I DIDN'T VOTE 


There's a meme that those of us who write about or participate in the political process are supposed to repeat ad nauseam come election season: Vote. Elections matter. The more that people get involved, the more responsive politicians will be to our interestes. An informed electorate is the best defense against tyranny. And so on.

This is a legitimate argument. Elections can and do change the world. If, for example, just 538 more Florida Democrats – confession: me included – had voted in 2000, there would be no Iraq War.

On Jan. 29, both Florida and the city of Orlando are holding elections. Polls will open, old people will check your ID and hand you a ballot and you can make the choices that are supposed to have an impact on your life.

I, however, won’t be among you. I’m sitting this one out.

It’s not apathy. By virtue of job description and personal predilections, I follow politics more closely than most. Having learned my lesson eight years ago, I never miss a vote. But this election is different. Nothing will change. There is no point.

It’s not apathy; it’s indifference. The races presented to us are either foregone conclusions or entirely stripped of meaning. That reality is reflected all around town. The mayor and three city council seats are up for grabs next Tuesday, but you’d hardly know it. There are few campaign signs or billboards. News coverage has been scant at best. This is the election that doesn’t matter. Here is your guide to it. Use it if you want, vote if you want, but don’t expect anything to get better.

President

The story of the year, young as it is, is the Obama ascendancy and Clinton resiliency, all of which sets the stage for an intense, important Democratic primary: the novice Illinois senator who energized a dormant youth base versus the battle-scarred veteran with an incredibly well-endowed political machine. Biased as I may be – a confessed Obamaniac – this seems a transformative moment in American politics. Obama is the kind of guy I’d not only vote for, but canvass for, volunteer for, etc. (Across the Orlando Weekly cubicle farm, Billy Manes has sidled up to Hillary Clinton. He wants the chance to help elect the first woman president.)

But on Jan. 29, both our votes in this primary are meaningless. Because the Florida Legislature moved our primary up to January, in violation of party rules, the Democratic National Committee stripped Florida of its delegates to the national convention, which means the Democrats won’t campaign here or spend money here. Pollsters and the media don’t care what we have to say. Florida, the fourth-largest state in the country, has been effectively scrubbed from the Democratic electoral map.

The Republican Party wasn’t thrilled with the state’s primary date either, but its response was more measured: It only stripped half of Florida’s delegates, so Florida has some importance, which is why you see those ubiquitous Rudy Giuliani ads on television.

So if you’re a Republican, congratulations. You get half a say. If you’re not, the Florida presidential primary is pointless.

Mayor

The only drama in the city’s mayoral race has been the saga of Tim Adams, a would-be candidate the city wouldn’t allow on the ballot because he didn’t meet residency requirements. Adams sued, but the judge sided with the city. Adams has threatened a federal lawsuit and claims that the city booted him from the ballot because he’s black.

Not that Adams would have won anyway. This “election” is little more than a coronation for John H. “Buddy” Dyer, who like every other incumbent Orlando mayor since at least World War II will win re-election handily. His only opponent is businessman Ken Mulvaney, the same guy Dyer spanked four years ago.

Since then, Dyer’s been indicted and suspended from office, though the charge didn’t stick and he got his job back. He’s also been the cheerleader-in-chief of the highly controversial plan to spend almost $2 billion in taxpayer money – interest included – to build a new arena and performing arts center and refurbish the aging Citrus Bowl. The merits of Dyer’s tenure are debatable. He’s been anything but the progressive Democrat he campaigned as five years ago. He built his pedigree on the resurgence of downtown, but with the condo-market collapse, that is dubious. So you’d think someone with some credibility and money would step up to the plate and take Dyer on.

Instead, we get Mulvaney, who offers a platform that isn’t worth a damn. His fund-raising has been dismal. As of Dec. 21, he’d raised $43,100, according to city records, but $25,000 of that came from his pocket. Another $5,000 came from the Orange County Republican Party. He’s also spent almost $27,000 with very little to show for it. There are very few Mulvaney signs across town. In fact, there’s not much to signify an imminent election at all.

Dyer, meanwhile, has raised nearly $400,000 and spent less than half of it. And judging from his fund-raising, his campaign is on cruise control. In the first few weeks of December, the home stretch of a contested campaign, he only raised $2,000. Meanwhile, he spent more than $7,000 mailing holiday cards.

He’s going to win easily. This is Orlando, where the status quo prevails.

City Commission District 4

Speaking of status quo, commissioner Patty Sheehan is running unopposed for the seat she’s held for eight years. In that time, she’s morphed from a progressive leader into an embodiment of the establishment, the very thing she ran against last year. She’s gay and out and the city’s biggest champion of gay rights, which is great and needed. Throughout the years, she’s been an outspoken advocate for open government, another plus. But she was also the mayor’s unflinching, unquestioning sycophant on the venues deal and the lead proponent of a ridiculous ordinance to forbid groups from feeding homeless people in public parks.

In a less complacent city, that would earn a challenge. Not here. Funeral director Sam Odom flirted with a run last year, but opted out, and no one stepped up to take his place.

Sheehan’s backers will say this is because she’s so popular. Perhaps, but it also has to do with the fact that by Sept. 30, she’d raised more than $60,000, a healthy piece of which came from the businesses, interest groups and lawyers who comprise Orlando’s inner circle.

