It’s hard to remember an Orlando when Buddy Dyer wasn’t Mayor.
Lake Nona was a cow pasture. Creative Village was parking lot borderland between downtown’s prosperity and Parramore’s desperation. The Citrus Bowl was a dump. Church Street was going to seed. A new downtown performing arts center was a wistful dream, and commuter rail an abandoned one. Commercial corridors were characterless. Orlando wasn’t leading the state in economic growth 55 months in a row, or, for that matter, any months in a row very often.
There was no recognition of Orlando as one of the most inclusive cities in the country. There was no vision for transforming the City Beautiful into a Green City Beautiful.
Dyer has been in office nearly 17 years now, and for the past 10 years, the decade of the 2010s, he has overseen its blossoming, much of it from what he planted in his first terms. Dyer has owned the decade in Orlando.
“He’s Orlando’s Mayor for life,” said Tallahassee lobbyist Gus Corbella. “He is beloved in his community and serves as a very progressive leader and somebody who is very approachable.”
Dyer’s 54-point reelection victory in November likely would dissuade any serious challenges to that title.
The man who calls himself “the happiest mayor in America” still has critics. They contend he works too closely with establishment power brokers and not with ordinary people. The city still struggles with issues of low wages, affordable housing shortages, struggling neighborhoods, homelessness, opioid addictions and transportation congestion.
But Dyer’s efforts in the 2010s have been characterized as working with the establishment power brokers often to fulfill his visions for ordinary people, visions that have not very often strayed far from progressive ideals.
There was no clearer example than what followed Orlando’s darkest day, June 12, 2016, when a madman killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at the popular gay nightclub Pulse. From executive offices to the streets, Dyer helped turn tragedy into a new city ethos of love, healing and inclusion.
“Mayor Dyer has led our region with a bias toward action,” said lobbyist Kelly Cohen, a former top aide to Dyer. “He is singularly focused on making Orlando a future-ready city. The continuity in leadership has allowed Orlando to become a world-class destination leading the country in job creation, sustainability and inclusivity.”