Cape Coral voters winnowed a crowded city council candidate slate down to eight Tuesday night in a primary election that wrought few surprises to those who have been paying close attention to Cape commentary for the last year or so.
The three incumbents seeking re-election, Pete Brandt in District 2, Bill Deile in District 3 and Derrick Donnell in District 7, all cleared for the General Election in November but none emerged as the top vote-getter in his respective race.
Culling the majority of the votes by substantial margins were challengers John M. Carioscia, who picked up 40.12 percent of the votes in a four-way race with Mr. Brandt; Leonard "Lenny" Nesta Jr., who earned 51.85 percent of the vote in a three-way race with Mr. Deile; and Dave Stokes, who picked up 40.94 percent of the votes in a four-way race with Dr. Donnell.
None of those seeking re-election managed much better than a third of the vote in a low-turnout election, something that usually benefits incumbents.
Now some are attributing this to angry union workers and employees amiff at council cost-cutting initiatives that have included proposed wage cuts, benefit reductions and outsourcing scenarios.
We would agree, there were some pretty irate voters at the polls. They weren't shy about making that clear.
But chalking this up to "greedy unions" versus the "cost-cutting five" is simplistic, naive at best, palm-card political pandering at worst.
For one, the numbers simply don't work. While getting employees to the polls might make a difference in a close race, the city simply doesn't have enough union members to account for races that showed a pretty wide first place/second place gap.
Two, the tallies place Mr. Brandt and Mr. Deile - of similar political philosophy - and Dr. Donnell - whose message and voting record actually are similar to those espoused by the winning challengers - in the same runner-up pigeonhole.
What the results illustrate is not the same tired tax-and-spend vs. cut-and-save mantra that passes for partisan politics here in the Cape, but the growing disconnect between our elected representatives and residents who feel disenfranchised and shut out of the decision-making process.
This isn't exactly new, either.
The last time this happened, in fact, was two years ago when the voters swept out all incumbents, regardless of voting record and political philosophy, in lieu of newcomers offering not only fresh ideas but a promise to both reconnect residents with their government and heal the divisiveness wrought by council's inability to make a definitive decision on the utility expansion project.
There were angry voters aplenty on both sides of the loadstone issue of 2009, and the ones who were the maddest went to the polls.
There are angry voters aplenty this election year as well and again, they were the ones who took the time to cast a ballot. Public safety and talk of police and fire layoffs or the outsourcing of those services may have been the flash point this go-around but make no mistake, voter unhappiness went much deeper than this.
Whether that proves to be anomaly or prophesy for the General Election remains to be seen. Certainly, with two months to go, anything can happen as candidates, incumbents and challengers alike, hopefully realize they have a heart-and-minds battle ahead, not just a face-to-face fight with the other name on the ballot.
Which for those running is the big challenge.
Face-to-face fights are easy, especially if you can just trot out the routine rhetoric, fling a few inflammatory flyers, and categorize your opponent as - gasp! - the guy who's going to spend the bucks.
Bringing forth actual ideas to persuade people you can make the difference they want, the difference the city needs, is another type of campaign entirely. It's a whole lot harder.
We thank all 18 candidates for running.
And we congratulate all of those who cleared the primary: incumbent Pete Brandt and challenger John M. Carioscia Sr. in District 2; incumbent Bill Diele and challenger Leonard "Lenny" Nesta Jr. in District 3; incumbent Derrick Donnell and challenger Dave Stokes in District 7; and the two newcomers, Rana Erbrick and Scott Morris in District 5.
We look forward to hearing more about your positions on the issues in the weeks ahead.
- Breeze editorial