After Palm Coast City Clerk administered the oath of office as Palm Coast’s fourth mayor to David Alfin this evening, with his daughter Melanie on one side and his wife Tammy on the other, no-longer-Acting Mayor Eddie Branquinho took off his jacket and stood up to prepare to hand over his gavel and cede his chair.
But Alfin wouldn’t go up to the dais. He opened a folder to remarks he’d prepared.
“I think your words will be heard from here,” Branquinho told him from the dais. But Alfin wouldn’t budge. “Right here my friend. You’re now the mayor,” Branquinho insisted.
“I understand,” Alfin said.
“You belong here.”
“I understand. I will speak from here for a moment, and then I will join you in just a second,” Alfin said. So less than a minute after taking the oath, he’d made his first mark as a mayor who’d both stand his ground and respect a balance: he positioned himself to the side of the podium, so he would not show his back to the council, but also so that he would be able to face the standing-room-only audience of residents, now once again socially distanced in their chairs. He wanted to do so from the well of the chamber, not from the dais, to make a point: the man who struggled against seeming patrician during his campaign signaled he would still be of the people–if not naturally so, then at least in intent and design.
“I’m afforded the opportunity to speak to you,” he told the audience–which had applauded right after the oath: there seemed to be no intemperates in the room, or if there were, they were behaving–“and not show my back to you as if I were making public comments. So please excuse me, my colleagues.”
He then began a 12-minute speech that began with his acknowledgment of ” the opportunity to serve you,” the people, paused for a moment to recognize Council member Victor Barbosa’s absence and wish him a “full and strong recovery” (Barbosa has been battling covid and pneumonia in a hospital for the past five days), recognize Branquinho’s service since former Mayor Milissa Holland’s resignation in mid-May (Alfin, in perhaps the only indelicate but quite loud silence of his speech, did not allude to Holland, though he is her choice as a successor, the two are close politically and her tenure was unrivaled), then described the kind of mayor he would be.
“Those who have worked with me describe me as a proven problem solver,” Alfin said. “I pledge to the citizens of Palm Coast, that my focus is on you, and how our city government can best serve you, your family and your neighborhood.” He spoke of a team approach to success, used words like “mission,” “leadership,” “understand,” “listen,” and this, which has been missing from the council for months, if only because of some of its members: “Treating others with respect and kindness is key.” Alfin pledged civility, but also analysis, deliberation, and a “thoughtful and analytical approach”–also in short supply on the council, if only because of some of its members.
“I know I have plenty to learn, and I bring a humble heart and a willingness to work,” Alfin said. His voice had been steady until then, the mask he was wearing never impeding his strong voice. But here it broke as he spoke of his family: “As your mayor, I believe public service is a noble calling. My sons have served America as a police detective and FBI agent and a pilot in the army.” (His daughter in the audience was serving in health care locally.) “Our family knows both the joy and the pain and sacrifice of public service.” The audience all knew, and Alfin did not have to mention, that his son David, an FBI agent, was murdered in the line of duty last February, along with his partner, while serving a warrant in South Florida, a shock that played a role in redirecting Alfin’s trajectory in Palm Coast.
“I am deeply honored to be trusted to serve as your mayor,” he said. “It’s a trust I will protect and safeguard in my every word and deed. Many of us are now blessed to be parents, it changes your perspective, the focus of your life is the future for those children you love. We want our children to have and enjoy a Palm Coast that enables them to experience everything their families and dreams desire now and for generations to come. I thank you for the opportunity of a lifetime to serve you.”
There was warm applause, including from the dais. Branquinho and fellow-Councilman Nick Klufas had stood ramrod throughout Alfin’s speech. And there was humor. “I was about to tell you your three minutes are up,” Branquinho told the mayor as Alfin gathered his papers.
