Glenda the scold

First Trent Lott tucks his bifurcated tail between his legs and slinks backs to Mississippi, then Glenda Hood decides it's time to pack her bags for Tallahassee. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

It's tough to see Lott leave the spotlight because he is such an amusing stereotype. From the impact-absorbing hair to the charming half-grimace on his face every time he's forced to utter the word "liberal," Lott is a fascinating study in character suppression. But it's hard to maintain a faade forever, and Lott's inner bigot eventually fought its way to the surface, which of course ultimately led to his undoing.

Hood, on the other hand, is more earnest and less entertaining. In 10 years as mayor, she never gave an impression that her private life differs that much from her public personae. She may be hiding something, but whatever it is probably isn't worth discovering anyway.

What we have learned about her in the last 10 years is that her "vision" of the city's future looks a lot like an idealized memory of its past, some day long ago when the streets were clean and safe, kids didn't talk back to their elders, and everybody went out for sodas after church on Sunday.

We've also learned that our mayor is obsessed with "image." She couldn't get out of Orlando often enough to spread the word about how wonderful Orlando is. The fact that people in Glasgow think highly of us is probably of great comfort to the residents of Parramore as they sit on their front porches watching crack deals take place in the street.

Perhaps the hardest lesson we've had to learn about Glenda Hood is that she's an ineffective leader who spent much of her tenure pushing her own moral agenda. Orlando needed a visionary in the last 10 years to smooth the transition from big small-town to metropolitan hub of a mushrooming region. What we got was a dismissive scold who believes that dissent, far from being at the core of democracy, is simply divisive. Her city hall epitaph might as well read "I never did figure out why we all couldn't just get along."

Hood came to the mayor's office in 1992 after three terms as the District 1 commissioner. She was an ideal representative for that district: "old" Orlando, well-off, connected and white.

She quickly got down to business with a teen curfew, part of her tenure-long crusade to make downtown look and feel safer for suburbanites. The Orlando Sentinel couldn't jump in her lap quickly enough. "Fifty years ago, downtown Orlando drew hordes of teen-agers, crammed into Fords and Packards, honking horns and acting silly as they rumbled down brick streets," wrote Sentinel reporters Dan Tracy and Christopher Quinn in 1993. "Teens have returned in 1993, but instead of engaging in harmless antics, they sometimes carry weapons, drink alcohol and leave beaten, unconscious bodies in their wake."

What mayor wouldn't want to reduce the number of beaten, unconscious bodies strewn about downtown?

Then she took on porn. In 1994, when Fairvilla wanted to expand, city planners said "OK." Yes, the store peddled naughty merchandise like X-rated videos, dildos, whips and the like, but planners correctly realized that the store didn't violate any zoning codes. There was no legal reason to deny Fairvilla.

Which didn't stop Hood. "We feel strongly enough that it is not an appropriate land use that we feel an appeal is warranted," she said in a 1995 council meeting.

That appeal lasted two more years, during which Orlando lost to Fairvilla four times in court. Facing a fifth loss before the Florida Supreme Court, Hood finally conceded. Her morality play cost taxpayers $500,000.

In 1995, a Maryland doctor proposed opening a woman's health clinic on Lucerne Terrace, a half-mile from city hall. The clinic would perform abortions, among other services. Hood was against the idea because it would "harm property values." Again there was no legal reason to deny the clinic, and again Orlando got beat up in court. A year later, Orlando had to pay the doctor $325,000, and a federal judge ordered the city to grant him a permit.

In 1997, Hood led a full-fledged crackdown on raves via her Rave Review Task Force. Once again spurred on by unquestioning coverage in the Sentinel and on TV, government officials methodically set about the task of killing the rave scene, which consisted of primarily one venue: The Club at Firestone. So Hood and company spent seven months figuring out what to do about the "scene." The task force recommended that bars be forced to close at 4 a.m. Hood went one better and made it 3 a.m. Kids are still using illegal drugs and dancing, somewhere, but surely not in downtown Orlando.

Next up: tattoo parlors. Hood doesn't like them, and said as much in June 2000. Who would want to locate an expensive restaurant next to tattoo parlor? Certainly no wealthy denizen of Orlando. (The subtext, of course, is "What kind of people get tattoos anyway?" But Hood is too smart to frame it that way; she has a background in public relations, after all.) The city instituted a six-month moratorium on new tattoo parlors downtown, and later voted to cap the number that could do business there.

Panhandlers were caught up in the same sweep. "Class A" cities, of course, don't have people asking for money on the streets. So Hood asked for, and received, a measure that limited begging to demarcated blue boxes, most of which are located well away from Orange Avenue.

Her heavy-handed morality trickled down through the ranks, resulting in head-scratchers like the massive police presence downtown on Friday and Saturday nights. The cops have little to do besides writing jaywalking citations, but they are out in force anyway. Take a walk in downtown Fort Lauderdale (or Miami) late on a weekend night and see if Orlando's downtown doesn't feel like a police state by comparison.

Sometimes Hood's purity police get a little carried away. Case in point: David.

In 1998, code-enforcement officers ordered two stores on Mills Avenue to clean up their window displays after receiving a single complaint. A passerby, who apparently took umbrage at pieces of plastic fruit stuffed into a mannequin's shorts, complained. Code-enforcement officers showed up and suggested that the store owners remove the fruit, take a dog collar and leash out of the window and remove leather harnesses from a pair of teddy bears. They also requested that the store move a replica of Michelangelo's "David" to the rear of the store. It's nude, you know.

A Hood spokesman told Orlando Weekly that it's within the judgment of code officials to decide what does and does not conform to city ordinances. In other words, she wasn't about to step in when code enforcers decided to get draconian. The store owner put a leather chamois on the statue.

One thing Class A cities don't do, apparently, is protect all of their citizens from discrimination. As should still be fresh in everyone's memory, Hood voted against extending the city's anti-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation. It just wasn't necessary, she said.

Hood's Church Lady political philosophy may be amusing, but there's a serious downside to her tenure: She hasn't accomplished much. Two headlines in Sunday's Sentinel drive home the point: "Mayor aimed high but often fell short," and "Supporters praise effort but say few gains were made."

In other words, even Hood's friends can't excuse her lack of progress in the last 10 years. She couldn't get her light- rail initiative off the ground, she couldn't get her performing-arts center built, she couldn't do anything to help the areas clogged roads, she couldn't stop the stagnation of downtown, she couldn't bring football or baseball teams to Central Florida. She was able to quickly parlay the Orlando Naval Training Center into a cash cow for rich Chicago developers, however.

But the biggest stain on her record is Parramore. After 10 years, and millions of dollars, Orlando's black neighborhood is still as dangerous, stagnant and depressed as the day she took office. Meanwhile, predominately white areas of Orlando have flourished, and residents have watched their housing values double and triple. Hood touts herself as a champion of neighborhoods, which is true unless you happen to live in Parramore.

The best thing Hood ever did for Orlando is leave. After a decade of her prudish, shortsighted finger wagging, we've got a lot of catching up to do.


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