7:30 p.m. Update: Bunnell City Commissioner Elbert Tucker was re-elected today, and Bill Baxley, on his second try, we also elected, while long-time commissioner Daisy Henry lost her seat, resulting in a momentous change that re-aligns voting blocs away from Mayor Catherine Robinson and toward Tucker and Commissioner John Rogers. Baxley is a Tucker and Rogers ally.
Tucker won with 122 votes, Baxley had 121, and Henry 117. The top two vote-getters were automatically elected. A couple of provisional votes will be counted on Friday, but that’s not enough to make a difference in the results.
“I’m surprised. I am. I thought I was going to be the low man,” Tucker said. He was the top man instead. “What a deal. By one vote.”
Tucker spent the past five years casting dissenting vote after dissenting vote. The election means that for the first time, he will be in the majority, and likely lead the new majority, casting Mayor Catherine Robinson in a minority role she has not often known.
“We’ll hopefully be able to do what’s best for the citizens, as always,” Tucker said. “That’s always what I’ve tried to do, and guard the public liberty, and maybe I’ll be able to better accomplish that goal. But it will be a team effort.” He added: “The Lone Ranger just has another person in the team. maybe. We’ll see.”
Henry had spent the day ferrying supporters to the polls in her own car. It proved to be not enough.
The earlier story:
Every Bunnell city election you can count on two things. Three, if you include low voter turn-out: the candidates and their spouses sit in lawn chairs at the foot of the old courthouse and try to solicit what few voters show up across the way at the old Bunnell City Hall, the election’s only polling station. Few voters do. Meanwhile, the smell of frying oil from the Bantam Chef, the small restaurant nearby, wafts over the candidates in waves pungent and persistent enough to make you want to check your cholesterol.
This is also where the candidates usually end up spending more times chatting it up with each other than with voters—to pass the time or to not get too nervous, though today incumbent Elbert Tucker and challenger Bill Baxley seemed no less relaxed than at a Sunday cookout. They were in a three-way race, along with incumbent Daisy Henry, for two seats on the commission. The top two vote-getters were to be the winners.
Henry was not soliciting. She was driving voters to the polls.
She would appear periodically in her blue car, bringing in voter after voter, some of them frail enough that they needed her help to go up the steps and into the voting booths: polling places are forbidden to anyone not voting (or not a poll worker or poll watcher), though the likes of City Manager Armando Martinez and former police chief Arthur Jones, neither of whom is a Bunnell resident, made appearances inside the polling place Tuesday afternoon. Jones was shuttling voters to the polls just as Henry was.
Henry could get around the prohibition through another allowance: voters may be aided to the booth by someone else. Henry, in other words, was not only driving in her own stream of voters, but walking them to the ballot that bore her name. She was quite busy. The polls weren’t closing until 7 p.m.
Baxley and Tucker looked on, bemused, shrugging off the scene as just another Bunnellian quirk. But the sort of quirk that usually yields victory. There are just 1,168 registered voters in Bunnell. Tucker mailed a letter to each one of them. Some 120 letters were returned, netting just over 1,000 actual voters. If 100 turned up, that would give Bunnell a turnout just over 10 percent. By 3:15 p.m. 133 voters had cast a ballot, and 23 additional ballots were sent in absentee. The after-work rush was still due.
The election itself is being run by Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks, not the city, which took care of election matters up to Election Day. The election costs roughly $2,500, City Clerk Dan Davis said.
At one point a Weeks employee and a poll worker attempted to keep a FlaglerLive reporter from taking pictures inside the 100-foot no-solicitation zone, saying it was against the law. They were wrong. Weeks was summoned to the scene, as was Lt. Randy Burke of the Bunnell Police Department. After a call to the state elections office, Weeks acknowledged that, in fact, there was no law prohibiting a reporter from being inside the 100-foot zone, or taking pictures there, though she said it was her preference that that not be the case. Weeks’s poll workers have on occasion misinterpreted the law and, as was the case Tuesday, rudely harassed reporters at voting locations. (Reporters are not only allowed inside no-soliciting zones, as long as they are not interfering with the voting process: they are also allowed to conduct exit polling at the door of voting precincts. They are not allowed inside the voting zones.)
In 2010, Tucker and Henry were reelected without opposition. Two years before that, they were in a three-way race for two seats, like today. But the ballot was part of a presidential primary, which brought out more voters than usual. Tucker ended up the top vote-getter, with 285. Henry was second, with 230. John Rogers was third, with 182.
Between Baxley and Tucker, at least one of them was assured election. But neither was considering it a victory if one of them lost. “If I don’t get in and Ms. Henry gets in, it’ll be the same as usual,” Baxley said. “Same old, same old.”
He was referring to the established 3-2 split on the Bunnell City Commission: On many matters, Tucker is usually in dissent, along with Commissioner John Rogers, with Henry, Commissioner Jenny Crain-Brady and Mayor Catherine Robinson maintaining a majority bloc. If Tucker and Henry are re-elected, nothing changes. Nothing would change if Baxley and Henry are elected, either. Baxley aligns himself with Tucker, but replacing him merely replaces a name-plate, not the commission’s alignment. That would happen only if both Baxley and Tucker are elected—a prospect Martinez dreads, because his job may be in jeopardy: Tucker and Rogers support him, but don’t champion him, and may be interested in a change. Baxley’s addition would provide them the majority they’ve long sought.
“There needs to be a change,” Tucker said. “If I get elected and he doesn’t, and I get elected and he doesn’t, the commission stays the same. We’ll have the three votes that generally vote one way, and we’ll have the two votes that generally vote one way.”
Baxley and Tucker had been joined by Jan Reeger, a Bunnell resident and real estate broker who’d run for the Flagler County Commission in 2008. She then chaired Bunnell’s Community Redevelopment Agency. She had just voted.
“I don’t know that it would do me any damage if somebody else won, but these two were my choices,” Reeger said, pointing to Baxley and Tucker. “I used to attend a lot of the meetings. I watched Elbert. I’m perfectly capable of having disagreements, but for the most part I’m extremely impressed with the research that he did. To me that’s important.” She then addressed Tucker directly: “I think you take firm stands on issues. You’re sometimes the objector. You don’t fall into those patterns. You stand forward and forth for what you believe.” She got to know Baxley over conversations with him, as Baxley knocked on doors and spoke with a considerable number of people over time. He did that more in this election cycle than he did two years ago.
Of Henry, Regeer said: “I have a great deal of respect for her. I think she’s a wonderful person and I think she has good intentions. I’m just not sure she might do some of the research or look into some of the matters fully. I think he may kind of slide along with what looks like the easy road. And again, I adore Daisy. She’s a wonderful person.”