ORLANDO MAGAZINE: 50 Most Powerful People - Our annual list comprises politicians, entrepreneurs, educators, philanthropists and others who are instrumental in shaping our community.
#1 Buddy Dyer / Orlando Mayor »Age: 56
Over the past few years, rumors circulated that Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer was interested in exploring bids for governor, U.S. Senate and president of the University of Central Florida.
Ask Dyer if he’s getting antsy and ready to move on and he artfully answers that the only job he’s concerned with is his current one.
“I have so much fun as mayor,” he says, the day after announcing he will seek a fourth term. “I do a lot of fun stuff. I love my job.”
Dyer, has come a long way in his 12 years in office, assuming the mayoral reins in the midst of a 2003 budget crisis and later navigating through the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.
“In the first couple of years, I was signing travel requests and down in the minutiae,” he says. That hands-on managing style has since changed to delegating among his now-veteran advisers.
“Now I have a team around me which makes the same decision I would make 95 percent of the time. And the other five percent, I have their back.”
The team, known as “C4+1,” is made up of his four top advisers: Chief Administrative Officer Byron Brooks; City Attorney Mayanne Downs; Chief Financial Officer Rebecca Sutton; Chief of Staff Frank Billingsley. Deputy Chief of Staff Heather Fagan also is part of the mayor’s inner circle.
Dyer is most proud of the nonpartisan “culture of collaboration” created with all segments of the community. That approach resulted in the UCF College of Medicine; SunRail; the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts; and a new soccer stadium—all pieces to boost the area’s economy. And those public-private-business partnerships also helped in bringing Major League Soccer to Orlando; the planned downtown Creative Village and downtown UCF campus; the Canvs creative high-tech startup workspace; and a plan to house the chronically homeless.
Dyer knows how to play hardball with opponents and is keen to rise to the challenge and overcome obstacles. When a small Orlando church was holding up the proposed $110 million downtown soccer stadium last summer in an eminent domain case dispute, Dyer and his staff had the city buy another tract of land and shifted the site one block west, eliminating the problem.
In late May, Orlando City Soccer Club announced it would fund the stadium entirely, eliminating the need for money from the Legislature or local governments.
“Somebody called me a GPS the other day,” Dyer says. “When you come to a barrier or the end of a barrier, you re-route.”
Interestingly, he seems to be all things to all groups. Dyer appeals to neighborhoods east and west; environmentalists; gays; business; the tech industry; and sports groups. For example, after a federal judge overturned Florida’s ban on same-sex marriages last fall, Dyer performed 44 gay marriages at City Hall in January. It was “the right thing to do,” morally and economically, Dyer says.
The city’s embracing of diversity also is a strength that he believes serves as “one of the protections” against what happened with riots in Baltimore a few months ago.
“I consider myself an Ivy League redneck,” he says. “I went from Kissimmee (where he was raised) to Brown (University). I’m as comfortable in a camp as at the ballet, the country club, on Bruton Boulevard or riding with OPD. And I can ride and shoot.”
As for the “fun stuff,’’ Dyer has adopted common man workdays, patterned after popular former Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham. The mayor calls them “work-alongs” with his 3,000 city employees. His eyes widen, like an excited kid, when he reels them off.
“I got to use a flame thrower” to burn vegetation off of wastewater treatment cells, he says, smiling. “That was the coolest thing… I’ve welded. I’ve installed solar panels. I’ve lined and painted the field for the Citrus Bowl for one of the bowl games. I’ve driven the street sweeper. That was fun.”
And he chuckles: “The employees always enjoy that they can do their job a lot better than I can.’’
As downtown construction projects fill in gaps in the landscape, Forbes lists Orlando in top rankings such as the nation’s No. 4 happiest place to work—another step in validating the Dyer vision of a bustling, livable city.
Dyer, a former state senator for 10 years, notes that he has long worked with former opponents and appointed several to various boards. His first statewide challenger, Candy Crawford, is now his campaign treasurer. But there remains one opponent he has refused to support, former Gov. Charlie Crist. Ever since Crist defeated Dyer in the 2002 Florida Attorney General’s race, there has been bad blood.
When Dyer attended a campaign event at Orlando Science Center last fall with Crist’s opponent, incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott, the mayor said he was never told the gathering was campaign-related and thought it was just a chance to tout the region’s high-tech and biotech industries. Dyer also refused to endorse Crist, who lost to Scott by about one percentage point. That, too, further upset some top area Democrats.
Dyer says he agreed with fellow Democrats such as Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown to stay neutral and not support Crist, a Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat. Meanwhile, Dyer has maintained a cordial relationship with Scott while seeking support for Orlando downtown projects.
But make no mistake, Dyer is keeping score. He notes that he has eclipsed the time in office of former Orlando Mayors Bob Carr, Glenda Hood and Bill Frederick. If he serves another term, he will surpass the record of 14 years in office held by Carl Langford.
“B.D. and A.D. is how Orlando mayors will be listed—Before Dyer and After Dyer,” says friend and fellow lawyer John Morgan. “He’s been a transformative mayor.”