ABOVE: Andy Thomson, here with his father, Tom, and wife, Joanna, called the close race for City Council ‘kind of hard to believe.’ BELOW: Kathy Cottrell (left) celebrates with council members Andrea O’Rourke and Monica Mayotte on election night. At the time she thought she won. Photos by Rachel S. O’Hara/The Coastal Star
By Steve Plunkett
A squeaker of a City Council race that could shape development decisions — and Boca Raton’s landscape — for years to come had supporters on both sides anxiously waiting to hear who won. Only 3 votes out of 17,875 ballots separated Seat A candidates Andy Thomson and Kathy Cottrell.
“The supervisor of elections is still counting provisional ballots, so we don’t have a final number yet,” city spokeswoman Chrissy Gibson said as City Clerk Susan Saxton conferred with the city attorney early Aug. 29 over what to do. “We’ll provide a statement with the details ASAP.”
Under state law, the city’s canvassing board must order a recount when unofficial results show a candidate losing by 0.5 percent or less. In Cottrell’s case, the margin is 0.2 percent.
Saxton, who lost a 2001 City Council race by 2 votes, heads the city’s canvassing board, which includes City Manager Leif Ahnell and Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher.
Cottrell had a lead of about 200 votes after two-thirds of the ballots had been counted on election night, a tally that did not change on the supervisor of elections website for more than an hour.
The mood at Thomson’s election watch was somber. “It’s nerve-racking, as you might imagine,” he said as he waited.
By 10 p.m. Cottrell’s lead had shrunk to 35 votes. “It’ll be what it’ll be, but I’m confident it is what it is,” she said.
A little before midnight they were dead even, each with 7,872 votes and a third candidate, Tamara McKee, with 2,118.
“That’s kind of hard to believe,” said Thomson.
The last update at 12:31 a.m. put Thomson up by 3 votes: 7,879-7,876.
The Seat A winner will serve until March 2020 and then can run for two three-year terms.
Cottrell was endorsed by unsuccessful mayoral candidate Al Zucaro’s BocaWatch blog and introduced him at his first campaign fundraiser. City Council member Andrea O’Rourke, a former editor of BocaWatch, also endorsed her, and BocaBeautiful.org, which fights what it sees as overdevelopment downtown, urged voters to pick Cottrell “if you like the way Andrea O’Rourke and Monica Mayotte have conducted themselves as City Council members.”
Thomson, who campaigned as a “proven problem solver” and an “independent thinker with no ties to special interests,” lost a sometimes bitter 2017 council race to O’Rourke.
He raised $12,670 in the last 13 days of the campaign, including $1,000 checks from iPic chief executive Hamid Hashemi’s iPic Gold Class Entertainment, iPic Holdings LLC, Hashemi Holdings LLC and Premier Aviation of Boca Raton. That pushed Thomson’s total to $75,988 not counting a $20,000 self-loan. He reported campaign expenses of $73,213 through Aug. 23.
Thomson, an attorney who concentrates on resolving business disputes, had the same big endorsements as Mayor Scott Singer: the police and firefighter unions, the Chamber of Commerce’s PAC, Realtors, the Economic Council of Palm Beach County and the Business PAC of Palm Beach County.
Cottrell, a Boca Raton native and organizational psychologist, told voters her career included “large-scale problem solving and change management initiatives” for Fortune 500 companies.
Cottrell raised $2,800 in the Aug. 11-23 period, mostly sums between $50 and $250. Her total contributions were $23,638 and she loaned her campaign $30,000. Campaign expenses were $41,551.