It’s been more than a year and a half since the Florida legislature passed a law to put an honorary plaque along Semoran Boulevard, between the 408 and the 528, in recognition of veteran and local Hispanic civil rights leader Elias “Rico” Piccard.
But Mayor Buddy Dyer still refuses to hold a vote on a simple ordinance to enact state law and allow the Florida Department of Transportation to install the honorary plaques because of Dyer’s allegiance to Commissioner Tony Ortiz, who opposes the honorary recognition.
It would be extremely disappointing and sad if Dyer and Ortiz were playing politics because Rico often stood up to the powers of City Hall and the Orange County Commission when many in the community would remain silent. But other than politics, it makes no sense why the City Council would not pass a very simple procedural ordinance to allow FDOT to implement state law.
There must be no more delays in honoring Rico Piccard, who was “one of the loudest voices for the Puerto Rican and Latino community of Central Florida” according to the Orlando Sentinel in their obituary.
In March, residents spoke out to the Orlando City Council urging Commissioners to follow state law and to recognize Piccard’s contributions to the community by passing an ordinance to allow FDOT to install the markers. All of the public comments were entered into the official record and Commissioner Ortiz did respond to the residents during the exchange (find all videos here). Ortiz is claiming in part he was not consulted by State Senator Darren Soto before the bill passed, and therefore because some in the area do not know Piccard, he should not be honored despite state law. But his comments do not make sense and do not justify the blatant political delay.
In fact, this entire issue is absurd. It is an honorary plaque. These honorary plaques are literally on roads across the state. And one reason for honorary designations is to educate and inform others about local figures who made substantial contributions and impacts to their community. This act does not rename Semoran Boulevard as Commissioner Ortiz also claims. As part of the just the 2013 state legislation, more than 100 honorary designations were part of the final bill that passed. It is illogical that there would be community opposition to honorary designations for those who improved their communities.
Yet, Rico Piccard’s designation is the only one that has not been erected. The only one.
When I pressed Commissioner Ortiz in a fall 2014 interview about the issue, Ortiz recommended the issue be taken up with the Orange County government, indicating the matter was possibly a County issue since the Semoran Boulevard corridor is part of a “Gateway to Orlando” project. Of course, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs’ administration responded the honorary designation area falls within the City of Orlando and they were not sure why the City would not address it with a simple vote. Ortiz and the City of Orlando have never had a good reason not to let FDOT install the honorary plaques.
Mayor Jacobs’ administration did note Orange County’s support of re-designations along portions in unincorporated Orange County, including Semoran Boulevard. Those issues were brought to the Board of County Commissioners as resolutions from the Office of Regional Mobility and approved at the October 21, 2014 BCC Meeting. From the County resolution: “Approval of Resolution 2014-M-64 of the Orange County Board of County Commissioners regarding affirming its support for Senate Bill 820 Designating State Road 436 [Semoran Boulevard] Between Sheeler Avenue and the Seminole County Line in Orange County as “Robert G. Pittman, Jr., Road.”
So why the hold up with the City of Orlando? Why won’t Dyer put this item on the agenda?
On Sunday, a vigil was held to remember Rico on what would have been his 69th birthday. Residents made it clear to City officials they would see this through to the end. “Rico was a mentor of mine since the very beginning,” Florida Senator Darren Soto said at the vigil according to Fox 35. “He was invariably our civil rights leader among Hispanics here in east Orlando and in central Florida in general.”
Senator Soto added about the honorary designation, “It serves as a reminder of his legacy, so that we can teach new generations.”
Rico was everywhere locally. There was no enemy or obstacle too big or intimidating for Rico. If he found injustice, he was ready to stand for change. Rico was also a Vietnam Veteran and always carried his pride and dedication to other causes. But Rico’s most important work was the work he did on behalf of his local community, neighbors and friends. Rico founded Frente Unido 436 (or United Front 436) in order to advance the rights and quality of life for the Puerto Rican and Latino community based around Semoran Boulevard (SR 436). The organization’s work continues today, but Rico is responsible for the rise of Frente Unido.
“This whole issue boils down to Ortiz not wanting this,” said community leader Zoraida Rios-Andino.
Alex Rivera, who is running for Orlando City Commissioner, District 2 against incumbent Ortiz also weighed in on the controversy. “As we know Elias ‘Rico’ Piccard was a local Puerto Rican civil rights hero and community leader,” Rivera said. “Rico has done many great things in our District especially at the Danube Plaza where we used to have drug activities and crimes. He was a positive impact for our community and made a difference.”
“We need more people like him in our district and to continue to do what is right,” Rivera continued. “As a City Commissioner, I’ll be more than proud to place the markers for Rico and finish the process.”
That is quite the contrast to the incumbent City Commissioner. Ortiz once said during a City Council meeting, “And if anybody tries to be an obstacle, we just run them over. And that’s what we will continue to do.”
But Dyer and Ortiz will not be able to silence this issue, even after two years. “We will be back at the Orlando City Council on Monday July 27 at 2:00pm,” Rios-Andino said. “We urge the community to come out ‘sin medio’ and support this noble cause. It is time that Mayor Dyer stand up for what is right. Arriba los de Abajo!”
Gaining more equitable treatment for Puerto Ricans and Latinos was one of the goals Rico fought for throughout Central Florida. But Rico was a true community advocate and activist – he helped all who came to him and always remained positive and optimistic. His impact to our community was substantial and a void still remains in his absence. There is no more fitting location for an honorary designation for Rico Piccard.
It’s time to get this done. It’s time for the Orlando City Council to implement state law and honor veteran and community leader Rico Piccard. No more delays.