Last Updated: 8:14 p.m.
David Alfin, the 68-year-old Realtor, past president of the Flagler County Education Foundation and a long-time Florida transplant from his native Teaneck, N.J., was elected Palm Coast’s fourth mayor this evening in a relatively strong win over five other candidates. Fellow-Realtor Cornelia Manfre was running second.
With all 18,962 votes counted, Alfin won with 6,891 votes, or 36.3 percent, Lowe took second with 5,102 votes, or 26.9 percent, and Manfre took third with 4,558 votes, or 24 percent. The three other candidates are Doug Courtney (9 percent), Kathy Austrino (3 percent) and Carol Bacha (1 percent).
Alfin’s victory paired with Manfre’s showing is a decisive repudiation of scorched-earth politics represented by Alan Lowe, the hyper-partisan candidate who’d also run against Milissa Holland in November, falling short then after a campaign dependent on more smears than substance. After Holland resigned in May, citing obligations to her daughter, Lowe immediately declared for mayor in the special election and repeated the approach, if often focusing back on the Holland era and other imaginary wrongs. Lowe’s campaign projected more apocalyptic visions of City Hall than aspirations for the city at large–an ironic inversion for a candidate who described himself as an inventor, a talent fueled more by imagination than resentment.
“I have a gathering of supporters here, which form a neighborhood if you will, which is as warm and loving and comforting, as anyone could be. They don’t know yet,” Alfin said, speaking by phone from Island Grill, the Flagler Beach restaurant, moments before his supporters learned of the victory, but after the results had been posted and published here. “And I can’t wait to share the news with them and the excitement, the thrill and all of those things. But we also know here that… this deal really gets started on the third [of August]. So there’s little time to waste. Because there is so much to do in a short period of time to regain the community’s confidence. That’s a process. And I will spend every minute working towards that goal. It’s really important for all of us.” As he spoke, his supporters erupted in cheers, the news having made it to to their phones.
Alfin’s election ensures that when the council meets again on Aug. 3, when Alfin will be sworn in, it will have the three-vote majority to break a logjam dating back to Holland’s resignation. One of the council’s first votes will be to set the tentative property tax rate for next week–a normally routine action that every local government manages without controversy, but that the Palm Coast council could not manage earlier this week, as two council members–Ed Danko and Victor Barbosa–refused to budge from a tax rate lower than administratively prudent at this stage, since neither council member was prepared to offer up items that could be cut in accordance with their lower tax rate. Alfin today said he would vote for the existing tax rate, as Acting Mayor Eddie Branquinho and Council member Nick Klufas had proposed. He also pledged to be the sort of mayor who will seek unanimity rather than a mere majority, a pledge that may seem herculean in the face of two council members pledged to ideological doctrine rather than the facts and figures of ledgers and governance.
Whether with a majority or unanimity, the council’s reconstitution now ensures that it can move forward with the search for a new city manager, following the sudden resignation of Matt Morton days after Holland’s. Alfin said that he favors a wide and thorough search for the next manager.
“I wish Mr. Alfin the very best of luck and I hope he will lead Palm Coast into the future,” Manfre said in a concession statement less than an hour after the results were announced. “And while I will not have the opportunity to serve the people of this great city, I will continue to serve and advocate for the people of Palm Coast like I have for the past 22 years. But I don’t see this as a win for Republicans, I see this as a loss for Democrats. The vote count shows that at least 1000+ Democrats did not vote for one of the two Democrats running. We have to do better and we will do better.” Manfre in her written statement appears to have missed a zero in her calculation. There are about 22,000 registered Democrats in the city, only 13,000 of whom voted.
Holland was not at Alfin’s celebration, though her phone appeared to be ringing at least as much as Alfin’s. She said she was “very pleased with the outcome of the election. I think it was a well run campaign focused on the issues and what was important to the voters, and our residents. And I also think that it was a message that was consistent with the majority of our residents, and what they want to see.”
With Alfin and Manfre together totaling roughly 60 percent of the vote, the message of repudiation of the politics of abuse, largely targeting Holland, was clear. “We have a tremendous amount of opportunities that are before us, and we also have some challenges that we have to continue to address as a community,” Holland said. “It’s going to take a lot of thoughtful leadership to ensure that the continuum of services are provided to our residents, which they expect. I’m hopeful that this result will dampen some of the rhetoric that’s been going on for the last few months. And I think those that will be there for the right reasons will be focused on the issues that are impacting our community.”
Turnout was poor throughout mail-in and early voting, and did not improve today, ending barely over the 26 percent mark. Just 15 to 16 percent of all ballots cast were recorded on election day. But it was not as bad as the last time a mayor was elected outside of a general election cycle. In 2011, the last year when Palm Coast held off-year elections–and the year that decided the council to shift to general-election voting–only 10.6 percent of the electorate voted in the September primary that elected Jon Netts to his final term as mayor. He won with 2,850 votes in a city with 49,500 registered voters, or with less than 6 percent of the eligible voter’s total.
Today’s outcome was not foretold. Lowe, because of his perceived showing in November, was briefly seen as the front-runner, and not just by his own campaign. Anxiety ran high at City Hall, where the assumption in early June was that Lowe was set to win. The assumption was amplified by Ed Danko, the then-strutting Palm Coast City Councilman elected in November, who made his fortune synonymous with Holland’s exit Lowe’s opportune rise. Danko stage-managed Lowe’s campaign accordingly, a strategy Lowe now likely regrets given Danko’s gift for self-destruction.
So it was not just a stinging loss for Lowe, his second in eight months. Danko had turned the election into a referendum on Danko’s own politics and tenure, and his ability to get a third vote in Lowe, presumably with the submissive vote of Barbosa–whom Danko had previously vilified as unintelligent. As recently as Monday, Danko had sent a campaign-email advertising through Mailchimp that–beside skirting the legalities of using his position as a councilman to campaign–used the first person singular five times in a 116-word pitch for Lowe. Besides repeating falsehoods and making slanderous innuendoes seldom seen in Palm Coast electoral politics until Lowe, Danko and Barbosa exploited the approach last November, Danko claimed today’s special election was the “last chance to save our city from the dishonest political PACs and their greedy politicians.” (Alfin, like Rep. Paul Renner, Sen. Travis Hutson and Sheriff Rick Staly, among others, benefited from lucrative out-of-county and out-of-district contributions.)
“I will fight for you and our city, but I cannot do it alone,” he told prospective voters, using the “our city” formula twice in the brief, clipped-paragraph email. Today’s election results strongly suggest it is not Danko’s city anymore than it is Lowe, by any means. If anything, it is still Holland’s city, as Holland behind the scenes had favored Alfin and Alfin had tailored his run on more of a protection of the Holland legacy than a conjuration of his own. Barbosa had also closely allied himself with Lowe, campaigning for him on social media, planting his signs and biding his time on the council. Barbosa was elected in a special election last November, defeating Alfin, among others. Barbosa has since announced a run for the county commission, which means he will have to resign his council seat next year.
Danko’s commitment to the council is unclear. The council was meeting in a budget workshop today, discussing matters Danko–judging by his questions in meetings–has little familiarity with. But Danko skipped the meeting, choosing to campaign for Lowe instead at the public library in Palm Coast, though by the time the workshop was over, barely two or three dozen people had voted there.
“This,” said Bob Cuff of Alfin’s win—Cuff had served four years on the council with Holland until his decision not to run again last year— “will make sleeping easier and telling people you live in Palm Coast a lot more pleasant.”
|Cornelia Downing Manfre|