Local anesthesia

Ten stories that rocked Central Florida in 2012

By now we can all agree that it takes a series of bangs and whimpers to make the world – or at least the year – end, but in the case of 2012, there was so much more to digest than in other years. To begin with, it was an election year, but the acrimony that brought with it only provided subtle nuance to the real news stories troubling headline writers and news watchers alike: Stand Your Ground stood here, after all. Our highs may have been high, but our lows were low enough to bust the national scales, allowing this somewhat anachronistic community to register as more than the oft-tossed "I-4 corridor" political bellwether of purple indecision. We were – and are – a microcosm of the nation's victories and its tragedies rolled into one pleasant dystopia. The year 2012 only solidified that case.

10. Dave Siegel's worthless CEO bluster Back in October, as CEOs were holding conference calls to discuss how to best influence the outcome of the election (i.e., threaten to fire your employees for voting for Democrats in November), troubled Westgate Resorts leader David Siegel hatched his own deranged plan. In lieu of actually writing his own intraoffice email to scare his staff into not voting for Obama, he stole one that had circulated years before (and was debunked by snopes.com) and changed a few lines to personalize it. In the end, Siegel's idiot move backfired (though given his bad publicity history, you have to wonder if he didn't enjoy it) and rather than fire anyone, Siegel turned around and gave staffers raises after the election.

9. Rick Scott listening tour on education hits Orlando Gov. Rick Scott did a lot of bad things in 2012 – fighting Obamacare and ruining the elections process, among them – but it was the general sliminess of his attempted reinvention for the sake of a 2014 reelection that really caught our eye. Before we had the opportunity to meet the governor, who stopped at Fern Creek Elementary to tout his $1 billion commitment to public education just one year after slashing education by $1.1 billion, we caught wind that there were three schools in Orlando on the chopping block. We pressured Scott on the issue, he blankly stared back, and no schools were closed. But we did get to watch him read How Full Is Your Bucket? For Kids to a roomful of children noted for their poverty. The irony, as always with Scott, was frightening.

8. Republican National Conference comes to Tampa What ended with the thud of Clint Eastwood exercising senility in front of an empty chair actually began with a whiff of dangerous controversy. Seeing as the Republicans worship guns, this year's RNC in the bruised armpit of Tampa had the potential of a Wild West shootout. Nothing so severe happened as far as we could tell, but seeing taxhound Grover Norquist at a gay bar made the whole affair worth the (physical) price of admission.

7. Democratic surprises in state delegation The legislature and governor's office may still be under the iron fist of a Republican majority, but the inroads made by Central Florida Democrats in 2012 – including electing gay state Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, and a teacher, Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, D-Maitland – have introduced a surprisingly progressive Central Floridian caucus. Additionally, the ouster of future Speaker of the House Chris Dorworth and the shamed curb-kick of pro-lifer Scott Plakon (who lost after comparing opponent Dentel to Jerry Sandusky) were excellent in the schadenfreude department.

6. Earl K. Wood dies just before election After some kind of senior-citizen dustup with former Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, retiring tax collector Earl K. Wood surprised everyone and threw his hat back in the ring for re-election. Unfortunately, Wood passed away at age 96, just weeks before the election, forcing local Democrats to throw a Hail Mary substitute candidate into the race, in the form of outgoing state Rep. (and local party chair) Scott Randolph. Randolph won in the end, but Wood's last gasp will be remembered forever.

5. Mayor Buddy Dyer's reelection Winsome gadabout Buddy Dyer was always going to be hard to beat, so when the April city election rolled around, it surprised few that he pulled it off so easily. Few except eagle-eyed city Commissioner Phil Diamond, who vacated his seat to challenge his former boss. Diamond played the whole thing quietly, leaving most of the saber rattling to cantankerous newbie Mike Cantone, but we can't help but wonder whether Diamond would have made a smarter local government. Especially now that it looks like Dyer might be abdicating for Tallahassee.

4. Lawson Lamar loses the state attorney's race After serving six four-year terms as the region's prosecutorial cowboy, Lawson Lamar fell off the horse right in front of one of his former minions, Jeff Ashton. Ashton, whose name recognition came solely from losing the state's case against Casey Anthony, proved nimble at pointing out the dated militarism of the Lamar regime and its absence of technology. The geek won in the end.

3. Orange County Domestic-Partner Registry After the city of Orlando went ahead with its domestic-partner registry last year, it was fully expected that the county would hop on board in due fashion. But, perhaps unexpectedly (if you can forget that Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs is a staunch Republican who voted in favor a gay marriage ban years before), there was a hitch. Jacobs, buoyed by a secretive cadre of "advisors," volleyed for a dumbed-down version of a registry, without noting the lack of legal water that would carry. In the end, Jacobs begrudgingly signed on with two different forms of partnership, including one for gays she didn't want to allow marriage for.

2. Stand Your Ground in Sanford We may still be reeling from this one on many levels – including inherent police racism and the state's bully-friendly gun laws – but the match that lit this international firestorm was struck when, on Feb. 26, neighborhood watcher George Zimmerman shot dead an unarmed 17-year-old named Trayvon Martin, though Martin was allegedly just getting sodas and snacks after the Super Bowl in the Sanford neighborhood. Media attention swelled to an uproar, then receded as it does, but the case of George Zimmerman's "self-defense" will remain a black eye in Central Florida for years.

1. Orange County's LOLTEXTGATE This ridiculous bit of municipal misdoing has tarnished Mayor Jacobs and her entire commission. Following a citizen-led effort to get earned sick time on the November ballot, Orange's board of commissioners threw a stop-stick in the road at the last minute, even after a riotous bout of public comment on Sept. 11. The issue never saw the chance for a public vote. In the ensuing months, it's come to light that all of the commissioners and the mayor (and some staff) were in on a lobbying game of telephone (via text messages) with various monied corporate interests in town. Now there is litigation, expected to play out fully in 2013. Jacobs, showing her true colors, is not quite the ethics hound anyone had pegged her for. In fact, her behavior has been an embarrassment, and it's our biggest story of 2012.


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