Sunday, September 24, 2023

Boca and Delray Election Results & Ruminations

Shelly Petrolia was on Tuesday’s ballot.

She won. Barely.

And she lost. Big.

Scott Singer wasn’t on the ballot.

He won. Big.

Petrolia and Singer, the mayors of Delray Beach and Boca Raton involved themselves in this year’s elections to an unusually high degree for these cities. Each was seeking to create a like-minded voting bloc.

Petrolia began her effort last year. She helped to defeat a well-financed, well-known incumbent, Bill Bathurst, and replace him with Juli Casale. In the last year, Casale has been a Petrolia loyalist on everything from firing the city manager to ignoring science on sea grape trimming.

This year, Petrolia went after incumbents Ryan Boylston and Adam Frankel. She didn’t come close.

Frankel got 55 percent of the vote against Price Patton, the mayor’s candidate. Boylston did even better, getting 60 percent against former Commissioner Mitch Katz. Boylston reached 7,000 total votes, a high bar in Delray Beach.

Yet Petrolia herself survived, defeating Tracy Caruso by 365 votes. How could the mayor win and her slate lose?

“Numbers,” Boylston said Wednesday. “(Petrolia) doesn’t have enough pull to help other people when it’s a head-to-head election.”

He’s got a point. Casale and Bathurst were in a four-person race. Casale won by just 106 votes, getting 36 percent to Bathurst’s 35 percent. Bathurst likely would have won if he had run against only Casale.

As for Petrolia, she won by even fewer votes than she did three years ago against Jim Chard. Still, Caruso raised $212,000, a record for Delray Beach and almost $75,000 more than Petrolia. Caruso had endorsements from the police and fire unions and The Set. As a first-time candidate, Caruso admirably worked to draw support from minority neighborhoods, but I’m told that they underperformed compared to other parts of the city. Precinct results aren’t available yet to check that, but the lower turnout would match previous elections.

The mayor also did better with mail-in voters. Petrolia led when the first totals were posted. Caruso narrowed the gap as Tuesday numbers came in, but it wasn’t enough.

Will Petrolia see the victories by Boylston and Frankel—by wider margins than she got—as a rejection of her divisive behavior? Or will she consider her reelection to have vindicated that behavior?

Petrolia’s reaction matters a lot. Delray Beach must deal not only with the COVID-19 pandemic but also a potential $3 million fine over its water problems and a list of big-ticket necessities, such as the program to protect the city from rising seas.

At the moment, Delray is being run by an interim city manager who, until nine months ago, was the purchasing director. The assistant city manager had the same position in the Miami-Dade County town of Surfside, whose population is 10 percent that of Delray Beach.

The commission holds its post-election organizational meeting on March 25. Watch for the tone.

And in Boca

Unlike Petrolia, Singer got the results he wanted in Boca Raton. And the races weren’t close.

In Seat C, Yvette Drucker got 51 percent against former Councilwoman Constance Scott, Josie Machovec and Bernard Korn. In Seat D, Monica Mayotte won a second term with almost 60 percent against Brian Stenberg.

Last month, as mail-in ballots arrived, and again on Monday Singer emailed his endorsement of Drucker and Mayotte. Singer set things in motion last fall, when he joined Mayotte and Andrea O’Rourke in choosing Drucker to fill out the term of Jeremy Rodgers. That gave her the advantage of running as an incumbent.

As in Delray Beach, the faces won’t change. But there’s unlikely to be same level of drama.

All clear for next year

No elections are scheduled for next year in Boca Raton or Delray Beach.

Singer would be on the ballot in 2023 if he sought another term. O’Rourke is term-limited, so that council seat would be open. Councilman Andy Thomson would be eligible to run again.

In Delray Beach, Casale would be up for reelection in two years. Shirley Johnson is term-limited in Seat 4.

Arts Center update

Backers of the proposed arts center for Mizner Park want Boca Raton to move faster than city officials seem willing to do.

Andrea Virgin is president of the Boca Raton Arts District Exploratory Committee (BRADEC). She told me that her group had suggested a schedule that would have had the planning and zoning board next month consider a rough version of the lease for vacant, city-owned land on the northeast corner of Mizner Park. City council approval could come in “late May.” BRADEC also would upgrade and manage the Mizner Park Amphitheater.

On Wednesday, however, a city spokeswoman said the planning and zoning board could not review anything lacking all the specifics. In addition, the city intends to hire a consultant who specializes in such leases. The spokeswoman said that might not happen until April.

Virgin said she needs to “keep moving” because her non-profit group has monthly expenses and “can’t keep our donors waiting too long.”

When council members discussed the project last month, Singer expressed the most hesitation about the city being part of the $120 million project. Virgin said she found Singer’s comment “a little surprising,” but she doesn’t believe that he was trying to kill the idea.

“They want to be cautious,” Virgin said of the council members. “We hope to be a good partner.”

Brightline station still on track

A spokesman for Brightline told me that the lawsuit against the company by Virgin Group doesn’t affect plans for a station in Boca Raton.

Virgin alleges in a British court that Brightline owes it $251 million in royalties. In 2018, Brightline signed a marketing deal with Virgin, hoping to capitalize on the company’s airline and cruise businesses. Brightline canceled the deal last summer, saying that the pandemic had damaged the Virgin brand.

The Boca Raton station and parking garage will be near the downtown library. A city spokeswoman said Brightline would begin work this month on moving the Junior League garden to a site near Boca Raton Middle School and building a temporary parking lot for use during construction. Work cannot begin on the station and garage until the city council approves a site plan. There is no date for when that might happen.

New fire station

On Monday, Boca Raton opened the city’s new fire station on Clint Moore Road at Military Trail.

Of the city’s eight stations, this was the only one that had not been upgraded or rebuilt. The $5.2 million facility serves the fast-growing northwest section of the city.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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