Friday, July 19, 2024

Showing Them the Money in Boca and Delray

There is news in the January fundraising reports for the Boca Raton and Delray Beach elections. Boca first.

According to his report, Armand Grossman loaned himself $50,000 for his Seat D race against Monica Mayotte. Grossman entered the race on the last day of qualifying because incumbent Robert Weinroth dropped out to run for the county commission. Mayotte has been running since early last fall.

That last-minute entry obviously made it hard for Grossman to raise outside money quickly. That $50,000, however, would put him ahead of Mayotte, who raised only about $4,700 in January for a total of about $43,000. That includes a $25,000 personal check.

Also of note, Mayotte has spent more than half her contributions with the election still about a month away. Nearly $4,000, though, has gone toward yard signs that will be before voters until March 13.

Though Grossman has raised just $6,700 from outside sources, Mayotte’s campaign likely will seize on the $2,000 from James Batmasian. He is the city’s largest private landowner. The next council may vote on whether to approve a large redevelopment of Royal Palm Place, which Batmasian owns.

Mayotte is behind where Andrea O’Rourke—who would be Mayotte’s ally on the council—was at a similar point in her campaign. Turnout, however, will be lower than in 2017 because there’s no race for mayor. Mayotte likely presumes that BocaWatch voters who put O’Rourke in office remain energized and will be enough for her, too.

Mayotte may be right. Grossman will make his appeal to voters who backed Andy Thomson against O’Rourke. They might have been enough if Emily Gentile had not made it a three-candidate race.

And more…

In the Seat C race, Kim Do also entered late—against incumbent Jeremy Rodgers. Like Grossman, she has made a sizeable loan to her campaign—about $31,000. It’s her only contribution through January. Do moved to Boca Raton less than a year ago and has had no public involvement with the city apart from her candidacy. A candidate mailer for her arrived Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Rodgers has raised about $61,000, roughly $9,000 of that in January. Two contributions stand out.

One is $1,000 from James Batmasian. The other is $1,000 from Art Koski. He’s the director of the Greater Boca Beach and Park District, which is the council’s partner on many projects. The current one is buying and remaking the former Ocean Breeze golf course. Koski also represents plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging that the city violated the U.S. Constitution in its 2015 approval of Chabad East Boca.

And the Delray numbers

Delray Beach City Commissioner Jim Chard raised an astonishing amount of money in January for his mayoral campaign against Commissioner Shelly Petrolia.

Chard brought in $31,000. I can’t remember a candidate for office in either city raising that much in a month. Yet Chard remains well behind Petrolia, who announced her candidacy several months before Chard did. Petrolia has raised almost $101,000, which includes $36,000 in personal loans.

Delray Beach’s business establishment continues to mostly back Chard, though the city’s trash hauler—Waste Management—gave $1,000 to each candidate. Some other large donors similarly have hedged their bets. Despite that overall advantage, Petrolia raised less than one-third of Chard’s total in January.

Katz vs. Boyleston

The consensus has been that Delray Beach’s District 3 commission race between incumbent Mitch Katz and challenger Ryan Boylston could be the closest in either Delray or Boca Raton. At least in terms of fundraising, that consensus is correct at this point.

For January, Katz raised $8,400, bringing his total to $54,000. Boylston raised almost $11,000, bringing his total to $51,000. Katz has spent a little more—$25,000 to Boylston’s $17,000.

And what the money means

Obviously, campaign donations are not policy. What candidates do in office matters more than what they raise.

But with races in Boca Raton and Delray Beach getting so little coverage from the South Florida Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post—perhaps one reason turnout is so small—money can matter a lot in getting that office.

Money can buy mailers that present flattering profiles of candidates. Money can help get out the vote. Money can buy a presence on social media. With low turnout, it can take very little to tip an election. Just 265 votes decided a 2014 Delray Beach city commission race.

Wildflower property plans?

We heard more on Monday about plans for the Wildflower property in Boca Raton, but we didn’t hear much that was useful.

