Bruce Antone is getting used to looking over his shoulder and seeing a familiar face. The 45-year-old African-American has run for office three times in the past four years, and each time, he's faced a now-32-year-old attorney named Tiffany Moore. When Antone runs, Moore runs. They dueled in successive bids for state representative in 2002 and 2004, both of which Antone won. This year is no different: Antone's ditching his state rep seat to run for Orange County commissioner, and once again, Moore is nipping at his heels.
Antone thinks it's personal. "I might venture to say she has a grudge against me," he says. "She's running with a chip on her shoulder. This is her first time making it this far in an election — and it's gonna be the last time."
His words highlight the frustration of a front-runner who placed second — behind Moore — in a five-way primary election in September. Granted, he didn't lose by much — just 49 votes — but it was still a shot across the bow, a sign that the supposed underdog is the new favorite. Antone, a veteran of local politics who served as Buddy Dyer's chief of staff in the state Senate for eight years, is holding on for his political life.
"I don't think he took me serious, to be honest," says Moore, a charismatic candidate from Tangelo Park. "I don't know why he didn't. The word on the street is, I work hard. You're not gonna outwork me. He assumed name recognition was all he needed, and he was wrong."
Perhaps he thought that because he'd already dispatched her twice in state rep races. He won narrowly in their first meeting, by 411 votes in 2002, and by 1,167 votes as an incumbent in 2004.
By all objective accounts, Antone should win easily. For the last four years, he's represented District 39, a minority-heavy gerrymandered district that overlaps with two-thirds of the county seat — District 6 — that he's seeking. He knows the lay of land, talks politics fluently and has a strong ally in the Orlando mayor's office. Virtually all current black elected officials back him, and he knows how to play ball with politicians of all ethnic and ideological stripes.
So why couldn't he put Moore away in September? Antone could blame voter apathy; in the primary, of 68,658 voters in the district, only 8,500 bothered to vote. But that could happen again in November. And if it does, Antone realizes, he's in trouble. Still, he professes confidence.
"My opponent has no experience, she has no track record, shown no leadership, and she's run for four offices in four years," Antone says. "Twice for state rep, school board — then `she` dropped out — and now county commission. She's a candidate that doesn't have a vision."
Moore was a candidate for Orange County School Board earlier this year; she dropped out in June to pursue the county commission seat.
"Every time she runs, there's always a big question in what's her motivation, and why she wants to run for that particular office," says Doug Head, former head of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee. "So I wonder where she's coming from. She's been running for office for quite some time, but she only runs against Antone."
(Like Antone, Moore is a black Democrat. It's worth noting that, over the past year, Republicans actively lobbied Antone to switch parties and even promised him $200,000 for his county campaign. He declined.)
Given Moore's apparent inexperience, you'd assume she'd be overwhelmed by a more experienced pol like Antone. What analysts and media outlets can't measure is her ability to gel with her would-be constituents on the stump. She's comfortable canvassing streets most politicians wouldn't go near, and she shakes hands with thugs, teen moms and people who have no intention of voting in November.
"This actually keeps me," Moore says. "Regardless of if some of these people vote for me or not, I truly want to serve them."
Moore presents herself as a grass-roots attorney with a strong work ethic. Her grandmother and great-grandmother were sharecroppers, she says. Her Southern drawl comes out after she gets comfortable in interviews, and she refers to herself as a "GRITS" ("girl raised in the South"). She's made herself available to several community groups throughout unincorporated Orange County.
"Tiffany is a friend to the Latino community, that's without question," says Marytza Sanz, president of Latino Leadership, a Hispanic development agency in Orlando. "For nearly two years, she volunteered every Saturday to come and help Latinos with their legal problems for free as an attorney. She wasn't running for office back then; she did it from the heart."
According to the most recent campaign-finance reports filed with the county, Moore's behind in the cash race. As of Sept. 15, she had $51,544 in to Antone's $66,176. Moore has said since that she's up to $70,000.
