Joe Cunnane, 4-Time Candidate in Palm Coast Races and Rolls-Royce Fan, Is Dead at 80
FlaglerLive | May 19, 2014
Joe Cunnane, the esoteric, irascible Palm Coast wit best known for his Rolls Royce, his Ahab-like obsession with Mayor Jon Netts and for running in almost every city election either for mayor or for a council seat, died Wednesday, May 14 at his home in Palm Coast after a long and recurrent battle with cancer, his wife Alice announced in an email to friends and family.
Cunnane was 80 years old, and had been a Palm Coast resident since 1993, after he’d been enticed to move there from New York by his long-time friend and colleague, former Flagler County Commissioner Jim O’Connell.
O’Connell had met Cunnane in 1968 when both worked for IBM in White Plains, N.Y., where O’Connell had worked since 1959. They had been friends since. Cunnane drove either one or both of O’Connell’s daughters to church on their wedding day in his beloved 1972 Rolls Royce, which sill rolled almost immaculately on palm Coast’s streets through his many campaigns for office.
Monday, O’Connell remembered Cunnane as “a guy with a zest for life, always wanted to be among the people leading the group, he wanted to be the guy who was getting things going. He had a legendary St. Paddy’s Day party that he ran for many, many years, 25 or 30 years. He was Irish through and through. He had a time-share in Ireland, in one of the castles there, the son of a bartender who owned a bar in White Plains New York, and he wrote a book called ‘Up from the Bronx,’” a memoir, collecting tidbits about his life.
At IBM, he had been the administrative manager on a project that automated the ordering and billing of IBM data processing machines, with some 60 people working for him.
But when it came to politics, Cunnane didn’t have it. He ran for city office four times in Palm Coast—twice for mayor, twice for a council seat, coming in last every time. His first attempt was in 1999, just after the city’s incorporation. He got 1 percent of the vote in a nine-way race for mayor that Jim Canfield won easily. Cunnane was tied for last with Bernard Tober. In 2005, Cunnane got less than 6 percent for a council seat won by Alan Peterson. He then devoted himself to defeating his nemesis, Jon Netts, whom he openly and particularly disliked, and at times confronted, but courteously, during city council meetings. Got just 10 percent of the vote in a 2007 primary for mayor that Netts won, and four years later got 5 percent.
On Monday, Netts remembered him as “Passionate, opinionated in a positive sense.” Netts said that Cunnane’s decision to run, even if he know that he might not win, was “absolutely, absolutely worthwhile.” Netts explained: “Even though I’ve run unopposed once or twice here, the value if nothing else—who was it who said the unexamined life is not worth living?—it forces you to evaluate, reevaluate your position on things, if nothing else to justify your position on things.” (The answer to the trivia question is Socrates.) Netts remembered one particular appearance by Cunnane before the council, when Cunnane lifted a plastic bottle of water and wondered why the city couldn’t, like a few other cities, run its own bottled water plant. That was not long after the city had acquired the water utility
“I don’t think he had as firm a grip on the issues as I would have liked him to have had,” O’Connell, who’s had a brief but successful political career, said, “but he was very strong-willed,” and he wanted to see things get done the way he saw they should get done. “As much as people would give him advice, Joe was strong willed.”
Cunnane had three children with his first wife—John, Valerie and Debbie—in addition to the one child, Mark, his first wife had brought into the marriage. He did not have children with Alice, his second wife, who had two children of her own, Kurt and Paul.
“He fought and suffered for a year and a half with prostrate cancer and I believe he was finally saved at the end,” Cunnane’s wife Alice wrote to a pastor at Riverbend Community Church. “He told me he made his peace with the Lord and was ready to meet Jesus. God is so good! I have prayed for so long for his salvation and I thank so many at Riverbend who have lifted him up in prayer as well.”