Another twist in the sheriff’s race primary

Deborah Cooney [Photo: Kaila Jones]

Deborah Cooney, a no-party-affiliation candidate for sheriff who initially filed to run as a Democrat, said she plans to temporarily register as a Republican this month and vote in the Aug. 18 primary elections.

She recommends the county’s other non-Republican voters do the same.

“I am opposed to closed primaries, in general, and this is the best response to that ill-informed policy, short of enacting new statutes,” Cooney said in an interview conducted via email over the past two weeks.

“As I talk to the folks in the county, I am learning that many registered Republicans are not really die-hard Republicans,” she added. “They just want to vote in the Republican primary . . . . There are never any Democratic or other primaries in the county.

“Voters rightly want to maximize their voting power.”

County Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan said Cooney would not jeopardize her no-party-affiliation candidacy by registering to vote as a Republican, nor would the change impact the status of the sheriff’s primary.

“You can run as a NPA candidate without changing your party affiliation,” Swan said. “Therefore, she can change her party affiliation if she chooses, but she will still be on the ballot in the general election as a non-partisan candidate.”

Cooney, a Brown University graduate and former bank executive, said she intends to vote in all of the Republican primaries this summer – not only the sheriff’s race, where the winner will face her in the Nov. 3 general election.

Her campaign, though, has gotten little traction, which isn’t surprising, given she has no professional law-enforcement experience, no party backing and little name recognition in the community.

As of last week, contributions to her campaign totaled less than $9,000, which pales in comparison to the $180,245 raised by perceived Republican frontrunner, Sheriff’s Maj. Eric Flowers, as well the $49,300 collected by Fellsmere Police Chief Keith Touchberry, $47,065 by Indian River Shores Public Safety Director Rich Rosell and $19,445 by retired Sheriff’s Capt. Chuck Kirby.

Loans from Cooney’s personal funds accounted for more than $8,000 of the money in her campaign coffers.

All of those factors make Cooney the longest of longshots to succeed Deryl Loar as the county’s next sheriff. They also have prompted suspicions that her first political campaign was launched for reasons other than her desire to win the office – that someone pushed her to run to close the primary to non-Republican voters.

Asked about those suspicions, Cooney denied having any ulterior motive, saying she has been considering a run for public office since 2016, has no personal or professional relationship with any of the Republican candidates and doesn’t consider any of four to be unbeatable in November.

“Obviously, if there were a strong candidate, I would not be running,” Cooney said. “I am offering to fill a serious void in leadership. It is the vacuum itself that has pulled me into the race.”

Cooney said none of the Republican candidates want her to run because she is “exposing their misconduct.” In an earlier interview, as well as in her campaign literature, she claimed local law enforcement agencies are connected to a “drug cartel” and that police unions are “mob protection rackets.”

She offered no credible evidence to support her allegations.

As for the sheriff’s primary, Cooney said she’s still undecided and is doing research on the four Republicans, but she is “leaning toward” voting for Touchberry – because he is the “only candidate that has not committed a crime against me,” not because she believes he would be easier to beat in November.

“As always, I will vote my conscience,” Cooney said. “I will vote for the candidate that is best for the community, or at least the lesser evil.”



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