I went on the Sunrail tour yesterday, this is what I thought

Yesterday afternoon, in front of a large crowd, the city of Longwood’s elected officials cut the ribbon, opening it’s Sunrail station that will start transporting riders in just a couple of weeks. Visitors had the opportunity to tour the rail cars after the ceremony was over.

I was one of those visitors. Here is what I thought.

The Cars themselves are beautiful. They obviously have no wear and tear and are very clean. They’re two stories and have different kinds of seats from your traditional two facing two configurations, as well as 4 person table spaces which would be ideal for work. There is a lot of wide open space. It’s hard to believe that it would resemble those cramped subways, we’re used to in places like Chicago and New York.

The station itself was nice enough. People that had been to other Sunrail openings said it was one of the nicer facilities. I didn’t think there was enough parking within a comfortable walking distance away but was told there was more out of sight. There were wide benches. I’ve sat through development meetings, where those are actually a negative. The large benches, unfortunately are the best sleeping options our homeless population have. While I don’t believe there is a homelessness problem in Longwood, like there is downtown they should bought shorter seats in larger quantity. There were large residential developments under construction next to the station. This is huge plus. You walk out your door and you’ve got commuter rail? Sounds good to me. A perfect example of growth around the project.

Here are some important notes.

You CAN bring your Bikes with you on Sunrail: There are tie-downs on some of the cars for them. This is a big deal. One of the problems potential travelers face with Sunrail, is transport to and from the actual stations. This is part of the solution for that problem.

You CANNOT Eat on Sunrail: This is kind of a drag but you can see why. We’d all like to grab a quick bite on the way into work, but there are a lot of lazy people out there. I can see Burger King wrappers on the floor and Ketchup stains ruining business clothes. You can bring drinks with a lid on the train.

You CAN bring your pets on Sunrail: If they’re in a crate. It would be cool if they could stay on a leash but owners can be irresponsible. We don’t want Spike the Doberman dropping a deuce in the middle of a crowded car of commuters for the staff to pick-up. Nor do we want two animals deciding that they don’t like the way the other smells, and breaking out into a canine melee while we’re on the way to our destination. Service Animals are exempt from crates.

There IS Wi-Fi on Sunrail: This has been one of the rail system’s biggest selling points. Staying productive while you travel.

You CANNOT use Cash on the ticket machines: I spoke to some buddies on why this was. There were theories that they didn’t want customers vulnerable to being robbed by criminals, or asked for money by the homeless. There were also some that believed that robbers would bust open the machines and steal any cash inside.

So what do you think, Frank?: The product is good.

It’s far from perfect but it’s better than what I thought was coming. It’s a knock-off of the rail cars used in Europe except not quite as nice. Those seats were much comfier albeit, those trips are typically much longer. I think the real challenge will be maintenance and cleanliness of the cars, and the experience of traveling itself.

I’m not going to abandon my car to use it, but it’s definitely worth a try.

The Opening of the Longwood Sunrail Station was well attended. The wait was a long as 30 minutes to see the train

The Opening of the Longwood Sunrail Station was well attended. The wait was a long as 30 minutes to see the train

Orange Commission District 6 Candidates Run Issues Gauntlet in Forum

Last night, in front of a packed house of about 250 people at the Mt. Pleasant Church, the 5 Candidates hoping to replace termed out incumbent Tiffany Moore-Russell in District 6 took the state to talk about every major issue, in a forum hosted by the Orlando Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

Business Derrick Wallace, Businesswoman Victoria Siplin, Former Commissioner Homer Hartage, Commissioner Aide Roberta Walton, and Metro Plan Director Virginia Whittington covered a whole range of topics in the 90 minute debate, that covered a lot of ground and was beautifully moderated by Professor Jennifer Smith.

They led off with introductions. Wallace touted his business, that he says has put thousands to work, and also his experience dealing with big money projects. He has a plan for the district that he wants to implement if elected. Siplin told her story of growing up an orphan to become a successful businesswoman and mother. And said she was running because she wanted to see forward progress in the district. Hartage spoke of his government experience and plan for neighborhood development. Whittington described her daily trip through the district and called it “alarming” and wants to see it improve. Walton said she has the experience to serve effectively from day 1, and spoke of her experience as an aide in the county government. She said the infrastructure of the county was old.

