Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has an issue with food. Not only evident by his somewhat plump contour, but by his battle with the Orlando Chapter of Food Not Bombs, Dyer’s issues with food have ventured from the dinner table to Lake Eola Park and the Fifth District Court of Appeals. This battle, over the esteemed desire of a small grassroots organization to feed homeless citizens in Downtown Orlando, has brought international attention – and condemnation – after the arrest of several members of the non-violent organization. This undesired attention has left egg on the Mayor’s face, but at least he can eat that too.
The Orlando Chapter of Food Not Bombs began their homeless feeding program in 2006. At that time, the organization was quite small and thus only able to distribute small amounts of food to Orlando’s numerous down-trodden, doing so at Lake Eola Park. After complaints from the wealthy residents of the neighborhood, Dyer and the City Council enacted a city ordinance which necessitates a permit to hand out even a relatively small amount of food. This law was enacted specifically to deny Food Not Bombs, a left-wing group formed by anti-nuclear activists, the ability to feed the homeless at Lake Eola Park. However, the confrontation remained fairly low profile, until recently when Dyers’ self-loathing for food, combined with his blind allegiance to Orlando’s wealth, propelled him and Food Not Bombs into the international spotlight.
Beginning in April, 2011 and continuing to this day, members of the Orlando Chapter of Food Not Bombs have been arrested for violating the 2006 ordinance. These arrests originally garnered the attention of several local news outlets, which brought the issue more attention. Food Not Bombs, as well as several articles and opinion pieces, claim that Dyer is using this ordinance to ostracize and shield the homeless from view in ‘The City Beautiful.’ In an e-mail to Food Not Bombs Dyer made himself clear, “The Council’s approval of this ordinance is not about whether or not to feed the homeless it’s about location. The City has designated an area on Sylvia Lane for groups to set up feedings for the homeless, with tables, benches, portolets and security. This designated area is within blocks from community service agencies, providing easier access to needed services.” [Emphasis Mine]
Location, Location, Location
Although Mayor Dyer’s position seems at least somewhat reasonable, the framing of the issue around location does not help his cause. The referred to Sylvia Lane is a piece of property inconspicuously located outside of Downtown and situated “conveniently” under a section of highway – as if to make the stereotype of the homeless vagrant even more lucid. It is lined with a hideous chain-link fence and topped with barbed wire – to ensure the “wretched” remain in their place. Since Dyer claims the issue is only in regards to location, not a stigma against the homeless, why then does the city create such a despicable place to conduct group feedings?
Dyer has yet to comment on this and it seems that the choice of Sylvia Lane for the sight is nothing more than a conniving reclamation of an under-utilized Orlando Utility Company parking lot. The benefit for the city is two-fold; first, to ensure the homeless remain out of sight and, second, to get some use out of an otherwise useless piece of property. Not without pause for concern, this location – a former hot-spot for the dispossessed – is the scene of numerous dastardly assaults involving local teens who have beaten eight homeless men in the last several months, including August Felix, who died from his injuries. Again the silence from City Hall is deafening.
Who Needs the Help?
Although recently Dyer has suggested that Food Not Bombs conduct public feedings outside the doors of City Hall, Lake Eola Park is a more prime location and has become recognized and widely publicized as the location for Wednesday feeding events. Without access to media outlets, the down-and-out need a single, established, consistent and convenient location to access food to avoid the inevitable rumbling of their impoverished stomachs.
When asked at a recent City Council meeting why the Lake Eola Park was not a suitable location for feedings Dyer explained that, “There are a lot of people that feel very uncomfortable about using the park when your group is there.” When pressed on who these people were, Dyer remained silent. Clearly though, he is speaking for the residents in the Lake Eola area of Downtown.
Dyer is no novice when it comes to saddling up with the Who’s Who of Orlando Wealth. Anyone driving on I-4 through Downtown Orlando will surely notice the brand new Amway Center. While the old Amway Center sits vacant just blocks from its newer counterpart, for whom the taxpayer, guided by Mayor Dyer forked over nearly $480 million (apparently no recession here), the new arena is poised to make the Orlando Magic and its CEO, Alex Martins, a boatload. Simply put, the arena, funded by the City of Orlando is unable to reap the greatest reward for our investment, proceeds from Orlando Magic tickets. Instead, thanks to Mayor Dyer, these funds will go to the Orlando Magic (i.e. Alex Martin). The price tag for this lucrative agreement for Martins? A mere $50 million; a small price to pay for a man with $4 billion in the bank.
The record shows that Dyer is quick to help those with quick access to cash, but the question remains; who really needs the help?
Buddy Dyer is no novice when it comes to political heat as well; in fact, he is a seasoned veteran. After his successful 2004 Mayoral election against Ken Mulvaney, Dyer was investigated and charged with voter fraud. In March of 2005, Dyer was suspended by then-Governor Jeb Bush, but was reinstated after he was able to weasel out of the charges by utilizing a legal technicality called “pretrial intervention” or PTI. Florida law allows anyone charged with a nonviolent third-degree felony (for which voter fraud is a constituent) to apply for a PTI agreement wherein the charged need only abide by, or avoid, certain actions. Dyer, having already committed voter fraud, must simply avoid tampering with elections in the future – a relatively small price to pay for disgracing democracy.
Even Sisyphus would cringe at the political hill Dyer needs to climb given the nature of the battle with Food Not Bombs. Given the goals of the group, the Greek mythological metaphor, forever destined to roll a bolder up a hill only to see it fall back to its original position, may even cringe at the size of this bolder. Food Not bombs has remained a reasonable and well-organized group remaining vigilant that their only intention is to feed the hungry. Dyer, on the other hand, has positioned himself to be, at best, the homeless-herder of Orlando – wrangling the downtrodden into their feeding pen – while at worst being an out-of-touch politician who only serves the needs of the wealthy and his own appetite. While he obviously eats well in the comfort of his $800,000 home, there remain those without homes, just looking for a bite to eat.
At this point, capitulation may be Dyer’s only way to save face. However, embolden by the recent ruling in his favor by the Fifth District Court of Appeals, he seems poised to continue to fight. In this war of attrition, the inevitable victor is Food Not Bombs. With every arrest and every news-story, they recruit additional members and establish new and powerful allies. It appears that all Food Not Bombs has to do is continue their noble work, and eventually Buddy Dyer will have plenty of his words to eat.
Originally published on The Orlando Blog at http://theorlandoblog.com/2011/07/19/buddy-dyer%E2%80%99s-food-fight-orlando-political-controversy/