Ryan Cotton ousts anti-Scientology Mark Bunker on Clearwater City Council
Image via city of Clearwater.

Ryan Cotton
Cotton pulled off an upset despite the Florida Democratic Party weighing in for the incumbent.

Firefighter Ryan Cotton has defeated incumbent Clearwater City Council member Mark Bunker, a win not just for Cotton, but for the city’s sizable Scientology presence.

Cotton claimed more than 42% of the vote in the three-way race, according to unofficial results.

Bunker finished with just over 39% while marketing executive Mike Mastuserio captured just over 18%.

Though no one earned more than 50% of the vote, there are no runoffs under the city’s current election rules. Though voters also decided to change that. A lone referendum on the city’s ballot Tuesday asked whether a runoff should be required if no candidate exceeds 50% — 64% of voters said yes.

Cotton ran with support from U.S. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna and Pinellas County Commissioners Chris Latvala and Brian Scott, all Republicans.

Cotton’s father-in-law is David Allbritton, who serves on the City Council in Seat 4. Cotton ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility and streamlining city services.

Cotton emerged victorious despite raising the least amount of money for the race at just over $23,000 raised. Bunker raised nearly $55,000, while Mastruserio raised more than $41,000 for his bid.

With his more than decade of work against Scientology, Bunker was able to outraise his opposition largely through out-of-state contributions.

Bunker first came to Clearwater in 2000 when he accepted a position with the Lisa McPherson Trust managing multimedia for the group, which sought to expose deceptive and abusive practices within the Church of Scientology and assist people they believed were abused and defrauded by the group. Bunker recorded interviews with former Scientologists and protests against the group.

He first ran for City Council in 2020 with support from King of Queens star Leah Remini who left the church in 2013 and has since sought to publicly uncover its inner workings, like Bunker. In 2019 she launched a docuseries on the A&E Network uncovering secrets about the church from her own experience as a member and through interviews with ex-practitioners.

He ran again this year with backing from anti-Scientology forces, including from Clearwater resident Aaron Smith-Levin, a fierce Scientology critic who himself ran unsuccessfully for City Council. He was removed from the Aftermath Foundation Board — a group he co-founded to help those attempting to leave Scientology — over alleged ethics violations.

Cotton, a captain with the Lealman Fire District, ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility and streamlining city services.

“My priorities are to focus on fiscal responsibility by ensuring every tax dollar is put to its best use. Streamlining City Services to ensure our government works as efficiently as possible for the residents of Clearwater,” he wrote in a statement when he announced his campaign in September. “Together, I know we can create a brighter future for our city.”

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


  • Jacob

    March 19, 2024 at 8:39 pm

    Cotton is the best choice Clearwater voters have made.

    • Matt H

      March 21, 2024 at 3:24 pm

      Err, Mark Bunker was. He represented his constituents and he also highlighted the abuses Scientology have inflicted on Clearwater.

  • Nick

    March 19, 2024 at 9:25 pm

    Cotton is nothing more than a corporate mannequin. He’s a shell of a person, devoid of any original thought. I hope cozying up to the Scientologists works out for you… Unfortunately you know nothing about how they operate, moron.

  • Aaron

    March 21, 2024 at 5:51 am

    The winner saw the endless possibilities for bright and beautiful Clearwater, which are being realized every day. Nobody likes a whiner. That church seems to have built something great for themselves. There exists plenty of land and opportunity in Clearwater for others to do the same. Cotton sees it.

    • Tad

      March 22, 2024 at 7:26 pm

      Well spoken. As a frequent visitor who’s returned to Clearwater again and again over the decades, the city’s only looking more beautiful and accessible. The Church has gone out of their way repeatedly to beautify downtown, make public spaces for everyone (i.e. look at the defunct Checkers that got made into the public park everyone enjoys at Winter Wonderland, etc).

  • rick whitaker

    March 21, 2024 at 11:05 am

    do floridians not know how dangerous religions are? scientology is just like all the rest, they tell you lies, and expect you to believe them. florida can have all the religious kooks it wants, just to keep them out of my state. i moved out of florida because of floridians.

  • Keystone Keys

    March 31, 2024 at 9:29 pm

    Will be interesting to watch Fire Captain/Councilman Cotton advocating for any streamlining in the Fire Dept.

Comments are closed.


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