Last Updated: 8:10 p.m.
Suzie Johnston will carry on her family’s long tradition of public service in elected office: in her first run for office, she was decisively elected mayor of Flagler Beach in today’s election, and will replace Linda Provencher, who chose not to run again after nine years as mayor and four years as commissioner.
Eric Cooley, who happens to be Johnston’s companion, won re-election to his second term by beating Paul Harrington.
With all 1,568 ballots cast counted–Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart had the results posted some 12 to 13 minutes after polls closed–Johnston won with a decisive 50.3 percent share of the vote, beating former City Commissioner Kim Carney, who got 25.5 percent, and political newcomer Pat Quinn, who got 24 percent.
Cooley won with 54.4 percent of the vote, helped especially with election-day voters: he had been a few dozen votes behind when only mail-in votes had been partially counted, suggesting that Harrington’s recent illness–he had surgery to remove tumors over the weekend–preceded by his silence on the trail in the days before he was hospitalized nine days ago, played a significant role in his defeat. He had until then led a vigorous campaign, but had begun to run into electoral difficulties when word of his conflict with the city over a code enforcement matter spread.
“I’m very surprised, I’m actually so humbled, I just found out,” Johnston said at 7:30 p.m., moments after speaking with Provencher. “I’m shocked, I’m humbled that over half of the voters in FB feel confident for me to be a mayor. So exciting. In my heart I could feel it, I knew it, I just got off the phone with Linda P., she said how do you feel, I said I feel eerily calm, because I’m stepping into the right shoes and Linda has prepared me so well. I’m prepared.”
When she was a young girl and participating in the annual Miss Flagler County pageant, participants would get ready in the commission chamber at City Hall. Johnston would swing in the mayor’s chair and dream of the day she’d be mayor. “I’m going to be very honored to serve Flagler Beach,” she said this evening.
All day, Johnston’s and Cooley’s crew, which included Alice, the famed Flagler Beach shark that today was mounted on a golf cart and was front and center, covered in election signs, campaigned by City Hall. That crew included of course Suzanne Johnston, the tax collector and Suzie’s mother, and Gail Wadsworth, the former long-time clerk of court, along with Evan Peters and Shelly Edmonson, a long-time colleague of Johnston’s at the tax collector’s office. They were in a festive mood even three hours before the polls closed:
Cooley, more reserved, ha had a solid and effective first term but in this particular race was also battling the uncertainty of the effects on public perceptions from his arrest on a battery charge earlier in his term. The charge was dropped, but the incident reverberated then as it unquestionably would in voters’ memory. The question was whether it would be a decisive factor. It was not. For Harrington, it was the third defeat in three tries.
Carney had last November lost a bid for the county commission, and had left the door open, at least a tad, for another attempt at a commission seat in the future. That may become more difficult without being the public eye on an elected board.
For Suzie Johnston, 40, it’s just a continuation of a family tradition. The grandfather of Suzanne Johnston’s husband was E.W. Johnston, Flagler County’s first sheriff (1917-1924, and again from 1936 to 1940). He was also its first tax collector, the first Marshall of Bunnell, an assistant state game commissioner in 1928, and a county judge from 1945 to 1956. Suzanne Johnston’s mother-in-law Ria Johnston was a school board member. Johnston’s husband–Suzie’s father, Albert–was a county commissioner for 12 years. Ria’s father was also county commissioner. And Suzanne was appointed property appraiser for a year in 1981. “I look a lot younger than what I am,” the ageless Johnston said on Monday, in between stints waving signs for her daughter.
Quinn, a retired carpenter from New York who now owns a home inspection business, said this would be his only campaign. “No more political stuff,” he said. I own a business in town. I take care of my grandson full time. I’ll just go back to that.” He said he’d be interested in serving on a city committee or advisory board, or volunteering for the fire department.
Cooley, a beach-clean-up guru, was already thinking of picking up signs three hours before polls closed. “Once polls close we’re going to be out picking up signs,” he said. “Keeping the beach clean is one of our priorities.” He and Suzie Johnston had imagined they might stop at Tortugas, where the owners are supporters, for a quick celebration. Meanwhile this evening, Suzanne Johnston, ever the wit, posted on Facebook: “I’m First Mom of Flagler Beach.”
[This is a developing story. More soon.]