Dack Cole knew he would be fighting an uphill battle as the lone challenger facing Orlando's incumbent District 1 Commissioner Don Ammerman. What he was unprepared for were Ammerman's tactics.
First, Ammerman showed up for homeowners' association meetings with a uniformed police officer who explained Ammerman's role in beefing up neighborhood patrols. Then, Cole says, he found a high-school principal's name on Ammerman's list of endorsements -- although such an endorsement is prohibited by school policy.
Cole has filed a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission over that endorsement, and plans to pursue an internal investigation with Orlando police regarding the officer's role.
While acknowledging neither incident as earth-shattering in advance of the March 10 vote, Cole asks, "If he's willing to break the little rules, what about the big ones?"
On Feb. 2, Ammerman and Officer Brian Gilliam spoke to the Grant Station Homeowners Association. Cole, the candidate suported by a downtown business coalition hoping in part to restore late-night hours to clubs, was there by invitation.
What followed is a matter of interpretation. To Ammerman, Gilliam -- an officer assigned to community involvement duties in the district -- simply conducted himself as any community-liaison officer would at any community meeting, updating citizens about crime-fighting advances, including a heightened police presence prompted by Ammerman.
"All of us are assigned a liaison officer out of Orlando Police Department. This is something I've had since I've been on council, and the other commissioners have, too," he says.
But to Cole, it sounded a lot like electioneering, with Ammerman prompting Gilliam for responses. "I was stunned. It was like he was no cue," says Cole.
Orlando police are required to remain neutral while in uniform, says Sgt. Jeff Goltz. Even so, Goltz adds, acknowledging Ammerman's contributions to police protection probably didn't violate departmental policy.
At issue in the endorsement claim is the presence of Boone High principal Don Buckman's name on Ammerman's literature. Ammerman says Buckman, who couldn't be reached for comment, provided the written statement that is required for a candidate to name his backers in promotional literature.
Cole says Buckman told him otherwise. In any event, school-district policy bans principals from entering political frays.
Ammerman accused Cole of pandering for publicity.
"He's fishing," he says.