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Mayor’s death stuns a city: ‘… truly a sad day for Cape Coral’

By Chuck Ballard - | Jan 13, 2021

Joe Coviello

The sudden death of Mayor Joe Coviello, who passed away early Wednesday due to an unexpected medical incident, has left many in the city of Cape Coral in shock in the wake of his sudden passing.

Coviello, 65 and a 20-year resident of the Cape who was heavily involved in the community, was elected in 2017.

On Wednesday, he was membered — and honored — by current and past members of the Cape Coral City Council as a dedicated leader who brought an air of professionalism and stability to the dais.

Former city councilmember John Carioscia, one of those on Council who had worked with Coviello for the longest, said he didn’t always agree with the mayor, but he never questioned his commitment to the city.

“He worked very hard at his job and was very sincere and took it seriously. It’s truly a sad day for Cape Coral,” Carioscia said. “I could see he had a work ethic and he loved his job and wanted to move the city forward.”

Newly elected Councilmember Tom Hayden, a retired journalist and opinion writer who frequently covered city issues during Coviello’s tenure, said he had spoken with the mayor on Tuesday.

“He seemed fine,” Hayden said. “The city manager told me and I’m almost breathless to believe it has happened. We were excited for the retreat that was set up for Thursday and about moving forward and doing the business of the city. He was a major part of that.”

Coviello’s professionalism had helped foster a good working relationship among the elected board, said Hayden, who was elected in November.

Councilmember Robert Welsh, had also worked with Coviello prior to joining Council late last year.

“I worked with him in the past and thought he was a great guy,” Welsh said. “He was a real pro and he was there for the city. His passion was for Cape Coral.”

Jessica Cosden said at first she wouldn’t be able to give any thoughts as she was so heartbroken. She said she learned to have great respect for Coviello, even if their backgrounds were different.

“It took time for us to warm up to each other, we’re different people. We grew to become pretty close and I had a lot of respect for him,” Cosden said. “We didn’t always agree, but he brought stability and a positive public image of the council working together. He worked hard at the job and went to nearly every event. He thought it was his primary role in life.”

Councilmember Jennifer Nelson was very emotional about the loss, calling him a good mayor as well as a friend, and the reason she created the homeless task force.

“I never in a million years expected this. I was looking forward to running with him again in two years. I’m sad for the family and sad for the city,” Nelson tearfully said. “Joe had the biggest heart and you always knew where he stood. There was never any wavering in his decision making or flip-flopping.”

Reaction within the community was swift and complimentary.

Former mayor Joe Mazurkiewicz, who spoke with Coviello often, said he came into a rough situation and provided a calming influence on the Council.

“There was a lot of dissention on the Council and he brought a proper decorum back to city council and brought them back to a collegial working body. That was his greatest achievement,” Mazurkiewicz said. “He had a tough two years, but he was a professional on the dais and he was also a great representative of the city. He was everywhere.”

Gloria Tate, also a former member of the elected board and a member of one of the city’s “pioneer” families, said Coviello went above and beyond for the city he called home.

“He represented us with integrity and honesty. He was 100 percent Cape Coral,” Tate said.

The mayor was married and he and his wife, Diane, have two two sons, Ross and Alex, both graduates of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. In addition to their successful Maritime careers, both sons serve as US Navy Reserve officers, according to Mayor Coviello’s bio on the city web site.

Coviello remained active as a parent, serving as a USMMA Service Academy liaison for more than a decade and is a past president of the US Merchant Marine Academy Florida Parents Association.

Former Congressman Francis Rooney, District 19, on Wednesday remembered Coviello’s efforts with his office.

“Kathleen and I are saddened by the sudden passing of Mayor Coviello. His contributions to his community; as Mayor, businessman, family man, and part of our Congressional Academy Day process will always be remembered and appreciated,” said Rooney said, when asked for a statement.

Others also offered their condolences to his family.

Bill Johnson Jr. executive director of the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association, said Coviello’s death is a huge loss for the city.

“He was a great man and he worked with the industry on a lot of the issues and helped push them forward,” Johnson said. “He was an active member of the CCCIA for a long time, and when he started in public service, he still had an active role in listening to us and he still came to our dinner meetings and we really enjoyed that. He was a true advocate for our industry.”

County Commissioner Brian Hamman said like everyone, else, he was stunned by the mayor’s death and felt for his family. He said it was great to work with him on city issues.

“I remember working closely with him over the past year on the COVID-19 pandemic and we would talk with the individual mayors on their issues. Joe was very passionate about speaking out on behalf of Cape Coral,” Hamman said. “He was a great advocate for his city. He could disagree with you and still be respectful. You could debate the issues but you were talking about ideas and not people.”

County Commissioner and former Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane, who had worked with Coviello on Southwest Florida’s clean water efforts, shared similar sentiments.

“I am deeply sorry to have received the call this morning about the passing of Mayor Joe Coviello. I can’t imagine how his family is dealing with this awful tragedy,” Ruane said in a statement. “Our prayers are with him and his family.”

He was remembered by the Cape’s business community as well.

“The Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral is deeply saddened by the loss of Mayor Joe Coviello and would like to extend our sincere condolences to his family. We will always remember him for his commitment to Cape Coral and the love he had for this community,” said President Donna Germain in a statement.

Coviello graduated from Franklin & Marshall College with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and, in addition to serving as mayor, worked as a business consultant.

He served as a member of the city’s Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC); Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), and its Executive Board, the Florida League of Mayors and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

He also served as an alternate member of the Southwest Florida League of Cities.

Prior to his election in 2017, Coviello served as on the city’s Budget Review Committee for five years, three of them as chair.

His civic and community involvement dates back to when his sons were involved in youth sports. He previously was a Pop Warner Football coach, athletic director and board Member and a Cape Coral High School football coach.

Other community involvement includes efforts with Learning for Life, Lee County School System, Habitat for Humanity Hope Hospice and the Human Trafficking Coalition.

Visitation will be on Tuesday, Jan. 19, from 11 a.m. until the Funeral Services at 1 p.m. at Cape Christian Fellowship, 2110 Chiquita Blvd S, Cape Coral. Burial will follow at Coral Ridge Cemetery, Cape Coral.

In lieu of flowers donations in memory of Joe Coviello may be made to Cape Coral Mayors Scholarship Fund or the Cape Coral Animal Shelter.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include additional comment and service information.