It was a near-sweep for Flagler County’s constitutional officers: In a reflection of their popularity, satisfaction with their performance, perhaps a touch of leeriness in the era of Covid and the more pronounced power of incumbency for certain offices, four of the five constitutional officers were re-elected today, drawing no opposition by the time qualifying for the 2020 election ended at noon: Clerk of Court Tom Bexley, Tax Collector Suzanne Johnston, Property Appraiser Jay Gardner, and Elections Supervisor Kaiti Lenhart.
The fifth, Sheriff Rick Staly, drew a general-election opponent in Larry Jones, a former sheriff’s sergeant and his opponent four years ago. But Jones isn’t expected to be much of a challenge for Staly, who so far has a 45-to-1 advantage in fund-raising, enjoys significant bi-partisan popularity behind three and a half, scandal-free years and diminishing crime, and a 15-point victory over Jones four years ago, when Staly’s leadership as sheriff was still a question mark. It is all but certain that all five current constitutional officers will be taking the oath of office again next January.
All other local races have drawn some three dozen candidates, including incumbents, with several of those races to be decided in the August 18 primary, since they involve just two candidates. (See a full list of candidates at the foot of the article.)
One of the more notable races is that for county commission, District 3, involving incumbent Dave Sullivan, the current chairman of the commission, and Kim Carney, the former Flagler Beach city commissioner–notable, because they are both Republicans, and will both be on the ballot in the August primary, but since no other candidate has filed to run, that primary election will be open to all voters, including Democrats and Independents, and will decide the outcome.
On the other hand, there will not be a primary contest in the District 1 county commission race–the seat incumbent Charlie Ericksen is resigning at the end of his term. Republican Andy Dance, the school board member, has filed to run, as has Democrat Corinne Hermle, a former candidate for the Palm Coast City Council. Judicial races aside, that race is expected to be among the more cerebral and civil of the season. The two analytically minded candidates, neither of whom much for ideology, will face off in November.
The County Commission race for District 5 will be drawn out over both the primary and the general. In the primary, incumbent Republican Donald O’Brien will face Bob Jones, and the winner will face both Paul Anderson and Denise Calderwood in the general, two of the more polemical candidates in the mix, as both have filed as non-party affiliation candidates.
In school board races, two seats would normally be up this year–District 5 and District 3. But since Dance is resigning, his seat is also up for what will be a two-year term. That opening has drawn two candidates–Vincent Lyon, an attorney at Chiumento Dwyer Hertel Grant, the Palm Coast law firm, and a former member of the Palm Coast City Council, and Jill Woolbright, recently retired after a long career as a teacher in Flagler County schools, and a vocal union activist.
Incumbent Colleen Conklin in District 3 has drawn a challenge from Carol Bacha, a nun, and Paul Mucciolo, a physician who lent himself $25,000 for his campaign treasure chest. John Sowell, the former Bunnell city commissioner, had filed his intention to run but ended up not qualifying. In District 5, incumbent Maria Barbosa, who also put in a $25,000 loan to herself in her treasure chest, will face Cheryl Massaro, the long-time former director of the Youth Center on the campus of Flagler Palm Coast High School and a member of several juvenile justice advisory council at local, state and federal levels.
Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland will face four challengers–John Brady, Donald Greene, Alan Lowe and Michael Schottey. In Council Seat 3, incumbent Nick Klufas will face Cornelia Manfre and Zack Shapiro, and in Seat 1, with Bob Cuff deciding not to run again, Ed Danko, Sims Jones and Lou Salvagio will face each other. (Salvagio’s addition in the last 48 hours aside, those races were detailed earlier this week here.) If no candidate for mayor or council gets a majority of more than 50 percent at the primary election, then the top two vote-getters will go on to a run-off in November. But if a candidate clears the 50 percent threshold in August, the race is over: that candidate wins the seat.
Three Circuit 7 judicial races will feature seven candidates in three contested groups, two of them incumbents (Judges Michael Orfinger and Bryan Rendzio). Bunnell’s Alicia Washington, who fell short of an appointment to the bench last year, is challenging Rendzio. Anna Handy is challenging Orfinger. Group 14 is an open seat, with Joan Anthony, Daniel Hilbert and MaryEllen Osterndorf running. Circuit 7 judges are assigned to seats anywhere in the circuit, which includes Flagler, Volusia, St. Johns and Putnam counties, but the winners are not expected to substantially change the make-up of Flagler’s current bench.
This year three East Flagler Mosquito Control seats have drawn a total of six candidates, including two incumbents–Jules Kwiatkowski, who’s chaired the panel for many years, and Barbara Sgroi. Mike Martin is challenging Sgroi, Perry Mitrano, Bunnell’s former solid waste and utilities director, is challenging Kwiatkowski. The third seat had been held by Robert Fruehan, the physician who was suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis after Fruehan was criminally charged, then convicted, on a charge of battery against a person 65 or older. That race will be contested between Ralph Lightfoot and Martin Brabham.
