A longtime observer of local politics has this great expression when someone makes a mess of things. Arroz con mangos, he calls it, a nasty, unlikely mash of rice and fruit.
You can see how sticky that could get — sort of like the latest twist to the story of two local pols trying to save their butts and stay on the ballot. Sticky, not to mention cynical.
The story so far: Linda Saul-Sena and John Dingfelder, both running for Hillsborough County Commission, both blew the deadline for saying when they planned to resign their Tampa City Council seats. Both of them meant to stay with the city through the November election. But by law, letters had to be submitted 10 days before the candidate qualifying period so others had time to consider a seat opening up sans incumbent.
It goes without saying that both experienced politicians should have known better. (Actually in Saul-Sena's case, it did go without saying for a while there. While Dingfelder stepped up to take responsibility, Saul-Sena issued an eyelash-fluttering press release. Error? What error?)
Dingfelder, a lawyer by the way, found himself what might have been an out. He abruptly resigned from City Council, meaning the law about officeholders running for other offices no longer applied to him. Then Saul-Sena did, too.
Your head hurt yet? Wait, it gets better.
Since both are big-name Democrats around these parts, the prospect of getting rid of them as candidates courtesy of their very own flubs was understandably delicious for local Republicans. Expect the GOP to ask a judge to boot both off the ballot.
Now here comes the part with the potential to make us even more cynical about how government works, if this is possible.
If the two were removed, Democrats get to appoint a candidate in each race to replace them. The chairwoman of the Hillsborough Democrats said the party would pick strong names in local politics — like Saul-Sena and Dingfelder.
That makes my head hurt, and maybe yours, too. How are voters supposed to feel about a candidate facing expulsion for not following the rules who ends up front and center anyway?
Cynical is how. Politics-as-usual is how.
After that bobbing and weaving, this week Dingfelder all-out quit the commission race to avoid the lawsuit. And, yep, the party promptly put him on the ballot, though it can still expect a challenge from Republicans. His situation seems only a tad less distasteful than a candidate and a party willing to gloss over a judge's ruling, the dilemma Saul-Sena could face if the court case goes against her.
I don't know about you, but I'm feeling more cynical by the minute.
Saul-Sena finally did apologize to voters both for her deadline error and for leaving city constituents in the lurch with her unexpected resignation. She says she has no plans to leave the county race a la Dingfelder.
And how does she think this plays with voters? "I think people will think of it as a technicality," she says.
Maybe she's right. Maybe, unlike with me, it won't leave the bad taste of a big mess of arroz con mangos, topped with a generous sprinkling of government-as-usual.