To his credit, Ken Mulvaney realizes that, at best, he's a long shot. He's a Republican in a Democratic town, facing a Democratic mayor who far surpasses him in money, fundraising prowess and sheer political ambition, and who gets the added bonus of sharing a ballot with the state's Democratic presidential primary, which should help bring incumbent Buddy Dyer's supporters to the polls. And if that isn't enough, there's the fact that no incumbent mayor has lost in Orlando since at least 1939, which is as far back as the city's voting records go.
"If I end up with 25 percent of the vote -- and understand, that's not my prediction -- I've achieved a lot for a nobody," Mulvaney says.
Best known as the namesake of the now-closed Mulvaney's Irish Pub chain -- though his primary business is a stainless-steel kitchen manufacturing business -- Mulvaney is trying to distance himself from the "ex-pub owner" label, and more importantly, the notion that he's running to get back at Dyer for the way the mayor kept bar owners in the dark while shutting down sidewalk cafés to make way for the two-waying of Church Street in November.
Though Mulvaney says he considered running against Glenda Hood four years ago, anti-Dyer sentiment runs throughout Mulvaney's conversation and campaign literature: He doesn't like Dyer's penchant for secrecy, or his "my-way-or-the-highway" attitude. He doesn't like the $3.5 million, no-strings-attached advance the city is planning to give to Cameron Kuhn to renovate the Jaymont block. He doesn't like the way Dyer sidestepped the historic preservation board, both with the Jaymont redevelopment and the iron railings at Church Street Station. He thinks the city has greenlighted and incentivized too many condos downtown, and worries that the demand might not be there. He thinks an overabundance of housing may depress downtown property values. He doesn't like the way Dyer erased the city's $23 million deficit by, in part, laying off some 200 worker while sitting on an untapped $70 million rainy-day fund, a move he believes has hurt city services.
"No matter what way you look at it, `Dyer's` record is not 100 percent," Mulvaney says in a thick Irish accent. "The city doesn't just include downtown and Parramore. Neighborhoods, they feel as though they're being left behind."
He thinks the city needs to put more cops on the street, and suggests that Orlando really isn't as safe as city leaders and the Orlando Sentinel would have you believe. "You don't read it in the newspaper because of Disney," he says, adding that he's heard of an FBI report -- which he hasn't seen -- that confirms his belief.
That type of off-the-cuff candor would make most campaign managers squirm. But with Mulvaney, it's endearing. He's obviously smart, and speaks with an engaging confidence that comes with being a poster boy for the American dream. "I came here from Ireland in 1981 with $1,000 in my pocket," his biography might begin. So when he speculates about why Cameron Kuhn needs the $3.5 million up front, or that budget cuts will mean the police department will have no new trainees in two years, or declares that Dyer's modus operandi is "dirty politics," or says that he fully expects the Sentinel to come after him, he says it personally, less politician-to-reporter than guy-to-guy. He's utterly unpolished and uncalculating, which makes him the polar opposite of the man he's trying to unseat.
His platform is vague. He's got no detailed plan to fix Parramore and no direct way to revitalize downtown (though he thinks the performing arts center is a bad idea, and believes the city should invest in free parking). His central theme is that the city should be more inclusive, and operate more in the open. He points to Church Street and to the Jaymont block as examples: "The process was done wrong. The city has been taken away from the citizens. We still have a right to get up and speak. Our input needs to be respected. I am running on a ticket for fairness. There was nothing fair about `the way Dyer treated Church Street bar owners`. You have to be sensible, that's what it's all about. If you don't have common sense, you're going to get into trouble."
Regardless of how well his message resonates with voters, Mulvaney faces the additional obstacle of beginning his campaign on the defensive, because he's going to have to try and explain two arrests for domestic battery since 1988.
In February, 1998, Mulvaney's ex-wife, Sally (they divorced in 1995, reconciled in 1996 and lived together until January 1998, according to court documents) told police the following:
"I was asleep in bed when my intoxicated ex-husband came home and dragged me out of bed. He started pushing, slapping and punching me. He threw all my belongings on the driveway. When I ran back in the house to get a door key, he threw me on the floor and sat on me to restrain me ... . During the struggle he bit me on my left forearm, he continued to push and slap me out of the house. This has happened before, the last incident was in December, 1997, whereupon I left the house in fear of my safety. Before `I` left I placed a 911 hang-up call ... . The call was incomplete because Ken smashed up the phone."
The police report mentions photos that show Sally's alleged injuries. However, because of an exemption in Florida open records law regarding domestic violence, the photos are not public record and Orlando Weekly could not review them.
"It was a misunderstanding," Mulvaney says. "I never laid a hand on anybody." He says his ex filed the complaint to gain leverage in an ongoing custody dispute over their daughter. As he points out, no charges were filed, and Sally Mulvaney voluntarily dropped her petition for a temporary protective order against him nine days later. There is no allegation of abuse in the couple's divorce papers.
A year later, Ken Mulvaney sought and won permanent custody of his daughter, saying his wife's new boyfriend was abusive, according to court documents.
Today, Sally concurs with her ex, and tells the Weekly she made the whole thing up. "Ken's not a violent person," she says. "We had our ups and downs. It was a big misunderstanding. I'm the hotheaded one. People say things they don't mean when they're upset."
A decade earlier, Mulvaney's previous wife accused him of a similar assault while they were living in Kissimmee. In that case, Mulvaney says, his ex-wife's boyfriend called the cops to report the alleged abuse after an argument (which he describes as nonviolent). That marriage only lasted six months. Again, no charges were filed.
Mulvaney recognizes that with two arrests in his past, some voters may not believe his protestations of innocence. He says it's not something he's going to hide, whether Dyer tries to make political hay of it or not.
"It's not a secret," he says. "I was arrested, I'm not denying that. There was never any merit for the charge. If there was merit to charge me, I would have been charged. I never gave it any thought until I got in the race. Some voters are going to disregard it, I hope."