For Tax Collector Suzanne Johnston and Jay Gardner, winning without facing opposition has been routine in their 16 years in office. Johnston faced an opponent only in her first run in 2004. Gardner never has. Both Lenhart and Bexley had opponents four years ago.
“I got a couple of emails congratulating me, so I guess no one signed up,” Gardner said shortly after noon. “I wasn’t sitting around worrying about it. I’d hate it, but I’d suffer through it,” he said, had he drawn an opponent. His staff may not have been aware of his victory yet.
“It’s really humbling,” Lenhart said. “I really enjoyed my first term and I love my job.” Lenhart turned the elections office around, restoring confidence in it and ending its era of controversies under her predecessor and turning it into a customer (or voter)-centered operation similar to those of her fellow constitutional officers. Lenhart takes to heart “serving my community and making a difference for people,” she said. “There’s nothing more important than voting. We wouldn’t be standing here in front of the government building if there were not elected officials, so making sure everybody can vote who is eligible, making sure the process is secure, it’s very challenging, especially in these times, but it’s really rewarding. I don’t think there’s anything else I’d rather do.”
Unlike Gardner, Johnston had been very nervous about drawing an opponent, looking at the elections supervisor’s site several times a day. “I don’t like to miss an opportunity to worry about something,” she said. On the other hand, she won’t have to use some 200 election signs gathering dust in her garage since the 2004 election.
Johnston recalled her very first election. She and Gardner were there, Gardner without an opponent. “It’s interesting to know that at the first forum, all the questions that Jay was asked, I had to answer,” she said.
“They asked me some technical, Department of Revenue question, and I was like—” he made a face, showing he didn’t know the answer. Johnston had been in that office for more than three decades. She knew. “Ms. Johnston will be answering that. She was sitting right in front of me, and she did answer. Suzanne came to one of the restaurants in Bunnell and found me and said, don’t you think you ought to run for property appraiser? I couldn’t figure out why she didn’t want the job because she was up there already.”
As the constitutionals spoke, Johnston’s son, Bart Johnston, turned up and gave his mother a big hug. Three of the four constitutional officers had gathered for a picture in front of the Government Services Building. Bexley had a meeting in Flagler Beach, but spoke by phone. “I think it’s a combination to be honest,” he said of his uncontested re-election. “I think it’s a testament to the hard work that me and the people in my office have put forward and it speaks volumes that either no one feels it’s necessary to replace me or they don’t feel they can beat me, that would be two good things. But I think we may have to consider the Covid 19 pandemic has to do with people not wanting or needing to run.”
Each constitutional credited his or her staff for making re-elections possible. “What they do–we’re bullet-proof because of who works for us, and the way they treat the public,” Gardner said.
“They’re great to work with, great people, and government needs something positive in today’s world,” Rae Nescio, Johnston’s right-hand woman at the collector’s office, said of the constitutionals. “They care about what they do, they care about this county. That makes a difference.” Nescico was taking Johnston to lunch in Bunnell so her office staff could have time to decorate the place in a surprise.
2020 Election Candidates, Flagler County
|Flagler County Sheriff||Larry Jones (Dem)|
|Rick Staly, Incumbent (Rep)|
|Flagler County Property Appraiser||Incumbent James E. Gardner, Jr., (Rep) REELECTED|
|Flagler County Clerk of Court||Incumbent Tom Bexley (Rep) REELECTED|
|Flagler County Tax Collector||Incumbent Suzanne Johnston (Rep), REELECTED|
|Flagler County Supervisor of Elections||Kaiti Lenhart, Incumbent (Rep) REELECTED|
|County Commission District 1||Andy Dance (Rep)|
|Corinne Marie Hermle (Dem)|
|County Commission District 3||Kim M. Carney (Rep)|
|David Sullivan, Incumbent (Rep)|
|County Commission District 5||Paul Anderson (NPA)|
|Denise Calderwood (NPA)|
|Bob Jones (rep)|
|Donald O'Brien (Rep)|
|School Board District 1||Vincent Lyon|
|Jill Rena Woobright|
|School Board District||Carol "Mother Elizabeth" Bacha|
|Colleen Conklin, Incumbent|
|School Board District 5||Maria Barbosa, Incumbent|
|Circuit Judge, Circuit 7, Group 14||Joan Anthony|
|Daniel Karl Hilbert|
|MaryEllen Patricia Osterndorf|
|Circuit Judge, Circuit 7, Group 27||Bryan Robert Rendzio|
|Alicia Regina Washington|
|Circuit Judge, Circuit 7, Group 6||Anna Handy|
|Michael S. Orfinger|
|East Flagler Mosquito Control District Seat 1||Julius "Jules" Kwiatkowski|
|East Flagler Mosquito Control District Seat 2||Michael "Mike" Martin|
|East Flagler Mosquito Control District Seat 3||Martin Brabham|
|Ralph E. Lightfoot|
|Palm Coast Mayor||John Brady|
|Milissa Holland, Incumbent|
|Palm Coast City Council Seat 2||Ed Danko|
|Sims E. Jones|
|Palm Coast City Council Seat 3||Nick Klufas|