Best Of 2014

Best Do-Gooders Doing Good
Pawsitive Shelter Photography

Pawsitive Shelter Photography

Every day of the week, Orange County Animal Services in Orlando is slammed. The open-admission shelter, which serves all of Orange County, receives a flood of new animals who have no place to go. They’re either picked up as strays, surrendered by owners or confiscated by the authorities, and a lot of those animals don’t ever make it out alive. Their only chance is that, once they’re put up for adoption, they catch the eye of some kind soul searching for a new pet. Which is where Pawsitive Shelter Photography comes in. Before the volunteers from this little organization got involved, the photos of the dogs and cats available at the shelter were … less than flattering. They were taken in kennels and dark rooms, and the animals usually looked dirty and terrified. Now, Pawsitive Shelter Photography visits twice a week and takes professional-quality photos of the animals on a nice, clean background. They dress them in cute, seasonally themed gear and they spend enough time with the animals so they look engaged rather than erratic, making them far more likely to catch the eye of the casual pet adopter cruising the Internet, searching for a new pal.

Best Grand Exit

Daisy Lynum calling Patty Sheehan “asinine” at her last City Council meeting

In her 16 years as the sometimes unintelligible mouthpiece of the Orlando City Hall dais – one that liked to ramble on about wayward chickens in the streets – the city had grown accustomed to the commissioner’s bouts with irreverence. But come May, after her official farewell meeting had already transpired, Lynum felt compelled to call another final meeting, this time to address the building of a new K-8 school in her Parramore district. Critics of the new school complained that it was an invitation to resegregation in addition to being a demolition order for Colonialtown’s beloved Fern Creek Elementary, where many Parramore children were bused. Commissioner Patty Sheehan was one of those critics and said as much when voting no on a land deal that set the school in motion. That compelled Lynum to seethe with righteous indignation. “I have never interfered with any other council district,” she said to Sheehan at the May 27 meeting. “To have this discussion about keeping [Fern Creek] open, and to have little black children bused to some community that they can’t walk to, is asinine.” Dismount!

Best Political Wig

Maria Ragen’s Patty Sheehan-do in Escape From Baldwin Park

There were plenty of Orlando in-jokes to snicker at in the 2014 Fringe show written by our former A&C editor, Steve Schneider, which transposed the cult B-movie Escape From New York into the tale of a Baldwin Park ravaged by disaster: stabs at Bright House sales jobs, jabs at overreaching HOAs, and a certain used-car salesman’s twinkle-toed granddaughter as a crucial character. But from the moment Ragen took the stage as Commissioner Patty Sheehan, she – and her hair – owned it. Sporting a Don King-worthy shock of starchy gray that reached for the sky, pardner, accessorized with a Western shirt, tight jeans and sensible footwear, Ragen’s seething, acerbic, delightful Sheehan stole the show. The essentially good-natured, I-kid-because-I-love tone of Schneider’s Orlandoan opus was confirmed by the fact that Commissioner Sheehan sat front and center for half a dozen performances, laughing louder than anyone else. Some people just get it.

Best Proof That the Orlando Expressway Authority Was Insanely Corrupt
PHOTO courtesy of DISNEY

Insane corruption at Orlando Expressway Authority

As if you had any doubt that the long-embattled Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority had serious issues, this year the board of the organization went out of its way to make sure everybody knew just how troubled it was. In May, State Attorney Jeff Ashton released more than 500 pages worth of evidence indicating that the powerful people who ran the authority used it as their plaything. They pushed lucrative contracts to friends, held secret meetings at local bars where they came up with plans to take control of the board, and bullied those who didn’t walk in tandem with their plans. Authority board member Scott Batterson was indicted on bribery charges in relation to the report in April, and former state Rep. Chris Dorworth and board member Rebekah Hammond were both indicted for violating the state’s Sunshine Laws. In May, another board member, Marco Peña, resigned from his seat on the board and pled guilty to a misdemeanor in exchange for his testimony about the authority’s malfeasance. Shocked? Don’t be. This kind of thing has gone on at the Expressway Authority practically since it was founded in the 1960s. This year’s antics, however, finally led to its abolishment.

Best Proof That You Don’t Need a City Government
PHOTO BY Willie Allen Jr.

Transformation Village in Bithlo
18415 11th Ave., Bithlo;

Bithlo started out as a planned community, but instead of becoming an early version of Baldwin Park, the municipality defaulted on some loans and then was hit hard by the Great Depression. Cue losing your city government and being kicked out of the county by scared politicians and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a community with no zoning, no services and no funding for basic necessities. United Global Outreach, a nonprofit organization led by Tim McKinney, saw that the Bithlo residents needed some help, swooped in, and the rest is history. They provided free dental care, started a school, held free weekly community meals and now are launching a whole series of improvements based around what they call Transformation Village. All of this has been done in only a few years and without the aid of a municipal government.

