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8/19/2010

Columns > Happytown

Happytown
Illustration by Shan Stumpf

 

Editor's note: This column has been edited for clarification.

Make it stop! The fetid stench of acrimony and its obstacle course of cardboard yard-sign vanity, the televised attack ads, the curled up mailers warping in the afternoon storms like so many dead trees, the realization that for the next three months you are literally going to hate that guy two houses down from you even though you’ve never met him – all of that white (and sometimes black) political noise comes to a head with the primary election next Tuesday, Aug. 24. And then it starts right back up again until we all die from exhaustion in November.

Well, here in what is now the panic room (formerly known as Happytown™ HQ), we don’t usually sweat the primary elections enough to cough up anything resembling an “official” endorsement. That wrenching act of futility is usually reserved for November when everything is all “D” or “R” or “yes” or “no.” But this year is different, see. This year there are a couple of heated non-partisan county races (plus a sprinkling of bigger partisan battles), enough of them that we figured if we didn’t purge ourselves now – thereby waving a wand of subjective judgment that we can later regret – we might just get fat. You won’t like us when we’re fat. So here goes: your semi-official, not-at-all comprehensive pseudo-endorsements for the 2010 primary election. Use at your own discretion. (Check out www.ocfelections.com to find out everything you need to know about where to vote in Orange County).

In the most talked-about local race, the Orange County mayoral fracas, we’re going to go out on a limb and throw our lack of muscle behind wild-eyed Linda Stewart, mostly because her grassroots activism most resembles what we like to see in local government: less bullshit posturing, more hopeful skepticism. None of the four contenders will likely achieve the 50 percent margin required to avoid a November run-off, so in the event Stewart doesn’t win, we’ll gladly settle for Bill Segal (who proves that development doesn’t have to be a bad thing when handled correctly, but loses us when he starts to talk about cutting millage rates in the middle of a recession) or Teresa Jacobs (her attention to detail makes her a likable thorn in the status quo’s side; her stance on gay issues leaves a lot to be desired). We think Matt Falconer, however, is fiscally dangerous and needs to go away.

The Orange County commission races don’t offer much to hold our interest: incumbents Fred Brummer and Tiffany Moore Russell are likely to keep their seats, and former commissioner Ted Edwards seems like a shoe-in to ride out the final two years of Segal’s District 5 seat (his main opponent, Maitland Mayor Doug Kinson, is a little too “small business” codespeak for our tastes). The chance to fill Stewart’s sequined shoes in District 4 should go to well-spoken Belle Isle commissioner Lydia Pisano; she’s a badass who is refusing donations from county contractors and who would have demanded more cash from the Magic for the arena. Oh, and as for that school board chair position that you’re now able to vote on, you’ll have to take your own pick. Both Homer Hartage and Bill Sublette have long rap sheets in these parts, and Leona Rachman started (and ruined) a fucking cyber school; let’s just say if you’re a Democrat, you’ll probably vote for Hartage.

Of the remaining big-ticket races, only one bears mentioning here (we’re not going to endorse Marco Rubio, Rick Scott, Jeff Greene or Bill McCollum for anything, ever; Alex Sink and Kendrick Meek are obvious inevitabilities, however lukewarm). We were initially torn in the Democratic fight to replace McCollum as the state’s attorney general. On the one hand, Dave Aronberg is better looking, gives better speeches and even told us once that he would agree to an interview on a motherfuckin’ boat (shirtless!... We hoped). But as the race heated up – and Aaronberg started tossing misleading invective funded by Republican hate money – Dan Gelber’s Atticus Finch-like stature won us over. He may be deadly serious, but serious is just what that office needs right now after nearly a decade of crazy-hate. We’ll pass on the boat trip, Dave. Sigh.

Now go vote!

Last week, legendary folk singer Neil Young announced a string of Gulf Coast concerts from Sept. 20-28 in an effort to help “the economic impact of the oil spill.” Young, an outspoken activist, is teaming with Tyson Foods to deliver “four truckloads of chicken” to the Bay Area Food Bank, claiming a “long-standing friendship between him and Tyson.” Call us crazy (Horse), but aside from the unfortunate imagery that statement conjures of Young gorging himself on (Gulf?) oil-battered fried chicken courtesy of his “friend” John Tyson, the whole endeavor seems like a strange fit. After all, over the course of the last decade, Tyson has been involved in countless lawsuits arising from things like violations of the Clean Water Act (the company pleaded guilty to 20 felony violations and paid $7.5 million) to dangerous ammonia levels (it settled). In one suit, settled for $7.3 million, Tyson used chicken waste as fertilizer, thus polluting drinking wtaer in Tulsa, Okla. That’s not even counting the company’s long-running arguments with PETA over its chicken-choking antics, Tyson’s false advertising that its products are “Raised without antibiotics” and the company’s payout to African-American workers over a “Whites Only” sign posted on a bathroom door in Alabama. (Although we’ll grant, that’s the cost of doing business in Alabama.)

And Young, who co-founded Farm Aid to support small farmers, is its “friend?” To add insult to injury, Young concludes the press release by saying, “[Tyson Foods and I] both encourage concert-goers to spend money locally and support local business.” Uh-huh. Keep on rocking, Neil.

Recently, after an exhausting session of self-flagellation brought on by wild fantasies about the JetBlue flight attendant sliding down our inflatable chute, we were happy to find the monthly newsletter from Exchange Ministries, the Orlando-based gay-to-straight conversion warehouse/church. You might remember the leader the church, John Westcott, creeping out Bill Maher in Religulous. After squealing with delight (and just a little bit of discomfort) at the sight of our favorite aggregator of all things un-gay – the “Exchange Fun Night for men,” encouragement to “open up” and receive the love Westcott has for gay (“confused”) men – we found something a little bit off. Well, at least as unusual as everything else contained in every Exchange newsletter.

At the bottom – ha! – is a financial info box listing Exchange Ministries’ “Monthly Need” (always around $7,000), its “Current Shortfall” (ranging wildly month-to-month from $15k to $30k) and its “Unpaid Payroll & Payroll Liabilities” (between $11k and $19k). In other words, it’s a monthly reminder that Exchange Ministries is desperately broke, hopelessly in the red and they need your money now. To the federal paperwork!

We took a little peek at Exchange’s most recent tax declaration, and it left us even more puzzled. See, Exchange has reported a steady increase in income (100 percent of which is from public contributions, i.e. bigots and coerced gays) throughout the decade. In 2008, Exchange declared a total income of $91,045. They pay no rent, virtually no taxes ($852 in payroll taxes), and Westfall’s four employees – a chairman, two board members and a secretary – were listed as receiving zero income from Exchange Ministries that year. Where did the $91k go? To Westfall, mostly: $79,834 of it. After $1,600 in shipping and postage costs and around $14k going to “conferences, meetings, travel and supplies,” Exchange Ministries was in the hole more than $5,000 for the year.

So that’s why every newsletter asks the flock to “please agree in prayer with us for God’s financial provision for the ministry, director and his family.” After he’s paid himself 89 percent of all the church’s income while stiffing his fellow workers on either a salary or benefits, and after all that travel and postage, there’s nothing left! The $80,000 per-year-earning Westfall is heading up a money-losing business. Pray with us now, homos.

happytown@orlandoweekly.com
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