Trouble behind the scenes of Mayor Jacobs' re-election bid 

Gays and progressives rankled by Democrat Linda Chapin's party-swapping in favor of the mayor

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JUST THE STATS

 

$615,000

Approximate amount Republican Jacobs’ campaign has raised to date, far outraising recently announced opponent, Democrat Val Demings, whose haul is thus far $197,000.

 

600

Approximate number of campaign donors to Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs’ campaign in March, most of whom donated less than $50, earning the current mayor the right to use the term “grass-roots.”

 

7,000

Approximate number of petitions Demings had verified to qualify for the August ballot. Jacobs has yet to raise the required minimum

Pick a team

Imagine that you’re a well-heeled, heralded progressive in the world of Orange County politics, even if said imagination hearkens back to a time when you didn’t do all that many progressive things – like, say, stand up for a gay county employee who had to sue to get his job back (we won’t name names here). But, just the same, you’ve got a theater named after you at the Orange County Convention Center and you often venture into the world of Democratic hobnobbery. Would you send out an – let’s just say it – erroneous and misleading mailer for the Republican candidate for mayor in a nonpartisan race at the risk of alienating everyone who has ever supported you, especially the gays?

Well, that’s what former Orange County “Mayor” Linda Chapin did last week, and, oh shit, y’all, we have a firestorm. In a “hand-signed” (because blue ink) letter to a number of Democrats (and likely other Orange County residents), Chapin pleaded the case for her dear friend of 20 years, Teresa Jacobs, with dual intentions of driving up “grass-roots” support and, well, getting enough petitions to get Jacobs on the ballot – even though she’s the incumbent, even though her Democratic challenger Val Demings has already surpassed the 7,000-petition quota and made the ballot. (Also, Chapin is a former Demings supporter.)

You see, Chapin – who sits on the board of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, which just got millions in county tax money thrown in its direction – isn’t normally one to mince words. She actually came to us at our office once to call us sexist, which is hilarious.

But there’s something that smells in this particular campaign stunt, and we’re not the only ones noticing. In the current mailer (which includes a ballot-qualifying petition), Chapin asserts that Jacobs has been in support of two things that she’s certainly not – ethics (hello, textgate) and equality (uh, that domestic partnership registry that she signed into county law took more than a year of squabbling with somebody who was acting on the advice of hate group Florida Family Policy Council’s John Stemberger). All with exclamation points! “Higher standards and new code of ethics,” the mailer reads. “Fighting the special interests at the Expressway Authority,” it reads (just before a grand jury indicted a member of said board, upon which Jacobs sits).

But, at least for now, it’s the gay part that has progressives growling.

“My personal reaction, and I know it to be the reaction of others in the gay community, is close to utter disbelief and outrage, because Linda Chapin knows what we went through during that domestic partner registry fight. I enlisted her to help us try to change Jacobs’ mind,” attorney Mary Meeks, who fought for the registry, says. “[Chapin] was outraged about it. It’s not like she can claim ignorance. For her to tout [Jacobs’] leadership in doing that is dishonest, because number one, it’s not true, and, number two, she knows it’s not true.”

Meeks calls Chapin’s move a “complete betrayal” of the gay community. “She knows for a fact that what she said in that letter and certainly what she’s implying in that letter is not true. In my opinion, she has now completely crushed her credibility in this community forever. She has made herself irrelevant.

Wow. Though, to be fair, Meeks thinks this should be more about Jacobs’ alleged evolution on gay issues – she spoke at last year’s Come Out With Pride about “equality” without ever coming clean on gay marriage – rather than on Chapin’s bad decision-making.

Chapin, however, is digging in her heels.

“You have to remember that in the first year of her first term, Mayor Jacobs passed both domestic partner health coverage and a domestic partner ordinance,” Chapin writes in an email. “No other elected official in Central Florida has been able to do that, including me. When we work for a cause, I think we need converts, not dead bodies on a battlefield.”

But the question as to whether Jacobs has “converted,” so to speak, remains unanswered, and it is likely to prove a sticking point – and the makings of a campaign – in coming months. When the domestic partner registry was signed into the county books – after Jacobs told us to our face that we should be able to domestic-partner with whomever, like the old lady down the street, thus avoiding the whole “gay” thing – Orange County comptroller Martha Haynie held the press conference with Jacobs nowhere in sight. It’s like it never happened.

But Chapin sees it differently, nonetheless. It’s not her fault, nor the mayor’s. It’s ours. “I feel there’s been both misunderstanding and deliberate misrepresentation. (I’d be happy to supply examples.) I try to support the progressive community whenever I can. Some people make it harder than others,” she writes.

And, sex joke.

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