HAPPYTOWN 


Orlando city commissioners got a nasty postcard two weeks ago from an anonymous source. On one side, there was Mayor Buddy Dyer's police mug shot from more than a year ago, along with this screed: "Mayor Buddy Dyer Arrested & Charged with FELONY if it were you … 10 years in JAIL! Put integrity back in Orlando City Hall." The reverse side warned commissioners, "The image on the opposite side of this card will appear as ten 40' billboards beginning October of 2006." At the bottom is the tag line, "Inspired by Jose Fernandez."

The idea, it seems, is to smear the mayor's name, because his arrest on short-lived election fraud charges in March 2005 was a well-kept secret that few voters know about. It's not like it was reported everywhere.

So who is behind it? Danny Ramos, president of Hispanic National Corporate Achievers, is the main suspect. He and business partner Rafael Romero initiated an FDLE investigation of Dyer aide Jose Fernandez for allegedly embezzling $5,000 from the nonprofit Hispanic Business Initiative Fund of Greater Orlando in 2003. However, as this newspaper documented last week, both men have an agenda: HBIF accused Romero of embezzling more than $11,000 in 2003, and Ramos is angry with Dyer because the city declined to give him money to fund a Hispanic business incubator project earlier this year (see "The sour grapes of wrath," Aug. 17).

But Ramos says he isn't behind the card. Rather, it's a group of student Republicans at the University of Central Florida that "doesn't like Dyer," he says. But the billboards are an extension of Ramos' anger at the city. And we have to wonder where these college students got the money for their expensive, if pointless, campaign.

"Swept away" with the notion. That's how Larry Goldman, president of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, characterized the Sentinel's coverage of the proposed Orlando Performing Arts Center. (Would it be catty to note that it's hard to be a watchdog when you're "swept away" with those you are supposed to be watching?)

Goldman was among the OPAC lineup that spoke at the Aug. 22 presentation of the feasibility plan to the Orange County Commission. Explaining the positives of moving forward on OPAC, he noted that a lack of nitpicking in print media coverage had been a big plus.

Fact is, we've done our share of nitpicking on OPAC, such as noting that late in the game, OPAC still hadn't answered the most basic question: "Who's gonna pay for it?" Finally, after months of delay, they've revealed that they want the county and the city to hand them $300 million.

The good news is that the county commissioners' responses to the feel-good pitch — which amounted to an argument in favor of the arts rather than one in favor of this particular facility — were grounded in reality. The cost, the need and who would own the thing (specifically the fiscal relationship between the city and the county with the nonprofit OPAC organization) were at the tip of an iceberg of questions the OPAC ship is headed right toward. Stay tuned.

Recall a time when Jimmy Hoffa jokes were funny? Us neither. (But this one's good: Who was the last person to see Jimmy Hoffa? Jacques Cousteau. Bwa-hah-hah!) Anyway, a coalition of labor unions acting together as the Universal Labor Council (ULC) announced their intention Aug. 15 to unionize Universal Orlando's 12,000 or so employees. The verdict so far?

"I think that it's going terrific," says Steve Elliott, international president of the International Union of Journeymen and Allied Trades. "It started out very quietly, and it's been a groundswell since."

The ULC proliferated beneath the radar, gathering names from friends and relatives of Universal employees who work at unionized Disney — "It's an incestuous business," says Elliott — and sending them multiple kits to distribute in their circles. "You can't just walk into a park, buy a ticket and approach employees," says Elliott. "It's virtually impossible with the amount of management."

They've set up a website (www.universallaborcouncil.org) with printable authorization cards and a hotline (800-767-0015) that reminds interested parties not to be "intimidated" by Universal's "captive audience meetings," set up to discourage unionization.

"That's standard operating procedure in these circumstances," says Elliott.

Of course, Universal has something to say in this war of words. "Our employees have the right to decide, we know that and we respect it," says theme park rep Tom Schroeder. "But we really have got a strong relationship with our team members. We offer very competitive wages and highly competitive benefits. You've got to wonder what's really motivating this campaign. Do these people really want to represent our employees, or increase their ranks of dues-paying members?"

The plan to unionize won't move forward until at least 50 percent of the employees fill out the authorization card. "It's gonna take time," says Elliott. "But we've got time."

Quizno's is bad. Not because they offer mediocre sandwiches for the unadventurous lunchtime crowd. No, it's because the sub sandwich chain buys ad time on FX's Nip/Tuck. Centered around the exploits of a Miami plastic surgeon, an Aug. 12 episode featured people urinating on a character who apparently had just been beaten up! Worse still, characters use the F-word, and a couple of characters smoke pot!

Thank Jeebus the Florida Family Association is coming to the rescue. They don't like the show (though they apparently watch it to record every sinful detail), so you shouldn't watch it. Yes, it's on cable — which means you have to pay to see it — and it airs at 10 p.m. Tuesday, after the kiddies are safely tucked into bed, or damn well should be. Your morality isn't moral enough, so they want to replace it with theirs.

Thus, sayeth the far-right webzine WorldNetDaily, the FFA is asking its supporters to e-mail Quizno's and other Nip/Tuck advertisers — including Western Union, Carfax and Vonage — to ask them not to advertise on the show.

Of course these things never work. (Boycott of Disney for being gay-friendly, anyone?) But if the FFA goes after It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, another FX show, we're declaring war. It's the bestest show on TV, and we will fight to the death to preserve our right to see it, no matter what the American Taliban says. We'd even go so far as to eat at Quizno's. We're that serious.

This week's report by Jeffrey C. Billman, Billy Manes and Lindy T. Shepherd.

happytown@orlandoweekly.com

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