If we were to summarize the Florida Democratic Party Convention in one line, it would be thus: Next year will be different, we swear.

State Dems have taken a beating the last several elections, and despite a massive get-out-the-vote campaign last year, the Republicans still kicked ass statewide.

"We are going to take back Florida," party chairman Karen Thurman pledged to the mostly cheering throng in a second-floor ballroom of Disney's Contemporary Resort. We say "mostly cheering" because, while the front of the room seemed attentive, the back half didn't really seem to be paying attention. That's where the bar was.

We were back there too, paying $7 for some scotch that we'd never heard of. First came Thurman's rah-rah speech, then came Rep. Stenny Hoyer, the House minority whip. More rah-rah, plus a promise to take back at least four, maybe five Republican House seats in Florida. Then Hoyer introduced the night's special guest, Howard Dean.

We'd tell you what Dean said, but we weren't paying attention. The sound system wasn't the best, and we were on our second hit of scotch. What we did make out was what we expected: Bush is bad; Republicans are corrupt; 2006 will be our year. We'll see.

In its Nov. 24 issue, the Tampa Tribune reported that Florida Republican heavyweight Mel Sembler had been tapped to helm the Lewis Libby Defense Fund. Sembler, the Trib said, was a big Cheney supporter and thus a natural to help Libby try to beat the rap in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

The Trib didn't mention Sembler's connection to a more interesting scandal a decade ago. As this newspaper detailed `"SAFE (or else)" Jan. 16, 2003`, Sembler was the co-founder of Straight, a group that aimed to cure drug-addicted teens through therapy methods many considered borderline abuse. As we reported: "Clients were watched in the shower, in the bathroom, while they dressed and undressed. They had to ask permission to pick up eating utensils and wipe after using the bathroom. Kids who didn't conform were sometimes forced to sit in their own urine, feces, menstrual blood and semen."

Things got so bad that, under state scrutiny, Straight transferred its clients from its Sarasota facility to its St. Petersburg facility in 1983, but that didn't stop the problems. Six years later, the state denied Straight-St. Petersburg's license because of abuse claims. The problems were supposedly fixed, and the licenses granted, shortly thereafter.

In 1993, however, a state inspector general issued a report insinuating that Sembler had used his political heft to get his license back, over the objections of its on-site investigators. By that time, Straight-St. Petersburg had moved to Atlanta. It closed soon after that.

You won't hear it on Fox News, but that is the legacy of the man raising money to defend "Cheney's Cheney."

Here we go again. On Nov. 23, the city of Orlando put out a request-for-proposals, asking developers to come up with plans for buying 3.5 acres of Community Redevelopment Agency-owned property just west of the TD Waterhouse Centre and building a spattering of townhouses. This is the second go-round; the first didn't fare so well.

Last year, Urban Renaissance Development LLC, a group tied to Orlando city commissioner Daisy Lynum, was the only corporation to bid on the deal. It sought to buy the land for $1 and then get a $2.5 million cash advance. The deal imploded and the redevelopment of the property, known as Otey Place, was put on hold.

Several members of the Mayor's Parramore Task Force said that the city and the CRA should stay out of the development game in Parramore until the crime was down and the city figured out what to do with the Coalition for the Homeless, a shelter in the area. What's more, it's unclear what the city plans to do with the Centroplex, and a major, 16-acre property deal is in the works adjacent to Otey Place.

The CRA wanted to explore other options, such as using the land for a park. But at its June meeting, city staffers told the CRA's advisory board that, essentially, it had no choice; the city had already decided on low-density residential development west of Parramore Avenue.

Could the city do better? Maybe. A source familiar with Parramore real estate tells us that if the CRA sold the land, it could probably get between $5 million and $10 million, provided the city allowed the highest possible density. That money could help pay for a new performing arts center. But the city wants low-density residential, 25 percent of which will be dedicated to affordable housing priced less than $189,000.

If the CRA charges a market price for the land, the developer will have a tough time turning a profit. So expect offers like the one Urban Renaissance made last year: The developer pays nothing, then asks for more money to make the development feasible. If the CRA acquiesces, the taxpayers lose and Parramore will get a development that will do little to revitalize the neighborhood.

Bill Segal, who served on the Parramore Task Force and is now an Orange County commissioner, thinks the city's plan for Otey Place is stupid. "The only reason that this thing is moving ahead is the cadre of highly paid bureaucrats at the city who need to keep this thing rolling along because it's their meal ticket," Segal says.

Some Christians sure hate the American Civil Liberties Union. Right-wingers have long branded the ACLU as the anti-Christ. And now George Crossley, president of the Central Florida chapter, has been banned from helping inmates at the county jail find work.

More than a year ago, Orange County Jail Ministry Chaplain Bernard Fleeks asked Crossley to join an informal group to help recently released inmates get back on their feet. Crossley, himself a former prisoner, met with Fleeks, former inmates and potential employers at local restaurants once a month to help released inmates land jobs.

"Nobody had ever indicated there was a problem with my participation," Crossley says.

That is, until Dec. 2, when Crossley got a call from Fleeks telling him he was no longer welcome at the meetings. Crossley says Fleeks told him that Joseph McGahey, head chaplain for Orange County Jail Ministry, was upset about the ACLU's supposed anti-Christmas stance.

"I wonder if McGahey's been listening to too much Bill O'Reilly," Crossley says.

McGahey had no comment, but Fleeks did say, "Because of George's affiliation with the ACLU, and we being Christians, we don't think the ACLU is supportive of Christian causes in the community."

God knows it's easier to turn on Fox News than to think for yourself, but perhaps those in charge of inmates' souls should take a quick look at the ACLU's local record. In 2004, the group defended a minister's right to hold baptisms in a public park. Later that year, they helped a Catholic man appeal his court-ordered Pentecostal drug rehab program. And in 2002, they joined ACLU-basher Rev. Falwell, who once compared the ACLU to "Christ-haters," in challenging a ban on churches incorporating.

So from now on the "Christians" over at the Orange County jail won't have to put up with some ACLU guy, himself a former televangelist, trying to help former inmates find work.

This week's report by Jeffrey C. Billman, James Carlson and Lindy T. Shepherd.

Who sent these boots?

Managing editor Lindy T. Shepherd wants to know who sent her these $123.95 boots – Doc Martens, 2295 series, size 9, color "gaucho volcano" – that arrived in a big box at the beginning of December.

Steel-toe boots were the final item requested on Shepherd's wish list published in the Nov. 17 issue `"Give & Take"`. Though all Weekly staffers made their wish lists public, only Shepherd received a gift, and now she has become extremely difficult to deal with.

It is well known that Shepherd has a dysfunctional relationship with the Christmas season, a carryover of the oversensitivity she displayed as a child growing up in New Orleans. She squealed like a schoolgirl when the box arrived and now wears her "magic boots" even when it's hot.

She would like to know the identity of the mysterious giver, so he/she may be properly thanked. If you have any information on these boots, please contact Happytown™ at (407) 377-0400, ext. 216, or [email protected]. [email protected]


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