We went on a date with the state attorney candidates
Published: August 8, 2012
"First of all, I'm running a 98,500-case office, and I have not taken time off to campaign," he says. "My opponent is essentially working full days, full nights to campaign. I can't do that. I don't intend to do that."
More slagging of said opponent, Jeff Ashton (of Casey-palooza fame), follows with mentions of "whining" and whatnot, but the fact that Lamar is doing this while methodically stabbing the spaces between the tines of his fork with his knife is too distracting to let them sink in. Politics are more fun when there's stabbing.
As with most first dates, this one kicks off with a long history of Lamar-by-numbers, which is a lot like Central Florida crime-by-numbers, seeing as Lamar has been iron-fisting this community since the '70s. For a good 20 minutes, he gives a solid run-through of his professional biography. Military intelligence? Check. Upward mobility in the state attorney's office? Check. Elected to the vaunted title of Orange County Sheriff on a grass-roots, crime-hating platform in 1981? Check. He saw organized crime ("We had a Gambino influence here, satellited out of Tampa," he says, adding intrigue) taking advantage of the lack of criminal prosecution that one would associate with a region that blew up too quickly in the shadow of The Mouse. He wanted to do something about all the prostitution and exploitation a dusty old Florida postcard might imply.
"I took over a fairly disorganized sheriff's office," he says. "I put in normal management practices, normal patrol and investigation practices, established a liaison with the state attorney's office. We built a lot of cases. The problem was there was no jail space."
That meant that Lamar's new normal would come to include publicity stunts in the name of politics, like that one time when he gathered all the police chiefs and sheriffs that he knew and declared a "jail emergency!" much to the chagrin of the Orange County Board of Commissioners who were, to hear Lamar tell it, more interested in building sewers for sprawl – thereby bringing big campaign donations – than they were in dealing with crime.
"Thirteen days later, I was seated at the dais with the county commissioners and they're grinning and they're announcing a jail-construction plan," he grins. "Guess what happened: I led the state of Florida for seven years in crime reduction for any metro area, because we did normal law enforcement stuff."
Arpaio," he says, "but no pink underwear.")
"Have you eaten here before? The food is great! If you go down the center and below, the bottom half, the chicken Marsala is great, chicken piccata is fantastic, their salads are all wonderful, all the calzones, you name it!"
Now, we're dating. "Do you always order the same thing?" I ask.
"No, there's four things," he says, knife stabbing fork again. "But it's always the same salad."
> Email BILLY MANES