This is more than hot gossip. Orlando Mayor Bill Frederick wants to move into the governor's mansion.
Anticipating that Gov. Lawton Chiles and Buddy MacKay won't seek second terms, Frederick is seriously discussing running for governor in 1994, several close friends and supporters said Wednesday.
In the last eight weeks, Frederick has been talking about a campaign with key supporters around the state. He met recently with a pollster in Tallahassee, said Jerry Chicone, a Central Florida citrus grower and friend who helped run Frederick's campaigns for mayor.
"Bill Frederick for governor, yes, it's true," Chicone said. "It's more than just floating a trial balloon. Most of the people do not think Lawton Chiles or Buddy MacKay are going to be running again. So this is really not an anti-Chiles or anti-MacKay movement at all."
The popular, three-term Orlando mayor was hunting Wednesday in Georgia and could not be reached for comment. Chiles, political followers may recall, plotted his run for governor during a hunting trip two years ago.
Frederick, 57, announced last year he wouldn't be seeking re-election as mayor when his term ends this fall.
Frederick's aide at City Hall, Joe Mittiga, would neither confirm nor deny Frederick's gubernatorial yearnings. "If you could reach him I think what you would hear him say is that there are a lot of factors that come into play in any decision and at this point he does not want to discuss it," Mittiga said. "I really can't say any more than that."
Despite the growing speculation that Frederick will run, the last thing he wants to do is pressure or challenge Chiles and MacKay, said Peter Barr, an Orlando advertising executive and longtime friend of Frederick's.
Barr discussed the idea with Frederick during a social outing with their spouses two weeks ago. Frederick, who has been friends with MacKay since they attended law school at the University of Florida, is aware of Chiles' poor ratings in recent polls, Barr noted. The worst said only 2 percent of Floridians approved of the way Chiles is running Florida.
"He looked right at me and said I do not intend to oppose Buddy MacKay or Lawton Chiles," Barr said. He recalled Frederick adding, "But we've got to get this state under control."
Despite his close ties to Chiles and MacKay, Frederick did not contact either of them before word of his interests started circulating.
"I've been sort of surprised more people haven't announced they're running for such a fine job with my 2 percent" public opinion rating , Chiles said. He added that his administration has cut no deals with Frederick about serving only one term.
MacKay, who said he was trying to get in touch with Frederick to discuss the matter, said the two remain friends. He brushed the topic off as a fluke.
"I think one or two of his supporters may have gone off half-cocked," MacKay said.
Duby Ausley, a Tallahassee lawyer and Democratic ally of Chiles, MacKay and Frederick, supported MacKay's theory that some of Frederick's friends are overstating the mayor's intentions.
"It is my assumption that they will be running for re-election," Ausley said of Chiles and MacKay. "Of course knowing Gov. Chiles we probably won't know that till the qualifying date. I think they've done a heck of a job running the government under tough circumstances."
Frederick has been eying the governor's mansion for years. He was touted as a strong potential candidate in 1986 when Bob Martinez successfully ran for governor.
"It has been public knowledge that he has intended to run for governor at some point," said Orange County Commissioner Vera Carter.
Meanwhile, Frederick has told his supporters if he does run, it won't be as a Republican, his friends said. A lawyer and citrus grove owner who enjoys the business world, Frederick is thinking he would serve as a one-term governor, were he to win, Chicone said.
"This is more than something Pete Barr and I have created," Chicone said. "This is a true movement. People are ready to go. They really feel that Florida needs someone as a governor who hasn't been a legislator or a congressman."