HAPPYTOWN 


Been kind of a bad week for the Tribune Co., owners of our beloved Orlando Sentinel. In case you hadn't heard, the company declared bankruptcy Dec. 8. To boil it down, the deal Trib dark overlord Sam Zell worked to buy the company last December is so loaded with debt that it is about to sink the entire ship.

To reduce the debt, Zell has been trying to sell off chunks of the company, including the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field. Then on Dec. 9 it became public just how desperate Zell really is: he may be involved in the corruption charges that got Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich arrested.

Federal investigators said Blagojevich offered to trade an appointment for President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat for "financial and personal benefits for himself and his wife." Apparently, he was also ready to make a deal with Zell that would mean huge tax breaks on the sale of Wrigley Field for the fiscally doomed company in exchange for Zell firing the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune, which had been calling for Blagojevich to be impeached.

Scariest part of the story: Zell "got the message and is very sensitive to the issue," according to an intercepted phone call between a Tribune financial adviser and an aide to the governor. In other words, Zell was going to get it done.

This is the guy who pledged never to interfere with the editorial integrity of his newspapers, including our cherished Sentinel. Sometimes words fail.

Last week, we told you that the ACLU of Florida was thinking about giving former evangelist/ ex-con/civil rights activist George Crossley the boot because they think he's a pain in the ass `see Happytown™, Dec. 4`. On Dec. 6, as expected, the state board ousted Crossley as chair of the ACLU's Central Chapter. Then the state honchos disbanded the chapter's board of directors and placed it in receivership, which means it no longer exists.

"I'm fine. I'm free. I can handle freedom," Crossley tells this wildly popular column. "I never thought belonging to an organization that espoused freedom would turn out to be the place where freedom was restricted."

Crossley says he's been a marked man since August, when he signed a petition on the web site www.savetheaclu.org calling for a change in the national ACLU's leadership. The problem, he says, is that the national group lost its intestinal fortitude by failing to push for the impeachment of George W. Bush.

"The `state ACLU was` not happy with me," Crossley says. "But 95 percent of `the local chapter's` board supported me."

The state ACLU's position is that Crossley was too busy promoting his own agenda. They view him as a loud-mouthed glory hog who would call press conferences and announce lawsuits on a whim without consulting the ACLU higher-ups.

They have a point. When there's been a controversy involving the rights of the underprivileged these last three years, chances are Crossley would pop up on the local news. As Howard Simon, the state ACLU's executive director told Orlando magazine in October, "Board members have resigned, we've lost members, and I think because of his addiction to media exposure our credibility and reputation have suffered. The most dangerous place to be is between George Crossley and a TV camera."

Crossley has been effective. No one has been a bigger crusader against the abuse of police powers — in fact, Crossley started Orlando Copwatch to monitor police activities — and Crossley's ACLU chapter led the fight against the city's ban on feeding the homeless in public parks, which a federal judge has since ruled unconstitutional.

Crossley isn't going away. He still hosts his radio show, the People Power Hour, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays WEUS-AM (810). He still runs Orlando Copwatch. And now he's working with the National Lawyers Guild, a progressive legal group, to protest alleged civil rights abuses, such as the case against Orlando cop Fernando Trinidad (see below).

Two weeks ago, we told you how state attorney Lawson Lamar failed to indict Orlando cop Fernando Trinidad for pushing Jessica Asprilla down a flight of stairs in April 2007 and lying about it, and how Asprilla and her attorneys suspected that Lamar had intentionally tanked the case `see "Did Lamar spike it?" Nov. 27`.

Now, they've taken their case to the feds. On Dec. 3, attorneys Andrea Armas and Adam Sudbury called a press conference in front of the Orange County Courthouse to announce that they've asked the U.S. Department of Justice to consider prosecuting Trinidad for violating Asprilla's civil rights.

According to the request, Lamar "failed to present the most compelling evidence of Trinidad's guilt to a local grand jury and never intended to prosecute," which, to anyone who has followed this case, sounds about right. Given the videotape of Trinidad's pushing Asprilla down the stairs at the now-defunct Club Paris, the inaccuracies in Trinidad's deposition, his Internal Affairs interview and the charging affidavit that led to Asprilla's arrest, it's almost inconceivable that Lamar couldn't get an indictment if he wanted one.

As promised, Asprilla has also filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Orlando, Trinidad and whatever's left of Club Paris' ownership. This one ain't over yet.

This week in the gay: Sad reflection! Anger!

On Dec. 3, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel published the results of a recent national "The Pulse of Equality" survey by Harris Interactive. The poll of 2,008 adults (coincidence?) found that 75 percent of Americans would have Adam and Steve exchanging Tiffany rings and fighting about shared finances just like you!, more than 60 percent thought they should be able to die in useless wars just like you!, 63 percent favored expanding hate crimes laws to include gays (not like you?), and 69 percent thought that gays should be able to adopt just like … Madonna!

In other counting news, on Dec. 4 at Watermark's annual WAVE awards ceremony, ballots were tabulated to reveal Orlando's favorite gay everything. (Our own Billy Manes, who claims to be homosexual, won the best GLBT writer award.) But the crowd at Hamburger Mary's was treated to more than just gay realtors and florists.

Following the passage of Amendment 2 banning gay marriage, tempers have been flaring about just what went wrong. Never one to sit quietly by and watch attention flutter away, this year's "Best LGBT spiritual adviser," Michael Wanzie, donned papal garb and let loose on the crowd with a tirade about the ills of Christianity. Shouts of "get off!!" came from certain Catholics in the room, and before you knew it, tempers were flaring everywhere, with city commissioner Patty Sheehan even being invoked for some reason.

It was the great gay schism, we tells ya.

happytown@orlandoweekly.com

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