UCF players hug after losing the Fiesta Bowl game vs. LSU at State Farm Stadium in Phoenix on Jan. 1. LSU won the game 40-32. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)
Gary Cain, president, Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida
Last week: I was moved by the response of Parramore day care owner Lewanna Gelzer to 2019’s first homicide, which took place across the street from her business. “This is the community I grew up in. I want people to see us for who we are…please don’t judge us all as bad people.” Amen. That places like Parramore and Pine Hills have higher per capita crime rates is not a function of their geography, but rather of criminal elements that derive from lack of opportunity — which is thankfully on the decline. There are terrific things happening in Parramore, like UCF’s downtown campus, Orlando City Soccer Stadium, ACE Community School, and Farmer’s Market. Let’s continue to focus on the upward trajectory of this vibrant, historic downtown community.
Looking ahead: On Tuesday morning, Ron DeSantis will be formally sworn-in as the 46th Governor of the State of Florida. It’s a big deal. There is, though, perhaps a much bigger event taking place in Tallahassee next week – the appointment of three new Florida Supreme Court justices. With the terms of justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and R. Fred Lewis ending on January 8, the new Governor will select three from the list of 11 nominated. Consider this. With most of the nominees in their 40s and the mandatory retirement age of judges moved from 70 to 75 (Amendment 6 on your recent ballot), these picks could serve for 30-plus years. Yeah, this decision is pretty important. Congrats to Gov.-elect DeSantis and Godspeed in making these three crucial decisions for our judiciary.
Looking ahead: My heart pumps black and gold. As student body president, seven years as an administrator and 18 years representing the institution in the legislature, my life has revolved around UCF. In my office, hundreds of interns have been educated and received job offers. As a legislator, I sponsored the medical school, football stadium financing, the I-4 Partnership, funding for numerous buildings and the legislative bluff to force USF to play us. I even attended the first rain-soaked football game at St. Leo. Although it may be over, we should be proud of the UCF streak. Its significance will continue to echo in the halls of the NCAA cartel. The Streak has transformed the dialogue on the national championship and guarantees its expansion within a few years. Go Knights, Charge On!
Last week: As we pass the two-week mark of the partial government shutdown, America’s treasured and diverse National Parks are under distress. The trash is getting full, the toilets are clogging up and vandals are wreaking havoc. Furloughed workers aren’t there to do the job. Yet, in Florida’s four parks, a not-for-profit group, Florida National Park Association, has stepped up and is working to help as best they can to clean up the messes and guide national and international visitors who come, despite the political feud in Washington. This kind of ingenuity, pride and patriotism is one of the things that really makes America really great.
Tom Dyer, attorney, founder of Watermark
Last week: Rick Scott was sworn in as Florida’s junior U.S. Senator last Thursday. As the two-term governor of the nation’s most populous swing state, his actions will be closely monitored. Scott has always been in alignment with President Donald Trump on lowering taxes, removing regulations and repealing Obamacare. But toward the end of his second term, Scott veered ever-so-slightly left on gun control, health insurance for those with preexisting conditions and funding for the environment. Will Scott fall into line behind Trump, like most Republican senators? Or will he join just-elected Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and challenge this most disruptive president?
John L. Evans Jr., consulting unit chief for a global investment firm; former congressional staffer
Last week: Hurry. There’s still time. The key word before you and I invariably embark on the evergreen ritual of goal establishment for a new year: reflection. So please discard the “hurry” part. Because you just can’t when it comes to this critical component to successful achievement planning. Human beings are a mission-oriented species. We flourish when our actions align with what we deem as a purpose beyond self. So get your soul still, with motion. Walk, cycle, swim, and by all means, turn off the blasted “smart phone” and all digital noise. The little voice will make her glorious New Year’s debut, during active reflection. Then oblige her with appropriate goal-setting.
Last week: Let’s talk about “Bird Box,” a Netflix movie that is just that damn good! Now for the not so good…some people see a religious aspect to it, while others have theories that it is about racism, and social media. The one I hear the most is it being about “white privilege” …even more ridiculous. Yet even another theory involves mental health and society’s often negative portrayal of people suffering from mental illnesses. My view on this film is that it is a story of a mother-to-be trying to survive in an apocalyptic setting…that’s it. It also has one of the best scoring composers such as front man Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails. Sometimes movies just need to be viewed and enjoyed without adding some political or outside agenda to it. Hence, why I miss the TV sitcom Seinfeld…a show about nothing.
