The Big Freakin' Election

So here we are less than two weeks away from the municipal elections and you probably couldn't care less. We don't blame you. The Democratic presidential primary is all-but over and the four city races will probably yield the exact same city council we have now.

The problem is that voters rely heavily on glossy photos and name recognition -- especially in local races -- and don't know enough about the people they're putting in power, who in turn keep winning because they've got the name recognition and money to buy the glossy photos. How else can one explain Daisy Lynum?

It's a vicious cycle, and one we need to break. So we humbly offer the BIG FREAKIN' ELECTION ISSUE!, which in addition to stories on the mayor's race and three city council races features the kick-ass trading cards you see on the opposite page. Use them to make an informed choice, to promote your favorite candidate or to plug a hole in your shoe. We suggest you laminate them for long-lasting fun.

Enjoy. And remember: Only weenies don't vote.

P.S.: You'll note that there is a referendum on the March 9 ballot to require candidates for city council to have lived in their district (or in the mayor's case, inside city limits) for a year prior to qualifying. This may sound simple, but it's really just a way for politicians to make it harder to boot them out of office.

Mayor: Buddy's to lose

Exactly 378 days after beating Pete Barr in a nasty, racially tinged race to replace Glenda Hood, Buddy Dyer will again face voters. Last year, he ran on promises to revitalize downtown and Parramore, and to restore forward-thinking, progressive leadership to City Hall. And while Dyer has had some success, he's also screwed up enough to allow challengers a shot.

The most credible is businessman Ken Mulvaney, a thickly-accented Irish immigrant and former pub owner trying to raise that anti-Dyer sentiment. Mulvaney thinks Dyer's penchant for secrecy and his willingness to cut political opponents out of the political process -- as evidenced by the Jaymont block redevelopment and the two-waying of West Church Street -- should cost him his job.

The problem is, while Mulvaney talks a lot about Buddy's shortcomings, he doesn't have much to offer beyond feel-good rhetoric about open and inclusive government. The same can be said of Samuel Ings, a retired police captain running on many of the same themes as Mulvaney. (The two other candidates, Sharon Leichering and Alex Lamour, barely registered a blip last year and likely won't do any better this year.)

Dyer looks to be a good bet, though Mulvaney's supporters say it will be a closer contest than originally expected, and at least predict Mulvaney will force a runoff. Even if Dyer complies with Mulvaney's requests for a half-dozen debates, it's hard to imagine the political neophyte out-dueling the smooth-talking mayor.

The race is, more than anything, a referendum on Dyer's first year. He took office facing a projected $23 million budget deficit, and turned it into a $3.5 million surplus without raiding the city's $70 million rainy-day fund. But that win came at a price: Dyer fired 151 employees, some of whom were escorted out of City Hall by cops, and earned the wrath of commissioner Daisy Lynum, who called the firings "mean and hateful."

Dyer assembled a task force to streamline city government, but kept the meetings closed to the public. He made good on a campaign promise to require city contractors to pay living wages, but stopped short of including a cost-of-living-increase clause. He signed a proclamation honoring an anti-abortion group though he claims to be pro-choice.

His Downtown Strategic Transition Team released a report in the fall calling for everything from a performing arts center to a baseball stadium. But the team's hotly debated recommendation -- pushing back bar hours -- got shelved.

Dyer did move decisively on developing the Jaymont block, however. The city teamed with developer Cameron Kuhn, and quickly and quietly paved the way for Kuhn to demolish the (arguably) historic buildings to make way for a three-towered, $140 million medley of condos, restaurants, retail and parking spaces. The city pledged to kick in $22 million in incentives, including a $3.5 million, no-strings-attached advance.

The problem was the speed and secrecy with which Dyer pushed the project through, and the way he sidestepped debate. The plan was announced on a Wednesday morning; on Friday, the city issued a demolition permit, citing (some would say dubious) health and safety concerns that pre-empted any historical notions about the 60-year-old retail buildings. Within hours Kuhn's wrecking crew went to work.

As negotiations were wrapping up, the mayor's staff asked commissioners to sign confidentiality agreements to keep details secret.

The Jaymont debacle came on the heels of a bitter fight between Dyer and Mulvaney and his brother, Brian, over two-waying Church Street (the two are property owners there). Dyer essentially kept bar and property owners in the dark while booting revelers off the street. When business owners and bar-goers went to City Hall to protest, Dyer shunned any debate and promised to meet with Brian Mulvaney to clear things up. He scheduled the meeting for Nov. 25. Church Street became a two-way road Nov. 24.

Even when he's right -- two-waying Church Street and redeveloping the Jaymont block -- Dyer creates an atmosphere of mistrust via a tendency to avoid open, responsive government. It's his way or the highway.

Ken Mulvaney shouldn't be that tough an opponent. Nonetheless, Dyer has allegedly sponsored a "push poll" designed to smear Mulvaney under the guise of a survey. If true -- and there's no way to know unless Dyer's team releases its poll questions, which it has declined to do -- Dyer's pollsters allegedly asked Mulvaney supporters how they'd feel if they knew he'd been charged with crimes including domestic battery, and that he owned a bar and never intended to live in Orlando permanently.

In reality Mulvaney was arrested twice for domestic battery but never charged, Mulvaney's Irish Pub closed years ago, and while Mulvaney does share a home with his girlfriend and campaign manager, Kim Marshall, in Belle Isle, and rented an apartment to qualify for the race, painting him as a carpetbagger is a stretch.

As Dyer heads into a second term, maybe a closer-than-expected election will teach him a much-needed lesson.

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