Elections: Surprises in Delray, Not so Much in Boca

Boca Raton election signs (Photo by Randy Schultz)
Shelly Petrolia
Delray Beach Mayor-elect Shelly Petrolia

Shelly Petrolia will be mayor of Delray Beach. That would have seemed unlikely a year ago.

In March 2017, Petrolia campaigned against Jim Chard and Shirley Ervin Johnson for the city commission. Each won easily against the candidates Petrolia supported. The results seemed like a rebuke of Petrolia and her tactics.

Yet on Tuesday, Petrolia defeated Chard in a mayoral race that saw the two candidates raise nearly a quarter-million dollars combined. The margin wasn’t big—52 percent to 48 percent—but the outcome represented a big turnaround from just 12 months ago.

So what happened?

Most important, Petrolia ran a better campaign. She announced last August, before incumbent Cary Glickstein had decided whether to seek another term. She loaned herself $25,000—another $11,000 would come later—and got to work.

Petrolia prepared and worked to change her image. Even Chard’s supporters told me privately that at candidate forums Petrolia came off better. She was disciplined, stayed on message, and separated herself from the Petrolia of the 2017 campaign.

Turnout also was higher. Last March, about 6,300 people voted in the commission races. This year, the mayor’s race drew about 8,500 voters. Petrolia also might have benefited from the surge in female candidates.

In addition, consultants say running for mayor—even in weak-mayor cities like Delray Beach—is different than running for the commission. Voters see it as an executive position and raise their standards, so the campaign is more demanding. Starting early really helps. Chard used a different strategy team than he did last year. Voters also could have seen him as presumptuous, running for mayor after just a year.

It will be interesting to see how Petrolia runs her first meeting on March 29, which will come after the organizational session. Most of Delray Beach’s business and political establishment backed Chard, a fact that Petrolia supporters considered a compliment to her. In this role, though, residents will expect Petrolia to work at uniting Delray Beach’s factions.

Petrolia and Johnson will be the only holdovers on the commission. City Manager Mark Lauzier has been on the job only since November. There is a new political dynamic in Delray Beach, and it will be in place for at least two years. Delray Beach is not scheduled to hold an election next year. Petrolia now must set the tone for the commission and the city.

She soon will have an opportunity. The commission likely will hold its goal-setting session on April 20-21 at the Hyatt Place in Pineapple Grove.

Seat 3 results

Ryan Boylston
Commissioner-elect Ryan Boylston

Seat 3 City Commissioner Mitch Katz joined Petrolia in that campaign last year against Chard and Johnson, but he didn’t get the bounce back that Petrolia did.

Katz lost to businessman Ryan Boylston, who got 56 percent of the vote. Chard might find those results puzzling. Given the seeming link between Katz and Petrolia—on the dais and off—one might have assumed that if Boylston won, so would Chard.

Seat 3 didn’t come down to money. Boylston raised $65,000 while Katz got $63,000. Some of Chard’s significant donors also contributed to Boylston.

But Boylston stressed the need for a more civil commission. That could have played well with voters—especially female voters—who recalled Katz’s harsh treatment of former Commissioner Jordana Jarjura.

Boylston told me Wednesday that his first priority will be to restore civility. “The last three elections have gotten nastier and nastier. This is not Delray.”

As to why he won, Boylston said, “I had a great team.” Indeed, the better campaign tends to win. That happened in the cases of Petrolia and Boylston.

Seat 1

Adam Frankel
Commissioner Adam Frankel

In Delray Beach’s Seat 1 race, Adam Frankel won a return to the commission in a three-way race. Despite name recognition—he served on the commission from 2009 to 2015—and considerably more money than his opponents, Frankel got just 43 percent.

Frankel raised $62,000, or $60,000 more than Richard Alteus—$1,800—and Eric Camacho—$200—raised between them. Camacho got 30 percent. Alteus got 27 percent. Frankel is lucky that he had two opponents rather than just one.

Seat 2

Bill Bathurst
Commissioner-elect Bill Bathurst

Bill Bathurst had no worries on Election Day. He already had won Seat 2 in Delray Beach—which Chard left to run for mayor—with no opposition.

The managing partner of Golden Bear Realty hopes to bring his quarter-century of corporate experience to commission discussions. As a third-generation resident, Bathurst says, “I bring a deep knowledge of the city. We are very blessed. We live in a place where people save for a lifetime to come and spend a week.”

Bathurst served on the Historic Preservation Board. He would have voted against Midtown, which the commission approved last week. But he said, “I like a lot about the project, and I look forward to working with the developer to make it even better. They’re a partner now.”

