God's man in city hall 


It was a calling, a calling from God."

Thus, retired Orlando Police Department captain and evangelical minister Samuel Ings explains his decision to enter the mayor's race. Actually, the Man Upstairs implored Ings to run twice: Once, on Dec. 1, 2003, upon his retirement, and again on Christmas Day, when Ings returned from Jamaica.

"The Lord spoke again, stating clearly now to do it," he says, seated around the conference table that serves as the only furniture in his South Orange Avenue office.

An Ings victory would be historic on two levels: First, he'd be the first person to knock off an incumbent Orlando mayor since at least 1939; second, and more importantly, he'd become Orlando's first black mayor.

Which is to say an Ings victory isn't too likely. Ings can't match Dyer's name recognition and money, and businessman Ken Mulvaney has already laid claim to the anti-Dyer crowd. Mulvaney's backers, in fact, are hoping that Ings sucks enough of the black vote from Dyer to make their candidate a contender.

It could happen. In last year's election, the sole black candidate, businessman Derrick Wallace, drew 10 percent of the vote. And, relying on decades of police and social-service work in Parramore, Ings has the potential to match or improve on Wallace's finish. That can only help Mulvaney.

(Caveat: Ings doesn't have anywhere near Wallace's personal fortune to spend on the campaign. And there are two other candidates in the race: Alex Lamour and Sharon Leichering. Both ran last year and placed in single digits, a feat they'll probably repeat.)

It's tough to know what an Ings administration would be like, because Ings himself doesn't really know. He's got a philosophy more than an agenda: "I want to bring government back to the people," he says.

In practical terms, that would mean moving city council and other important meetings to evening hours, when more of the public could attend. It would mean moving controversial ideas like extending drinking hours to a citywide referendum. It would mean more studies of downtown, of Parramore, of possibly moving the Coalition for the Homeless.

If you want specifics, Ings says he wouldn't have fired 250 workers to balance the budget -- some of whom were escorted out by cops -- which Dyer did soon after taking office, and he'd re-establish the city's neighborhood services department and create Jamaican and Haitian consulates inside City Hall.

"I see a very unified city, a very balanced city for all concerned," Ings says of his potential administration. In a broad sense, this is where Ings and Mulvaney strike the same themes: open government, rather than Dyer's recent history of secretive deal-making and utter disregard for opponents.

Despite his religious background, which includes an honorary doctorate of theology and Ark of Faith Ministries -- which he runs -- Ings doesn't seem bent on pushing a religious agenda. "There's the church-state thing," he says. "We wouldn't be having services in city council or anything." (Though, he adds a second later, if city council members wanted to attend a revival outside, that would be great.)

Ings also doesn't seem interested in revisiting the gay-rights ordinance the council passed a few months before Glenda Hood resigned.

He downplays speculation that he's running out of anger after being passed over for a chief of police job: "I'm not mad. Being chief of police, it certainly would have been a great thing for either mayor (Hood or Dyer) to do that. [But] my focus is a lot larger than the police department."

Ing's focus may be too large, says Orange County Democratic Party chairman Doug Head.

"If he called on me, rather than God, I'd have advised him to run for [Commissioner Ernest Page's district 6] seat or something," says Head. Ings is a former member of the party's executive committee, though Head says they've never met.

While Head is duty-bound to support Dyer, the fact that he'd like to pull Ings into another part of the political process gives some credence to Ings' viability, and perhaps hints at his ability to pull black votes.

But God didn't call Samuel Ings to be a city commissioner. God told him to shoot for the top, and show Dyer the door in the process.

"I'm not here to judge [Dyer] either way," Ings says, "other than to say it's time for a new mayor, a new mayor who's inclusive."


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