We've been thinking way too much about Orlando's coming Creative Village — the planned redevelopment of the Centroplex — mostly because it's just outside our window; if we press our fingers to our eyes and will the Amway Arena away, that is.

Well, alas, the city wants you to think about it, too, west downtown Orlandoans, which is why they're hosting an "open house" 6:30 p.m. Feb. 22 in the J.B. Callahan Neighborhood Center, 101 N. Parramore Ave. Trying to sell a Tron matrix of blips, bleeps and art galleries to the mostly minority population of the area isn't going to be an easy gig, but if you throw a majestic fountain in the middle of it — already in the plans — it might go over better, right?

And wouldn't it be really annoying to show up and just ask a laundry list of questions about said fountain? How high will it spray? Will there be splash guards to protect laptops? Is it a "wishing" fountain? What are the ramifications for the aquifer? What if this whole "creative village" thing is some sort of geek conspiracy to create a new, more powerful, more annoying breed of people who snort when they laugh? Frankly, we're scared. Like, Alpha Beta scared.

And speaking of civic involvement, here's a heads-up for a worthy protest set for Feb. 23. A group of folks sick of the war — including members of the local Movement for a Democratic Society, Students for a Democratic Society and UCF Campus Peace Action — are getting together at 10 a.m. in front of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's office, 225 E. Robinson St., to make their feelings known by hand-delivering letters demanding an immediate end to the war to the senator. Then they are going to march over to U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez's office, 315 E. Robinson St., and U.S. Rep. Ric Keller's office, 605 E. Robinson St., and do the same. (Keller's been in the news as a conservative turncoat who hates America and wants Iraq to start mowing its own lawn. See What's Up With Ric™, below.)

And speaking of civic involvement, part two: Think local protests always fall on deaf ears? Think again, bucko.

A veterinarian who spent a decade at a lab that conducts drug tests on animals will not be named the county's animal services manager, thanks to vociferous protests on the part of local animal-rights activists. Dr. Robert Ridgway, currently a county vet, was offered the job, but the offer was revoked after opposition over his animal procurement and testing background. Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty says he won't appoint anybody for now. Why hurry? The position has been vacant for five years.

And now it's time for another installment of What's Up With Ric?™, our attempt to keep you up to date on the comings and goings of Orlando's favorite Congressman, U.S. Rep. Ric Keller!

This week's report finds Ric in the national spotlight. As you might have read, our "conservative" congressman embraced terrorism by dissing the Bush administration and voting against the Iraq surge. The problem was the delivery. Keller gave a speech so odd that it landed him on both The Daily Show and Wonkette.com.

Our Ric was the butt of satire. Deserved? You be the judge. To quote from Keller's floor speech: "Let me give you an analogy. Imagine your next-door neighbor refuses to mow his lawn and the weeds are all the way up to his waist. You decide you're going to mow his lawn for him every single week. The neighbor never says thank you. He hates you, and sometimes he takes out a gun and shoots at you. Under these circumstances, do you keep mowing his lawn forever? Do you send even more of your family members over to mow his lawn? Or do you say to that neighbor, ‘You better step it up and mow your own lawn or there's going to be serious consequences for you'?"

Thanks for helping Joe Sixpack understand the Iraq war, Ric!

City elections are a year away, which means it's too damn early to think about them. There's plenty of time for anonymous missives accusing candidates of chicanery, so no need to start now, right?

Wrong. No one — not even Buddy — has declared a run for mayor or for the District 4 and District 6 council seats that are up in March 2008. However, four people have already thrown their hats into the ring in District 2, and none of them is incumbent Betty Wyman.

On Feb. 12, Happytown™ received an anonymous fax questioning the entry of Orlando cop Tony Ortiz into the race. "His candidacy is a blatant violation of the police department's policies," the fax told us.

How so? According to our anonymous source, Florida Statute 99.012 is at play. It says that "no officer may qualify as a candidate for another public office … without resigning from the office he or she presently holds." Anonymous alleges that police officers fall under the definition because cops can "exercise municipal power."

In other words, Ortiz must resign his badge before he runs. The city disagrees. In a November e-mail to city clerk Alana Brenner, then-city attorney Jody Litchford said that, like all other city employees, Ortiz only has to resign once he qualifies for the race, which happens 60 days before the election. So far, Brenner says, no one has filed a complaint about Ortiz's candidacy. Unless there's a move to overturn the city's position, Ortiz will remain a candidate and a cop.

Are Yankees lured here by jousting and gator-wrestling? It seems unlikely. But tell that to the marketing people at the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, who are so flush with tourism tax money that they have to dream up ways to spend it. Hence the mini-Orlando in Times Square Feb. 15, complete with flamingos, penguins and the aforementioned gator-wrestling and jousting, all inside a cabana in the middle of Manhattan.

Sadly, gator-wrestling is illegal there, and the display featured little more than a palm-flanked staging area and fake jousting. (Though reportedly organizers did show a gator, and a handful of scantily clad women braved the cold in a hot tub.)

The bureau's hope was that cold New Yorkers strolling around in the blustery weather would be enticed to visit after viewing this stunning array of all things Orlando.

The stunt is part of the new two-year, $68 million ad campaign. We know this would have enticed us if we didn't already live here, being the jousting junkies we are. PETA was less than pleased, being the professional killjoys they are. A meager group of protesters stood near the event and held up signs that read "Florida's export: cruelty to animals." The group was pissed about the gator-wrestling, so when that didn't happen, they just claimed victory and went home.

This week's report by Jeffrey C. Billman, Billy Manes, Deanna Sheffield and Bob Whitby.

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