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Cape Coral’s city elections have been roller coaster ride of date and year changes

By Staff | Oct 8, 2020

The history of Cape Coral elections since 1970 features a city councilman who served for 16 consecutive years, a mayor who was in office for 10 years, the first and only woman elected mayor and a roller coaster ride of date and year changes for general elections.

Another change is in place for this year. For the first time since 1996, the Cape Coral City Council elections will occur during the presidential year election. And if the 1996 election is any indication, expect a record number of votes to be cast this year.

In 1996, Cape Coral saw voting numbers that smashed records and some of those marks are still the standard today. An impressive 74.3 percent of registered voters showed up at the polls to not only cast ballots for president, and other federal and state offices but also for mayor and three seats on the city council. Roger Butler won the mayoral race with a record 21,596 votes over Gary Giebels’ 16,609. Butler served two terms as mayor. Gloria Tate, who went on to serve nine years on council, collected 20,122 votes – a total which remains the highest for any council seat winner in the 50-year history of the city.

During the 1992 presidential year election, a record 80 percent of the electorate turned out to vote. Marilyn Stout claimed the District 2 seat with 19,170 votes over Elaine Bryant, launching a political career that continues today on the City Council as the District 3 representative. She remains the only council member in city history to serve two different terms in different districts.

Cape Coral elections moved off the presidential cycle and to the mid-term elections in 1998. Voter turnout quickly dropped to 47 percent. In 2003, when Cape elections moved to the spring and to odd numbered years, the slide continued as only 20 percent of the electorate voted. Those low turnout numbers were the norm over the next 17 years. For this year’s primary, turnout climbed to 30 percent.

FILE PHOTO Cape Coral’s first mayor, Paul Fickinger, center, served the city from 1970-73. In this picture at a local social gathering, he is joined by his wife, left, and Realtor Rhoda Beyer.

Tony Rotino, the namesake for the Tony Rotino Center in the Yacht Club Community Park, served in a council seat longer than anyone, taking the chair from 1978 to 1994. His longevity was due to his popularity and the city charter. While he was in office, a 1985 charter ordinance allowed for council members to serve “as often as elected by the citizens of Cape Coral,” in two-year terms. In 1988, that ordinance was changed to limit members to two consecutive four-year terms.

Joe Mazurkiewicz claims the record as the longest-serving mayor from 1983 to 1993 or four terms. These were formative years for a city still finding its way and growing at a rapid rate. Mazurkiewicz, his council colleagues and staff developed the first land use comprehensive plan and started the utility extension project, bringing city water and sewer to the southeast section of the city. Then, the utility master plan utilized colors to designate areas where the projects were constructed.

“My biggest regret was that we did too much at one time and I couldn’t stay until completion,” he said.

Marni Sawicki was elected the city’s first woman mayor in 2013, serving until 2017.

And if you think politics are feisty today, Mazurkiewicz – one of 15 mayors in the city’s history – remembers a time when he was asked to “step outside.”

He was trying to explain to angry residents – one toting a skull and crossbones — at a packed City Council workshop why a county incinerator was a good idea, that mercury screening would be in place and there would be no health hazard. One of those people who was not enamored with the idea of an incinerator was Councilmember Giebels seated next to Mazurkiewicz.

“He kept whispering in my ear, ‘you are stupid.’ I said to him, you need to take that talk outside. Then, he puts his mouth on the mic and says, ‘the mayor just asked me outside.’ I pushed myself away from the microphone and walked out of chambers.” Mazurkiewicz shouted some colorful language back at Giebels to join him outside. Calmer heads prevailed and life moved on in Cape Coral.

Submitted by Tom Hayden, a Cape Coral Museum of History board member. As we celebrate 50 years as a city, much of our area’s history, chronicled at the museum, will be featured twice a month in similar articles provided to the Cape Coral Breeze.“https://ogden_images.s3.amazonaws.com/www.capecoralbreeze.com/images/2020/07/28112424/675616_1.jpg” alt=”” width=”600″ height=”400″ class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-695982″ />