| Fort Myers News-Press
2020: Election Day in Florida
Here’s a look in Florida as of Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.
The Cape Coral city council has been remade with one returning incumbent and three newcomers elected Tuesday.
High voter turnout was boosted by early voting, accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. Combining that with the city’s efforts to piggy-back local candidates with a presidential election year raised the stakes for filling the four city council seats.
Incumbent District 7 council member Jessica Cosden will return and at age 36 will continue to be the council’s youngest representative. She bested former council member Derrick Donnell with 63.84% of the vote to his 36.16%, the largest margin of victory of the four races.
Cosden, with 52,052 votes to Donnell’s 29,468, also received the most votes of any of the eight candidates.
“That’s really cool to see,” Cosden said. “To me that sends a message from the voters as far as my performance during my first term.”
Dan Sheppard, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for mayor in 2017, will join Mayor Joe Coviello on the city council as the new District 2 member. Sheppard defeated political newcomer Bryan De La Hunt with 42,194 votes (52.23%) to 38,650 (47.77%). Sheppard owns Palm Source, one of the area’s largest tree farms.
“What I learned was, it was gonna be a crapshoot,” Sheppard said. “I got educated being at the polling places over the last two weeks. People were just going there not having a clue who to vote for. I’m standing there next to my truck with my campaign stuff and my picture on it, and people didn’t know who I was.
“It’s really scary how much the percentage of the public really knows what’s going on. There’s a small percentage of people who take the time to investigate and do a little research. What made me nervous was the percentage of people who didn’t know, that were just going to go in there and fill out a ballot. I spent more than double what my opponent spent. And it was a close race.
“I’m not a politician, and I told myself I wasn’t going to be one. All of my trucks demonstrated that I support the president. I didn’t get any Democrat votes. That tightened the race as well.”
Tom Hayden, who used to interview candidates in his role as the engagement and editorial page editor for The News-Press, became a candidate and now has become the council member for District 3. Hayden edged Chris Cammarota with 41,432 votes (51.59%) to 38,889 (48.41%).
“I’m really grateful to the voters of Cape Coral and the conversations I had with them,” Hayden said. “I really enjoyed getting to know them as a journalist. To do it again as a candidate, it’s really energized me. I hope they continue to communicate with me as a council member.
“I’m excited about the next four years as a journey. I’m looking forward to mapping out the next 50 years of the city as we celebrate our 50th anniversary.”
Robert Welsh, the son of incumbent District 5 council member Lois Welsh, won her former seat on the council, defeating Louis Navarra with 44,654 votes (57.04%) to 33,665 votes (42.96%). Welsh works at his family’s printing business, giving him the luxury of printing his campaign signs and flyers in-house.
Cosden said she liked the makeup of the new council.
“I can see this new council being a cohesive group,” she said. “No matter how much you know as a candidate, there’s always so much more to learn when you’re sitting in that seat. I think we’ll be a good group. I think we’ll all work well together. I think it will be good for Cape Coral. I do.”
The candidates who came up short wished the winners well.
“There’s no prize for second place,” Cammarota said. “I tried my best to beat the machine, and I couldn’t.”
Cammarota, who lost to Marilyn Stout in 2015 and to Hayden Tuesday, said he would not make a third attempt down the road.
“I wish him the best of luck,” Cammarota said. “This was my second time around. There won’t be a third. I’m done. I tried twice. I came up short. Politics is a full contact sport. I’m not crying.”
Navarra, 76, said he may hang it up, too.
“Maybe I’m not meant to be in politics,” Navarra said. “But I’ll leave the door open in two years for school board. But I’ll be 78 by then. I don’t know if I’ll want to do that anymore.
“Just like many politicians before me, I congratulate the winner. I concede. The people have spoken.”
De La Hunt said he enjoyed getting to know community members and voters. He and Sheppard had a gentleman’s agreement to meet the day after Election Day for a beer.
“For me, I’m proud I actually had people vote for me,” De La Hunt said. “I learned a lot. Cape Coral made their choice. I wish Dan the best in his new position.
“I’m going to let him enjoy his victory. I’m just proud that we ran a clean race, if nothing else. This is the way an election should be run. I’m happy for him. He’s wanted to serve the city for a long time, and now he gets an opportunity.”
Donnell had hoped to regain the seat he held for two prior terms but had to leave because of consecutive term limits in the city. But he wished Cosden well.
“It’s not about me,” Donnell said. “It’s about the voters. The voters spoke. I don’t have a problem with it. I was certainly thankful for all the support. It was certainly the most amount of votes I’ve ever gotten. I never have a problem when people make their voices heard. I just came up short. Life goes on.”