A pox on all their houses
Phil Anderson caused a runble with the Winter Park Chamber. Image via Facebook.

phil anderson edit
No wonder people believe our institutions have failed us — because they have.

“A pox on both your houses.”

Shakespeare introduces those words in “Romeo and Juliet” as Romeo’s friend Mercutio dies and proclaims the now-famous phrase.

In modern times, it is used to call out multiple sides of issues for showing indifference or hypocrisy.

As most of you know, I get deeply involved in (and very familiar with) Bay Area local races, particularly those in St. Pete.

Local races around the state? Not as much.

But after reading what our intrepid reporter Scott Powers recently reported about the Winter Park mayoral campaign, I became intrigued.

And the more I delved into this issue, the more amazed I became. Let me set the stage for you.

The Winter Park Chamber of Commerce holds a candidate debate with a small in-person audience and a virtual audience. The candidates and the Chamber president are lined up across the front of the room, with a debate moderator seated in the middle facing the candidates.

Toward the end of the debate, moderator Lee Steinhauer reads a question from the virtual audience.

The question asks how each candidate would handle matters at the city to avoid what the questioner calls “blatant collusion” between Commissioners on a recent and controversial development project — a testy question for sure.

But this is local politics; I’ve seen lots of crazy and outrageous questions at local debates. Many of them are much more incendiary than this one, particularly because neither candidate currently sits on the Commission.

What happened next, I’ve never seen.

Sarah Sprinkel responds first and shakes her head before answering. Phil Anderson expresses outrage at the question, asking for a moment to compose himself before he answers. Each candidate is then given time for closing.

Here’s where it goes off the rails.

After the debate, Anderson immediately beelines past the male moderator to the female president of the Chamber, pulling her microphone out of its stand. Anderson holds it down behind him, clearly trying to prevent anyone from hearing, and (according to the Chamber) exclaims: ‘Never do that again!”

The Chamber then reports “that the candidates’ anger and proximity prompted (Chamber President) Gardner Eckbert to ask if she was being threatened and prompted a Chamber employee to run to the podium to insert herself between the two. The exchange was described as inappropriate and disturbing by some who witnessed it.”

Folks, this wasn’t in a part of Florida where the men are cattle rustlers by day and elected officials at night. This was in the tony town of Winter Park, Central Florida’s Coral Gables.

And the candidate wasn’t some red-hat-wearing MAGA supporter; it was Anderson, a well-known Democratic donor and patron.

I’ve heard that many in Winter Park are upset at such a question being asked, saying it was unfair and out of bounds.

And that somehow makes the Chamber female president responsible for the question, and therefore she deserved what she got.

Really?

It sounds like the excuses down through the ages; her skirt was too high, her blouse was too low, she was flirting.

What do I mean by a “pox on all their houses?” That’s simple, we’ve been told: “Believe all women.” I still do.

Not everybody does, apparently.

Suddenly, a well-heeled Democratic donor does what can only be described as “intimidating” behavior toward a woman. Remember, she didn’t ask the question; he bypassed the male debate moderator who actually read the question and went straight to her.

Nary a peep is heard.

And before you say he was showing respect to the woman because she was the president of the Chamber, I cannot for one minute believe if the roles were reversed and the female read the question, and the man was president, Anderson would not have yanked the microphone from him.

I can assure you he wouldn’t have pulled my microphone away, and most men I know would have taken that as a subtle (but not so obvious) challenge to “take it outside.” This, of course, is yet another reason why the small man challenges the woman, not another man.

So, where are the usual siren calls from Central Florida’s well-known feminists and defenders of equality? Where are those that decry the “patriarchy.” Could it be that Anderson’s donations silence them?

I hope not, but that’s surely what it looks like from my house.

Then there is the Orlando Sentinel.

This Sunday, they endorsed Anderson for Mayor of Winter Park and didn’t even mention this incident. This newspaper’s editorial pages have decried the former President’s behavior and been a moral compass on social justice and inclusion.

And now, silence.

I watched online the editorial board’s interviews of the two mayoral candidates. Unbelievably, they had an all-white, all-male interview panel. Really, I can’t make this stuff up. And this is all with the backdrop that the other candidate in the race is a well-regarded former Commissioner, a woman who might be Winter Park’s first female Mayor.

The Sentinel clearly doesn’t mention (or defend) the incident because either they can’t or because it would make them look hypocritical.

