If you were to spend $321,000, you'd undoubtedly expect something significant to happen. But after the March 12 election, in which eight candidates tossed around record amounts of dollars vying for three of the six seats on the Orlando City Council, the body remains at a stalemate.
Vicki Vargo, the council's most independent voice, held onto her seat over a strong challenge from Roger Chapin, whose family name and record spending still left him 600 votes shy of victory with 5,290 votes cast in District 3. Daisy Lynum, the commissioner most beholden to Mayor Glenda Hood, earned a second term with 60 percent of the ballots in District 5.
The only (mild) surprise came in District 1, where three-term incumbent Don Ammerman mustered just 37 percent of the vote, to 45 percent for challenger Phil Diamond, a difference of 200 votes. That sends the two into an April 9 runoff. (A third candidate, Tom Levine, falls out with just 17 percent.)
Ammerman spent $88,579 to gain his measly 1,224 votes in an attempt to become only the second council member since 1980 to win a fourth term. (He took over two years into Hood's last term when she became mayor.) Ammerman's spending comes to $72.36 per vote, the most-ever by a commissioner who received more than 500 votes. And it broke his own record; in 1998 he spent $61 for each of his 957 votes. With the pending runoff, he will likely top the $100,000 spending mark in the next few weeks.
Diamond, who has the support of much of the downtown crowd, as well as political outsiders such as CountyWatch's Linda Stewart, offers the last chance to break the current political monotony and keep alive an unofficial streak: Every election since 1986 has brought at least one new commissioner to the council.
At least until the runoff dollars are counted, Ammerman isn't the biggest spender this election cycle. District 3 challenger Roger Chapin spent $98,029 in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Vargo. At least Chapin received 2,353 votes for opening his campaign chest; that's a cost of $41.66 per vote. Chapin's vote total was the sixth largest gained by a non-mayoral candidate since the city went to single-member districts in 1980.
Unfortunately for Chapin, Vargo received 2,937 votes, the second-largest total since 1980. (Glenda Hood stands at No. 1, with 3,214 votes in the 1986 election.) Vargo ran a relatively economical race, spending $52,663 or $17.93 per vote.
The Chapin-Vargo race was only the second time since 1980 that two candidates in the same commissioner race collected more than 2,000 votes. The previous time? The 2000 District 3 race, when each of the three candidates -- Vargo, Tom Olsen and David Rose -- topped that figure.
Daisy Lynum won re-election in another poor voter turnout for District 5. It was the third straight election in which fewer than 20 percent of the district's registered voters chose to cast ballots. Only 10.6 percent of them (in an electorate totalling 11,116 people) gave Lynum her victory. She spent $54,898 to earn those votes, which comes to $46.56 a person -- the third-largest per-vote spending ever among candidates receiving at least 500 votes.
Lawanna Gelzer, who has now lost twice to Lynum, and Mary Jackson, who had to move into the city to run, didn't come close to making the race as competitive as they had threatened to.
Lynum still has more than $20,000 left in her war chest, which should be a windfall for her campaign workers if history is an indication. After the 1998 campaign, 44 members of Lynum's campaign crew divided up $8,000. Who says money doesn't buy contentment?