Best Squirrel

Tie the SunRail mascot

He’s shifty and nervous, with big bug eyes and a bandaged, broken tail (which, you’ll learn if you watch enough of his YouTube videos, is the result of some careless behavior on the train tracks). We think he might be suffering from PTSD, and he spends his time yelling at people to STOP before they cross the tracks and warning kids that what happened to him could happen to them if they play too close to the tracks. Tie is an alarmist, a basket case and he’s almost certainly suffering from an anxiety disorder, and for these reasons (and more) we adore him.

Best Superhero We Can Call Our Own

Master Legend

Maybe you’ve seen him on the street in downtown Orlando, distributing food and supplies to the homeless or patrolling in his big white van, keeping an eye out for people who are up to no good. Or perhaps you’ve only heard about him, or read about him in Rolling Stone a few years back. He’s larger than life – a superhero Orlando can call its own. Master Legend, who grew up in New Orleans, says he started on the path to superhero in second grade, when he learned to fight off bullies.

“I was a badly abused and starved kid,” he says. “Most of the kids did not like me, and I only fit in with fellow abused kids that got it at school and at home.” One day, he says, he came across some comics in a trashcan, and though he says he couldn’t read all the words, he realized that becoming a superhero was his calling. “I made myself a mask and a shirt with an emblem on it, and the superhero was born,” he says. “I finally felt alive. I felt like I had a purpose, and it was to help others.”

And that’s exactly what Master Legend does. He was commended in 2004 by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for assisting people in need during the aftermath of Hurricane Charley, and today he spends a lot of his time (when he’s not working at his mild-mannered day job) giving away food, toiletries and other necessities to homeless individuals and “tearing down the walls of greed.”

When asked what the best thing about being a superhero is, Master Legend simply says: “I get to be me.” When asked to tell us what he thinks is the best thing about Orlando, he says: “The real, honest, hardworking people out there. Without them, Orlando could not exist.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Best Viral Video for a Good Cause

Rethink Homelessness’ “Cardboard Stories” YouTube video

Earlier this summer an interesting video project made the rounds on social media. The footage, filmed in downtown Orlando, featured members of our city’s homeless population holding signs that said something unique about their lives. One woman holds a sign indicating that she was once a figure skater. A man holds one saying that he used to build robots for a living. The video, part of a project called Rethink Homelessness, sponsored by the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, attempts to get people to shelve their preconceived notions of who the homeless are and recognize that their problems are not that different from our problems. The project is brilliant: simple, moving and effective.

Best Way to Prove Locally That Medicaid Expansion Was Actually Important

The nationally recognized death of Orlando resident Charlene Dill

Prior to the passing of local resident and 32-year-old mother of three Charlene Dill, most discussions of the Florida Legislature’s refusal to accept $51 billion in federal funds to expand the state’s Medicaid program lived in the realm of the political and the abstract. Florida, like many other Republican states, was fighting tooth-and-nail against the perceived horrors of Obamacare and all of its facets, mostly along Tea Party-drawn lines. But when Dill, who was working odd jobs just to get by, fell to a stranger’s floor in March and died while selling vacuum cleaners in Kissimmee, the frustration of nearly a million of the state’s working poor suddenly had a face. Dill was bumped off Medicaid, which landed her in the coverage gap – too poor to qualify for the exchanges, too financially stable to qualify for Medicaid. She was medicated for a heart condition, and if covered would have survived. Instead, thanks to national interest in a story first covered by Orlando Weekly, Dill’s legacy survives, hopefully giving human voice to an issue that has human consequences.

Best Way to Ruin the Orange County Democratic Party
PHOTO via Florida Democratic Party

Be Val Demings and drop out of the Orange County mayoral race

Former Orlando police chief and congressional candidate Val Demings’ delayed entry into the 2014 Orange County mayoral race against incumbent Teresa Jacobs was supposed to be the kick in the pants that local Democrats needed in a midterm election year. Demings’ brand, after all, was on the uptick, with appearances flanking former President Bill Clinton and a slew of national television moments populating her résumé. Jacobs, meanwhile, was languishing in the embarrassments of an administration mired in the litigious buffoonery of “textgate.” But from the get-go, Demings never really felt like she was “all in” with the municipal race, something that’s since been attributed to outside consultants and internal party rifts more than to Demings herself. When trusted local Democrats like Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and former Orange County Mayor Linda Chapin refused to come out in Demings’ favor – both fearing the wrath of Jacobs on their beloved performing arts center project – Demings packed up her toys and disappeared. Now it could prove difficult to engage Democrats at the polls in August, which could also pull momentum from November.