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Marybeth Cunningham wins election to serve as Hospital District trustee

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN (Week of November 6, 2014)
Photo: Marybeth Cunningham

Marybeth Cunningham, a retired automotive executive, beat competitor Laura Moss Tuesday night in a hotly contested election that will get Indian River Medical Center management at least one additional solid supporter among Hospital District trustees.

Cunningham got 54 percent of the votes, while Moss received 45 percent. The total vote, unprecedented for a minor elective post at the bottom of the ballot, was 22,772 for Cunningham to 19,120 for Moss.

The victory came as somewhat of a surprise to disappointed Moss supporters, who had expected her to win because she campaigned much longer and much more vigorously than Cunningham, who said she did not want to talk about the results.

Alma Lee Loy, whose vacated the District seat that Cunningham will fill, hailed her victory.

“I feel that Marybeth is the right choice to be a District trustee. She is extremely qualified because of her strong management skills and ability to make decisions in a business-like way,” said Loy.

Cunningham ran what she called “a whisper campaign of friends telling friends” about her for two months, while Moss had campaigned vigorously since the start of the year.

But Cunningham prevailed because of the support of Indian River Medical Center leaders, the hospital foundation and other nonprofit officials who got the word out to more people.

“It helped tremendously that Marybeth has been very involved with volunteer work for nonprofits in this area for many years and was well-known for doing so much to help the community,” said Loy.

Prior to the posting of final election results, Cunningham said, “It would be a huge honor to further serve this community by serving on the Hospital District. I think because of my business acumen and nonprofit experience I would be an asset.”

She also commended Moss for her hard work.

As part of her campaign, Cunningham repeatedly said she thought District trustees, who direct property tax dollars for indigent healthcare in Indian River County, should take a softer approach when asking hospital leaders tough questions because she feared that “confrontations undermined confidence in the hospital and hurt donations.”

She also said that she supported the hospital’s expansion of services and facilities to better serve everyone in Indian River County, including the indigent population.

The number of people – about 42,000 – voting for Hospital District Seat No. 2 was unprecedented. In January, 2013, six people ran for a vacated District seat and only 814 people voted.

The increase in interest was largely due to the widely covered differences between the Hospital District and the hospital management. Cunningham was widely viewed as “the hospital candidate” while Moss was viewed as “the District candidate.”

The election of Cunningham comes at a time when Hospital District trustees and hospital leaders seem to be on the way to working out a better relationship than they have had in the past 16 months, as they negotiate over how the District will reimburse the hospital for indigent care.

Both sides have expressed optimism that the relationship, which has been testy, will continue to improve. 

“I congratulate Marybeth Cunningham, and I wouldn’t change a thing about my campaign because I met some of the best people I’ve ever known in my life – most of all the wonderful District trustees,” said Moss.

Cunningham will take her seat on the District board of seven trustees in January along with two other new trustees – Jim Seaton and Allan Jones – who did not have to run for election because they were unopposed in their quest to succeed the retiring Burton Lee and the late Trevor Smith, who died this past summer in an auto accident.