Rep. Alan Grayson (D)
Florida 8th District
Who would have supposed 40 years ago that the most popular tourist destination in the world would rise amid the swamps and orange groves of central Florida? The answer: Walt Disney, and just about no one else. In the mid-1960s, Disney looked at the map and decided that the intersection of Interstate 4 and Florida’s Turnpike, the “crossroads of Florida,” just a few miles southwest of Orlando, was the perfect place for the vast theme park he was planning. The spirit of this place was established by a man who never lived here but created something now taken for granted. Disney conceived the first theme park in Orange County, Calif., in 1955, but he perfected it in the 17,000 acres of Florida swamp that his associates stealthily snapped up and where Walt Disney World opened in 1971. With the invention of the theme park, Disney also pioneered sophisticated communications, utility, and waste-disposal methods—all out of sight and underground. Disney World is not just an engineering marvel. It requires some 56,000 people with know-how and earnest cheerfulness to entertain its 40 million-plus visitors annually. But it is hardly the only site that has made Orlando one of the world’s great tourist destinations. Other popular theme parks here include Sea World and Universal Studios; Cape Canaveral is less than 40 miles away. The high-tech economy also has moved into Greater Orlando. Defense contractor Lockheed Martin has a big missile facility southwest of the city, with more than 6,000 employees. Continuing growth—of the downtown skyline and in the expanding metropolitan region—has spurred what may be uphill efforts to control the sprawl and congestion in one of the nation’s booming areas.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 8th Congressional District of Florida includes parts of Orlando and surrounding Orange County and most of the enormous Disney complex, including the Disney new-urbanist town of Celebration. It includes most of the southeast and southwest parts of Orlando and adjoining suburbs. Heavily African-American areas of central Orlando are in the 3rd District. More than three-quarters of the district’s residents live in Orange County. The rest live in a ribbon of territory to the northwest, past Lake Apopka, in little market towns like Mount Dora and Umatilla in Lake County, which seem insulated from the booming metro area. Around here, turtles, alligators, and river otters go about their lives underneath cypress trees draped with Spanish moss. Nearby is Silver Springs, where tourists can view the world’s largest formation of clear artesian springs from glass-bottomed boats—a theme park from an earlier era. Beyond that is the horse farm country of Marion County, around Ocala. In the 1980s, the Orlando area was heavily Republican, but in the 1990s, it moved perceptibly toward national Democrats. The 8th District was designed to be a Republican district, though it’s not comfortably so. Some 21.5% of its residents are Hispanic, most of them not Cubans, but Puerto Ricans and people from elsewhere in Latin America; many work in the tourism industry. They favored Republican Govs. Jeb Bush in 2002 and Charlie Crist in 2006, and trended toward President Bush in 2004, when he got 55% of the vote. Barack Obama beat John McCain 52%-47%.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: March 13, 1958, New York, NY .
Education: Harvard U., B.A. 1978; J.D., 1983, M.A., 1983..
Family: Married (Lolita); 5 children.
Professional Career: Pres., IDT Corp., 1990-91; Partner, Grayson & Kubli P.C., 1991-2008.
The new congressman from the 8th District is Democrat Alan Grayson. In 2008, Grayson unseated incumbent Republican Ric Keller, a top Democratic target since reneging on the term-limits pledge he made in 2000.
|Alan Grayson (D)||172,854||(52%)||($3,210,502)|
|Ric Keller (R)||159,490||(48%)||($1,774,992)|
|Alan Grayson (D)||16,104||(48%)|
|Charlie Stuart (D)||9,146||(28%)|
|Mike Smith (D)||5,727||(17%)|
Grayson had a rough childhood growing up in the Bronx in New York City. A product of public housing, he says a bully threw him in the path of a bus when he was 11, but he survived. Standardized tests in high school identified him as gifted academically, and Grayson was accepted at Harvard University. To help get through financially, he lived modestly and took odd jobs cleaning toilets and working as a night watchman. He ultimately left Harvard with a law degree. Grayson went to work at a law firm, but in 1990 took a break from law to start a telecommunications firm. When he sold it, he became a wealthy man. In recent years, Grayson has worked as a lawyer, taking private defense contractors to court for providing faulty equipment to U.S. soldiers in Iraq. He won a $10 million claim against defense contractor Custer Battles, which was found to have supplied the military with trucks that didn’t work properly.
Grayson emphasized his work against corrupt contractors during his campaign against Keller. The incumbent tried to use Grayson’s anti-war positions to paint him as an “ultra liberal,” and in one ad accused Grayson of advocating cutting off funds to troops in Iraq and of being allied with the Code Pink anti-war protest group. Keller also criticized Grayson for his relationship with law firm partner Victor A. Kubli, who, five years before joining Grayson’s firm, pleaded guilty to a felony bribery charge. Grayson claimed he wasn’t aware of the conviction. Grayson accused Keller in an ad of being the deciding “no” vote on a bill that would have supplied returning war veterans with replacement limbs. In the ad, Grayson holds an artificial leg in his hand. Keller’s opposing vote was on a bill that actually would have funded several veterans’ programs.
Despite the mudslinging from both campaigns, Grayson connected with voters angered by Keller’s broken term-limit pledge. He was also helped by a surge in Democratic registration, and defeated Keller 52% to 48%. Grayson lost three out of the four counties that comprise the 8th District, but his 22,901 vote advantage in Orange County, which includes Orlando, swung the results in his favor. He was not shy about lending personal money to his campaign. He invested $2.6 million in the race and outspent Keller $3.2 million to $1.8 million. Grayson’s personal wealth makes him one of the richest members of Congress.
In his first month in the House, Grayson referred to conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh as a “has-been hypocrite loser.” At a congressional hearing, he demanded that a Federal Reserve official explain why the Fed had not made more information regarding which banks received government bailout money available to the public. Then in the fall of 2009, Grayson hit the mother lode of free media with his remarks about GOP proposals to reform the health care system, which he summed up as “…the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly.” He was an instant hit with liberal bloggers around the country, and was featured in several television interviews, during which he further appraised Republicans as “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.”