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2024 Election

Eric Cooley Defeats Bob Cunningham for Third Flagler Beach City Commission Term

ⓒ AskFlagler

FLAGLER BEACH – The voters of Flagler Beach have chosen to keep Eric Cooley on the City Commission, re-electing him to three more years in Tuesday’s election. Cooley defeated Bob Cunningham, his only challenger. It’s the second time in a row Cooley has won his race against one lone opponent. This, after he was initially elected uncontested.

Eric Cooley received 820 votes, good for a 55.6% majority. Bob Cunningham received 654, bringing in 44.4%. For Cooley, it was an increase from his 54.4% win in 2021, while his first win in 2018 was uncontested. Cunningham put up 15.2% in his 2023 campaign, placing fourth out of five candidates.

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Cooley has served as Chair of the City Commission over the last year, overseeing one of the busier seasons in Flagler Beach’s recent history. All at once the city has juggled the process of rebuilding its pier, having its beach sand re-nourished, and the construction of a divisive three-story hotel in the heart of town. Not to mention the struggle to re-establish a yearly traditional of holiday fireworks and ensure long-term viability for the city’s First Friday gatherings. The City Commission also vetted and hired City Manager Dale Martin in the midst of this, thrusting him into the heart of it all.

“This particular term for me over the next three years is going to be the term of all the big projects getting finished,” Cooley said. “There can’t be anything better than, over the next three years, checking everything off.”

Bob Cunningham has now lost two straight City Commission elections, having come up short in last year’s two-way race as well. He got past a bout of pneumonia during the campaign, and braved frigid windy conditions on SR-A1A waving signs on Election Day. Cunningham, an Army veteran, has been a frequent presence at meetings often criticizing the transparency practices of the commissioners.

Cunningham did not participate in AskFlagler’s candidate interview series (the only one conducted by a Flagler news outlet this cycle), saying he missed out on reminder messages as the deadline approached. Both Cooley and Mayor-elect Patti King, the city’s other two 2024 candidates, completed the interview. Cunningham has been contacted for comment, and any response he provides will be added to this article.

With the Commission’s voting membership remaining the same this election, Cooley remains the third-most senior commissioner, behind Jane Mealy and Rick Belhumeur. He’s now in office until 2027, which would put him at a nine-year tenure. Cooley nearly didn’t run for re-election this time around, considering a year away from the dais or a run for a different office. “I wasn’t planning on running,” Cooley added. “I was gonna take some time off.” He decided to see through initiatives that began in his first six years.

He will be sworn in alongside Flagler Beach’s new mayor, Patti King. Like in Cooley’s first election, King won her seat uncontested and thus did not appear on the ballot. She’ll take the post over from Suzie Johnston, who served one term in office before deciding to step down. As Cooley’s domestic partner Johnston often endured remarks about the ethics of the pair’s mutual public service, a critique that is now moot whether it was ever founded or not.

Mayor Suzie Johnston, who will soon turn the job over to Patti King. ⓒ AskFlagler

When not serving on the City Commission, Cooley owns and operates the 7-Eleven convenience store on SR-A1A. Though he doesn’t post formal office hours, his presence there serves as a de-facto public access forum to Cooley, who’s usually in-store during the week. It’s a common sight to see him chatting with residents or city staff about the issues of the day.

Also notable in Cooley’s public tenure is his organization of the Hang 8 Dog Surfing Contest alongside Johnston. The pair brought the event to Flagler Beach in 2022, with the festivities growing dramatically in its second year. Last year the competition drew well over a thousand attendees and received national news attention, with dogs traveling to surf from around the country. Johnston’s departure from the mayorship will no doubt grant her more time to plan for this year’s event, scheduled for June 8th.

Written By

Chris Gollon is a Flagler County resident since 2004, as well as a staple of the local independent music scene and avid observer of Central Florida politics, arts, and recreation.

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