I'm on my second pair of tennis shoes," says rookie politician Luis Pastrana, speaking of the daily neighborhood-walking tours that he hopes will give him the edge over Orlando city council District 2 incumbent Betty Wyman.
He'll need a lot more than shoes to beat Wyman; 12 years in a job tends to earn you some name recognition.
Born in Puerto Rico, Pastrana graduated from high school with honors and spent 20 years on active duty in the Army. He moved his family from Puerto Rico to Oklahoma, then to Los Angeles, and then to New York.
"I was traveling all over the world, and it didn't leave them any time," he says.
So he went to law school, graduating in 1986. As a lawyer he specialized in corporate and environmental law. In 2001 Pastrana was appointed regional director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in Orlando, an embassy-like office that provides advocacy services for Puerto Ricans living in Central Florida. It was there that he first crossed paths with Wyman.
District 2 residents were upset that Nature Park -- now Park of the Americas -- had been empty and unused since the city locked its gates in 1998. It had become a haven for drug use.
Wyman asked Pastrana to help reopen the park. He brought together associations, residents and businesses to clean and landscape it. But just before opening-day celebrations, Pastrana says, Wyman cancelled the event. (Wyman did not respond to numerous attempts to contact her for this story.)
"I think that the commissioner has lost sight of what the job is really all about," he says. "The job is to represent the interests of the people -- all the people."
The heart of District 2 runs along Semoran Boulevard, south from Colonial Drive to just before Orlando International Airport, a historically Hispanic area that was heavily developed in the '70s and '80s, but soon fell economically stagnant. The district includes portions of tonier Ventura and Dover Shores, but is best characterized by neighborhoods like Englewood and Azalea Park.
Some residents say Wyman has failed to address issues in the district.
"She kept getting elected, but now, no one is really sure why," says Francis Hawkins, 62, who lives in the southern, wealthier part of District 2.
Safety is an issue here. A methadone clinic at 601 S. Semoran Blvd. consistently draws complaints from residents.
"It's only making the problems worse," says Milia Griffin, 34, who lives in Englewood with three children. "I can't let my kids go out and play by themselves when I know the clinic is open."
Wyman was the only commissioner to sign a confidentiality agreement proffered by Mayor Buddy Dyer to keep the Jaymont block development deal quiet. And Wyman and District 3 commissioner Vicki Vargo were the only two to vote against adding sexual orientation to the city's discrimination ordinance in December 2003.
Then there's her on-again, off-again relationship with the Republican Party. Wyman, a longtime Democrat, changed her affiliation in 2001. In May 2003, she changed back to Republican. Many voters in District 2 seem to have a case of Wyman fatigue.
Three Hispanic candidates opposed her in 2000, effectively splitting the anti-incumbent vote and handing Wyman an easy win. This time around she faces only Pastrana, but it's a good bet that her name recognition will win her the council seat again.
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