The race card 

Leave it to Homer Hartage to screw up the most important press conference of his political career.

The Orange County commissioner -- who just weeks after his November re-election expressed interest in abandoning that seat for the higher-profile mayor's office -- set up shop on the steps of City Hall Monday at 11:30 a.m. The place and time would be typical, were it not for the racket of the Citrus Bowl parade a few feet away on Orange Avenue. For most of Hartage's speech, no one could hear him. Things didn't improve when you could.

He'd called the conference to announce that he was petitioning an Orange County court to block the Feb. 4 date for the mayoral election. On its face, his argument is sound. Mayor Glenda Hood resigned Dec. 21, effective Feb. 26. On Dec. 23, the city council set the election date, and required that all candidates be qualified by noon, Dec. 27.

By state law, however, elected officials have to renounce their seat 10 days before the end of qualifying. There's no legal way Hartage could get on the ballot.

But here's where Hartage's argument unravels: His resignation from the county commission doesn't concern Orlando city clerk Candice Crawford. Hartage's is a question of state law, and consequently state courts; it's out of Crawford's hands. So long as he lives in the city, fills in the requisite paperwork after resigning his commission seat and pays his filing fee on time, he's on the ballot. If he wins and the loser challenges him in court, Hartage could explain his predicament there.

Instead he filed the injunction and called a press conference that quickly turned into racially-tinged, ego-driven grandstanding. Perhaps, Hartage not-too-subtly suggested, the election's timing was designed to keep him out.

"I'm not trying to create any discord," he said, adding: "But I am the only African-American filing." As Hartage's lawyer, Dean Mosley, put it: "It does give the look of impropriety."

There's no conspiracy against Hartage. Even if he makes the ballot, he's a long shot at best. He doesn't have the money or the political clout of Bill Sublette, Tico Perez or Buddy Dyer. And minutes after he rightly complained that the election cycle benefits well-financed candidates who anticipated Hood's departure and have done a lot of campaigning, Hartage told reporters, "We've been planning for a long time too." Then he produced a campaign sign as proof.

Which leaves one to wonder why Hartage ran for his county-commission seat in November. Also, why would he call a press conference to address being kept off the ballot when he's not?

Because Hartage needs racial controversy to kick-start a campaign that is otherwise going nowhere.

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