Francisco Gonzalez, philanthropy director, National Review Institute
Last week: Mitt Romney missed the mark this week. A newly minted U.S. Senator on his first days in Washington, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, slamming the President of his own party for lacking character. I get it, Mitt. We all get it. But why eat your own now? Mitt slammed the President during the Republican primary. After Trump won the Presidency, he invited Mitt to the White House for a meeting and later endorsed him for U.S. Senate. And Mitt turns around and backstabs him again? There’s one new U.S. Senator who needs to learn something about character.
Looking ahead: I am confident that with Mike Ertel being named the new Secretary of State under Governor-elect Ron DeSantis every county in this state will improve the voting process. Mike has been nothing short of impressive – the model of how to run elections and make the voter registration process easy – in his 13 years as Supervisor of Elections in Seminole County. He’ll also be the man in charge once Amendment 4 is implemented, restoring voting rights for many former felons. I’d like to congratulate Mike on his new post, but really this is a big win for all of Florida.
Jane Healy, former editorial page editor and managing editor, Orlando Sentinel
Looking ahead: Could any local environmental issue be more important this year than what happens with the proposed River Cross development? The Seminole County Commission resoundingly rejected this boondoggle mega-development last year. Yet the developers — led by lobbyist Chris Dorworth — stubbornly persist. The commission opposed this incursion into its east side rural area for good reason — it cares about the treasured Econlockhatchee River and its wildlife, which could be fatally harmed if River Cross is approved. Yet Dorworth won’t give up, going to federal court and probably the Legislature to get his way. The lawsuit is bunk and any sympathetic legislator doesn’t care a hoot about Florida treasures.
Last week: Like so many others in our community who did not attend UCF but love the team, I feel the pain of a great run coming to an end. Whether we are subjected to the subtraction of key players or the "way the ball bounces," all good things in this world do come to an end…yet their spirit and essence can be rebuilt into better iterations in the future. "Endings," whether in sports or relationships or seasons of life, are just another way of saying "beginnings.” The pain will pass, but our gratitude and opportunity lives on.
Looking ahead: The Thursday Sentinel’s front page juxtaposition of two headline stories — one about the newest Republicans/Democrat stalemate and the other about religion’s changing forms — is a glimpse of our future. Old forms of party affiliation or institutional baggage are not working for the "let’s just keep it personal and practical" generations to come. Even older generations don’t need the same corporate identity anymore if it just promises more procedures and hierarchies to bog down what actually will help people. People will still identify with movements that have value to others, but less and less with labels that have outlasted their effectiveness.
Last week: Spending money carelessly in the name of convenience seems baked into our culture. Over the holidays, one local magazine’s “must-haves” included a voice-activated faucet and a smartphone-connected frying pan. While surveys indicate that Americans are willing to budge on some extravagances, tech gadgetry appears non-negotiable. Unfortunately, so is food. Getting sustenance from a farm to your refrigerator consumes 50 percent of our land and 80 percent of our freshwater — yet over a third of the food produced in the U.S. rots in landfills, uneaten. Mindfulness at the grocery goes a long way toward saving your family money while helping protect our resources.
Last week: Now that the new year is here nothing seems more important than pulling our country together in 2019. After all, at the end of the day don’t we all want the same things: prosperity for all, justice, clean water and air and a safe and secure place for our children and grandchildren to live? The question obviously is how do we accomplish that? The answer is to stop believing the lies and disinformation spread by the Russians, Chinese and Donald Trump by turning off Facebook, Twitter and Fox News.
Looking ahead: One person holds the key to probably the biggest impact to Central Florida in decades and that is our newly elected, very popular and effective Orange County Mayor, Jerry Demings. As he implements his transition team recommendations, virtually every aspect of our daily lives will be positively impacted.
Last week: AdventHealth has been an essential community partner on homelessness since the region decided to pursue a Housing First strategy. With their initial investment of $6 million we were able to build a coordinated system of care, one where partners have housed over 339 of the most vulnerable individuals who were living on our streets. This week, AdventHealth announced a $500,000 gift to continue to support the Housing First Initiative through the Homeless Impact Fund at the Central Florida Foundation and through the work of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness. I am grateful for their continued generosity and leadership to make homelessness rare, brief and one-time in Central Florida.
