| Fort Myers News-Press
John Gunter, the Cape Coral city council member for District 1 and the mayor pro tem, became the new mayor of one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities Wednesday night following a vote by his peers.
Cape Coral mayor Joe Coviello died Jan. 13 at the age of 65. Gunter left Coviello’s seat empty for the meeting.
“I know that Mayor Coviello is here in spirit,” Gunter said as they got going, a day after Coviello’s funeral and a day after Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the state capitol flag to fly at half-staff in Coviello’s honor.
The seven council members could have chosen to hold a special election or appoint a replacement for Coviello, according to the city charter.
Lee County supervisor of elections Tommy Doyle explained a special election would cost between $250,000 and $500,000 to Cape Coral taxpayers, depending on the number of candidates.
The seven council members then were unanimous in appointing, rather than electing, a successor to Coviello, who was elected November 2017 for a term expiring November 2022.
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Gunter, who is also the president of Gulf Coast Premier Homes, will serve the remainder of Coviello’s term. A replacement for Gunter’s now-vacant District 1 council seat will be appointed by the council at a future meeting.
Gunter, placing his right hand on a Bible held by fellow council member Jennifer Nelson, was sworn in as mayor shortly before 6 p.m. Wednesday. He addressed the council just before the 6-1 vote appointing him as mayor, with council member Rick Williams voting no.
“I think in the last three years and two months, I’ve shown a high work ethic,” Gunter said. “I’ve tried to do the necessary homework on any issue that’s brought before this council. It’s not just what the staff gets for us, but what I go out and find for myself.
“Mayor Coviello has some big shoes to fill. That year and 10 months will be here before we know it. That will give our community the choice to pick a new mayor then. My goal is to fill in and make sure we don’t miss a beat. We have a new city manager. I think the next 18 months will be extremely critical to the strategic planning of our city. I will guarantee you that I will be there to do whatever’s necessary for the citizens of our city.”
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Council members Tom Hayden, Robert Welsh and Jessica Cosden expressed their desire to spend two weeks accepting applications from citizens and possibly appointing a new mayor from them if not a fellow council member.
“There are previous mayors and previous council members who might be willing to fill the seat, which could then lead to a clean election in two years,” Welsh said. “This would keep the council together. I do agree with council member Hayden and see what we get from all seven districts. If it’s only a two-week process, that wouldn’t leave us too far behind.”
Nelson, Gunter, Williams and Dan Sheppard disagreed, voting to move forward with nominating from a new mayor from among them.
“I want you all to understand that none of us up here have the power to steer this city,” Sheppard said. “It’s a team effort. If our team up here feels comfortable picking someone from the team, our team is going to be strong.”
At the urging of Sheppard, only Gunter and Williams expressed a desire to accept the role.
“I believe you’ve earned it,” Hayden said to Gunter, just before the vote appointing him mayor. “I appreciate the fact you make informed decisions. You have my support in nominating you.”