“I love policy, I love good governance. I have a sometimes short patience with foolishness,” District 5 Commissioner Daisy Lynum said at the Feb. 10 meeting of the Orlando City Council. It was a somewhat prescient distillation of Lynum’s 16-year career on the dais, and it came (as is often the case) wrapped around a blip of media controversy. Only days before, Lynum was running for re-election in the upcoming April 8 municipal stakes; also, her son, attorney Juan Lynum, had filed paperwork to run for his own mother’s seat. Were they fighting? Was it a setup? The younger Lynum did logic no favors in suggesting to the Orlando Sentinel that the matter was still up in the air on Feb. 7.
“It was a long night last night,” Juan Lynum said. “I’m sure we’ll talk more, and we’ll see what happens in the next 72 hours.”
What ultimately happened was Daisy Lynum dropped out of the race, but not before referring to her former challengers in the often hotly contested Parramore district – Cynthia Harris and Regina Hill – as “thugs.” Such is the nature of a commissioner who has courted controversy (while simultaneously rejecting the term) since 1998. Though she’s been known to ramble at length about everything from wayward chickens in Parramore to the cocktails she’d imbibed at Dubsdread golf course’s legendary 19th hole, she’s also something of a respected fixture on the Orlando City Council – somebody who has advocated for opportunity and equality even under the pressure of looming rubber stamps from two gentrifying mayors, Glenda Hood and Buddy Dyer. She doesn’t suffer fools lightly, even if at times it makes her look foolish. She plays the race card, for both good and bad. She is, as one former commissioner told us on background, “the one person on that council who people will always remember.” And, as she walks away from her office in June, she will be missed. But how much? Let’s pick the petals and find out.
On June 1, 1998, on her very first day as commissioner, Lynum was confronted with religious zealots objecting to the city’s flying of rainbow flags for the gay community on downtown light posts in celebration of both Gay Days at Disney and the city’s then-nascent Pride parade. She faced down members of the black community – including pastors anxious to throw around terms like “abomination” and “debauchery” when referencing the city’s growing gay population – and, without blinking, fought in favor of equality. This was at about the same time that Pat Robertson was banging on about hurricanes destroying Orlando as retribution for sodomy. Now the city posts its rainbow flags annually, and the downtown Come Out With Pride parade attracts more than 100,000 participants.
It didn’t take long for Lynum to earn a reputation for badmouthing just about anyone who stood in the way of her plans and ideas, or really just in her way at all. To some, it was part of her charm – who doesn’t love a feisty small-town politician? – but, in general, the tossing around of terms like “ants, fleas, pathetic people, fools and a posse of fools,” as we reported in 2002, did little to gain the commissioner more than a few laughs and the ire of some outspoken constituents. Invoking the Taliban, calling former commissioner Vicki Vargo “retarded” and her other fellow commissioners “cowards,” may have made for good viewing, but wasn’t necessarily on the order of good governance.
In the wake of the rainbow flag imbroglio of 1998, Lynum once again came out solidly on the side of equality when the Orlando Anti-Discrimination Ordinance coalition pressed – with the assistance of Commissioner Patty Sheehan and, to a lesser degree, Lynum – for gays and lesbians to be included in the city’s nondiscrimination clause, Chapter 57, in 2002. Then-mayor Glenda Hood was stalling on the issue, even speaking out against adopting the changes, to which Lynum responded, in the Orlando Sentinel, “This is truly out of character for this woman. This is contradictory, I think, to her philosophy of trying to be fair and taking care of people. There is some reason for this that defies logic.”
In an unfortunate moment around 1:30 a.m. on May 6, 2006, Lynum’s son (and current candidate for her commission seat) Juan was pulled over by a white police officer. What followed was a series of calls: Juan to Daisy, Daisy to then-police chief Michael McCoy, Daisy to her police liaison and said liaison to the traffic cop. Juan Lynum’s headlight was out, but the Lynums insisted that something more racially motivated was occurring. But it was Lynum’s pulling of power strings – and later, her insistence that McCoy resign – that made the matter boil over into a public spectacle. “I just didn’t want some white boy shooting my son or tasing [Juan],” she told the Sentinel, and all hell broke loose.
Without Lynum’s vocal defense of minority inclusion in the city’s business affairs, Orlando’s Blueprint program may never have gotten off the ground. The city established the Blueprint office not only to insure minority participation in the bidding process, but also to train and find jobs for Parramore residents who might otherwise be overlooked in the contracting scramble. Lynum, who is always quick to attach her name to the initiative, considers it one of her finest achievements.
But what about the things Lynum never accomplished? Woven into the nearly impenetrable web of Pathways for Parramore – Dyer’s original mission when taking the oath as mayor was to, basically, save Parramore from itself – are a series of questionable decisions and business connections with Lynum, most of which have resulted in money being spent for nothing and egg on the city’s face. Lynum takes pride in the venue development (or gentrification) of her district, but many of the housing, green-space and retail initiatives – like Otey Place, the Carver Theater, just about everything else minus some HUD projects – have rotted on the vine. She takes credit for developments on Mercy Drive, but much of that has been called into question. The Nap Ford charter school has had dubious results. She made sidewalks happen, but who wouldn’t? The Black Business Investment Fund, for which she serves as vice chair of the board, has a questionable history of shifting development funds until they disappear, as we’ve reported for years. Just last year, the state Department of Economic Opportunity complained about accountability within the organization and cut off ties.
There was no beating Lynum for entertainment value at Monday afternoon City Council meetings. Just last month, during contract negotiations for a local service union, Lynum could be seen spouting off sentences like word clouds. An example: “I just don’t like the idea of everywhere. I just didn’t like that whole thing about you punish us when we’re naughty thing, because you want to get paid more,” she said, in reference to a discussion about union negotiations.
You know who Lynum doesn’t love? Reporters. While not returning this scribe’s calls for nearly a decade, she has occasionally avoided him publicly because he smelled of cigarettes. (I’ve since quit smoking. Thanks, Daisy!) But Lynum’s most notable run-in with the fourth estate came when Sentinel writer Mark Schlueb referred to her as “controversial.” “Your description of me as controversial is an inaccurate and negative label of me which I do not appreciate or accept,” she wrote the paper, before launching into a lengthy tirade that traveled past “punitive, mocking and demeaning” before ending up at racism. That’s our Daisy. She will be missed.
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