ORLANDO, Fla. - Let the election -- and the games -- begin.
Last-minute political maneuvering in Orange County and Tallahassee reshaped the political battlefield, leaving Orange County's 95-year-old tax collector unopposed in the Democratic primary and no Republican yet named in the Orange-Osceola state attorney's race.
Earl K. Wood, who had said he would not seek re-election as tax collector, wound up in the race despite the absence of former Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty.
Wood had said he would only run if Crotty got in the Republican primary field, because Crotty's countywide popularity would jeopardize the chances of Wood's assistant and preferred successor, Kelly Goodwin, winning Wood's office, with its $151,000 salary.
But confusion reigned in the seconds before today's noon qualifying deadline, leaving both Wood and Goodwin in the field -- but not Crotty, who chose instead to run for Republican state committeeman.
With Wood back in and the Republican field swelled to four, Goodwin tried to withdraw her candidacy seconds before the noon deadline, but was unable to file the paperwork in time. Her withdrawal has since taken effect, but she had to forfeit her $9,065 filing fee because it was late.
Wood, who was first elected in 1966 and rarely shows up at the office, seemed unsure of his next move after he was told Crotty was not running and both he and Goodwin were still in the race.
"You gotta be kidding me?" a surprised Wood said. But he quickly reverted to the political pro that has kept him in office longer than most of his constituents have been alive. "I want to maintain the integrity of that office." Asked if he was up to it at his age, Wood responded, "Oh sure. I'm only 95 years old. I'm going to 105."
As the political machinations played out at the supervisor of elections office, Crotty was seen a half block away, in his car.
Local 6 caught up with Crotty there and asked: "Earl K. Wood was not going to run, then you were going to run, so he was going to run. Now you're not running, but he's running ... How did you pull that off?"
"I guess when you're the old fox like Mr. Wood, he might think it's the good old days that you can pull these kind of switcharoos," Crotty said, adding, with some satisfaction. "I think maybe the old fox got foxed."
Reminded Wood could win reelection for another four years, Crotty said, "God bless him."
Wood turns 96 next month and would be 100 before completing another term, an advanced age not lost on Republicans. If Wood does not complete his term for any reason, the governor would appoint a Republican to replace him.
All Is not settled, either, in the race for Orange-Osceola state attorney. It pits incumbent Lawson Lamar against two former prosecutors: Jeff Ashton, who Lamar assigned to the Casey Anthony case, and Ryan Williams.
All three are Democrats and will face off in the August 14 primary.
Who, if anyone, the winner would face in November is now up to the Republican Party of Florida. The lone Republican challenger, Joerg Jaeger, withdrew today, giving the party until June 14 to name a candidate or cede the election to the winner of the August 14 election, which would then be open to all voters.
Jaeger, who appeared in campaign forums to be arguing Lamar's case against Ashton and Williams, had been a former Lamar campaign fundraiser and was widely seen as an extension of the Lamar campaign.
One of the Republicans running for tax collector, Jim Huckeba, has an unusual pledge: he would try to abolish the office as soon as possible.
"I got other things I can do," he said. "Let's face it: this office is ministerial or procedural in nature. You don't need an elected tax collector who's knocking down a salary of $153,000 plus benefits on top of that."
Other Republicans running for Wood's seat are former Orlando city commissioner Vicki Vargo and Jim Duffy.
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