The Mayor's Speech
The meek may inherit the earth, but can Phil Diamond save Orlando?
Published: May 5, 2011
"Nobody's ever accused me of being dazzling."
Those are fitting words coming from the mouth of District 1 city Commissioner Phil Diamond, a man of measured reactions and quiet anxiety, likable smiles and the unassuming air of a father figure in a blue oxford shirt and understated tie. He's an accountant and tax attorney by trade who, on this (and probably every other) Thursday morning, is sipping black coffee over a copy of the Wall Street Journal at Einstein Bros. Bagels on South Orange Avenue. A few similarly normal people breeze by and shake his hand - this has been his district for some nine years - but if you didn't know better, Diamond would be the last person in the room you'd expect to be running for the city's highest office.
After years of speculation that he might do so, Diamond discretely took the plunge on April 5, filing the necessary paperwork at City Hall to enter into the 2012 mayoral race against longtime policy sparring partner, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. It was an uncharacteristically bold move for the commissioner, one that was characteristically met with little fanfare. A slow news day meant that Diamond could get a few points in - he'd pursue term limits, meaning the he himself could only serve for eight years (Dyer will be running for a fourth term, or his third full four-year term) - but beyond that, the media was left to speculate on Diamond's timing.
Dyer - freshly wounded by a public attack launched by new Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs on the proposed performing arts center, the startling end to a high-speed rail deal he largely brokered and a questionable future for the commuter train SunRail that was to be his legacy - was weakened and left to defend his failures. (He demurred to the Sentinel following the filing that, "I've never had an unopposed election, and I didn't expect to have one this year. We're just preparing for the election, whoever is on the ballot.")
Though he largely supported many of those big-ticket initiatives, Diamond has spent a good part of his tenure as the lone no vote to Dyer's highly incentivized take on local development. The stage was set: Diamond would be the dark horse candidate, albeit a reliably quiet horse averse to the show-pony circuit. The guy not beholden to what he repeatedly refers to as "special interests"; the responsible accountant in the room.
"Clearly [Dyer's] in there, and he will raise a lot of money," Diamond says. (Dyer's first-quarter fundraising has him already sitting comfortably atop a $125,000 war chest; Diamond filed after the deadline and did not disclose his current donations, which are due to the city on July 11). "I think that there are a lot of special interests that will be willing to support him. But I think at the end of the day, the voters will decide this race."
Those voters, he hopes, will see past the mascot sloganeering of the man named "Buddy," look beyond the skyline dreams of vertical development in the downtown core and soberly return to a "quality of life" perspective centered on the city servicing its full population via roads, schools, parks and garbage collection. But is the man that they will see - should his ambitions materialize - the kind of man that can be a political animal while still remaining the friendly churchgoing guy next door?
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