Alfin then, wittingly or not, made what appeared to be another gesture of conciliation: he shook hands from the well with each of the council members and the city attorney, but the first councilman he shook hands with was Ed Danko, who had run Alan Lowe’s campaign against Alfin, and who had been convinced, week after week, that Lowe would give him the majority Danko has been craving for. Alfin’s gesture clearly took Danko by surprise, bringing what until then was the first smile of the evening to Danko’s face.
As Alfin made his way to the dais, Branquinho added: “Serve well. That’s all I can tell you. This is your seat. And you are right here.”
It wasn’t the only warm symbolism of the evening. Before the meeting started, Cornelia Manfre, who ran a close third in the race, went up to Alfin and the pair exchanged hugs and a few words, and just before the swearing in, during the public comment period, Manfre spoke words that rivaled Alfin’s for their theme of unity and sincerity. She congratulated Alfin, called on the election to “make this the new city of Palm Coast,” and of her pride in the city and her run. “I was looking forward to working with all of you, but I believe Mayor-Elect Alfin will do an excellent job,” Manfre said. “But I invite you all to be a collaborative team to move us forward. And I say that with all sincerity, so that the public in these trying times that we have, both economically and with Covid, that you will be the shining stars as a new city council. Let’s work together.”
Of course, given the recent history of council meetings that have tended to approximate the final days of Rome, the evening would not have been complete without at least one reminder that all was not quite for the better in the best of all possible worlds, just yet. The reminder came from Dave Willis, who wanted to speak about “invalidation of Article Seven section seven of the city charter.” There is no such thing in the charter, but he went on to cite state law that requires election result announcements not to be delivered before 7 p.m. on election night. He claimed–falsely–that “all these informations were put out, which puts us in violation here.” He then threatened “lawsuits” and vague referrals–“You know who’s in violation and who’s not in violation,” he said.
No one was in violation. Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart, who was in the audience with two of her staffers, ran the election for the city, in conjunction with Smith, and did so with near-flawless precision, respecting all laws, though Lowe partisans have been grumbling and fabricating the narrative of “violations.” The council was required to certify the election this evening. It did so in a 3-0 vote. And when the call went out to any member of the public who might wish to address the issue, neither Willis nor anyone else stood up to speak.
Alfin wasn’t yet seated, the order of things requiring the certification of the election to precede his swearing in. When he did take his seat, his first order of business was to approve the minutes of two previous meetings, and got a unanimous vote. More substantially, Acting Palm Coast Fire Chief Kyle Berryhill presented a covid-19 public health crisis, summarizing the crisis that has unfolded in the community and especially at the local hospital, with 80 in-patients on Monday, and 900 recorded covid-19 infections recorded in the last seven days. (Berryhill had referred to the 665 infections recorded in the seven days ending last Friday.)
The presentation gave Alfin an opportunity to make his first substantive and unequivocal declaration as a mayor: “I’m going to plead to all of our residents, it’s now time for each of you, for me, for our council members for our staff, and for our residents, to make a bold move forward to make a choice,” Alfin said. (He had started by quoting John Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you” line, but thankfully thought the better of it.) “The health department recommends three different things that you can do. You will have to make a choice, and pick one, two or all three. You can get a vaccination. We have vaccinations. You can mask. We have masks. You can social distance and clean up. You have the choice. So I’m putting it out to myself and to the residents and the citizens of Palm Coast: make that choice. Start thinking about what you can do, and start thinking about how you can better protect your neighbor across the street, next door, your family, your friends. I want each of us to begin to take that responsibility.”
Local elected officials had been inexplicably slow to speak of the emergency and urge precautions. But with his statement, Alfin joined Bunnell City Commissioner John Rogers, Flagler Beach Mayor Suzie Johnston and County Commissioners Andy Dance and Dave Sullivan (both of whom were in the audience this evening) in calling on residents to adopt the health department’s renewed recommendations for masking, vaccination and social distancing.
Every person on the dais was masked–City Manager Denise Bevan, Alfin, City Attorney Bill Reischmann, Klufas, Branquinho and Smith. There was one exception: Danko.