They called about addressing needs for minorities in the district. They all pointed to raising awareness to existing programs. Hartage, Wallace encouraged enrollment in Obamacare. Whittington said it was time to “Sound the alarm” and work with the state legislature. Walton and Siplin talked about local programs and jabbed the current body in Tallahassee for refusing to expand medicaid.

When it came for ideas for bringing higher paying jobs to D6, Siplin spoke of training opportunities and setting goals for applications for contracts. Wallace echoed that and said it was all about branding and promotion of the area. Walton said “the wheel isn’t broken” and that current programs needed to be reviewed. The current brand needs to be promoted she added. Whittington had 3 points. Fill empty infrastructure, take a strategic look at improving, and to also reeducate on existing programs.

Crime was the next topic. Wallace and Walton stressed working with law enforcement to improve. Whittington said her home has been broken into 3 times by youth and they had to be pushed to be “producers and not consumers”. Hartage wanted to revive a task force that “would enforce every law in the book”. Siplin brought up her work with the POPS program currently in High Schools that puts youth to work immediately.

Next was the controversial possible construction of a new High School in a possibly rural area of Windermere. Walton felt that the land in question wasn’t rural. Whittington talked about reforming the land purchasing process and the Martinez Doctrine. Hartage echoed her and said that we couldn’t buy land on speculation. Victoria Siplin brought up the conflict over the Evans High School move and pushed for teamwork with the state legislature. Wallace said the whole process needed to be reviewed and reassesed from there. He really didn’t know anything else at the time.

Talking trash was next or the question was how to diminish trash that pose a threat to the lakes in the district. All of them agreed that current laws had to be enforced and that teamwork was needed to fix the problem. Wallace had a blunt reply. He said he didn’t know of a trash problem in district and he wasn’t going to sit on stage and make things up. That drew both laughs and gasps from the crowd in attendance. Hartage would return fire on that point. He insisted there was a problem.

All of the candidates agreed that more funding was needed for the arts within the district. They all agreed that they weren’t being treated equally and Walton referred to the new Performing Arts Center, and believes they need to have a seat in the conversation on how that could be used to promote programs in their region.

The Conversation over a new Hispanic Exclusive Seat on the Commission was an exciting one. Siplin supported the measure and brought up Mildred Fernandez‘s service (we’ll assume it was before her removal from office). Wallace “absolutely” also supported the new seat. Walton supported the idea but felt no new measures were needed to make that happen. She pointed out that Hispanics had the 9th Congressional seat in their majority but still elected Alan Grayson. Both Hartage and Whittington believed Hispanics deserved the seat but opposed the Fred Brummer Charter Amendments. Hartage specifically did not approve of expanding the Commission by two seats. That was a part of the Brummer amendment that would be designed roughly for that purpose.

All of the candidates oppose eliminating the County Tax Collector Office and called it either political or an unneeded change. It was the quickest round of answers in the forum.

Not all of them agreed on the big Expressway Authority Merger: Whittington and Walton were opposed to the merger. Whittington said “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” and Walton felt it best to keep those decisions local. Hartage and Siplin supported the move. Hartage slammed the hire of Steve Precourt and Siplin brought up the investigation by State Attorney Jeff Ashton for possible Sunshine Violations. Wallace didn’t have enough information and did not have an opinion.

All of the candidates pledged to be more accessible to constituents. Hartage’s answer drew the biggest laugh of the event. “I’m not a hard man to get a hold of. I’ve had the same phone number since 1978.

Priority and Passion were the final two questions of the forum: Siplin felt for the children due to her past and present experiences of her life. She would provide health care for them, and take all actions to ensure the neighborhoods in the district flourished. Wallace would bring the stakeholders to the table to build a strategy to move on, and his passion was also in the children and the future of the area. Whittington would fulfill promises that haven’t been met yet and her passion would be getting what the district deserved to avoid falling further behind. Homer Hartages first priority would be to ensure the defeat of the Fred Brummer amendments and he as well had passion for the youth in the district. Walton touted her experience and promoting “shovel ready” projects. She wants to use the vibrant core of the district to promote growth.

They each gave closing statements and the event was over. Great forum and as you can see, a lot of information given out.

Some Personal Observations and Analysis:

Derrick Wallace, while he didn’t have the answers for all of the issues, he definitely had the biggest campaign presence in the room. A large platoon of attendees were wearing his T-shirts.

