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A Tale Of 2 Men: Sometimes, A Loss Is A Win…Can It Be That Complicated To Reopen Park?

A Tale Of 2 Men: Sometimes, A Loss Is A Win

Maria T. Padilla

April 9, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved.

This is a tale of two Central Florida men, José Fernández and John Quiñones, who last year ran against each other for a state House district that takes in parts of Orange and Osceola counties.

Fernández lost the District 49 election, but it would appear that he got a victory after all. And he didn't have to move all the way to Tallahassee.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer appointed Fernández city clerk, making him the highest-ranking Hispanic at City Hall.

The position pays $90,000 a year and is, in part, a thank-you from Dyer for volunteering for his campaign.

As city clerk, Fernández doesn't have to worry about running for office every two years. But he will be the point person who runs city elections. He will have his name on almost every official document that comes out of City Hall.

Looking down the road, being city clerk may give Fernández enough visibility for a future political campaign.

Not bad for an immigrant from Nicaragua.

Being Nicaraguan played a big role in Fernández's loss to Quiñones, a Puerto Rican who made a major deal of the fact that Fernández was not Puerto Rican.

Puerto Ricans are the largest Hispanic group in Central Florida. They began settling here in large numbers after the 1970s. Thirty years later, many are eager to see more of a reflection of themselves in local and state government, where, frankly, there aren't enough Hispanics of any nationality.

This explains why Quiñones won by a good margin, despite that he ran as a Republican in a newly created and largely Democratic district.

Quiñones' legislative career got off to a bumpy start when it was discovered that he didn't live in District 49. State law says that's OK, if you move into your district by the time you're sworn into office. He did not.

But Quiñones now says he lives in the district and has a homestead exemption to prove it.

In his first legislative session, Quiñones has attached his name to a few measures, the most worthy of which would allow students whose first language is not English and who have failed the FCAT to receive a regular high-school diploma, provided they have a 2.5 grade-point average and have been learning English for less than two years.

Quiñones also proposes that these students be allowed to take the FCAT in Spanish because many students may do better when tested in their native language.

Bear in mind that in Orange and Osceola counties, more than 90 percent of students in English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, fail the FCAT in 10th grade. Surely there's a better way, and Quiñones' bill would have a big impact.

It's too early to tell whether the bill will pass muster, but it's remarkable because it's a measure backed by some Republicans, who aren't always empathetic to immigrants.

But this is 2003, and nearly one of every five Floridians is Hispanic. Republicans have been going out of their way to court Hispanics.

The real moral of this tale, however, is that there is room in the circles of power for Hispanics of all nationalities. It doesn't have to be an either-or proposition. For, as we can see with Fernández and Quiñones, each one adds his own granito de arena, or grain of sand, to the dialogue.

Can It Be That Complicated To Reopen Park?

Maria Padilla


April 16, 2003

The Hispanic community should push Mayor Buddy Dyer to open Nature Park in east Orlando.

Former Mayor Glenda Hood skipped town without tending to this piece of leftover business. That's ironic because Hood hoped to leave a legacy of improving Orlando's system of parks.

But it seemed nobody wanted to touch the issue of Nature Park, situated near the heavily Hispanic communities of Azalea Park and Engelwood. So the park -- east of Orlando Executive Airport and north of State Road 408 -- remains closed to the public, although that part of town is sorely in need of green space.

Not too long ago residents got together to emphasizethat point to officials, saying children cannot play safely because of heavy traffic. The area is crisscrossed by Lake Underhill Road and Semoran Boulevard.

Nature Park could be the green haven that people are looking for. It contains 26 acres and initially opened in 1991 as part of a state recreational Development Assistance Program. Hood was a member of the City Council at the time.

The city closed the park in 1998 because it had become a hangout for drug addicts and prostitutes.

Last May -- almost a year ago! -- several Hispanic groups cleaned up the park and proposed using its facilities for an after-school program. But Nature Park never reopened.

The Hispanic groups, including the Office of the Government of Puerto Rico, and the city had a falling out over how many people could attend the park's planned inauguration.

The groups wanted live music and 3,000 people to participate, while the city said that was 10 times too many people for the space.

The two sides haven't come together on this issue since.

The last time I passed by the park, the chain-link fence was padlocked and the bike rack was empty. A mound of mulch was on the ground ready for spreading.

But no people.

When the dispute between the city and Hispanics broke out, many people in the Hispanic community came forward to take advantage of the situation, picketing outside the park and posing for newspapers and television cameras.

Where are they today?

Before leaving office, Hood's spokeswoman Susan Blexrud said the city had tried to renegotiate the park's opening but hadn't received a response from the community groups.

I've tried to call Mareitssa Griggs Pastrana, chairwoman of the Nature Park Association, over several months without success. Frankly, I'm not convinced the Hood administration and the community groups tried to patch things up.

Hood was proud of the green space she helped create during her 10-year tenure as mayor. But it seemed the "parks" she was most interested in were College Park, Thornton Park and Baldwin Park.

Azalea Park was never mentioned in the same breath.

But don't these neighborhoods need green space, too? Don't the residents need a respite from city traffic? Don't the children also need space to run free?

A new administration in City Hall may be just the thing that's needed to get Nature Park going again. It wipes the slate clean. No hard feelings.

How about it, Griggs Pastrana? How about it Dyer?

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