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Incumbent Vero Mayor Cotugno chosen for a second term

When the Vero Beach City Council met for its post-election organizational meeting last week, three of the five members were nominated to serve as mayor.

Two of them, John Carroll and Tracey Zudans, nominated themselves.

Neither would be chosen.

Instead, incumbent John Cotugno won his second consecutive one-year term as mayor, receiving the deciding votes from Linda Moore, who nominated him, and Council newcomer Taylor Dingle.

Carroll and Zudans each received only their own votes.

Moments later, after being nominated by Cotugno, Moore won a second one-year term as vice mayor on a 3-2 vote, fending off a challenge from Carroll, who again nominated himself but managed to get only Dingle to back him.

Cotugno, who on Nov. 7 was elected to a second two-year term on the Council with 40.64 percent of the vote, said he was “pleasantly surprised” to be handed the gavel again.

“I had been hearing rumors for a while, and then later received confirmation that at least one of council member would seek the mayor’s position, so I knew there would be competition,” Cotugno said.

“I was hoping the leadership I had shown as mayor in the past year might sway things my way,” he added. “I tried to give everyone the platform they earned when they were elected to the council. I wanted to make sure everyone was provided with an opportunity to make comments and express their opinions.”

Cotugno, 75, said he also believed being the top vote-getter in the election showed his Council peers he had strong support from city residents – because he ran on his record.

Dingle received 31.74 percent of the vote to replace Rey Neville, who served two terms but decided earlier this year to not seek re-election. Honey Minuse, who wanted to return to the council after losing her seat last year, was named on only 27.62 percent of the ballots cast and finished third in a race for two seats.

“A somewhat overwhelming number of people voted for me,” Cotugno said, “and I’d like to believe they voted for me because they were pleased with my performance this past year, especially the way we did things.”

Cotugno became only the second council member to win consecutive terms as mayor since Dick Winger served back-to-back terms a decade ago. The other was Robbie Brackett, who immediately preceded Cotugno before being elected to the Florida House of Representatives last year.

Brackett attended the meeting, along with former mayors Tony Young and Laura Moss, now a county commissioner.

Cotugno, who said he would not have nominated himself for mayor, welcomed Moore’s gesture and was appreciative of Dingle’s vote of confidence. He said he’s looking forward to having Dingle, who turned 28 last week, bring a youthful vision to the council.

“I think it’s great, I really do,” Cotugno said. “As the elder statesman, I’m eager to hear new ideas from outside my usual circle of friends and professional levels. We’re trying to make our community more attractive to young people and young families, and Taylor brings us a different perspective.”

Moore, responding in a text message to a request for comment, wrote that she was “grateful” to be given the opportunity to serve as vice-mayor for another year and “pleased Mayor Cotugno will continue the many wonderful initiatives and projects that we have embarked on in the past year.”

Carroll’s decision to nominate himself for mayor wasn’t unexpected, because he did the same last year.

Zudans, who is challenging Moss for her District 5 seat on the County Commission, said she nominated herself in hopes that the initial vote would fail to produce a winner, eliminate one of the other two mayoral candidates and provide a one-versus-one opportunity on the second ballot.

“I can’t say if I was disappointed or not, but I wanted the opportunity,” Zudans said. “The mayor’s position has the bully pulpit, and I would have used it to redirect our focus to our two biggest priorities – the Three Corners project and the relocation of the wastewater plant.

“The Twin Pairs (lane-reduction proposal) became too much of a distraction.”

While the votes of all five Council members carry the same weight – and being mayor is mostly a ceremonial title – Cotugno believes the position also comes with certain public-relations responsibilities, including encouraging economic development and attracting new businesses by promoting the city.

He called the Council’s work “government at its most-local level,” and said he has the time to take on all aspects of the mayor’s duties.

“A lot depends on the person and what you believe a mayor should be,” Cotugno said. “I believe the mayor here is essentially the chairman of an active board of directors. And as chairman, you should be in regular contact with the president and CEO, which, in our case, is the city manager.”

The council continues to pursue as its priorities Three Corners development, relocation of the city’s wastewater-treatment plant from the Indian River Lagoon to Vero Beach Regional Airport, expansion of the municipal marina and creation of a master plan for the revitalization of downtown.

“The Three Corners and wastewater plant are Projects 1 and 1A,” Cotugno said. “They are major project that must be done as flawlessly as possible. The success of one is dependent on the success of the other.”

Cotugno said he’s pleased with the progress that has been made the past year on a number of projects, especially Three Corners. The city’s deadline for developers to submit proposals is Dec. 15.

“We’ve been very productive,” he said. “Not everything makes splashy headlines, but we continue to move through the process – zoning changes, traffic study, environmental study …
“Our staff has been very busy,” Cotugno added, “working on these major projects in addition to its regular day-to-day duties.”

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