Looking ahead: 2019 marks 100 years since women were granted the right to vote. As a record number of women took the oath of office in D.C., I am delighted to see that half of Central Florida’s delegation (both in D.C. and Tallahassee) are not only women but come from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Locally, a great group of diverse women in Orange County now sit on the board of Commissioners — all of whom will provide unique perspectives to Mayor Jerry Demings’ goals for the County. Let’s all resolve to continue being more inclusive and open to new ideas in 2019 and beyond.
Last week: Tis the season for New Year’s resolutions! About 60 percent of Americans make at least one resolution with approximately 71 percent of them focusing their goals on health and fitness. Unfortunately, a large majority of people do not persist past the second week of February and only about 8 percent actually achieve their goals. So, how does that 8 percent do it? They have realistic expectations for what they can actually accomplish over the next year, understand that specific goals are better than vague ones, and consider seriously what sacrifices must be made in order to succeed. Keep this in mind and 2019 will be a great year!
Looking ahead: January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The Junior Leagues of Orlando, Tampa and Daytona Beach want your help to raise awareness coast-to-coast by following along in our social media awareness campaign featuring community leaders along the I-4 corridor who are taking a stand against human trafficking. Statistics rank Florida as the third-highest human trafficking destination in the United Stateswith half of all trafficking victims under the age of 18. Want to see how to help? Find out more at www.jlgo.org or check out the hashtag #jlflcoast2coast.
Last week: Days continue to pass with no end in sight of the partial government shutdown. Have our political leaders forgotten their ability to compromise? It’s clear that immigration and the wall are the cause; however, a government shutdown solves nothing. It’s time our leaders come together and settle this debate. The irony of the situation is that those who enforce our border security are working without pay and the politicians who aren’t compromising are getting paid. Our president and representatives should be working together to find a solution rather than making a political statement. We must never hold our government employees hostage to political ideology.
Last week: On Thursday, China announced that its Chang’e 4 lunar explorer became the first ever probe to soft-land on the far side of the moon. The six-wheeled rover lander is loaded with a variety of cameras and sensors, including ground-penetrating radar to peer beneath the lunar surface. Chang’e 4’s mission is largely scientific, but also a preparation for sending Chinese astronauts to the lunar surface. Only 12 humans have ever set foot on the moon, and all of them were Americans. As China becomes the U.S.’s main competition in space, Florida’s space industry has to prepare itself for a serious challenge.
Last week: The space probe dubbed New Horizons has buzzed the proverbial tower, only this tower happens to be 4 billion (yes, with a “B”) miles from earth. Named Ultima Thule – not a bad name for a comics supervillain – it’s part of the Kuiper Belt and “the most distant world ever visited by humankind.” Only 20 miles in diameter, Ultima Thule may hold the key to how planets form in galaxies. Unfortunately, the current government shutdown took NASA-TV offline and prevented the public from viewing the live fly-by. Could the discovery of life in the universe be missed due to politics?!
Looking ahead: My wish for 2019 is for the spirit of goodwill to remain with us throughout the year. After all, our region still has needy, hungry, and homeless among us long after the decorations are stored. The holidays bring out our best, but so do continuous examples of generosity and kindness. AdventHealth just pledged up to $500,000 for sustained housing for the homeless, with the greatest share of the gift dependent on future matching grants. Do you hear what I hear? This is a call to the community to engage. The homeless efforts, like many other worthy causes, should continue to receive our goodwill in 2019.
Last week: Today is my birthday. On this day I reflect on the countless blessings I have. Good health, a loving family, success, a full refrigerator, a beautiful and safe home, health care, etc. Please don’t interpret this, though, to suggest that my life is without its share of challenges or difficulties. They are there. However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to keep my priorities balanced and not to sweat what are truly the small things… what I call First World Problems. At this very moment, other fathers are watching their children die because they can’t afford food for survival; children are being raped, killed, or tortured; many of the world’s 80 percent who make $10 a day or less can’t provide a home, safety, or life-saving health care to themselves or their families; and danger lurks everywhere for many with no way out. I’ve been given the gifts of perspective and appreciation and for those I am truly grateful.
Looking ahead: One of the best parts of Orlando’s creative community is close collaboration. This weekend, Central Florida Community Arts Theater opens “A Doll’s House” — Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play. In the last scene of that play, the main character, Nora, leaves her house and her family. “A Doll’s House Part 2” begins with Nora returning home many years later to settle some unfinished business. The modern sequel was written by Orlando native Lucas Hnath and opened on Broadway in 2017. Orlando Shakes brings “Part 2” to Central Florida, and it runs concurrently with CFCArts’ production of the original. A wonderful picture of two arts organizations collaborating to bring a special pair of plays to Orlando.
