By FRANK TORRES - In about two weeks voters of the “City Beautiful” will head to the polls to decide who will lead Orlando for the next four years.
For Mayor Buddy Dyer, it will be his opportunity to meet a series of challenges he set for himself more than a year ago. The longtime Mayor met for a one on one interview with the Orlando Political Observer to discuss the progress he’s made on those challenges and his goals if elected for another term.
Both admirers and critics of the Mayor point to the 2014 State of the City Address, when the Mayor in the center of Church street, set several bold objectives for his administration and delivered a tough announcement, that normally would not have a place in a speech most leaders use to brag about accomplishments.
The Mayor himself will tell you his biggest challenge has been homelessness. It’s a puzzle not only himself but Mayors all over the country have tried to solve for decades. Walking through the streets of downtown, it’s not uncommon for visitors to be approached by squatters for change or to see them asleep on the steps of a Church.
In 2015, there has been a breakthrough and but it hasn’t come without it’s share of scrutiny from critics.
“I’ve never been afraid to take the risk of failure.” said Dyer about the fight “I’ve laid somethings out that people thought were crazy or impossible to do. I don’t lay them out there unless I know I can do it.”
Dyer says its collaboration and partnership which has made progress possible. The city has worked with Orange County Government and private organizations like Florida Hospital, to make significant progress over the past year. Studies done in other cities like Houston and Nashville have been the key to finding solutions. Ultimately, it will be a plan that surrounds the chronically homeless with supporting services like mental health, meeting a challenge from the White House to identify homeless Veterans and connecting them with resources, and keeping families that are on the brink of homelessness off of the street.”
“The window has opened to do some really big things.” he continues “We’ve really tried to concentrate on the chronically homeless and by the end of this year, two thirds will have received help”
Another one of Dyer’s goals set him in the middle of a legal controversy.
“Some day, I hope Orlando can be the first city in Florida to have a same sex wedding” he pledged during that State of the City Address
While it was not the first city in the state, Florida made same-sex marriage legal months before the Supreme Court Decision came down and groups in opposition of the measure, filed suit to prevent Dyer from carrying out a mass marriage ceremony on the morning it became legal. City Attorneys said he was clear, and dozens of couples were married on the steps of City Hall in the center of Downtown Orlando.
“We’re in the age where that’s the right thing to do, there might be some detractors but the cities of the future have to attract millennial talent.” he says reflecting on that morning “That’s part of the equation. If it’s the right thing to do, you’ve got to do it.”
There have been other fights during Dyer’s current term. Battles with ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft, where Dyer has said he would like them to operate in the city after drivers go through background checks and other steps to keep riders safe. There were was the debate over Tinker Field, where some residents wanted the old grandstands saved, even though Baseball hadn’t been played there in years.
However the biggest battle being fought on the campaign trail is the property tax increase unanimously passed by the City Council last year. The “real” moment in Dyer’s speech 16 months ago was when he mentioned that 17.7% increase could happen.
One of Dyer’s opponents in November, Businessman and Veteran Paul Paulson, along with candidates challenging his colleagues, Commissioners Patty Sheehan and Sam Ings are using that increase as their number one avenue of attack in each of their campaigns.
“Now, in the simplest way possible. In a way anybody can understand.” I say “Can you set the record straight and explain this increase.”
“I can very much do that” Dyer replies