Happytown 

The local Democratic machine gets a swift kick in the ass, a Food Not Bombs founder exchanges anarchist recipes and we take a look at the sports that happen when no sports are happening. It's a Happytown Thanksgiving!

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Ho, ho, hope! Just as we werebeing tied into our Happytown™ holiday straitjackets after double-checking our overtly selfish wish lists – we want things, because we have no things – news percolated out of the local politics ether that the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee had just received the best present it could hope for: a new leader. Do not yawn! At the organization’s Nov. 14 meeting, State Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, was unanimously handraised into the ultimate position of power for the struggling local Democratic machine, meaning that maybe, just maybe, things could take a turn for the better just in time for the big election year. Happy days are here again! Maybe.

“I think in the state of Florida, people were pretty beat up after the 2010 elections,” Randolph says, in reference to how the local Democratic party fell as far as it did. “Now that we’re refocusing on Obama, a lot of the resources have gone to the federal level. Without a program to which you can build donors, it’s difficult to do fundraising.”

Indeed. The most current OCDEC reports show that the committee was floundering as of Sept. 30, boasting just $15,447 in donations for the year, with $15,786 being spent (hello, deficit!). Compare that to the rival Orange County Republican Executive Committee’s sprawling $60,303 in contributions with just $33,678 spent and the great divide becomes a little obnoxious.

To remedy the problem, Randolph is aiming to get $10,000 in the coffers by the end of January, which, he says, should go some way toward convincing candidates that they need to run in local and state races because the party is happening. He’s also suggesting a dramatic overhaul of the sort of sad OCDEC structure – seriously, sitting through one of those meetings is like being in the blandest Family Ties Thanksgiving fight ever – and making things a little less demented and sad and a little more social. Is this a nod to Randolph’s old days as a fighting leader in the boozy Young Democrats? Or, rather, does this make him an aging Young Democrat?

“Maybe so,” he laughs. “People who are interested in politics don’t want to come out and listen to committee reports and people arguing.”

But they do want action,says local firebrand (and long ago OCDEC chair) Doug Head. Randolph is taking the place of too-polite former house candidate Amy Mercado, who resigned so that she could focus on her day job.

“It’s good. We need leadership, and Scott’s in a position to provide it,” Head says. “Unfortunately, Amy was ambitious but didn’t realize what obligation she was undertaking.”

Moreover, both Head and Randolph agree that repurposing the local party right now – amid the crashing plates of redistrictingon both a state and county level – is crucial, especially considering the Hispanic outrage at the short ethnic shrift that they’re getting from Republican leaders who, says Randolph, are just waiting to get sued in order to drag the process out longer. Also, Occupy! Randolph hopes to recruit two candidates for county commission seats and three for state house seats by the end of January. Now, if we could just figure out in which district they’ll be running.

Remember Keith McHenry? He’sthe portly, hirsute 50-something who co-founded Food Not Bombs more than three decades ago with a cohort of his anarchist chums in Boston. Though he’s usually stationed in Taos, N.M. (he lives in his van), he’s got a substantial rep here in Orlando, where he spent a considerable amount of time this past spring. It was then that 27 Food Not Bombs volunteers were arrested for violating the city’s large group feeding ordinance; McHenry was the only one to be arrested twice. He was also the only member – using the term loosely – of Food Not Bombs to be profiled by the Orlando Sentinel.

On Nov. 16 McHenry was back in town, at Urban ReThink, to promote his new book titled Hungry for Peace: How You Can Help End Poverty and War With Food Not Bombs. We flipped to the first sentence of the introduction: “My young Serbian guide, Rebel Mouse, pried open a crack in the metal fence that surrounded the old brick mansion in Belgrade.” Suspense! We skipped to the end of the book – where the climax is, right? – only to find a cookbook full of recipes such as “Tofu Smoothy,” “Macaroni and Cheeseless for 90,” and “Hummus for 100.”

With a crowd in the single digits – we didn’t see a single book signed, or sold – it wasn’t hard to talk to McHenry, who enjoys talking to the media anyway. He gave us a rundown of his tour of America’s various Occupations: first, in “Hopeville” (a St. Louis homeless encampment which he regards as the predecessor to this year’s Occupy movement), later to Washington, D.C. (where his van nearly caught fire from oatmeal left on the portable stove), then to Boston (the occupation being held at the location of the first Food Not Bombs meal ever served in 1981), then to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., (“really tiny, but really positive”), down through Columbia, S.C., Charlottesville, Va., Norfolk, Va., and finally meandering to Occupy Orlando, which he regards as one of the “funnier ones.” “Of all the [occupations], it’s most libertarian,” he said. “The people that are the most organized seem to be more conservative than in other occupations.”

As a professional anarcho-activist, McHenry leads an alternately hardscrabble and comfortable life. Although he slept outside with the occupiers here in Orlando, he also spoke at an event hosted by Amnesty International at the University of Central Florida, for which he was compensated handsomely.“Honorariums have been around $500 this year, which is better than it has been,” he says. “Last year, I was really struggling to get $250 from clubs.”

And now, an update from theOrlando professional sports world, where so much has happened – amid nothing happening! Let us explain. On the one hand, there is no actual sporting going on whatsoever. The Orlando City Soccer Club is in its off-season, Major League Baseball’s spring training is still months away (duh) and the Orlando Magic’s players, along with all others in the NBA, are still unable to extract themselves from a disagreement with team owners over how much cash in which they’ll get to swim.

Yet at the same time, there is plenty shaping the professional sports world outside of the courts, fields and Dwight Howard’s shoulders. Take Nov. 16, the day after the NBA Players Association announced that it would be disbanding and decertifying so that it could proceed with an antitrust suit. It was then that Mayor Buddy Dyer positioned himself as a rock of stability in a cold, barren world without overpaid basketball players: Along with the city’s Community Food & Outreach Center, he nobly offered to provide the families of arena workers unable to work due to the basketball contract debacle the meager crumbs that would normally come from their low-wage paychecks. “[It’s an] aggressive campaign … to help provide food for hungry families in Central Florida, rally community volunteers and help the thousands of families who are in need due to the NBA Lockout,” read the statement from the mayor’s office, bereft of any detail quantifying or qualifying the effort. What we did get out of it, however, was this advice to our homeless population: When a cop bothers you, tell them you’re sleeping outside because of the NBA lockout. Works like a charm!

Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic – a name that currently signifies everybody but the players, get used to it – announced on Nov. 16 that it had already done some volunteer teaching at a staggering 65 schools in Orange County. (We’re sure the students were thrilled to finally meet Magic V.P. of Community Relations/Government Affairs Linda Landman Gonzalez.) Like Dyer, the Magic wanted to clue us in to its civic-mindedness – the organization has performed nearly 30,000 hours of community service since its inception in July 2006, according to its own glowing estimates. How sweet of them! But wait, what’s this? “[The Magic Volunteer Program] is unique in that it allows employees to volunteer during work hours.” So is this community service or boredom? Sigh.

There was at least one piece of good news that came out of Orlando last Wednesday: we’ll be getting a hockey team! Sure, it’s not an NHL team – it’s part of the third-tier East Coast Hockey League – and sure, it’s the Solar Bears, a team we were glad to see die a decade ago simply because of the name and logo, but at least that giant electricity bill at the Amway Center won’t go to waste this fall. Oh, sorry, yes it will – the Solar Bears aren’t playing until 2012. Happy holidays!

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