There are lots of reasons not to vote for Pete Barr. He's an old-school, right-winger who brings nothing new to the table aside from silly promises to shave 20 percent from the city's operating budget and a pledge to donate his salary to charity. Worse, he's probably racist, sexist and homophobic.
But is a vote for Buddy Dyer more than a mere vote for the lesser of two evils?
When Dyer entered the race, we had our doubts about the man. He seemed like a politician in search of his next political job. He was slick, giving all the right answers while side-stepping important questions. He didn't bring any ambitious plans to the race, just repeated pledges to be a "consensus builder." He kept mum on vital issues like Orlando's Community Redevelopment Agency and expanding social services in Parramore.
That said, let's make something clear. This is by no means a half-hearted or tentative endorsement: Vote for Buddy Dyer. If you want a forward-thinking city government, there is no choice.
First, Dyer has promised to push a living-wage ordinance for all city contractors. While such a move will have little direct impact on the tourism industry (they don't do much business with the city), it will at least send a message that Orlando doesn't want contractors feeding off the public trough without paying decent wages.
Second, Dyer offers at least the opportunity for real downtown revitalization. Ever wonder why downtown bars can't seem to stay open more than a few months? Or why most of the retail spaces on Orange Avenue are shuttered? Or why on weekends downtown smacks of a police state?
A Dyer administration has the chance to turn that around. Glenda Hood spent much of her time trying to purify the downtown core into a safe, Disney-esque scene, with suburban mommies replacing the ravers and revelers that gave downtown an identity in the '90s. In contrast, Dyer has pledged to look at pushing back drinking hours, and says he'll talk with downtown property owners about the direction they'd like the area to take. If Dyer lives up to the "bold new leadership" he promises, he'll follow through and allow business owners to take the risks they need to take to compete with Downtown Disney and Universal CityWalk.
Dyer also says that if Parramore doesn't turn around under his watch, he'll consider his tenure a failure. We will too. The mechanisms for such revitalization are in place already -- Hughes Supply, the new federal courthouse, the Florida A&M law school -- and Dyer can capitalize by fulfilling campaign pledges to drive slumlords out and bring homeowners in.
Whether or not he can keep those promises remains to be seen. What's already apparent is that Dyer already far outshines Barr as a consensus builder. Ignore Barr's alleged use of the "n-word" and backwater contentions that women should stay out of government, and look at who came to their respective Feb. 4 victory parties. Barr's was almost exclusively old, white men in three-piece suits. Dyer, on the other hand, had blacks, whites, gays, straights, young, old, men, women -- representatives of an increasingly diverse city. And he acknowledged each and every group, thanking them for their support.
In short, Pete Barr is old-school; Dyer is new. And if you look beyond the polished politician, Buddy Dyer is a man with a progressive streak. Right now, that's exactly what Orlando desperately needs.
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