No matter what anyone may try to tell you, Orlando can be a pretty nice place to live if we all learn to make do without certain luxuries. You know, like money.
Last week, newly elected mayor Buddy Dyer discovered that his predecessor, Glenda Hood, had socked him with a slightly larger budget deficit than he had anticipated. The adjusted tab: a record $23.6 million, up from an already scandalous projection of $14 million that was floated a few weeks ago. Guess somebody forgot to oil the abacus again.
Things looked instantly grim for the mayor, who had vowed to have the city's budget balanced within his first 30 days in office. (A secondary campaign promise -- pony rides for everybody -- had never been taken all that seriously by policy wonks.) But in defiance of the odds, Dyer took less than a week to present a revised budget that eliminated the shortfall outright. He said he'd have us back to "normal" in 30 days, yet he did it in 20. Orlando learned a valuable lesson that day: You can never trust a politician to keep his promises.
The fix is not without its sacrifices. More than 400 city employees, including Dyer himself, will work between one and five days without pay. (Note to the mayor: Try not to tell your people in advance which exact days are the freebies, unless you've already determined that our municipal calendar can accommodate a lot of three-hour lunches at Houston's.) Several quality-of-life projects were also put on hold, including planned community centers in College Park and Rosemont. Advocates decried the loss to local children, whose lives are allegedly lacking in quality leisure-time options. To them I say: Gas huffing was good enough for my generation, kids, and it's good enough for yours.
Still, at least the Dyer administration can honestly say that, after the abuses of the Hood era, it made a good-faith effort to put Orlando's fortunes back on an even keel -- just in time for war with Iraq to send our tourist-dependent economy spiraling into the shitter all over again. Half a million cans of Reddi-Whip, comin' right up.
At the same time Dyer was wrestling with the wolves of insolvency, word came down that a certain TV personality was fighting his own battle with German customs authorities. According to various European news agencies, none other than Don Johnson had been caught late last year attempting to cross the Swiss-German border carrying a suitcase filled with billions of dollars' worth of checks, bonds and other monetary substitutes.
Yes, billions. Yes, that Don Johnson.
Britain's ITV network disseminated the mildest version of the story. It claimed that Johnson's curious booty totaled $5 billion, which he said he needed "for a business deal." Tabloid newspaper The Sun painted a more colorful picture, asserting that the former Sonny Crockett had been in possession of a full $8 billion, which he explained thusly: "I am going to buy a car."
The Sun story sounds seriously exaggerated and inflated, so of course that's the one I'm choosing to believe. But either is preferable to the version related by Johnson and his rep, Elliot Mintz, who both categorically deny that the actor was caught with any suspicious sum. Certainly not $8 billion.
"Don has done well for himself, but not that well," Mintz demurred. (Like anyone was intimating our pal Nash Bridges had somehow earned the money.)
It doesn't take a financial genius to see how these two stories intersect: If we truly aspire to a lifestyle that means more than just holding our own, Don Johnson must be elected mayor of Orlando in 2004. Buddy Dyer is a sweet fella and all, but his politics of frugal self-denial can't compete with the giddy prospect of a mayoral bid by Daddy Warbucks in a pink tank top. After all, in profoundly uncertain times, there's no solace like knowing that the name "American Tourister" is the only thing that comes between your mayor and 8 billion smackers.
Let's look at it in purely statistical terms. An estimated 188,494 people currently live in Orlando. With Don Johnson at the helm, we'd have instant access to an emergency fund of at least $5 billion. That equals a $26,526.04 rebate to each and every citizen of The City Beautiful. Even if unforeseen circumstances were to put us another $23.6 million in debt -- those Houston's cocktails can add up, people -- the per-capita payout would still be $26,400.84.
And that's with a conservative $5 billion as our base sum. If the Sun's numbers are correct, the figure leaps to $42,316.47, a Vegas-sized remuneration indeed for a lucky populace.
The benefits of such governmental largesse are both obvious and far-ranging. You culture vultures won't only get your long-promised performing-arts center -- you'll each be presented with your very own seating box, just like those two old dudes on "The Muppet Show." Hey, sports fans! Fed up with the city's reluctance to invest in a new arena? Try a gold-plated, full-scale replica of a Roman coliseum, where weekend crowds will thrill to the spectacle of the downtown homeless fighting for their lives against vicious Bengal tigers. Then we could really tell Tampa/St. Pete to kiss our collective tush, because where's their damn Roman coliseum?
Take heart, airport security personnel: All bomb-sniffing dogs will be equipped with the priciest, most sophisticated Kevlar exoskeletons. First-year Rollins students: Think of the blow $8 billion can buy!
True, there are some minor details left to be ironed out. Johnson would have to become an Orlando resident in time to run, but that shouldn't be a tough sell. He's already lived in a small boat moored off the coast of Miami, so he should feel right at home in the average Orlando apartment. Also, if criminal charges are eventually filed against the star, he will likely have to give up the multibillion-dollar suitcase as evidence. Not a problem. Anybody who can afford to carry the gross national product of Costa Rica in his luggage probably has another fortune lined up and ready to go at all times.
Finally, there's the matter of an unrelated, $1 million lawsuit ITV says has been slapped on Johnson over his alleged failure to repay a California bank loan. After intense consultation with Orlando Weekly's own legal counsel -- the second Munns in Bogin, Munns & Munns -- I have determined that this, too, is a nonissue. Our last mayor came up $23.6 million short, and nobody's rushing to put the cuffs on her. So a measly one mil is hardly a good reason to start calling Johnson a deadbeat. With any luck, he just might make secretary of state.