Roberta Walton was in an interesting position. She has to push her experience, while creating enough space for her to forward her own ideas. Her position as an aide is almost like her running for reelection. She can’t be too critical of the current state of the district

Homer Hartage has a wealth of knowledge from his previous service. Maybe the most in the field. But won’t a decision on the Brummer amendment be down before he takes office next year?

Victoria Siplin had a good night. Her Husband and former State Senator Gary Siplin was also in attendance. She doesn’t have a particular angle to call hers yet. She needs to establish why she’s better than the others and either give some innovative ideas or her cite experience to gain some traction.

Virginia Whittington also had a good night and was the most energetic candidate. She’s a good story teller and would be a very difficult opponent in a one on one debate. She needs to tout her experience with Metro Plan more.

A great event!

d6 forum

President Obama Visits Orlando says “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds”

Today, in front of a full house at Valencia State College, President Barack Obama promoted Women in the Economy and their role in the future workforce of the country.

He spoke of his Mother and the way she worked hard to raise him and his sister. He spoke of his Grandmother who, worked at a bank and ultimately hit a glass ceiling, which led to her training people who would eventually be her boss.

“When women make less than men that hurts their family” the President said “it burdens men and children. When they can’t fill their potential that holds us back”

President Obama spoke with a group of students and young female professionals behind him and held a roundtable with them before the speech.

There were light moments “My Household is 80% Women. Including my Mother in Law, I always include my Mother in Law” he stressed.

“Equal pay for equal work. It’s a simple plan” he said.

He promoted the Paycheck Fairness Act and raising minimum wages to $10 per hour and called on Congress to act. He ended the speech by promoting the Affordable Care Act and jabbed Republicans for not moving on equal pay solutions and instead trying to overturn Obamacare 50 times.

Other elected officials on hand included Senator Bill Nelson, Congressman Alan Grayson, and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

The President will head from Orlando this afternoon to a fundraiser in South Florida held by former Miami Heat Basketball Star Alonzo Mourning.

Obama at Valencia in Orlando

March Madness Challenge: Obama vs. Scott vs. Dyer vs. Jacobs vs. Torres

It’s that time of year again! It’s the FPFT March Madness Challenge and we’ve got a line-up of your elected officials and their NCAA College Basektball Brackets for 2014.

Participating this year are President Barack Obama, Florida Governor Rick Scott, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs.

Then finally, me…

Here is the President’s Bracket

Obama NCAA Bracket 2014

Final Four:

Florida
Arizona
Michigan St.
Louisville

Champion: Michigan St.

Here is Governor Scott’s Bracket

Rick Scott NCAA Bracket 2014

Final Four:

Florida
Cincinnati
Wisconsin
Louisville

Champion: Florida

Here is Mayor Buddy Dyer’s bracket from FB (I tweeted his office for a whole one but didn’t get it)

Final Four:

Florida
Michigan State
Wisconsin
Louisville

Champion: Florida

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs

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Final Four:

Florida
Creighton
Kent
North Carolina

Champion: Florida

Here is my bracket:

Frank Torres Orlando

Final Four

Florida
Arizona
Virginia
Witchita St

Champion: Florida

You’ll notice that all 3 of us Floridians picked the Gators. Unlike Scott, Dyer (who is a Gator, and Jacobs (who’s actually a Nole *Gasp*), I picked them because I actually think they can win.

In the past years I’ve done this, I usually lose to Dyer and Obama anyways.

If you’re an elected Official and want to jump in, let me know!

Mayor Buddy Dyer to Give State of the City on April 10th

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has announced that he will give his annual State of the City Address at 103AM on Thursday April 10th, outside Church Street in Downtown Orlando.

There the Mayor is expected to tout advances made in the City Beautiful over the last year and the progress of major projects currently being worked on in the area. Expect to hear about Sunrail, MLS Soccer, Crime Prevention, and Job Growth.

The Mayor’s State of the City usually includes something for the local Politico as well.

Last year, Buddy Dyer announced that he would not run for Governor of Florida, ending months on speculation. It retrospect, it was the right decision. Former Governor and Republican turned Democrat Charlie Crist jumped into that contest and seems destined to be the party’s nominee to challenge current Governor Rick Scott this November.

You can find more information on the graphic below.

State of the City