Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories informing voters of issues and offices on the Aug. 18 primary election ballot. Go to news-press.com to read more.
The race for the District 7 Cape Coral city council seat could be considered the most intriguing of the four open city seats.
It’s the only one with an incumbent running for reelection.
It’s the only one with an experienced challenger who has held the seat for two prior election cycles.
It’s the only one with not one but two female candidates, with a political newcomer looking to bring her voice to the council.
Incumbent Jessica Cosden, prior council member Derrick Donnell and newcomer Patty Cummings are each on the Aug. 18 ballot. Two of them will advance to the Nov. 3 general election.
Here’s a look at each candidate:
Cosden, 36, has different reasons for running again now then she did in 2015 at age 31, when she became the youngest council member.
“When I ran in 2015, I didn’t know a lot about funding a city, because it wasn’t in my background,” Cosden said. “Now I feel like I’m experienced. Now, I want to continue to see young families represented on the council.”
Cosden grew up in Cape Coral and graduated from Mariner High School in 2002. She is married with three children, ages 10, 8 and 1. Her 10-year-old daughter has autism, which inspired her to do advocacy with parents of autistic children.
Cosden works as a volunteer coordinator for Pace Center for Girls, a non-profit organization that has a mission of providing girls and young women an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training and advocacy. She also has enrolled at FGCU to earn a master’s degree in public administration. She has a liberal arts degree with an emphasis in Middle Eastern studies from Florida Atlantic University.
Cosden said she would like to see Cape Coral continue to attract businesses that would allow citizens to stay in the city to work.
“We’re seeing a lot of growth right now, residential and commercial,” she said. “We need to be strategic.”
The ratio of residential to commercial land in Cape Coral is about 92% to 8%, she said.
“People talk about 60/40 and I think that is totally unreasonable,” Cosden said. “It’s just not feasible in Cape Coral because of all the limitations that we have. Most developers don’t want to build if there’s no water or sewer.
“The utility expansion project needs to continue. There were a lot of roadblocks in the way. We had a massive delay in my neighborhood. It took two years from the beginning of construction, and we’re still not there. We’ve got to do a better job and keep residents informed.”
Recovering from the financial crisis caused by COVID-19 will be paramount for next year’s council, she said.
“We recently got stimulus funds from the federal government,” she said. “We as a council were able to decide how to allocate those funds.
I anticipate more federal funding. The council needs to be able to allocate that depending on our community needs. The city itself will have lower revenue coming in. If property values go down, it’s going to affect property taxes.”
Cosden said she would continue her efforts to boost building sidewalks in the city. The council allocated $950,000 for this year’s budget to spend on sidewalks. The expenditure has been put on hold because of COVID-19, but she said she would work to make sure it gets put to use in the future.
“I’m proud of sidewalks,” she said. “The city hasn’t had sidewalks in its budget for years. I couldn’t find a budget where we actually had it.”
Cummings, 47, moved to Cape Coral from Peoria, Illinois, six years ago. She arrived as a traveling personal trainer but soon established her own gym and invented a bungee fitness device she patented and has since sold nationally and internationally. She also wrote a book, “Get Your Bungee On.” She’s the mother of two grown children and twin 14-year-old boys.
Raised on an Illinois farm, she said she has the balance of both country and city to her background.
“I’m running for city council because I saw how difficult it was to open my business,” Cummings said. “Knowing what I dealt with, I want to help make it easier for commercial businesses to come in and get their doors open.”
Having lived in Cape Coral during the algae bloom crisis during the summer of 2018, she said water quality will be a big focus.
“I stand for water quality,” Cummings said. “I want to be part of the solution.”
Cummings has partnered with Scott Smith, CEO of Aquaflex, which is developing foam products that kill blue-green algae. She is bringing him to Cape Coral in mid-August for a forum.
Cummings wants to diversify the Cape Coral economy. She wants to explore the feasibility and legalities of putting a casino offshore, perhaps south of Tarpon Point in south Cape Coral.
“That could save a lot of jobs and bring in new businesses,” Cummings said. “We can put a casino in that area. We can have it in international waterways. That would draw more tourism. We could keep people here instead of going to Immokalee. Instead, they could stay in the Cape. That would bring in other businesses here. I really think that’s a solution. I can’t think of another solution given the hole that we’re in right now.”
Cummings said she also wants to expand sidewalks in the city and create safer bus stops for children. She envisioned creating awnings to shelter children from rain storms at the bus stops with lights power by solar. They could be paid for with revenue from advertising on them.
“We can get creative bringing in money for the city,” Cummings said.
Donnell, 56, is not stranger to the Cape Coral city council, having served two terms in 2007-2015.
In his eighth year working for the Lee county School District, Donnell teaches seventh and eighth grade science at Dunbar Middle School in Fort Myers. He’s also an adjunct professor of anatomy and physiology at FGCU, and he’s a part-time high school basketball referee.
Donnell graduated from Calloway High School in Jackson, Mississippi, but has been in Cape Coral for 25 years after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“You’re either sitting in the bleachers, or you’re in the game. I just saw the opportunity,” said Donnell, using the sports analogy to describe why he wanted to run again for city council. “I decided to run back in January. I still have this knowledge base.”
Having served on the city council during the height of the housing crisis and Great Recession in 2008, Donnell said that experience would help him navigate the city through the COVID-19 financial crisis should he be elected again.
“The No. 1 thing, and things can change, but the No. 1 thing will be the budget,” Donnell said. “What happened then is happening again. All our revenue sources had been hit. The No. 1 issue is we have to be maintaining a fiscally-responsible budget. We have to make sure that the service levels we’ve been accustomed to for our quality of life, that we preserve that. Along with that, we have to protect our city employees. There’s a balance with that.”
Donnell said he wants to oversee the completion of the utility expansion project under way.
“From the time I left, we have 40,000 more residents,” Donnell said. “The growth needs to be strategic. We have to make sure that we can grow and plan for the residents who are coming. We need to protect green space so we can have light industry and commercial growth.
“Third and certainly not least, we talk about transparency and trust in government. I know it sounds like an oxymoron. In my lifetime, no one has ever trusted the government. But the people are the government. They’re the people we elect. We need to make sure all the information is available. You’ve got to be honest, and you’ve got to be transparent. If you ask me a question, I’m going to give you the answer. And if I don’t know the answer, I’m going to find it out for you.”