Will Furry, the candidate for school board in the District 2 race he’s contesting against Courtney VandeBunte, comes across as a genial, God-fearing Everyman who wants to be your friend. He has that innate instinct combining skin-temperature warmth with salesmanship, a foxiness that makes it easy to connect, easy to talk. Also, easy to be fooled. Because something else entirely is at play here.
It’s not a party thing. Look back at our own recent races. Andy Dance, Cheryl Massaro, David Alfin, Greg Hansen, Tucker, Fernando Melendez, Theresa Pontieri: all Republicans, some of them archly so. They all mostly rejected sleaze. Or at least didn’t embrace it, peddle it, run with it. They ran (or are still running) on their record. If they don’t have a record in public office yet, they run on their resume rather than on fabrications about their opponents. In local elections, that’s all you ask for. Ideology should have no place in the discussion, smears and sleaze even less so.
But we’re in a democracy: Athenians at the height of theirs put Socrates to death, remember, and we certainly have no Pericles to speak of in ours these days. We inevitably get the candidates who run with sleaze, the poison-peddlers I wrote about after the primary, when voters thankfully threw out three of the worst.
Furry was among the peddlers because by then he’d already amassed a record of transgressions showing his ease with sleaze. He was caught on video at a school function at Old Kings Elementary distributing campaign materials, to the principal’s dismay: “If it was brought to my attention or had I known this was happening, I would have put a stop to it immediately, as it is against School Board policy to hand out election materials on our campuses,” the principal wrote me. Yet Furry is concerned about the “lawlessness” on our school board.
Furry was a willing participant in Parkview Church’s brazenly illegal use of its non-profit status to endorse him and fellow School Board candidates (at the time) Jill Woolbright and Christy Chong. He didn’t, like Woolbright at another church stage, call school staff evil. Just lawless. And he used the occasion to explain his “journey of faith”–how a Realtor with no experience in education, with no degree in education (no degree in anything, actually) got interested in kids, when even a mission trip to “minister” kids in Guatemala didn’t do it for him. “I kinda put up some walls,” Furry said, “and I said to God, I’ll do anything you want, just don’t put me with the kids. You know, I got two, and that’s enough for me, right?” There are 13,000 kids in the Flagler County school district.
Somehow a two-hour conversation with Greg Peters, the pastor at Parkview, and a $1,000 check from Peters (“Will’s my guy”) changed his mind. Furry could look after the education of those 13,000 after all. “I felt God called me into this,” he said, offering a campaign plank he’s not dared put on his campaign fliers: “The talents and gifts God gives us, we’re not to advance our own kingdom, they’re to build his.” God’s own school impact fees, I imagine. You could hear the evangelical’s garden-variety dog-whistling: Christian? Check. Jews, Muslims, Hindus? Second class. Non-believers? Don’t ask.
Let’s continue down Furry’s “journey of faith.” During the primary he was happily handing out that flier portraying VandeBunte, Trevor Tucker and Sally Hunt as criminals and fabricating charges about them supporting academic concepts Furry calls “indoctrination.” The concepts don’t exist in Flagler schools. They’re like that election fraud Big Lie devotees keep inventing. Furry knows at least that much, though you can bet he wouldn’t know critical race theory from City Repertory Theatre. But you can get mileage out of lies when sleaze is your North Star. So he embraces the lie as one more milepost on his “journey of faith.”
You’d think he’d calm down after the primary, pivot a bit to the center. This week his campaign doubled down. First there was that double-barreled mailing from the same shop of fabrications–same stock, same fonts, same day delivery, the pair obviously intended as a compare-and-contrast ploy. One is an outright lie, but a clever one: it poses as a mailer Courtney VandeBunte herself supposedly sent out, portraying it (and her) as a radical liberal fighting DeSantis all the way. The other is straight Furry, though it makes you wish he and DeSantis got a room: it looks like those old MySpace pages vaguely sinister middle aged men put out about their crushes.
The sleaze here is in the delivery: the alleged VandeBunte mailing comes from a PAC called “Flagler Forever.” Its deceptive local address goes back to a mailbox at the Island Walk UPS in Palm Coast, taken out this month just for the purpose to mask the fact that it’s actually from the same family of political action committees pushing Furry.
Follow the PACs: it’s a clinic in dark money with common denominators like Central Florida Solutions, which dropped $40,000 into the Furry-backing PAC that created the alleged VandeBunte mailing, and that has the same treasurer–the ubiquitous Noreen A. Fenner–as, you guessed it: Flagler Forever. Furry can thank Citizens United. It’s a shell game designed to mask, confuse, deceive, to ensure that the dark money keeps flowing, and to keep creating these equally deceptive campaign fliers.
The fliers mirror the lies he’s peddling with abandon. A Furry television commercial pushed by the same PAC is, among other idiocies, accusing VandeBunte of supporting “sexually explicit books for kindergarteners,” something not even Woolbright at the height of her Comstockery ever alleged. The source of the claim? VandeBunte’s endorsement by Equality Florida (a human and civil rights organization!), which of course says nothing about explicit books for kindergarteners. It’s like saying that because DeSantis endorsed Furry, Furry supports white supremacists and human trafficking since, after all, DeSantis never denounced his Neo-Nazi supporters and misused state funds to ship migrants around the country. But accusing Furry of DeSantis’s sins would be unfair.
To Furry, demonizing VandeBunte is a pit stop on his “journey of faith.” He can’t compete with VandeBunte on the merits: she’s a graduate of Flagler County schools and Florida State, she has a degree of course (in education), she taught science and social studies in Flagler schools for a decade, she was a Teacher of the Year at Flagler Palm Coast High School, she’s now a curriculum developer for Harvard University’s Lab Exchange, she’s a mom of three (in Flagler schools).
And still, Furry smears. He deceives. He Fabricates. He lies. It’s a wonder he hasn’t ripped a page from Woolbright’s playbook and brought VandeBunte up on charges yet. Maybe he’s saving it for the “lawlessness” of his school district colleagues and staff. That’s the sleaze he’s hoping to convert into a school board seat still warm from a predecessor’s mirror image.
Whatever your party may be, whatever your values may be: In your heart, you know he’s wrong.