It’s a free-for-all: The qualifying window for the special election for Palm Coast mayor doesn’t close until next Monday. But eight candidates–from the obscure to the esoteric to the expected–have already filed to run. Six candidates are Republicans, two are Democrats. It’s a non-partisan election, but only ostensibly so. Three of the candidates are Realtors.
There is no limit on the number of candidates who may run, as long as they qualify either by petition or by paying the $1,140 fee. The petition window closed last week. Not a single candidate had qualified that way, which required getting nearly 500 petition cards signed. The qualifying window closes at noon on June 7. Conceivably, some of those who have filed to run may yet disqualify themselves by then, though most have already paid the fee and the rest are scheduled to meet with city officials to do so, according to Palm Coast’s city clerk.
The July 27 election is winner-takes-all–there is no run-off–so only a plurality, not a majority, of the vote is required. Mathematically at this point, and assuming no additional candidates file, the winner could have as little as 13 or 14 percent of the vote and win.
Former Mayor Milissa Holland resigned abruptly on May 18. By charter, the council must set a special election that fills the seat. The council did so the day after Holland’s resignation in a special meeting. The special election is expected to cost the city around $100,000.
By then two of the expected candidates had announced their run: Alan Lowe, 60, the self-styled inventor who ran against Holland last year, and David Alfin, 68, the Realtor who ran in a special council election to fill the seat Jack Howell had resigned. Lowe got 26.5 percent of the vote in a five-way primary, with Holland just 5 points ahead. Holland beat him by the same margin, with 52.6 percent of the vote, in the general. But Lowe’s vote total–23,677–clearly positioned him to be the front-runner in the special election. His so far are the only election signs of any prominence cluttering roadsides.
The special election Alfin ran in was like this mayoral special election: it required only a plurality for the winner to be declared. Alfin got just 20.6 percent and 9,515 votes in a four-way race, falling behind the only Democrat who ran in that field–Bob Coffman–who got 24.6 percent. Barbosa won with 38.1 percent. (The Lowe and Alfin candidacies were detailed previously here.)
Two candidates are little known: Mark Mistie, 64, and Kevin Cichowski, 41, both C-Section residents. Mistie ran a day care center off Palm Coast Parkway many years ago. Little else is known about him. He lives on Cimmaron Drive, relevant only because that road has been the most talked-about road by residents at council meetings for the past several meetings and workshops: residents want a walking path there. Mistie did not return a call before this article initially published.
Cichowski said he had not “formally announced.” He described himself as “a person that invests in distressed businesses that are trying to make a come back,” with little additional detail (“I was one of those people that invested in Hertz rent a car”) and described Palm Coast as “a bit of a mess.” But he was still studying whether to actually run or not. He said he was “in the process of deeply researching the problems in this town. I like to be able to deliver the things that I say I’ll deliver.” Pressed to be more precise about his current employment, Cichowski didn’t reveal it, but said in an email: “I know this, My job is not ambassador Christ,” an apparent reference to an era in the 1990s when Lowe referred to himself as such.
On the esoteric side, there’s Carol “Mother Elizabeth” Bacha again. The 66 year old everyone refers to as “The Nun” ran for a school board seat last year but fared quite poorly, polling just 13 percent in a three-way race against Colleen Conklin, who won re-election. Paul Mucciolo, a physician, was second in the race. She appears before local government boards from time to time, but it is often difficult to decipher Bacha’s positions. She described herself as “Director of New Tikhvin Skete of the Holy Mother of God and Christmas Monastery School of Music and the Sacred and Creative Arts” in her Live Interview last year. “I believe I have worked longer at combining survival with thriving and finding joy in the journey through singing and dancing my way in the workplace and influencing the environment around me from crisis to care and resilience,” she said at the time.
Doug Courtney is not quite in the esoteric camp: the resilient 66-year-old Democrat used to be an unfailing candidate in one local race or another, though he’s never managed to make it from candidate to winner. He ran for a Florida House seat twice, for the Flagler County Commission in 2000 and for state chairman of the Democratic Party in 2004. This would be his fifth run for office, seemingly tying him for the more recent perennial candidate, Dennis McDonald. Like Lowe, he’s an inventor–he owns a company called ExecData–and sees the growing field of candidates as an advantage to him: “The larger the field the better the chances,” he said. “The number of people that’s going to vote now is considerably diminished,” so it’ll hinge on convincing the most active voters, Courtney said. Asked if the larger number of candidates might give Lowe the easier path to victory, Courtney said: “The number of candidates in the field also give Doug Courtney an easier path to victory.”
Courtney is one of two Democrats on the field, so far. The other is Cornelia Manfre, 64, who ran her first political campaign last year in a bid to unseat Council member Nick Klufas. Manfre made it into the run-off after a three-way race, with 33 percent of the vote to Klufas’s 40.5, but fell short 57-43 in the general election. Still, she polled over 20,000 votes, only 3,500 votes less than Lowe did, suggesting she could be a strong competitor–particularly since revelations about Lowe’s period as a “sovereign citizen” in mid-October came well after thousands had voted by mail.
Manfre cites her experience in business and public service, coming from a family of people who’ve served–not least among them Jim Manfre, twice elected sheriff in Flagler. “I have a background both in corporations and in business and as a small business owner,” Manfre said. With her 41 years of experience and educational background in urban studies, she said, “I could apply to the mayoral position and assist the city to move ahead. It’s a wonderful place to live, it’s got the organizational structure, it’s something I’d enjoy overseeing, the growth and integrity of our nature here.” Manfre considers the large field of candidates “admirable,” as it points to broad interest in the position. “Good competition makes you think and act, and certainly is going to make me address who I am and why am I doing this in comparison to the others.”
“People’s experience is what I think a critical voter will look for,” Manfre said. “I’m a negotiator, a mediator, I’m a good listener, but also I like to know and try to guide people to act professionally at all times, and that is how I would run the city council.” That last comment was a clear reference to the council’s turbulence over the past six to eight months, with clashes between council members and between the public and the council.
Mike Cocciola, a local Democratic Party operative, in an email to party members Monday said Democrats will endorse Manfre. “Cornelia has the endorsement of Jack Howell, John Brady, and Mike [Schottey], each of whom has a good following of voters,” Cocciola wrote in remarks first reported by Ask Flagler.” Ironically, Schottey, Brady and Howell, all three Democrats, had endorsed Lowe in November against Holland.
The third Realtor in the race is Kathy Austrino, 50, an outspoken Palm Coast resident who was a close ally of Nate McLaughlin, the former county commissioner–they worked together in realty–who spoke of her “great respect” for Lowe and Alfin, but also of her concerns, which led her to join the race. “Many I’ve spoken to have concerns with choosing Alan,” Austrino wrote in an email. “As well, many I’ve spoken to have little to no trust with respect to how things at the level of City Council have been handled. When Milissa suddenly stepped down and David immediately stepped forward indicating that he had spent the past few months being mentored by Milissa – this seemed as though it was a well planned event. The talk of large donors behind David and close relationships with developers/developer attorneys/and local media owners–all made me uncomfortable. I felt that the election was a technicality and the next Mayor was already assumed.” (The media owner Austrino is referring to is John Walsh of the Observer, who is backing Alfin.)
Austrino, involved in local politics as a close observer since 2003, said “I have been in meetings, spoken at meetings, and reached directly out to our Representatives over these past 18 years. I am not perfect, I am just a member of the community willing to help ease up on spending… listen to all residents (as best I can) and see that the desire of the majority is what takes place in line with the Comprehensive Plan. And do it in such a way that is clear to our residents that we are taking in the considerations of everyone possible with each decision.”