Brendan O’Connor, editor in chief, Bungalower.com
Last week: The I-4 Ultimate keeps slogging forward, like a brow-beaten professional wrestler who’s been smacked with one too many foldable chairs. FDOT just opened a new overpass over Colonial Drive providing eastbound access to the interstate via Amelia Street, one that, if you recall, was being monitored for being a crack-ridden mess. Anyway, nervous Nellies are already taking bets about how long that support structure will last once open to the public. Prove us wrong, FDOT!
Looking ahead: People are wearing blindfolds and recording themselves stumbling out into the world in an ongoing series called the "Bird Box Challenge" or rather "Proof of Darwinism." Yelling at them to take off the blindfold won’t help either, if you’ve seen the Netflix movie of the same name that features Sandra Bullock abusing her children and chewing on the scenery. It’s more of the same for a world that was given the "In My Feelings" challenge last year where people literally played in traffic whenever Drake came on.
Last week: Sleepy Seminole County must be waking up – or better stated, others are waking up to Seminole County. First, Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel is recruited to be Florida’s next Secretary of State, a post in which he’ll oversee the state’s messy elections apparatus. Later, as I am perusing the results of Congress’ votes for Speaker of the House I see that Seminole’s own Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy (Dem.-Dist. 7) got one vote, tying with six others, including former Vice President Joe Biden, who no longer holds public office. Not bad company to be in. Seminole is changing demographically and politically. People, pay attention.
Beverly Paulk, founding member, Central Florida Foundation and The Orlando Philharmonic
Last week: We live in the timeshare capital of the world with emphasis on buying. But sometimes owners experiencing hardships or life changes need to sell. The process is unnecessarily complicated. How do we identify competent “exit” companies from unscrupulous ones that earn scary headlines? From ethical friends involved in the exit business, I’ve learned: Run from companies that charge up-front fees. Look for a responsive company with strong attention to detail. Compare the process, if any, offered by the company where purchased to the exit company’s process. Remember that lower sales-commission companies frequently encourage lower sales prices, giving sellers less money.
Joseph F. Pennisi, founding executive director, Florida Policy Institute
Last week: The new year saw Florida’s minimum wage increase from $8.25 per hour to $8.46. That’s good news for many Floridians. But is it good enough for a family struggling to get by? That family, with one wage earner working full time, would bring home $17,600 annually, well below $25,100, the federal poverty level for a family of four. We clearly need to bring more high paying jobs here, but there will always be a sizable portion of our economy built on tourism and retail. For those who toil in that economy the minimum wage needs to rise much higher.
Looking ahead: The Magic “just weren’t good enough out there”. That’s the assessment of center Nikola Vucevic after a recent loss. It’s a reality that applies to more than one contest. Struggling a few games below .500, the team is once again going nowhere. Even if they manage to make the playoffs, they’re surely first-round fodder. The team is on their fifth coach in the past five years and their second front office. Attention must turn to the players and who among them should be here moving forward. That process must start now with the NBA trade deadline just a month away.
Larry Pino, attorney and entrepreneur
Last week: As we watched this past Sunday’s episode of Outlanders on Showtime, it occurred to me that the migration of Scots to North Carolina in the 18th century was not dissimilar to the migration of our nation’s Northeast and Midwest to Florida today. Florida is today what North Carolina was in the late 1700’s — the opportunity for a new life and new beginnings. America and its various cities offer wonderful venues, cultures and history, but Florida and particularly Central Florida continue to offer such an easy way of life – to raise a family, make a living, and simply enjoy ourselves – there is little question why it continues to post double-digit growth for decades.
Rob Rosen, partner, Burr & Forman
Last week: All great things come to an end. Congratulations to the UCF Knights’ football team on your incredible run. You have shown tremendous pride, poise and character through the pressure and adversity. Not only has it been an amazing 2 years, but you have raised the visibility and stature of the University of Central Florida, the football program, the athletic program and the Central Florida metropolitan area. You have put UCF on the map at the national level.
