There is stupid, and then there's ridiculous. That's the line the Orlando Sentinel has erased with its insipid slobbering over Bill Frederick, the long-ago mayor who wants to come back to save our city from chaos.
Frederick is a remnant of the city's good-ol'-boy network, a fixture of the inner circle who had the chutzpah to float the idea that he'd run for mayor if no one else would.
See, kids, way back when, mayoral elections were coronations like when Frederick appointed Glenda Hood his successor in 1992 and Frederick liked that. Democracy is messy; Frederickocracy is clean and easy.
Sadly, the Sentinel has become the biggest cheerleader of this parochialism. On March 15, for instance, it ran two hagiographic articles on the wonder that is Bill Frederick, easing past any discussion that Frederick's brand of closed-door government could possibly be bad for Orlando.
The Sentinel endorsed Frederick twice before the city council even scheduled the special election.
"An experienced leader, such as former Mayor Bill Frederick, who has no political aspirations for the future, would be an ideal choice for that difficult role," the Sentinel opined March 21, the same day the council sanctioned the election. "His willingness to work hard as interim mayor and then step aside when Mr. Dyer's case is resolved make him a real asset. More opportunistic politicians would be interested in using this interim role to further their career. Orlando can't afford political gamesmanship at this time."
So anyone who runs against Frederick is a political opportunist? Yes, after a mayor is indicted is no time for citizens to participate in the democratic process, that's for sure.
Speaking of the special election, it's a terribly discombobulated affair. For starters, the whole exercise could be null and void if circuit court Judge Theotis Bronson rules in favor of Ken Mulvaney and tosses last year's election results; it probably ain't gonna happen, but there is the possibility.
Then there's this fact: The charges against Buddy Dyer could, theoretically, be dropped any day now. Or, if Dyer asserts his right to a speedy trial, he could receive a not guilty verdict in a couple of months. So pretend you're a candidate. You spend hours and hours collecting signatures to get on the ballot. You dedicate the next 45 days of your life to campaigning nonstop, and you win. The next day, Dyer's charges are dropped; he returns, and you're out.
Or, the day after you win the special election, Dyer is found guilty. Guess what? There's another special election headed your way.
The simplest thing to do would be to let interim Mayor Ernest Page keep the big seat until this whole mess is fixed up. But common sense and the law ain't talking to one another. On March 21, the city council voted 4-2 for a new election. City attorney Dykes Everett said there was no other choice.
What we gathered from the back-and-forth is that the charter was designed to have a special election if a mayor was gone for a long time, and let the mayor pro tem take over if it was short-term. Rest assured that lawsuits will be filed.
We have to wonder, though, if the council might have ruled differently were it allowed to hear any differing opinions. Not only did the council exclusively listen to the like-minded legal trio, but they also voted to keep the public from speaking.
In the end, Patty Sheehan voted against it because of that lack of public input; Phil Diamond voted against it because he wanted a clearer legal picture. Everyone else voted for it, and come May 3 barring a successful legal challenge this city is election-bound.
The meeting was enlightening because the commissioners displayed their true colors, good and bad. So Happytown™ has created some awards for our public servants:
The Integrity in Voting Award goes to Page. Had Page voted against the special election, it would have failed, and he would have retained his seat and the mayor's salary.
The Grandstanding Award goes to Vicki Vargo, whose self-promotion was extraordinary. She droned on about giving citizens a chance to vote (but voted against giving them the right to speak at the hearing), and threw in the word "criminal" in every other sentence to make sure everyone came away thinking that Dyer is a bad, bad man.
Vargo also gets The Flip-Flopper Award, at least if you believe Doug "Ax the Tax" Guetzloe. On March 22, he circulated an e-mail that Vargo's husband and law partner, Allan Aksell, sent to Fred O'Neal, Ken Mulvaney's attorney. At the March 21 city council meeting, Vargo was the most outspoken supporter of the special election. But Aksell's e-mail renders a different verdict. "By default, I think either the governor should appoint or the council should act to extend the mayor pro tem authority until the Mulvaney reelection matter is decided, and maybe until the Dyer matter is resolved."
Vargo says she was unaware of the e-mail and that she was undecided on the special election, but came to agree with the city's attorneys. For the record, Vargo's not running for mayor, but she thought long and hard about it.
The Righteous Indignation Award goes to Sheehan, who bitched out her colleagues except for Diamond for not allowing audience members to speak. "I just think that's disgusting," she said. Hear, hear.
The Bitter Betty Award goes to Daisy Lynum. She was mayor pro tem in 2002 when Hood announced her resignation. But Hood made her resignation effective the day after the special election, denying Lynum even a moment in the mayor's chair. She doesn't seem over it, but she has a point. At the time, Hood said the city had no provision for a temporary replacement. Now, apparently, it does. The rules keep changing.
The Dim Bulb Award goes to Betty Wyman, for being, well, dim. Wyman started off a mini-speech by saying that while the council heard from the city's staffers and lawyers, it hadn't heard from the people. Then, a few minutes later, she voted against allowing public input. Then, a few minutes after that, she clarified: "This empowers us to do our job. I don't see any sense in public hearings. If the public wants to speak, fine. I'm not that type of person." Er, OK, Betty.
As Vargo said during the meeting,"If you don't like the candidates, get on the ballot." Which is a nice segue to …
Orlando Weekly columnist Billy Manes' announcement March 21 that he is running for mayor. Though you didn't read it in the Sentinel, Manes was the first person to pick up his papers for the race.
Happytown™ intends to be scrupulously objective about the Manes campaign. And so we note that Manes is an out-of-the-closet gay man with no political experience who writes about night life in these pages. But before you write him off as a joke, know that he has a very good shot at collecting the needed 843 signatures to get on the ballot. That automatically makes him a player, despite his lack of body weight and effeminate hand gestures.
"The point is to bring a little bit of humanity back into the process by speaking up for most of the constituencies that aren't represented in our small-town system," Manes says.
Near to Manes' heart is the idea that downtown is in need of extended drinking hours, because in a grown-up city the politicians don't tell you when it's bedtime. Plus, Manes wants to disband the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation, the multi-agency task force that acts as morality police. He couldn't, but he could pull out Orlando's contribution to the MBI.
He also has plans for Parramore. "I want to hold weekly meetings in the Parramore district to inspire some kind of forward-thinking development," he says. Manes supports city-subsidized affordable housing in Parramore, but his administration would not sanction tax dollars for a new arena, an improved Citrus Bowl or incentives for big-time downtown developers.
Isn't politics a hoot?