Election Dueling Begins Today

By Mark Schlueb | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted March 21, 2005

With Orlando's political future up for grabs, the City Council is expected to decide today whether to call a special election to replace suspended Mayor Buddy Dyer or to leave interim Mayor Ernest Page in charge.

The City Council's meeting is likely to be one of dueling legal opinions, with politicians waiting anxiously for a decision as they decide whether to launch whirlwind campaigns.

" I definitely intend to run again for mayor. But I'm not going to make a decision about whether to run in this shortened special election until I see what happens on Monday," said attorney Bill Sublette, adding that he hopes commissioners decide against an election because of the expense and uncertainty it would create.

City attorneys have advised commissioners that they have no choice but to schedule a special election within 45 days. But if the council follows that advice, attorneys for the Democratic Party and the Republican runner-up in last year's mayoral race both said they might take the city to court.

Dyer was suspended by Gov. Jeb Bush on March 11, hours after being charged with violating state election law.The Florida Constitution doesn't require Bush to suspend public officials under indictment, but Bush said that's his policy. District 6 City Commissioner Ernest Page, the mayor pro tem, stepped in that same day as interim mayor.

City Attorney Dykes Everett, in consultation with the governor's general counsel, said he studied the Florida Constitution, state law and the City Charter to determine that a special election must be held to fill Dyer's temporary absence.

If Dyer is acquitted, he would displace the winner of the special election and return to office. But city attorneys say a conviction would create a permanent vacancy that would require the council to hold a second special election to fill Dyer's unexpired term.

That, says attorney Steven Mason, defies common sense. Mason, who represents the Orange County Democratic Party, says the correct legal interpretation requires Page, as the mayor pro tem, remain in office until Dyer's case is resolved.

" The City Charter provides a mechanism for filling temporary mayoral vacancies and that does not include a special election," Mason said.

He hopes to argue his point before the City Council. He'll likely be joined by Fred O'Neal, the attorney for Ken Mulvaney, the second- place finisher in last year's race.

Mulvaney has gone to court to have all of the absentee votes cast in the 2004 election thrown out; he alleges a portion of those votes were tainted by fraud. If the court agrees to disqualify all of the absentees, it would mean Dyer would not win the 2004 election outright and would propel him into a runoff with Mulvaney.

The ruling also would affect Page, who dodged a runoff for his seat by fewer than 10 votes. Mark NeJame, Page's attorney, said that if Mulvaney is successful, his client could be forced to leave both the City Council and the mayor's office until a runoff could be held.

Several city commissioners, including Phil Diamond, Daisy Lynum and Patty Sheehan, said they aren't sure that a special election is the right path for the city.

But Everett said commissioners would be in violation of the City Charter if they don't set a date for a special election.

" I am operating on the assumption that the council will do what is required by law," he said.

Three candidates have said they will definitely run if a special election is held: Bill Frederick, who served as mayor from 1980- 1992; Sam Ings, a retired Orlando police captain who ran unsuccessfully last year; and perennial candidate Alex Lamour, who has mounted several losing campaigns in recent years.

Other possibles include Sublette and attorney Tico Perez, who both lost to Dyer in 2003.

Page said the council should follow the recommendation of its legal staff and call a special election. He would not say whether he would run.

" I think it would be ludicrous for me to discuss personal aspirations at this time," Page said. "I need to be a statesman and ensure the citizens that our city government is running smoothly."

Source: Orlando Sentinel