Orlando Sentinel | by Leslie Postal | September 4, 2020
State lawmaker Bruce Antone dropped out of the race for Orange County School Board on Friday during a court hearing challenging his candidacy.
The announcement, made by Antone’s attorney, means the the third-place finisher in the August primary, who had been knocked off the ballot, now moves to the run-off election in November.
Antone, who has served in the Florida House for the past eight years, was seeking the district 5 seat on the school board this year. He was in court because Michael Scott, the third-place finisher, had sued him, arguing Antone did not live in district 5 and, therefore, was not a qualified candidate.
Antone denied the accusations, his attorney Joseph Geller said in court Friday. “We believe we would prevail today,” Geller said.
But the lawsuit challenging his candidacy complicates the work of the Orange County Supervisor of Elections and could lead to a special election or even issues with the presidential election in November, Geller said.
Antone is a “fine public servant” who wanted to make sure county residents didn’t lose a chance to vote for their school board member, he added.
An attorney for Elections Supervisor Bill Cowles said at the hearing that the elections office needed to have November ballots printed by Monday in order to mail them on time to military personnel serving overseas.
After Geller said Antone was dropping out, Judge Paetra Brownlee of Orange County Circuit Court ruled the district 5 school board ballot should list Scott and Vicki-Elaine Felder as the two candidates.
Felder won 40.5% of the vote to Antone’s 31.5% and Scott’s 28% in the primary. Since no candidate earned a majority of votes, the race moves to November.
Scott, in a statement said he was pleased with the judge’s decision.
“My reasoning for filing the lawsuit was in the interest of the public as a whole,” he said. “I look forward to taking my message of change and inclusion to the voters and continuing to fight for students, teachers, and my community.”
Scott and his attorney, Christian Waugh, had said previously that public records show Antone had not followed the law when he filed to run in the school board race. “He definitely should not be on the ballot,” Waugh said last month.
Antone did not speak at the hearing held via Zoom except to tell the judge how to pronounce his last name.
The announcement came as the hearing on Scott’s lawsuit began, so the judge did not hear any evidence in the case.
The campaign papers Antone submitted June 10 to qualify for the school board race listed his address as a home in the school board’s district 4, according to records from the election supervisor’s office, but he is running in district 5.
The house in district 4, which Antone has owned for nearly 20 years, is the one on which he has a homestead exemption, according to the Orange County Property Appraiser.
In July, after he qualified for the race, Antone switched his voter registration to a home in district 5. Scott, however, did not believe Antone is living at that new address and that formed the basis of his lawsuit.
Florida law says school board candidates must, at the time they qualify, be living in the district they want to represent.
As the hearing started, Geller said he would have proved that Antone is now living in district 5 with testimony from his landlord, among others.
Like Antone, Geller is also a state representative and a Democrat. The two have served together in Tallahassee. Antone could not run again for his state house seat because of term limits.
Antone’s fear, Geller said, was that if he stayed in the race, the lawsuit could lead to a a delay in ballots being mailed and that could lead to an election challenge, which he didn’t want to see in the November presidential election.
“He put the public interest above the self interest,” Geller said after the hearing. “We could have won that case.”
The race is for the seat board member Kat Gordon has held for 20 years. She did not seek re-election this year. District 5 runs from Pine Hills south to Tangelo Park and takes in a number of west Orlando communities.
Felder is a long-time Orange County teacher who now works at Edgewater High School. Scott is the coordinator for Orlando’s My Brother’s Keeper program.
Photo: Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, debates on a highway bill during session Wednesday May 1, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (Friday, he dropped out of the race for Orange County School Board. He was seeking that seat after term limits prevented him from running again for the Florida HouseAP Photo/Steve Cannon) (Steve Cannon / AP)