Happytown 


While you were sleeping off that downtown hangover, hoping to wake up in a city that offered more than one thoroughfare of Bright Lights, Big City distraction, somebody went ahead and put a cherry on top of stagnation and called it progress.

Last week, the city of Orlando was honored with two "awards of distinction" from the International Downtown Association for making light out of blight; the Paramount at Lake Eola won because it has a space-age Publix at its condo-turned-apartment foundation, while the Plaza — Cameron Kuhn's giant mixed-use monument to default and foreclosure — picked up a prize for housing "downtown's first movie theater" (which, history buffs, isn't exactly true; there were a string of movie houses here in the early 20th century). The IDA surveys projects all over the world, including those in Europe, Asia and Africa, and Orlando's entries were but two of 77 projects highlighted for their creation of destination centers in downtown infrastructures.

"The number and breadth of entries made judging a difficult task," says IDA chairwoman Jane Jenkins in a press release.

It probably helped to have Orlando's Downtown Development Board executive director, Thomas Chatmon, as vice-chair of the IDA's eight-person executive committee, right? Speaking of Chatmon, he's at the ready in the same press release with that peculiar robot-speak we've come to expect from the pods that have taken over our downtown core and dressed it up like a mixed-use hooker: "We are pleased that the IDA has honored our organization's continued efforts to make downtown an excellent place to live, work and play." Go back to bed.

And now it's time for another edition of What's Up With Alan?™, our attempt to keep you up to date on the comings and goings of Orlando's favorite congressman, Alan Grayson!

Perhaps lost in all the public-option-speak and economic bailout woes of the moment is what this country is all about: the yellowed scroll of calligraphy that makes us us (or U.S.). Alan Grayson was able to ram through his latest edict, "Teach the Constitution Week," three days before the nation's typically raucous, beer-drenched celebrations of the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787. The bill may seem like a grandiose stroke of back-patting polemics — and probably is, as it "urges" high schools to spend a week talking about basic laws and where they come from — but for Grayson, it's another chance to wheel out a clunky pop-culture quote worthy of a press release.

"More teenagers can name the judges of American Idol and the Three Stooges than can name the three branches of government," Grayson grouches. "The constitution is the highest law in the land. If we are not teaching our children the Constitution, what are we teaching them?" Poor Larry, Moe and Paula.

Of more pressing note is the watchdog name that Grayson has been making for himself in big liberal media circles lately. The New York Times kicked off the proceedings with a laudatory nod to Grayson's inquiries into the U.S. Treasury's handling of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bailout fallout, specifically his questions about why taxpayers are footing the $6.3 million in legal bills for former Fannie executives like Franklin D. Raines.

"I cannot see the justification of people who led these organizations into insolvency getting a free ride," Grayson told the Times. "It goes right to the heart of what people find most disturbing in this situation — the absolute lack of justice."

His superhero posturing led to follow-ups on MSNBC and in the Orlando Sentinel (which has historically maligned Grayson just because). It's also led Grayson's superhot press secretary, Todd Jurkowski, to send out excited e-mails that end, "Come on, you must admit, that's impressive." We do. It is.

Last week, the battle surrounding Florida Hometown Democracy — hereafter known as Amendment 4 on the 2010 ballot — took a turn from the abstract to the tangible.

You'll recall that Amendment 4 seeks to write into state law that all changes to municipal comprehensive development plans come before a public vote; basically it's a move to stop Florida's tendencies to grease the palms of developers without regard to the state's suffering ecosystem and endless sprawl.

Well, on Sept. 15 Gov. Charlie Crist and his cabinet unexpectedly and unanimously denied a previously approved 800-home development in Marion County following a court challenge from two concerned residents. Why? The state's governing folk were afraid that overruling the decision of an administrative law judge who sided with the residents would "send a terrible message," according to comments from Department of Community Affairs secretary Tom Pelham reported by the Associated Press, because it would make public involvement in the development process look futile. Riiiight. Pelham went on to tell the cabinet that such a move would "pour more fuel on the fires of Hometown Democracy," showing the true colors of the state's strategic move.

Meanwhile, two groups tangential to the FHD crusade went even bolder with their message, ramping up with a "Stop the Stampede" rallying call. Floridians for a Sustainable Population and the Panhandle Citizens Coalition are concerned that developers are bum-rushing local governments to get their big shiny development plans through before the inevitable rise of people power in next year's election. So! They're calling for a moratorium on all comprehensive plan amendments until after the election. This, dear reader, will not happen.

An interesting thing landed in our mailbox — remember those? — the other day: a DVD titled The Evangelist, the Hitman and the ACLU. It's a documentary on the life and times of former evangelist and current radio hellraiser George Crossley, produced by local filmmaker T.J. McCarthy.

If you're fresh off the turnip truck you may not know that Crossley, back in his fire-and-brimstone days in the mid-'90s, got popped in an undercover sting for plotting the murder of the ex-husband of his mistress at the time. He spent 41 months in prison for it. McCarthy got his hands on the grainy, black-and-white surveillance footage shot by the cops of Crossley making a deal with a man he thought was a killer for hire, and it is chilling stuff indeed. But the best part of the DVD is how it details Crossley's post-prison adventures, from helming the local chapter of the ACLU to starting Orlando CopWatch to his current gig as host of the People Power Hour radio show on WEUS (810-AM). Like him or not, Crossley has been at the front of almost every fight for social justice in this town for the last 10 years, and McCarthy captures most of it in his doc. It's required viewing for those who care that Orlando is consistently named one of the country's meanest cities. Check McCarthy's website, 4DPictures.tv, for info.

happytown@orlandoweekly.com

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