Saturday, January 28, 2023

Boca’s Election Ballot Shrinks Further, While Delray’s Heats Up

There will be no contested city council races in Boca Raton’s March election.

Francine Nachlas already had won Seat A, which Andy Thomson left to run unsuccessfully for the Florida House, without opposition. Now Christen Ritchey, one of two candidates to succeed term-limited Andrea O’Rourke in Seat B, has withdrawn after qualifying to run against Marc Wigder.

Despite the late decision, Ritchey and Wigder will not appear on the March 14 ballot. The only item will be the proposed charter amendment that would lengthen terms for the mayor and council members from three years to four years.

A city spokeswoman said Boca Raton spent roughly $260,000 on the last election in 2021. Nachlas and O’Rourke voted against putting the question to voters. One or both now might ask if the council can revisit that decision. There is no estimate yet for the cost of this one-issue election.

Ritchey said she withdrew after speaking at length with Wigder and deciding that “he would do a really great job.” The two had kept things so civil between them that Wigder donated $180 to Ritchey’s campaign. That’s a first for any local campaign I’ve covered in more than three decades.

Ritchey had raised about $21,000 through October. Wigder had raised about $130,000 during that period, with $105,000 coming from personal loans. Each can return the money to donors on a pro rata basis or donate it.

Wigder served on the community advisory panel and pedestrian/bike safety board before announcing his candidacy. Those roles, he said Tuesday, provided an “eye-opener” into issues. Though he lives in the northwest part of Boca Raton, Wigder came one morning to watch the drop-off at Addison Mizner School in the Boca Square neighborhood east of Interstate 95.

Wigder is a real estate lawyer. He hopes that training will help as the council discusses such issues as updating the downtown development code. He also develops eco-friendly offices. Sustainability is another city priority.

Because Thomson had to resign in November, the council appointed Nachlas to serve out his term. Wigder will take office at the council’s organizational meeting on March 31.

No withdrawals in Delray Commission races

There will be no similar withdrawals in the two Delray Beach City Commission races. Indeed, the tone likely will get testy and then some between now and March 14.

Through November, though, fundraising was comparatively quiet. Seat 2 incumbent Juli Casale had raised about $22,000, which includes a $5,000 personal loan. Her opponent, former planning and zoning board member Rob Long, has raised about $20,000.

Seat 4 is open because Shirley Johnson is term-limited. Angie Gray, who serves on the community redevelopment agency, has raised $3,600. Angela Burns, a retired teacher, has raised $14,000, including a loan of $5,000. Her campaign kickoff is scheduled for Jan. 10.

House speaker debate hits home

To understand how the failure of Republicans to choose a House speaker hits people at a local level, consider that as of Wednesday morning all new members of Congress from Florida had no local offices where constituents could call.

One of those new members is Jared Moskowitz, whose District 23 includes Boca Raton and West Boca as well as portions of Broward County. Moskowitz has a website, but it lists only the Washington office. A call to the office Wednesday got a voicemail that the mailbox had not been set up.

Because Republicans have deadlocked on who will lead them, no new members can be sworn in. That dysfunction has delayed all the basic functions of the House. For most members, their most basic function is constituent service.

I’ll have an update after the Republicans stop their infighting—whenever that happens.

Delray benefits from Congress omnibus budget bill

Lois Frankel, the Democrat whose District 22 includes Delray Beach and West Delray, quickly emailed a list of local spending in the omnibus budget bill that Congress passed just before Christmas.

Rep. Lois Frankel

Among other things, Delray Beach will get another $3.45 million toward the city’s new water plant. Frankel previously had secured $11 million for the project in the infrastructure bill. Another $1 million will go to Delray Beach-based Wayside House, which provides treatment to alcohol- and drug-dependent women. The Boca Raton-based American Association of Caregiving Youth will get $491,000 to add services in 20 middle and high schools. These young people care for relatives who are disabled or suffer from mental illness.

Frankel’s email makes one wonder if residents of Moskowitz’s district lost out in the spending bill. Ted Deutch, who had held the seat for a decade, left office in late September after announcing that he would not run for another term. Deutch resigned to become CEO of the American Jewish Committee.

As a result, Deutch was not around for negotiations on the spending bill with his party in the majority. Frankel serves on the Appropriations Committee. It shows.

Mizner Park pays $6 million over injury suit

coronavirus cases in boca raton
Mizner Park

A Palm Beach County jury has awarded $6 million to a man injured at Mizner Park.

On April 24, 2017, Daniel Rayment was in one of the park’s elevators when a ceiling panel collapsed. According to the complaint, the accident caused serious brain injury.

The argument in court was over who had liability. Attorneys for Mizner Park asserted that the problem lay with the elevator contractor, Otis. Rayment’s attorneys claimed that Mizner Park had a responsibility to keep the premises safe, which could have meant hiring a company to maintain the elevators.

According to court filings, Rayment no longer can drive a car and has recurring seizures. Of the award, $5.7 million is for future pain and suffering.

Since the Dec. 16 verdict, Mizner Park has filed notice that it will appeal. For his part, Rayment has renewed his request for a directed verdict. The incident happened when General Growth Properties (GGP) owned Mizner Park. In 2018, Brookfield Property Partners acquired GGP.

FAU Basketball’s win streak

fau
Photo by Alex Dolce

Amid publicity from Florida Atlantic University’s recent hiring of a football coach, the men’s basketball team has won 11 games in a row and made noise in national rankings.

The Owls are 12-1, tied for first place in Conference USA with the University of Alabama Birmingham. Last month, FAU defeated the University of Florida, 76-74.

Seth Davis of The Athletic has FAU in his Top 25. The Owls are unranked in the Associated Press poll, but they got votes along with much more familiar basketball schools. Tonight, FAU hosts UAB.

Boca Bash battery case delayed

Calendar call in the criminal case from last April’s Boca Bash has been delayed.

cole goldberg
Cole Goldberg; photo from Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office

The hearing, to determine whether both sides were ready for trial, had been set for Wednesday. It has been continued to March 1 before Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Caroline Shepherd.

Cole Preston Goldberg, 23, faces one count of domestic battery by strangulation and one count of battery. The state first had charged him with attempted murder for allegedly trying to drown his girlfriend at the time, Caroline Schwitzky. Goldberg has pleaded not guilty.

This is the most serious criminal case to arise from the annual boating/drinking event on Lake Boca that city leaders disavow because it almost always results in arrests. Though the public likely believes otherwise, Boca Raton has no jurisdiction over Lake Boca. It is patrolled by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Attorneys soon will depose officers of the commission and the Boca Raton Police Department and witnesses. Schwitzky’s deposition is scheduled for Feb. 15. According to a court filing, plea negotiations are “ongoing.”

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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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