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The Mayors Go to Bat

I give Crotty some props for dialing back spending in the county and taking a more cautious approach than Dyer to building the downtown performing arts center.

Rich Crotty is bunting while Buddy Dyer is swinging for the fences.

That’s how our two mayors, of Orange County and Orlando, respectively, are batting as the recession drags on and their political careers enter what could be their final innings.

Crotty is a lame duck and politically moribund for the foreseeable future, having decided not to run against Orlando Congressman Alan Grayson. In his final year of office, Crotty could have tried to steal home plate with some bold initiative. You know, something he would be remembered for.

But instead of launching an effort uniquely his own, such as pursuing consolidation with municipalities in the county, Crotty appears to be focusing on the mundane. For example, he has spent a lot of time trying to lure businesses to the area. Nothing wrong with that, but landing, say, JetBlue Airways, which he didn’t, isn’t something that gets your number retired.

Now, if he had persuaded Apple to leave Cupertino, Calif., for Orlando, then he’d have pulled off a game changer that would’ve been hard for any successor to top. We’d rename the convention center AND International Drive after him.

Still, I give him some props for dialing back spending in the county and taking a more cautious approach than Dyer to building the downtown performing arts center.

Crotty may leave office best known for having made a killing on a land deal that smelled rotten or for having raised tolls—unless he ties his name to an effort that endears him to voters. In the meantime, I’d advise him to wait until he’s out of office before hanging out with the boys in a smoke-filled room again.

Dyer, on the other hand, is hitting for the bleachers that Crotty’s been sitting in while watching the year play out.

The city’s mayor has two more years left in his second term and isn’t limited on the number of stints he can serve. But if you thought he would bide his time waiting for the economy to improve before he went back to his old ways of throwing money out of his office window, well, you would be wrong.

He’s borrowed $129 million in bonds so he can get part of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts off the drawing table and onto the property across from City Hall. Altogether, the first phase of construction (two of the three performance halls) will cost $250 million, with the city coming up with $31 million in a later bond sale. The rest of the money is coming from $65.6 million in arts center donations and other sources.

Dyer’s run-up of debt is a risky move because the city plans to repay the bonds by tapping a special downtown tax district that’s had negative growth. Separately, a bond rating service reportedly warned last month that the slump in tourism tax collections could cause the city to default on debt payments for the new Amway Center.

But Dyer is a believer in risk and reward. He is gambling, with other people’s money, of course, that the arts center project and the opening of the arena in October will aid downtown’s recovery. At the same time, he’s betting the economy will be healthy by 2013, when phase one is completed.

If he hits a grand slam, get ready to address him as Mayor for Life (or congressman or governor).

But if he strikes out, Crotty will have gone out with a better legacy without really breaking a sweat.

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