And I think to myself “what kind of world will my daughter would live in when she comes of age” when in 2021 a man can act like this toward a woman? And nobody stands up for her. Nobody condemns the man’s actions. And in fact, those that we’ve come to believe are the loudest and most enlightened are silent.

No wonder people believe our institutions have failed us — because they have.

Until bad behaving men are held to account regardless of their politics or political donations, we won’t have an equal playing field for women. And women will continue to be treated this way.

That makes me sad.

All I can say is that Anderson is lucky he didn’t pull this outrageous act in my house, in St. Pete. If he had done it here, this writer wouldn’t have let him get away with it.

But because he did it in Winter Park, it looks like he’s getting away with it.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


8 comments

  • Steve Kropp

    February 22, 2021 at 8:54 am

    Peter,
    As usual you are right on point. One thing you forgot to mention is that six out of seven former mayors have endorsed Sarah. I hope she gets your endorsement and you keep spotlight on this race.

    Reply

  • Chuck ONeal

    February 22, 2021 at 9:55 am

    The entire event revolves around a re-zoning decision that would have put a 132 room hotel in a residential district, contrary to a city’s planning. The question asked by the moderator, who is a lobbyist for the local builders association, was way out of line and Anderson was well within his right to object to the premise of the question – collusion on the city council.

    The Henderson Hotel project is a hotly debated issue in Winter Park because how we grow is an issue that is facing the entire state. Personally, I’m happy to see a candidate who does not pray at the alter of development interests. We could use more of that passion around the state.

    Reply

    • Pitt Warner

      February 22, 2021 at 10:27 am

      As always, the insider (Phil) is held to a different standard than others.
      It was not a “residential” area, but who cares if it was in the middle of leafy, expensive Windsong neighborhood? That’s not the point. The hotel debate was over. Done. No hotel. Phil got very agitated (I was there, about 20′ in front of him) over a question that he inexplicably took personally. He and his wife have bankrolled 3 current commissioners and those 3 have reciprocated in kind and $ donations. Not sure why he got so animated. The current commission is very anti-business and residents deserve some balance. Phil is not balance. The city is incredibly strong with finances, services, professional staff, amenities. Sarah Sprinkel has been on the commission for 9 of the last 10 years. Obviously, she has done a great job.

      Reply

      • Joel Hardy

        February 22, 2021 at 7:58 pm

        This was not a hotly debated issue much like the Winter Park Library or the Post Office. The zoning commission approved the project and the developer had redesigned the project several times to accommated the local residents requests. It came down to having to vote (on the record) on a project that the radical left in Winter Park didn’t want because, apparently, they are the self-appointed arbiters of what developments should be allowed in the city. Weak politicians, much like the commission, wrap themselves in self righteousness. The fact that commision demanded an apology from and secretly tried to take away the building lease (Orlando Sentinel article) from the Chamber tells all including the bumbling machinations of Commissioner Cooper’s vindictive emails.

        Reply

    • Abby Brown

      February 22, 2021 at 10:34 am

      It seems as if you are further missing the crux of the author’s concern and actually proving his point, sadly. You are more concerned with the moderator’s motives for asking the question than the candidate’s behavior toward the woman who did not. What one claims as “passion” from one person often is called “bullying” from another.

      Reply

    • regina phelange

      February 22, 2021 at 10:58 am

      Friend, this is not the issue at hand. From your name, I am making the assumption you are male. The issue at hand is that a man got in a woman’s face and was aggressive enough to make her feel threatened. I don’t care WHAT he thinks she’s done to “deserve” that — it’s NEVER EVER OK. Never. And unless you’re a woman and you’ve been in a position where you feel threatened simply by the proximity of another human being, stop talking.
      p.s. As mayor, he would be asked incendiary questions often. Will this behavior continue? Is that behavior acceptable? If your answer is yes, you have some self examination to do.

      Reply

  • JC

    February 22, 2021 at 10:23 am

    This is a Straw Man article and more about the author than the event.

    Reply

  • Ellie Warner

    February 22, 2021 at 11:37 am

    Peter, thank you for your insights. You made some points that had not occurred to me. If you lived in Winter Park, you would be schooled that even mentioning gender now is passé – since this incident at the debate. This from a group of very well-organized and indefatigable ladies who, in previous elections, whined about “mansplaining”, “misogyny”, and “bombastic males”. Get with the program, would ya? The goal posts are temporarily off the field of sexism and aggression.

    Reply

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