An outsider – a change agent – she is not. Not anymore.

That isn’t to say she shouldn’t be re-elected. But that’s a choice District 4 voters don’t get to make. It’s Sheehan for four more years, like it or not.

City Commission District 6

Unlike Sheehan, city commissioner Sam Ings – the preacher and former cop who replaced Ernest Page after Page was convicted of bribery in 2006 – at least has token opposition, but challenger Marcus Robinson’s campaign is not impressive. Four years ago, he sought this seat and came in third out of three, pulling in just 20 percent of the vote. In this go-round, as of Dec. 21, Robinson had raised a meager $1,425, all but $111 of which he’d already spent.

Ings, meanwhile, has amassed more than $31,000, though he’s spent all but about $2,500 of it. Unlike Robinson, Ings at least has a website, although it hasn’t really been updated since his first electoral victory in 2006. Clearly, he’s not too concerned.

Ings’ district encompasses both MetroWest – which has seen its share of violent crime – and the all-important tourism district. The hospitality industry has gotten behind the incumbent via billboards on I-4 and State Road 408. But you’d think that this race would be more of a struggle instead of the battle of who could care less.

City Commission District 2

Here’s the one race in which voting will produce something different. After 16 years on the city council, commissioner Betty Wyman – known for siding with whomever was in charge and complaining when meetings ran long – is finally calling it quits. Three candidates, two of whom share a last name but are not related, have signed up to replace her in District 2, the city’s most heavily Hispanic district.

Tony Ortiz is Wyman’s endorsed successor, which isn’t surprising because, until he resigned from the Orlando Police Department to campaign full-time, he served as her police liaison. Belinda Ortiz ran against Wyman in 2000, but lost. In 2005, Belinda Ortiz – until recently the public policy director for the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association, and before that an aide to former Orange County commissioner Mary Johnson – was named the year’s “Up and Comer” by the Orlando Business Journal and Orlando Regional Healthcare. Then there’s David Blackwood, the former president and current board member of the Dover Estates home-owners association.

The candidate’s policy positions aren’t remarkable. Blackwood thinks Dyer has focused on downtown to the detriment of neighborhoods and says crime is bad. Belinda Ortiz wants to bring more businesses to the district’s busiest thoroughfares, such as State Road 436, and says the city has neglected District 2 in recent years. “We need someone with new ideas to champion the actual needs of the district,” she says. (It’s a valid point; Wyman has been asleep at the wheel.) Tony Ortiz says the city needs to put more cops in the district and says he knows the area best because of his work with Wyman.

The Ortiz campaigns had huge financial advantages over Blackwood as of December. Tony Ortiz had raised $27,085 to Belinda Ortiz’s $28,940. Blackwood had only raised $4,430, according to campaign reports. Unless he manages to pull together a massive grass-roots campaign in the final weeks, it’s safe to assume that our next commissioner will be named Ortiz.

Maybe the winner will evolve into a dynamic leader upon taking the dais and become a voice of reason on a council that all too often acquiesces to the mayor’s whims these days. That would be welcome. In any case, color me ambivalent.

Amendment 1

In his campaign for governor, Charlie Crist made a big deal out of the soaring property-tax rates that came along with booming home prices. He wanted to cut your taxes. Now that the real estate market is in the toilet, the supposed need for such tax cuts is ever so urgent, according to Crist and the Realtor groups, who hope that lower taxes lead to better home sales. Hence, we have the proposed Amendment 1, a proposal to cut $9.3 billion in property taxes over the next five years. The average homeowner would save $240 a year.

The tradeoff, of course, is that that $9.3 billion would have gone to public services, which – depending on whom you ask – may or may not include police and firefighters. About $1.5 billion of that money would otherwise go to schools. Not surprisingly, then, police, fire, labor and educator groups all oppose the amendment.

Crist dismisses such concerns. As he told the Orlando Sentinel in a Jan. 9 story, “To try and scare people into not voting themselves a property-tax cut is unconscionable. How can you believe people are going to fire police and firefighters? That’s not going to happen.”

(By necessity, though, something will get cut. To deny that is equally disingenuous.)

Polls show the amendment’s support hasn’t yet reached the 60 percent threshold it will need to pass, but a meaningless Democratic primary should depress liberal turnout, which will help Crist’s cause.

I’m a renter, so the tax cut will hurt me more than anything, in that if I ever want to buy a house in Florida, I won’t get the same tax breaks as those who bought houses just last year. My property taxes will be subsidizing those of my neighbors, who would have the ability to keep their Save Our Homes tax breaks whenever they move.

That aside, the actual tax cut works out to about $20 a month for the average homeowner, which is hardly enough to remedy the fiscal disaster proponents say is in the offing. If the property-tax cuts go through, Orange County stands to lose about $305 million over the next five years, according to records. That’s a chunk of change, but considering the county’s $3.5 billion annual budget, it probably won’t be a fatal blow.

The downside outweighs the upside, but is that enough to get me to the polls Jan. 29? Probably not. Go vote if you want to, but this time around there are no real choices.

jbillman@orlandoweekly.com

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