We heard the city’s consultant, Kona Gray, say that it could cost between $2.4 million and $3.6 million to help turn the roughly two-acre site into a destination park. But the city already has budgeted $4.3 million this year and next for the Wildflower. Would this be more money? Apparently not, according to a city spokeswoman.

So what’s up?

Here’s my read at this point:

Wildflower could become a great draw, if combined with Silver Palm Park to the south. That would add roughly another four acres. But that would depend on whether the motorized boat launches stay at Silver Palm.

Wildflower could become a great draw if the city bought the property between Wildflower and Northeast Fifth Avenue. That would add another two-thirds of an acre. But the city has asked multiple times, only to hear what City Manager Leif Ahnell says have been prices the city isn’t willing to pay. The property is assessed at nearly $2 million. Ahnell will ask again.

We are at this point of indecision because those who successfully fought to keep a restaurant off the property have decided that the Wildflower should be the focus of Boca Raton’s parks program, cost be damned. Even Gray is urging purchase of the adjoining land.

But where would that money come from? Why are neighbors who opposed the restaurant, supposedly because of noise and because Boca people need a place to fish, seemingly fine with the idea of the Wildflower being active day and night? With food?

More clarity may come after a Feb. 26 meeting with boaters to hear whether they would accept moving all motorized launches to Lake Wyman/Rutherford Park. The question then might be whether residents around the park would accept all the launches. The 6 p.m. meeting is at the Downtown Library.

The Wildflower property became a political issue in 2016. It remains one.

Ocean Breeze tees off

As of Tuesday night, it’s official. The Boca Raton City Council has approved the $20 million underwriting of bonds for the beach and park District to buy the former Ocean Breeze Golf Course at Boca Teeca. The district now will close on the purchase from Lennar and an entity of Wells Fargo.

Which brings us to. . .

And next steps?

All the companies that want to build Boca National —or whatever name goes on the golf course to replace Ocean Breeze—have made their presentations, but the decision won’t come that soon.

On Monday, the last five of 15 bidders pitched to the beach and park district. But the district may let still more companies make their case, and the district board wants more details from the current entrants.

Chairman Bob Rollins said Wednesday that the board would decide by “mid-March” whether any latecomers can apply. As for those added “details,” from the 15 bidders, Rollins isn’t sure what the board might ask for. He said board members heard “some really great ideas, but we’re not giving anyone a blank template.”

Once the board picks a company to design and build the new course, Rollins said, the district will hold public meetings. “We want to hear from the people who will be paying the taxes and using the course.” Board member Susan Vogelgesang called public meetings “a must.”

Rollins expects that the board will narrow the bidders to a list of between five and 10. “I have at least five I want to hear more from.” Presentations might be done by the first week in March, said board member Steven Engel. At that point, the district may hire a consultant to help determine the best choice.

None of the bidders is offering cost estimates. This search is only for companies that are qualified to do the work and whose ideas align with a majority of board members. In choosing a company, the district does not have to take the low bidder. But because the district will ask the city council also to underwrite bonds for redeveloping the course, you can assume that the council won’t want the district commissioners to be spendthrifts.

Board member Craig Ehrnst said the goal is to “make the very best possible decision for framing the best vision and architectural teams to short list. It is a big undertaking.”

Hillsboro/El Rio Park work

Drivers who use Southwest 18th Street in Boca Raton as a cut-through to downtown or points south may want to change their routine starting next month.

The city is beginning work on the decades-long-delayed second phase of Hillsboro/El Rio Park. It will be on the south side of 18th Street between the El Rio Canal bridge and Dixie Highway. Amenities will include four pickle ball courts—after much lobbying by fans of the sport —two tennis courts, a basketball court and a sand volleyball court. There also will be a non-motorized boat launch on the El Rio Canal.

As part of the project, the city will smooth out that section of 18th Street, which has sunk in places because it’s on the old city landfill. That work will take nine months. During construction, just one lane will be open.

The Marjorie Stoneman Douglas tragedy

We are all wracked by the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. We know thoughts and prayers are no longer enough; we send them nonetheless to the families affected, and to all out readers who are rocked by this news. We will explore this matter more thoroughly in weeks to come. Here are ways you can help now.
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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