Flagler Beach city commissioners could see that Paul Harrington was not well. He was sitting in the front row at the April 8 meeting, as he usually did since he started attending almost every commission meeting five years ago. The meeting was into its third hour when he had trouble picking up his drink, which spilled. Later he grabbed arm as if to keep it from shaking, but he wasn’t successful. Commissioners grew concerned as that went on for several minutes.
In late February, as he was in the midst of his second campaign for a Flagler Beach commission seat–he’d been campaigning very hard, knocking on door after door, often with his teen-age daughter campaigning with him–he was hospitalized and underwent a significant operation to remove tumors from his skull. That took him out of the campaign trail for the crucial last weeks of the race, which he lost to incumbent Eric Cooley by 136 votes out of 1,564 cast. But he was back in his usual places soon after the election, continuing as the most frequent private individual in attendance at commission meetings–and resuming what had been a chronic struggle with the city over some code enforcement issues.
Last Thursday when he decided to leave the commission room, he had trouble opening the door to step out. He was clearly disoriented and unable to push the door open. At that point the police chief called an ambulance, and Harrington was taken to AdventHealth Palm Coast. He checked himself out within hours. Visiting City Commissioner Rick Belhumeur over the weekend, he told him that he’d felt better after a drink of orange juice and didn’t see the need to stay in the hospital. “I don’t think he came to the realization of what he was really facing,” Belhumeur said. “If you were in a condition he was in when he left that commission meeting, to turn around, check himself out at 1:30 just because he felt better–and they still had plans, doing some other tests. I don’t know.”
Early this morning, Harrington died. He was 66.
“Many of us have our own unique characteristics and Paul was no exception,” Belhumeur, who considered him a friend, said. The two were both originally from Maryland, and Harrington had taken to Belhumeur five years ago when he started getting interested in city issues. Harrington first ran for a seat in 2020. He polled ahead of incumbent Marshal Shupe, but was behind Deborah Phillips and Ken Bryan, who were elected. His interest in the city didn’t waver. He’d hesitated before putting his name in for the 2021 election, but finally did, running a campaign on the theme of preserving the city’s “small-town charm.”
“Paul was deeply invested in Flagler Beach and he really did care deeply for the city he lived in,” Belhumeur said. “He really wanted to be part of planning for its future. Almost every meeting for maybe the last three years and probably going back five years he’s been coming to meetings.”
“It’s so sad,” Commission Chairman Eric Cooley said this morning. “At times he would drive me crazy with our debates, but I never wanted this. I liked his presence. I am hurt for the family and everything they have to deal with. I am getting emotional just thinking about it all.” Harrington is survived by a son and a daughter who lived with him at his North Central Avenue home. He had separated from his wife, who traveled down from Maryland when he was hospitalized, to care for their children.
His ties to Flagler Beach date back to 2003, his residency there to 2010. He’d studied architecture, worked in construction management, including as a site manager for the renovation of the Lord Baltimore Hotel, a stately art deco high-rise downtown. According to his campaign biography, then became self-employed as a general contractor. He’d previously served six years as an infantry soldier in the Virginia and Maryland Army National Guards and made numerous cross-Atlantic trips on a 50-foot sailboat.
At commission meetings, Harrington would frequently address issue after issue, without one single theme dominating his interests, though environmental stewardship was key to him.
“He made us think more deeply sometimes about an issue, because he’d bring up something that maybe we hadn’t thought about,” Commissioner Jane Mealy said. “Whether we agreed with him or didn’t agree with him, at least he had the interest in the town and did put thought into the different issues. He did have thoughts about almost everything that we discussed. He certainly was a big presence. So it’s a loss. every person who dies, it’s a loss, but for th city, it will be.”