Boca election notes

Monica Mayotte
Commissioner-elect Monica Mayotte

Monica Mayotte won Seat D easily over Armand Grossman, getting 66 percent. As in Delray Beach, the campaign mattered. Mayotte announced last August, loaned herself $25,000, and began canvassing neighborhoods. Mayotte stuck to her message of opposition to “overdevelopment” and benefited from endorsements by the firefighters and police unions.

Mayotte also got some luck. She had challenged Seat D incumbent Robert Weinroth, who had name recognition after four years in office and had raised more than $100,000. Weinroth, however, dropped out near the end of qualifying to run for the county commission. Then former Councilman Mike Mullaugh—who also has name recognition and widespread respect—got in but dropped out, saying he didn’t have time to assemble a campaign team. That left it to Grossman, who had to scramble and ran a weird TV ad of him cruising Boca Raton in a vintage car. It was hard to hear the audio and the whole thing looked creepy.

Jeremy Rodgers
Commissioner Jeremy Rodgers

Meanwhile, Jeremy Rodgers won a second term in Seat C. He got 55 percent to Kim Do’s 45 percent. Do never had run and moved to Boca Raton just 10 months ago, so her theme of school crowding resonated and probably led to her decent showing.

Though overall turnout was only about 15 percent, roughly one-third more votes were cast than in 2015, the last year of a council-only election. Still, turnout remained 2,300 votes under the total of the 2017 mayor’s race.

Boca organizational session

Boca Raton’s new council will meet for its organizational session on April 2. One of the votes on that day could be more than symbolic.

Among other things, council members must choose a community redevelopment agency chairman and a deputy mayor. The CRA post has some substance; the chairman runs the meetings. Normally, the deputy mayor position is ceremonial only. Maybe not this year.

Mayor Susan Haynie is running against Weinroth for that county commission seat. Though she could drop out before the June qualifying period if county and state ethics investigations become politically problematic, Haynie’s position now is that she’s in to the end.

Her term as mayor doesn’t end until March 2020. Win or lose in the commission race, she must leave the mayor’s post in November. The city then would hold a special election in March, with the winner serving out the final year of the term.

Councilman Scott Singer announced last October that he would run in that special election. He has raised $67,000. Two other candidates have filed paperwork. One has raised no money. The other has loaned himself $2,000.

The deputy mayor would become interim mayor if Haynie left early. Singer surely would love to campaign for mayor as mayor. That could happen if the council named him deputy mayor, a title Jeremy Rodgers now has.

Monica Mayotte will be an ally of Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke, who endorsed Mayotte and recorded pro-Mayotte phone calls. They might oppose giving the title to Singer. His consultant ran Armand Grossman’s campaign, which used mailers to attack Mayotte. Conversely, a push by Mayotte to make O’Rourke the deputy could indicate that O’Rourke is thinking about running for mayor herself.

The neutral play would be to leave Rodgers with the title and keep Singer as CRA chairman. Haynie, whose expected departure started this maneuvering, will be in charge of herding the cats.

The anti-Mayotte mailers

Speaking of those anti-Mayotte mailers, we know who financed them.

The mailers came from a political action committee called the Responsible Neighbors Alliance that is run by Todd Richardson, Armand Grossman’s campaign consultant. According to new finance reports, the PAC got $15,000 from James Batmasian, Boca Raton’s largest private property owner.

Batmasian put Grossman signs on many of his properties and gave directly to Grossman’s campaign. Sending money through PACs, however, allows donors to give far more than the legal limit of $1,000.

The Responsible Neighbors Alliance also got $7,500 from another PAC called Floridians for Integrity in Government. Batmasian gave $10,000 to that PAC in the name of his company, Investments Limited. The two PACs spent a combined $20,000 with Root Strategies, which Richardson also controls.

This is so-called “dark money,” which doesn’t come directly from a candidate. Voters usually don’t know until after the election where such money comes from. Clearly, though, Batmasian bet big on Grossman, and lost. Batmasian’s second phase of redevelopment at Royal Palm Place may come before the next council.

Koski update

I reported recently on the request by Greater Boca Beach and Park District Director Art Koski for a $120,000 fee for negotiating the agency’s purchase of the former Ocean Breeze golf course. Some district board members said they hadn’t been aware of the request. Koski and other board members said his contract as the district’s attorney allows fees for such work.

For now, Koski has returned the money. Board members will discuss it during their meeting Monday.

Hats off to students

Congratulations to the students in Boca Raton, Delray Beach and around the state and country who walked out or otherwise demonstrated Wednesday in support of tougher gun-control laws.

The actions took place a month after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland. Though Florida enacted mild reforms under pressure from students and families of the victims, only Congress can pass meaningful reform. This is a national call to action on a national issue.

Missed the last City Watch?

Visit our City Watch page and also sign up for our City Watch e-newsletter, where you’ll get the latest column delivered directly to your inbox.