From the Hope for America Desk comes news that Jack Abramoff BFF Tom Feeney has a challenger who isn’t sanity-challenged.

Last year, Feeney beat the crap out of Clint Curtis, a slightly off computer programmer who alleged that Feeney once asked him to rig the 2000 presidential election, among various other schemes (see “Is this man crazy?,” Aug. 10, 2006). Never one to give up easily, Curtis claimed that Feeney had somehow tampered with the election results, and declared that he was running again in 2008.

Which meant that Feeney, a politician with the ethics of a Philip Morris flack, was going to coast next November. But now former State Rep. Suzanne Kosmas is in, and she’s got the full-throttle backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. On Dec. 10, DCCC chairman Rep. Chris Van Hollen swung into town for a fund-raiser with Kosmas. Now, we don’t know much about Kosmas, but from what we gather she’s pretty fiscally conservative, which is necessary to have a shot in District 24. (She also sponsored a resolution supporting the Iraq War, which is less cool.) But the party seems to think Feeney is vulnerable, and may invest money to test that theory.

The DCCC gave Curtis a Sept. 30 deadline to raise $250,000 and prove he was viable. He didn’t come close.

Curtis took it all in stride. “My feeling is that her entry will damage all the Democratic candidates because she has the same ethical issues as Feeney,” he posted on DailyKos.com.

We finally figured out why we don’t get invited to important lunch affairs: We’re filthy. We trudged our way up to the third-floor ballroom of Doc’s Restaurant downtown for the League of Women Voters of Orange County luncheon on Dec. 5 only to be discreetly approached by a soft-spoken maitre d’ with a rag in his hand. Turns out we were leaving a trail of construction dirt (hello, Orlando!) and he needed to wipe our feet off for us. Embarrassing.

Anyway, we were there to hear Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell deliver a “state of the state” address, something that we’re never invited to do. But people (of a certain age) really read Maxwell, so all ears were open for his bits of civic wisdom. And, er, humor.

“People can’t yell at me when they have food in their mouths!” he Seinfeld-deprecated at the outset. What followed was a laundry list of politicos and their handicaps – Charlie Crist (“underwhelming”), Marco Rubio (“good-looking”), Alex Sink (one to “keep an eye on”), Bill McCollum (“waiting in the wings”), Mel Martinez (“Terri Schiavo”), Tom Feeney (“Abramoff”), Kevin Beary and Lawson Lamar (“been there long enough”) – but no real, zinging “state of the state.” We felt cheated.

In a follow-up e-mail, Maxwell acknowledged the omission and offered our favorite word as a summation of Flori-duh: “tenuous.” That’s why we love him. That and his immovable hair.

And speaking of political critiques, we received a copy of the “2007 Year-End Report on the 110th Congress” put together by Lori Lipman Brown, director of the Secular Coalition for America (God-haters Christopher Hitchens, Salman Rushdie and Sam Harris sit on the advisory board) last week, and boy, is that a fun read. What did we learn? Well, “the religious right is no longer driving new policy” (yay!), and “legislators have so far failed to demonstrate real leadership on some key issues that matter to our constituency” (boo!). The secular lobby has seen success, defeating earmarks for creationists in schools, blocking religious discrimination in the Head Start program and dulling the Christian-crusader tendencies among the military ranks. Oh, and U.S. Rep. Pete Stark, a California Democrat, came out of the atheist closet.

On the docket for next year’s Debbie Downers: stem cell research, religious education vouchers, faith-based programs and more media attention. Like this. See?

We’re always saying, “What this city needs is more published validation of its breeders. You know, more human interest stories about pimped-out strollers, dirty play dates and mashed bananas.”

Well, somebody must have been listening while breast-feeding in public because next March, “founder and creative director” Heather Reneau is launching the all-caps PLAYGROUND magazine to service the area’s stretch marks and the babies that wrought them with a “NEW, hip and sophisticated parenting resource.” And guess what! You can be part of the launch! Simply show up in Stepford – uh, Baldwin Park – between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Jan. 19 to have your “modern” family captured on film, picked over by people who don’t know you and then rejected because you’re ugly. Family first!

Sometimes we wonder why we do it, why we toil so hard, burning candles at both ends long into the night, to put out this little publication of ours. Do you notice? Do you even care? Sniff.

But then comes validation, wherein we learn that someone is paying attention, and it makes us feel all bubbly inside. So thank you, Orlando Sentinel. You’ve warmed our hearts.

On Dec. 9, the Sentinel ran a story headlined “Whose thirst comes first? Orlando, Jacksonville areas face water war.” As the title suggests, the story is all about disputes over water that may force municipalities to tap the St. Johns River for drinking water because rapid increases in population have led to an increase in water consumption. Nice story – and just a little familiar. On Nov. 22, this very newspaper published a story called “The Big Suck” about the very same subject.

Then on Dec. 10, the Sentinel ran a front-page, above-the-fold story about Bill Dillon, a man who has served 26 years of a life sentence for a murder he may not have committed. To the careful observer, that story reads like a rehash of “26 Years,” a story this paper ran on Oct. 11. Only we went down and talked to Bill Dillon, while the Sentinel couldn’t be bothered with that.

In neither case did the Sentinel mention the source from which they, um, found inspiration. But whatever. We’re just glad to know someone cares.

This week’s report by Jeffrey C. Billman and Billy Manes.

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