular basis in this community." But she also threw it back in their face: For all the talk about the need for regional cooperation, only Bagley, she said, has bothered to attend a meeting of the Tri-County League of Cities. And although Wyman sits on the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, Hood said, "she's never attended a meeting. We have to replace her, because they've asked for a replacement." Opportunities for commissioners to get involved exist, she said, "but our folks just aren't taking advantage of that."
"She's delusional if she thinks that," replies Page.
Still, Commissioner Daisy Lynum notes that in those districts represented by allies of Gordy, the popular vote favored Hood. "To me, if I were commissioner `in those areas`, the wake-up call would be on my part," she says. "Unfortunately, Gordy was running against someone, not for anything. Until this campaign, I really liked him. People who supported `Gordy` probably didn't like Hood because they didn't have the balls to stand up against her."
Either way, Page and Wyman -- both of whom also won re-election last week to four-year terms that will coincide with Hood's -- both say that unless Hood takes the first step in bridging the gap, the next few years could be problematic.
"The fact is, she won, she's mayor," adds Ammerman. "She must continue to work with the council. On every issue she needs four votes."