Moore says that a lot of the money she's collected has come from events like fish fries, wherein she'll rent out a hall, sell fish dinners for donations and talk to people one-on-one. She prides herself on being accessible, something she and Antone both say current commissioner Homer Hartage failed to do during the latter part of his tenure. (Hartage is barred by term limits from seeking re-election; in September, he lost in a Democratic congressional primary.)
Hartage disputes those claims. "Who are they campaigning against, me or each other?" he asks. "That has something to do with the high regard they have for my work. Why else would they bring me up? I'm flattered they are still talking about my work. I'm impressed."
He says he's been more than accessible. "It's very easy to get in touch with me," he says. "I answer my cell every time it rings, and I've been in the phone book since 1978."
"Most people feel like Hartage hasn't been around," Moore says. "People want to know, ‘Will you still be us, amongst us, or will you be someone that just shows `your face`?' As I'm walking around neighborhoods, I learn what people's wants are, and that helps me structure my platform."
That's an unusual confession to make to a reporter. With the election a few weeks away, Moore admits she doesn't have a specific campaign direction. She wants to address crime — especially juvenile crime — and give District 6 more political muscle, but she's not sure how to do it. She's green, and she knows it.
"It's one thing to say I have no experience, but give me a chance. And it's another thing for people to say `to Antone`, ‘I already gave you four years, and what have you done?'" Moore says.
Antone pegs her as a perennial loser, which she finds exasperating. "He ran for county commissioner in 1998 and lost, ran for state house before in 2000, and lost," she says. "So he's run for multiple seats before as well. So when he uses that against me, I think it's hilarious 'cause he forgets that he did it."
Antone counters that he may have lost some elections, but at least he rose through the political ranks on his own. (He's apparently ignoring the clout his relationship with Dyer gave him.) He knocks Moore for touting former Orlando city commissioner and Orange County commissioner Mable Butler as her mentor and chief supporter. That, Antone says, would make Moore Butler's puppet should she win. Butler, 79, is something of a matriarch among local black politicians. She even lives on a street named after her.
But her last two forays into the political world haven't worked out as planned. In 2002, four years after she left the county commission, Butler turned on Hartage, her appointed successor, and endorsed his opponent. Hartage said Butler just wanted a puppet (a refrain Antone is repeating this year) and he won without her help. Then, earlier this year, Butler herself tried to win a seat on the Orlando City Council, but lost to Sam Ings.
Butler says she'll keep her nose out of Moore's affairs if Moore wins. Knowing Butler, a proud and outspoken woman, that's hard to believe — doubly so when she says, "I been doing Homer Hartage's job for the last eight years. When he doesn't respond to the community and the county, people call Mable Butler to get things done."
"I'm not sure her brand of leadership works now," Antone says of Butler. "It may have worked 10 years ago, but not now. If you look at my supporters, Mayor Dyer on down, why is it that all the elected officials are on one side, and all the past leadership `referring to Butler and U.S. Rep Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville/Orlando` is on the other side? The same folks that are backing her have been backing her every time she loses."
Antone thinks it's all about power: "They're all about control. It comes down to what contracts they get for themselves and their friends. And with me, they know they can't control me."
Butler, meanwhile, dismisses Antone's big-time backers, especially Dyer. "For Buddy to put himself out there for a lazy-ass like Antone is crazy," Butler says. "He's already had his chance to serve and everybody in Tallahassee says he's a lazy-butt. It pisses me off when my black elected officials try to have a high-on-the-hog attitude with their constituencies and don't do anything."
That's an assessment with which Antone would likely disagree. (We say "likely" because repeated calls to his office after our initial interview went unreturned.) In any event, Moore's challenge is based on the idea that District 6 has for too long been overlooked, its residents want change, and she's the one to bring it.
"It's as simple as this: There are entire neighborhoods still waiting on stuff for their communities that Homer never addressed," Moore says. "People need things, and they want to know who their next commissioner is going to be."[email protected]