Lessons Learned, Grayson’s Back

Running in a new House district, the controversial Democrat will try to temper his attitude.

Alan Grayson seems like his old self at an Occupy Orlando rally in October. Here he talks with Blair Edwards while some protesters look on.

John B. St. Lawrence

In a subtle but calculated effort, fiery former Congressman Alan Grayson says he is dialing back his demeanor as he gears up for a comeback campaign that he hopes will erase the stigma of being a one-term wonder.

Admittedly, this is probably the first time the words “subtle” and “Alan Grayson” have appeared in the same article, much less the same sentence.

Politically, he is still unabashed after being crushed in 2010—a terrible year for freshman Democrats who rode the Obama wave in 2008—by soft-spoken Republican Daniel Webster, the longtime state legislator and Tea Party favorite. His searing rhetoric and audacious manner (rudeness, some might call it) turned off even die-hard centrist Democrats in his last campaign, which ended with him polling only 38 percent of the vote.

Grayson prefers to call his attempt at  image adjustment an “evolution of my personal style.” Relaxing over a Sunday brunch at Peach Valley Café, not far from his Dr. Phillips area home, he insists that his unequivocal left-of-center message is essentially the same, but that “it’s not necessary for a public official to be boring”—or unnecessarily offensive.

That Grayson, 53, still refuses to disavow his infamous 2010 “Taliban Dan” campaign commercial, which equated Webster’s views on women’s issues to those of Muslim extremists, could be reason enough to view his new approach with skepticism. It may well be that, as the French statesman Talleyrand observed of the Bourbon monarchy, Grayson has learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

He is running in one of Florida’s new congressional districts mandated by the recent census. As of presstime, the unnamed district’s boundaries hadn’t been drawn. Former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings has filed to take on Webster in Grayson’s old 8th District.

Although not the media darling he once was, Grayson still appears in the national spotlight. His less biting tone was evident in his recent heartfelt defense of Occupy Wall Street protesters on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, although he couldn’t resist one reflexive dig: “Wall Street wrecked the economy, and in three years, no one was held responsible.’’ The 20-second cri de coeur won him the first standing ovation in the show’s history, and went viral on YouTube, with nearly 500,000 views.  

In October, Grayson, sporting his trademark American flag tie, spoke to Occupy Orlando protesters at Sen. Beth Johnson Park following their downtown march. If you are out of work, without health care or under water on your mortgage, he said, “It’s not your fault”—despite what some in the Republican Party claim. Then, fully in his element before the sympathetic, enthusiastic crowd, he seemed to revert to his vintage, exuberant style, finishing by leading the chant, his fist raised: “The people, united, will never be defeated!”

Over brunch, he acknowledged the irony that, at least economically, his self-made, multimillion-dollar fortune made as a trial lawyer places him squarely among the nation’s wealthiest 1 percent, rather than the movement’s 99 percent.

As of early November, the Grayson campaign had raised more than $550,000, much of it from individuals who donated, on average, $38 each. Those numbers would seem to point to strong support for his return to Capitol Hill. But the thought of hearing Grayson mock Republicans in speeches on the House floor, as he did for two years, won’t sit well with the GOP and the PACs that support its candidates. He’ll be a target for defeat, just as he was in 2010 when he outraised Webster $5 million to $1.3 million, only to watch conservative PACs pour $5 million into the race.

The cost of instant national fame—his infamous “die quickly” speech on the House floor in 2009—was to make him a lightning rod for criticism. A career politician might have mitigated the backlash with an immediate apology, followed by a cooling-off period. Not one to offer apologies easily or admit mistakes, however, Grayson charged ahead with inflammatory rhetoric that, in the view of many, did more damage to him than his critics could.
With two years between campaigns and a fresh start by running in a newly configured district, Grayson now has the chance to refine not so much his message but his delivery of it. He’s sure to be heard, but the question is: How will he be received?


Want to all but assure yourself a parking space in front of City Hall? Get an electric vehicle. If you did, soon you would find a lot of other parking spots around Central Florida that are reserved just for you.

Resembling a thinner version of a gas pump (above), the curbside charging station on Orange Avenue is seldom in use. But someday Jonathan Ippel expects EVs like Nissan’s Leaf and Chevrolet’s Volt to be quietly rolling along our roads. That is why Ippel, Orlando’s sustainability manager, says he hopes to see 350 additional charging stations installed around Central Florida in the next few months. A $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy is behind the expansion of ChargePoint stations in the area. The region was one of nine nationwide included in the DOE program. Being a target market for electric car sales was among the criteria for being chosen. 

Other than in front of City Hall, you can find them—most likely not in use—all over the area. Dozens are scattered from Eustis to St. Cloud and from Clermont to DeLand. For a map showing ChargePoint stations in the area, go to chargepointamerica.com and click on Charging Stations, then click on Find Charging Stations on the home page’s top bar.

Depending on the vehicle, a full charge at a ChargePoint station will take four to seven hours, costing about $1.50. Users pay at the pump with credit cards or a ChargePass smart card. Now all the pumps need are cars.

– Jordan Snyder

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