If you can gauge a politician's popularity by the intensity of her opposition, then Orlando city commissioner Vicki Vargo is in trouble. The elections are still six months off, and Vargo's having no trouble pulling in money; but neither are her four opponents, some of whom have banked contributions from some seriously heavy hitters.

Now, Vargo's never been part of the "establishment." Her anti-gay moments – like the spat with Patty Sheehan – and her tendency to vote against big incentives for downtown developers have alienated her from many of the downtown power brokers, though they've made her a cause célèbre among some of this city's right-wing elements. (Happytown™ editorial: We're with her on the incentives; the gay-bashing, not so much.)

As of Sept. 30, Vargo has taken in $33,550 and spent just over $3,000, which means she's sitting on a nice fat bankroll. But her most formidable opponent, Robert Stuart, has banked $35,115 and spent about $3,500. It's not good for an incumbent to be behind in the money race this early on.

A look through Stuart's list of contributors shows that a diverse coalition has aligned against Vargo: Tico Perez, Orlando Magic LTD, union leader Debra Booth and longtime Buddy Dyer ally Cari Coats have all thrown money Stuart's way.

Jeff Horn is a distant third in the money race, having taken in $11,534.50 in contributions, though he's spent more than $8,300 of it. The Parliament House ($500) and Michael Wanzie ($250) are among his backers. Attorney John Ruffier has raised $5,050 and spent almost nothing. And it's noteworthy that former Orange County chairman Linda Chapin – whose son Roger ran against Vargo in 2002 and lost – gave him $200.

Last in money, but perhaps first in name recognition, is Bob Carr Jr., who has raised $2,070 to date.

We're by no means writing Vargo's political eulogy. Lots of folks thought Roger Chapin would beat her four years ago, and he didn't. But it's fair to say she's not the most well-liked city council member. By means of comparison, the two other commissioners up for re-election next year – Phil Diamond and Daisy Lynum – have yet to draw an opponent.

And now it's time for another installment of What's Up With Ric?™, our attempt to keep you up to date on the comings and goings of Orlando's favorite Republican, U.S. Rep. Ric Keller!

In this week's episode, we find that Ric has taken a brave stand against hurricanes disrupting our energy supply by supporting the Gasoline for America's Security Act of 2005. No longer will homeland Hummers be menaced by the prospect of empty tanks, should this piece of forward-thinking legislation make it into law. That's because when an emergency strikes – say, a giant storm or high gas prices close to an election – the president can temporarily do away with restrictions on gasoline formulated to meet clean-air standards, allowing gas to move more freely about the country. Take that, terrorists!

The bill, H.R. 3893, also opens up federal lands for building new oil refineries and creates "two new sources of financial assistance for energy firms," because, you know, they're poor as church mice. All for the low, low price of $1.5 billion in the next five years.

Thanks for keeping America safe, Ric!

A group of Volusia county citizens and school officials met in a small conference room Oct. 17 to discuss a local parent's request to ban a book. (Editor's note: Where are we, 1940s Germany?)

In September, DeLand High School parent Vikki Reed requested Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa be banned from Volusia county schools after her daughter pointed out a section that Reed thought obscene. (Editor's note to Reed: Please send your application immediately to the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation.)

The committee received copies of the book Monday night and will meet again Nov. 3 to make a recommendation. The passage in question describes a boy asking his younger cousin to perform oral sex on him. She turns him down, but we can't let that stop us. These are high school kids and they must be protected from topics like oral sex (which is of course never mentioned on TV or the Internet).

Yvonne McKitrick, chair of the committee, isn't saying which way she's leaning. She says she'll read the entire book, then "do some serious thinking." Here's hoping she's not thinking about oral sex.

And you wanted to forget that the Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync and O-Town had any ties to Orlando. You bastard. You should be proud that these cutting-edge musical acts were born and bred in our city, and even more proud to have Lou Pearlman call this place home.

In fact, why didn't we see you at that ceremony feting Pearlman at Planet Hollywood's Downtown Disney location Oct. 18? We were there, clapping on cue when Pearlman donated the Backstreet Boys' original contract, and no, it's not true that it's signed in blood, and there is no clause identifying a party named "Lucifer" and stipulating the collection of souls – at least not that we could find in our brief inspection of the document – so let's put that rumor to rest right now, OK?

Don't believe us? You can check for yourself any time you like … but you can never leave.

Can we have a do-over? We knew President Bush's poll numbers were dropping like a brick, but we had no idea things were this bad. According to a Survey USA poll of Bush's ever-plummeting approval ratings, if the election were held today, Dubya would carry six states. Out of 50. Six.

Among the bastions of liberalism where he'd lose: Kansas, Georgia, Mississippi and Ohio. Best part: Only 42 percent of respondents in Texas think he's worth a damn. Texas!

And by the way, he'd lose Florida too, because 58 percent of us think he sucks.

This week's report by Jeffrey C. Billman, James Carlson and Bob Whitby.

click to enlarge letters2buddyjpg

Dear Mr. Dyer:

My name is Giovanni Agostino and I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your city. I live in Greenwich, Connecticut but I come every year to enjoy the beaches, Disney and all the great things you have that we don't. I enjoy hanging out with my friends there, I have never seen a place like it. It is fantastic and nothing like Greenwich.

I think that you are doing a great job and keep up the good work. May I have an autographed picture of yours?

Please send it to:
Giovanni Agostino
16 Sheephill Rd. Riverside, CT 06878




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