Following a long and expensive election cycle, Palmetto Bay on Monday will swear in its first mayor, Eugene Flinn, back into his old seat, along with all-new council members Karyn Cunningham and Larissa Siegel Lara.
“It was a tough race, a long race. A lot of qualified opponents. I’m still quite frankly thankful this Thanksgiving Day for having prevailed,” said Flinn, who faced incumbent mayor Shelley Stanczyk, outgoing District 1 council member Patrick Fiore, and retired business executive Peter England in the general race.
He faced Stanczyk in the Nov. 25 runoff, where he took in a resounding 66 percent of the vote after garnering both Fiore and England’s endorsement.
In an email to the Miami Herald, Stanczyk conceded her loss in this message to residents: “The future of our village is as one village. A new council brings new ideas. Extend your hand in welcome to our new council members and keep an open mind as the council begins to work.”
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Cunningham will represent District 1, the northern part of the village, after winning in a landslide against David Zisman in the general Nov. 4 election. Cunningham took in 5,246 votes; Zisman just 2,544.
Cunningham campaigned on developing a resident-led five-year strategic plan for the village. Zisman told voters he wanted to cut down on village spending — and also tried, later in the race, to attack Cunningham for working with the county teacher’s union.
The race for District 3, the southern part of the village, was the village’s tightest: political newcomer Siegel Lara took in about 53 percent of the vote when she went up against veteran village activist Henry Clifford in the runoff.
Clifford billed himself as someone who had been serving residents for 35 years behind the scenes — sitting on village committees and working on campaigns — while Siegel Lara spoke of the need for “a new generation of leadership” in the village. With Clifford’s activism intimately tied to the village’s divisive fight against Palmer Trinity, it worked.
“I voted for Eugene Flinn, because we need a change in the village. In the whole attitude. We need to recognize the churches and schools help make a community, they don’t harm the community. And we just need a new attitude on inclusion of citizens,” said Jon Beisenherz, 64, outside the polls on Nov. 25. “I voted for Larissa Lara for the same reason, we just need a new generation here in the village.”
Once friends on and off the dais — where they served together from 2006 to 2010, when Stanczyk was a council member — Flinn and Stanczyk have been acrimonious toward each other for years now. They backed opposing candidates in the 2012 elections, and Flinn often criticized Stanczyk on his blog, where he took her to task on key village issues — which ultimately became election issues — including the handling of litigation surrounding Palmer Trinity, a private school expanding in a residential neighborhood. His blog also helped kick up controversy about a proposed rezoning package at the Palmetto Bay Village Center that would allow for residential development on about 20 acres of privately owned but forested land.
Flinn chiefly campaigned on his record as mayor, he also played heavily on the perception that the council couldn’t work together during Stanczyk’s tenure.
“Flinn is known commodity, he’s done very well by the community so he got my vote,” said Larry Clark, 65, at the polls on Tuesday. Stanczyk, did well too, he said “but seems to cause a bit of animosity.”
The election saw some of the village’s most expensive campaigns — and generous donors. Notably, developer Wayne Rosen gave personally and through his companies between $2,000 to $4,000 to several candidates — including Flinn, Siegel Lara, and Cunningham.
Rosen backed all of Stanczyk’s opponents — although he waited until the runoffs to give Flinn money — and even funded a political committee that sent out anti-Stanczyk mailers.
Earlier in November, the council deferred a vote to support Rosen’s application for a $5 million county grant to help build a charter school complex in what the area Palmetto Bay hopes to redevelop as its downtown.
The charter school was controversial, but Florida law, which limits municipal review of charter school zoning applications, all but forced the council to give the project site-plan approval in March.
Flinn said he didn’t support the complex “in its present form,” but that Rosen’s request for support from Palmetto Bay for this county grant might be an opportunity for council “to impact this project and make it better.”
About half of Palmetto Bay’s 16,478 registered electors voted in the general election, with 8,175 votes cast. Turnout plummeted in the runoffs, with only 4,415 residents voting.