Last Updated: 11:34 a.m.
It was all strategy.
At least that’s how Palm Coast City Council member Eddie Branquinho put it. Branquinho says his storming out of the council workshop last week was pre-meditated. He did it to draw attention to his cause–opposition to most apartment construction in the city.
He said at the time that “I don’t belong here,” and that he would rethink whether he’d ever return. But he’s not self-evicting: Branquinho is returning to Tuesday’s council meeting, and he will serve out his term through early November. He’s opted not to run for re-election. But he says he may run for mayor, challenging David Alfin, in two years. (See: “‘I Don’t Belong Here,’ Eddie Branquinho Says, Storming Out of Council Meeting After Not Getting His Way.”)
“Of course I am,” he said, when asked Sunday if he intended to return to the council. “I have absolutely no intention to quit.”
Branquinho said he had orchestrated walking out of a council meeting during discussions leading up to the 151 percent raise council members voted themselves in April. Branquinho opposed the raise. But he said he decided to save the move for the apartment issue, because he could only do it once effectively.
“Of course it was strategy,” Branquinho said. “I got the attention. That’s the whole idea of this.” He said his walk-out drew articles in the local press and on the radio, he got phone calls and emails, and it resulted in his getting invited to a radio show on WNZF to talk about the issue further. That, he said, is all he wanted, knowing all along that his stance was a losing one with fellow-council members. Branquinho said he doesn’t see his decision to leave the meeting as damaging his image or his cause. “My cause was damaged to begin with,” he said.
Mayor David Alfin did not take kindly to the move. “I think it lack if respect and disservice to city staff and to the residents to formulate political strategies on ploys and baseless information,” Alfin said late this morning, after learning of the reasoning behind Branquinho’s exit. “It certainly is contrary to my investment in collaboration on the dais. We’ve worked very hard for almost a year now to create a level of collaboration which doesn’t necessitate agreement but does require decorum and mutual respect.”
Alfin’s overarching–and unquestioned–achievement since he became mayor was to turn what had been the most dysfunctional, combative local government board into a functioning panel, with former foes treating each other with respect and deference. “Setting precedent like this is contrary to the initiative of collaboration, and I don’t think it helps win the community’s respect that we’re doing our best to serve as city council members,” Alfin said.
Branquinho has almost reflexively opposed any new apartment zoning or construction, and most new single-family developments, claiming that they’re bringing too much density to the city. Drawing on his experience in Newark, N.J., he says the push for affordable housing will result in a degradation of housing through crime and subsidized housing, eventually making the city less desirable and only then causing housing costs to fall, because–again, in his view–fewer people will want to live here.
The claims are not backed up by fact: the surge in development, including the addition of several apartment complexes in Palm Coast, Bunnell and Flagler Beach, has coincided with a doubling of the median price of a single family home in less than four years, to $400,000 and, this year alone, the largest increase in property values in 16 years. Rents are rising out of reach for the working poor, and the housing supply in the county is down to a mere month, all indications that there is a severe housing shortage. Crime, meanwhile, as Sheriff Rick Staly frequently points out, has fallen by more than 50 percent in five years, to historic lows in Palm Coast and the county.
Still, Branquinho insists that apartments bring crime, and again made a comparison with Newark during an interview Sunday. Newark, however, is itself experiencing a surge in housing, to the point of gentrification.
Branquinho wants the city to survey residents on their support or opposition to apartments, and on the sort of lot size they deem acceptable for single family homes. The rest of the council thought the questions too loaded toward a pre-determined response, since they would be going to existing residents, most of them in single family homes built on ITT-era quarter-acre lots. Instead, the council favors a broader survey that examines residents’ long-term vision for development. The survey would inform the council as it redraws its comprehensive plan, the blueprint that sets out development patterns over decades.
The councilman said he would not presume to school fellow-Council member Nick Klufas on computer programming, or Alfin on realty, or Council member Ed Danko on television production. “But they can’t talk to me about safety and security and crime,” Branquinho, a retired cop, said, “and I recommend to them to take a look at a book called ‘Broken Windows.'” He was referring to the broken-windows theory of policing, which argues that the smallest infractions, including panhandling, graffiti, broken windows or jaywalking should not be tolerated because that would suggest that the community is not in control, and more serious crime would follow. The theory is controversial and by no means proven. Critics point out that it is a pretext for targeting minorities and petty infractions, leading to heavy-handed policing with graver consequences. But it remains current in police parlance.
When it became clear to Branquinho that his colleagues would not support his approach–that they would “bury” his questions, as he put it–he stood up and left. The bulk of the workshop agenda was still ahead, including discussions on special events, the expansion of the tennis center, and a rather critical discussion on the budget. The council Tuesday evening is scheduled to set its tentative property tax rate for next year, based on that discussion.
Asked if he regretted not running for re-election, Branquinho said he did not. “I regret not running for mayor,” he said, before saying that he would likely be running in two years. Branquinho is not moving, so he cannot run for the seat he occupies now, in the district where he lives. That leaves only the mayor’s race open to him. “Probably I’ll come back in two years, you never know,” he said.
Alfin said “the good news is that in the City of Palm Coast, anyone can run for mayor.”