And he's off. On Feb. 25, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer loaned himself $10,000 and kick-started his 2008 re-election bid. Since then, he's hosted a few fund-raisers — including one that sought a $250 donation to get through the door — and presumably padded his bank account considerably, though we won't know how much until the second-quarter campaign finance reports come out at the end of June.
He is a safe bet to win, despite the fact that two years ago Dyer's political career seemed destined to end with a mug shot and an indictment. But things change. The indictment collapsed, and Buddy re-entered office with a renewed vigor to change the world for the better, or at least to build Rich DeVos a fancy new arena with your tax dollars. He'll campaign on the idea that he has reinvigorated downtown, that the cranes and under-construction skyscrapers are a testament to his vision and love of city. Despite the venues' controversial nature, he'll tell you that this is part of a larger plan to make Orlando a world-class city. It will all sound really nice.
Not only is Dyer the front-runner, he's the only runner, and the election is a mere six or eight months away. (Right now it's set for March, but city officials might bump it to January to coincide with the presidential primary.) What's going on? It's not like Buddy is an indestructible political force. Beyond the arrest — which, while dubious, is still bad for PR — he's got a record to run against.
The city's homeless problem has gone unchecked, beyond a vindictive policy to keep those who feed the poor out of Lake Eola Park. Affordable housing is nowhere to be found. Violent crime, or at least the perception thereof, is threatening the health of the all-important tourism industry. This city, like the rest of Florida's municipalities, faces potentially draconian tax cuts mandated by the Legislature, even as Dyer and his city council embark on a spending spree that would make Paris Hilton proud. The man deserves some competition. This city deserves a debate. But we get silence.
So here is our list of the people we think should challenge Buddy Dyer next January, in alphabetical order. (No, they can't all legally run because some of them live outside city limits, but this is a wish list, so suspend your disbelief for a moment.) We're not endorsing anyone; we're just saying that Buddy shouldn't coast along unchallenged, and these folks could at least put up a fight.
Name: George Crossley
Occupation: Head of ACLU Central Florida chapter
Credentials: Former evangelist who did time in the clink for trying to put out a hit on his lover's husband
Why he should run: Passion. Crossley has it, more so than anyone else on this list, or maybe anyone else in this city's body politic. Sometimes his passion is a disadvantage, because he occasionally appears to be on the verge of losing it. That said, it's about time this city had a passionate defender of its downtrodden residents. God knows that that sure ain't Buddy.
Name: Phil Diamond
Occupation: Lawyer, city commissioner
Credentials: In his second term as Orlando city commissioner
Why he should run: Because he's the only one on the city council with the brains and inherent skepticism to think that spending gobs of tax money on a billionaire's playpen and a football stadium that never gets used (the arena and Citrus Bowl) might not be such a hot idea. Also, because he'd act like an adult with your tax dollars instead of throwing them blindly at anything that purports to make our city "world-class."
Name: David van Gelder
Occupation: Property owner, Daisy Lynum archenemy
Credentials: He controls land in Parramore and has been a thorn in the administration's side for a long time. Plus, love him or hate him, he does his homework.
Why he should run: It'd be very funny to have a mayor who might or might not wear a shirt to council meetings. Second, van Gelder, though derided as a gadfly, has a succinct and clear vision for the Parramore neighborhood and an abiding distrust of the upper levels of city bureaucracy. Think of him as our own Ron Paul.
Name: Bill Frederick
Occupation: Former mayor
Credentials: Mayor of Orlando, 1980-1992; has a park named after him
Why he should run: Two years ago, when Dyer was indicted, Frederick volunteered to take his throne on a temporary basis and save us all. Alas, he was denied his crown when Dyer returned to office, and that had to smart a little. Besides, if anyone is more establishment than Dyer, it's Frederick, so his entry in the race would instigate a blueblood civil war. Good times.
Name: Doug Guetzloe
Occupation: Political consultant
Credentials: The most hated man in Central Florida
Why he should run: Because we all like to kick a guy when he's down, and no one is more down than Doug. No one really pays attention to him anymore, except when he's being indicted for perjury or sentenced to jail for breaking electioneering laws. If he stays out of the news, we miss opportunities to salt the wounds.
Name: Tom Levine
Credentials: Author, failed candidate for mayor and city council
Why he should run: Into every race a little levity must fall. We're really hoping he brings back his centerpiece issue: Cops pulling rickshaws down Orange Avenue. Or was it windows that open at City Hall? Either way, it would be awesome.
Name: Billy Manes
Occupation: Orlando Weekly staff writer
Credentials: Ran for mayor in 2005, gay
Why he should run: Because he's little, yellow and different. And because we're damn near certain that, had that 2005 election actually happened, our man Manes would have shocked the world, taken over City Hall and painted the whole thing pink. Orlando would be a better place right now.
Name: Mark NeJame
Occupation: Lawyer, nightclub owner
Credentials: Powerhouse lawyer, bar owner
Why he should run: NeJame gets it. He's razor-sharp, and knows better than most what will make downtown thrive. For starters: longer drinking hours, which is one promise the Dyer administration has pusillanimously abandoned.
Name: Tico Perez
Credentials: Failed mayoral candidate, veteran of more city advisory boards than we care to mention
Why he should run: The man knows this city. He knows how government works. In 2003 he knew the mechanics better than anyone on the ballot, Dyer included. Sure, he's an insider and a Bush-loving Republican, but he also has a keen sense of this city's local politics. He's ambitious, but patient and prudent, which is why he didn't jump into the fray in 2005. If there's a Republican out there who can win a city election, Perez is the guy. At least he'd make Dyer defend himself in a way other challengers wouldn't.
Name: Patty Sheehan
Occupation: City commissioner
Credentials: Two terms on the Orlando city council
Why she should run: We've had our differences with Sheehan, especially on homeless issues and with her unflinching support of the boondoggle-in-the-making that we call Rich DeVos' Golden Pleasure Dome™. But what the hell. Maybe now we'll get off her shit list. Run, Patty, run!
Name: Mat Staver
Occupation: Founder of the Liberty Counsel
Credentials: Warrior for Jesus, enemy of the ACLU
Why he should run: Because this race will be boring without someone who wants to erect a Decalogue on the steps of City Hall. This election needs more vitriol, and we think Staver's the guy to provide it.