Florida Forward Orlando Mayor Debate 3/7/12

UCF Executive Development Center-

This is more like it.

After weeks of back and forth smack talking through media and a polite preview at Monday’s College Park Candidate Forum, the candidates for Orlando Mayor finally got to debate the issues this evening.

The Orlando Sentinel, Fox 35, and the League of Women Voters partnered up to hold the first official debate of the race. Moderated by Sentinel Columnist Scott Maxwell and a panel consisting of Mike Synan (Fox 35), Ann Hellmuth (LWV), and Mark Schlueb (Sentinel), the candidates fielded tough questions about the city’s issues and their personal backgrounds.

There were some fireworks, a capacity audience, and some great one-liners.

It was a capacity crowd downtown for the Debate

The candidates aggressively attacked Mayor Buddy Dyer from the get go. City Commission Phil Diamond led off during his opening statements with similar attack about the Mayor’s spending from Monday’s forum. A bad deal for the Amway Center and the taxpayers being on the hook for the Creative Village. He likened himself to Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs for making the tough votes against the majority of the city commission.

Commissioner Diamond wasted no time going after Mayor Dyer

The other two candidates quickly joined in. Mayor Dyer was going to be “the pinata at the party” for the entired 90 minute debate.

Community Organizer Mike Cantone while looking the Mayor straight in the eyes said there was an absence of leadership at City Hall. He lashed out at Mayor Dyer criticizing the creative village and accusing the Mayor of running a culture of corruption. Cantone continued to assault the Mayor, asking him if he would arrest children for chalk drawings in Baldwin Park, comparing them to the the occupiers downtown. He also continued to accuse Mayor Dyer of planning to run for Governor in 2014.

The Back and forth between Mayor Dyer and Mike Cantone provided the most memorable moments of the debate.

Businessman Ken Mulvaney was a little less aggressive than Diamond and Cantone, bringing up aspects of the venues he would have done differently and pushing for better communication between city hall and it’s constituents. He also pitched an alternative to bringing professional soccer to Orlando. He also criticized public funds going to the Chamber of Commerce

Mayor Dyer took the fight right back to them.

Dyer credited the chamber for playing a role in Sunrail, the venues, and business development. He mentioned the city was developing apps for traffic and parking. He took the light approach to refusing to sign the full term pledge, saying he was flattered his opponents thought so highly of him. He defended the action he took against occupiers and protesters (some snickering from the crowd for that one) and, one by one pushed back at his opponents during rebuttal. He mocked Cantone saying indeed he was “a clear alternative” and told Diamond that if a lot of the past 6 to 1 votes taken by the commission were flipped in the Diamond’s favor, the city would look a lot different. The Mayor also had the downtown crowd leaning his way.

Who Won?: Buddy Dyer reminded me a little of Mitt Romney out there. All of the candidates were trying to make a mark by attacking him. And while they each got a few shots in, Dyer stood his ground and threw out some impressive rehtoric to hold off the other candidates and, avoid answering the tough questions.

Phil Diamond did fine. So far he’s still the clear alternative to Mayor Dyer and, his audience travels well. Dyer had the majority but, the Commissioner wasn’t far behind. He’s going to have to stay competitive on the ground to make up for the money Dyer is going to air TV ads.

Ken Mulvaney might be trying to sound humble but, he’s getting drowned out by the other candidates. He’s got a great story to tell and he needs to point to personal experiences while presenting solutions.

There is the candidate Mike Cantone and there is the activist Mike Cantone. Both are well spoken but, the activist takes over at times. And the voters only have a threshold for brutal rhetoric before they want to more substance.

The edge goes to Dyer. He played defense well and the other candidates will have to keep canvassing hard to present a real challenge…. If they don’t split the anti-Romney, ahem …excuse me. Anti-Buddy vote altogether.

A terrific event and I’m glad I went!

Mayor Dyer, Moderator Scott Maxwell, Opinions Editor Mike Lafferty, and Ken Mulvaney

City Commissioner Phil Diamond

Candidates drawing order before the debate, sorry for the blur the venue was full and I was further back

A great debate. Thanks to all of the organizations that put it together.