Joanie Schirm, GEC founding president; World Cup Orlando 1994 Committee chairman
Last week: Every calling is great when greatly pursued. Over five decades, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson saw public service as a noble calling. With loving wife Grace at his side, Nelson began his service in the State Legislature for Brevard. After serving in the U.S. House, he became state insurance commissioner and treasurer before returning to Washington in 2000 as U.S. Senator, working alongside Sen. Bob Graham. He rarely touted personal achievements, such as being an early champion of the environment and creating a blueprint forward for our nation’s space agency. With never a hint of scandal or conflicts of interest, Nelson served as a thoughtful, moderate voice in an increasingly partisan political world.
Looking ahead: As Rick Scott becomes our U.S. Senator on Jan. 8, let’s hope when he leaves office his record will show the same honorable service, working for productive bipartisanship, as Sen. Bill Nelson’s legacy exemplifies. With Scott’s committee assignments to include Armed Services; Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Homeland Security and Government Affairs; Budget; and Aging, he’ll need to represent Floridian’s interests. Healthcare funding that protects pre-existing conditions and accessible, affordable premiums, accepting climate change affecting commerce, transportation, and security (expect more violent storms), and wage equality for those aging and on a budget are included. As the deficit soars, we’ll watch to ensure our tax dollars are spent to help most Americans.
Last week: When China’s space agency landed a rover on the back side of the moon this week, it sent a clear signal that we’ve started a new space race. Continued U.S. investment in space exploration both by NASA and by our burgeoning private sector space industry will be essential to ongoing success. It also proves that Space Florida, the state’s economic development organization for aerospace and aviation, was a great concept. The agency continues to attract more and more industry to the Space Coast and, given the history of technological advances directly related to the space program, the return on investment should be exciting.
Rick Singh, property appraiser, Orange County
Last week: Congratulations to all the local governments, law enforcement, organizers, staff and volunteers for the outstanding execution of recent events in and around the downtown Orlando area. Three bowl games – the December 15 AutoNation Cure Bowl, the December 28 Camping World Bowl, and the January 1 VRBO Citrus Bowl – and an all-new Citrus Bowl parade held on December 29, brought thousands of spectators to the City Beautiful. It is thrilling to host football fans from as far away as Syracuse, and marching bands from all over the country when the weather is perfect and show them a great time. We local folks benefit, too. In just two weeks, these events are said to have generated an estimated $80 to $100 million boost to the local economy. Well done!
Looking ahead: Homeownership is still the American dream, but in Central Florida it may be even farther away as rent prices continue to rise faster than in any major city in the country, and saving money to purchase a home becomes a budget challenge. Reported by Zillow, Central Florida average rent grew to $1,472 in November 2018, representing a 4.4 percent increase compared to the national increase of 0.5 percent. Complicating this issue for local residents is that the availability of rental properties is actually decreasing. But, the most important factor in this growing housing concern is whether area wages are high enough to pay the rent. I see a strong need for an emphasis – and funding – on affordable housing, in standalone projects and as a percentage of units in newly developed communities.
Last week: The first week of the year is dominated with football and parades for many here in Central Florida. Easterseals Florida supporters were watching the Rose Bowl Parade. At 12:30 the Easterseals float appeared on our television screens. Easterseals is observing its 100th year of providing services to Americans with disabilities and had a float in the parade to kick off the year-long celebration. Jeff Revels did a terrific job as the executive director of the all new Orlando Citrus Parade. Unfortunately, UCF’s football team lost in the Fiesta Bowl. It ended the nation’s longest winning streak, but it was a great ride.
Last week: The electronic traffic signs along I-4 are hitting the message hard that texting while driving is against the law. While 92 percent of the cellphone-carrying population has texted while driving in the last 30 days, it’s time to take a sobering look at some statistics. An average 2+ ton motor vehicle traveling at 70 mph takes only 4 feet to stop when driven by a drunk driver, but takes 36 feet and 70 feet respectively when driven by a driver sending or reading a text. 25 percent of all motor vehicle crash fatalities are caused by distracted texting drivers. Let’s all make a New Year’s resolution to stop texting while driving.
Last week: To celebrate our new beginning as AdventHealth, we’re donating $100,000, plus up to $400,000 in matching funds, to Central Florida’s Housing First initiative. Housing First, which has become a national model emulated by other cities to combat homelessness, provides homes, support services and case managers to the chronically homeless. Over the past several years, we have strongly supported regionwide efforts to provide safe, permanent to our homeless neighbors, which in turn improves their health. Hundreds have moved into permanent housing in that time, and over 90 percent of those are still housed. But hundreds more are in need. Please consider donating by visiting www.cffound.org/homeless.