City Watch: Three elections and other news and notes from Boca-Delray

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Zucaro files for mayoral run

If nothing else, Al Zucaro’s decision to challenge Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie in the March election removes any remaining pretense that BocaWatch is anything but Zucaro’s personal political website.

As publisher of BocaWatch, Zucaro not only regularly criticizes Haynie and the council. He has filed ethics complaints against a council member and the deputy city manager. The complaints were dismissed. Through a business entity, Zucaro donated $500 to Andrea O’Rourke, who is running to succeed term-limited Councilman Mike Mullaugh. BocaWatch’s political action committee acted as a conduit for money to the unsuccessful re-election campaigns last year of Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District board members Dennis Frisch and Earl Starkoff.

Before Zucaro qualified on Wednesday for the mayor’s race, the rumor had been that former Councilman Peter Baronoff, now the CEO of Promise Healthcare, would run against Haynie. BocaWatch was in the middle of that rumor. Last October, Baronoff announced that the Rotary Club of Boca Raton would present an award to Zucaro’s wife, Yvonne Boice. Two weeks later, BocaWatch ran a favorable item about Baronoff and his wife, Carmel, who hosts a lifestyle/fitness show on PBS, receiving a similar award. Zucaro then also gave a fawning interview to Baronoff.

But now Zucaro has moved from aspiring power broker to candidate. He will start his campaign far behind Haynie in fundraising. She didn’t have her official kickoff until last month, but through December she had roughly $41,500 in contributions. The mayor held another fundraiser Monday night.

Haynie has the usual donations from developers that flow to incumbents. Example: about $4,000 from entities related to Compson Associates, which is one of three remaining bidders for the city’s western golf course. Haynie has received $2,500 from Penn-Florida, which is building Via Mizner and University Village. Haynie voted for both projects.

In addition, however, Haynie has received $500 from the chairwoman of the Federation of Boca Raton Homeowner Associations, Christine Cherepy. (Neil Haynie, the mayor’s husband, is the group’s first vice chairman.) Haynie got $250 from Boca Raton Regional Hospital CEO Jerry Fedele, $500 from Planning and Zoning Board Chairman William Fairman and $1,000 from former Mayor Susan Whelchel.

More important, the firefighters union supports Haynie. Three years ago, the union backed Anthony Majhess, a county firefighter. Haynie supported reform of the city’s police and fire pension programs, which she and the council approved. Without the union’s support in 2014, she got 59 percent of the vote. In the beach and park district races, the firefighters’ help probably made the difference for challengers Craig Ehrnst and Erin Wright.

Though Haynie is the only council member who lives east of Interstate 95, she received strong support in 2014 from voters west of I-95, who turn out regularly and in higher numbers. But her support was widespread. She won 28 of 37 precincts and ran well in areas near downtown that include her neighborhood of Camino Gardens.

Zucaro’s base will be the Golden Triangle, where he lives, and those who most opposed the attempt to lease the Wildflower site for a restaurant. BocaWatch championed the ordinance that blocked the restaurant and now has drawn a lawsuit. He likely will claim that Haynie has been ignoring “the people” on development. He will portray himself as the insurgent against the establishment, and the portrayal may apply beyond the city.

Zucaro’s fellow Republicans consider Haynie the party’s strongest candidate to succeed Steven Abrams on the county commission in 2018. If Haynie wanted to run for that seat, her position would be stronger if she were the incumbent mayor. Zucaro might try to turn that against Haynie by claiming that she wouldn’t serve out her term.

As of Monday, the March 14 election shaped up as fairly straightforward. It just got livelier.

City Council Seat B election

Having a mayor’s race in Boca Raton may affect the race for City Council Seat B.

Three candidates are running to succeed the term-limited Mike Mullaugh: Emily Gentile, Andrea O’Rourke and Andy Thomson. If only that race had been on the ballot, we could have expected turnout to be roughly what it was in 2012 and 2015, which featured only a single council race. Each drew about 6,800 votes.

In 2014, however, there were about 11,000 votes cast in the mayor’s race. Turnout dropped only slightly for the two council races that also were on the ballot.

Conventional wisdom for the Seat B race is that O’Rourke will get the anti-incumbent vote—the Golden Triangle, where she lives, and the beach—while Gentile and Thomson will split the pro-incumbent vote, allowing O’Rourke to win. Gentile, however, lives on the beach. As the only candidate from west of I-95, Thomson could assume that he will dominate that important area.

Higher turnout could challenge any of those assumptions. O’Rourke would figure to do better in a low-turnout, one-race election. She might have to seek a broader base. So might Gentile and Thomson. An extra 3,000 votes wouldn’t mean much in a countywide election. In a citywide race, they could mean everything.

Note: All three Seat B candidates would like to have the firefighters union working for them. The union will interview the candidates on Jan. 25, with representatives of the police union.

Singer challenger

If Zucaro entering the mayor’s race was a surprise, so was the entry at Wednesday’s deadline of a challenger to Seat A Councilman Scott Singer.

That challenger is Patricia Dervishi. Like O’Rourke, she lives in the Golden Triangle. There is irony in her taking on Singer, who has spent much of the last year courting Golden Triangle residents, especially with his opposition to the restaurant on the Wildflower site.

Singer remains a big favorite. He’s raised about $65,000. He also might benefit from a challenge. He clearly aspires to higher office, and faced no opposition in 2014. He won’t get such free rides if he wants to move up. Running an actual campaign could be good experience.

Ocean Breeze news

With the Boca Raton City Council’s next discussion about selling the western golf course and acquiring the Ocean Breeze course scheduled for Jan. 23, the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District has hired a law firm to assess the idea of acquiring Ocean Breeze in the Boca Teeca subdivision through eminent domain.

On Dec. 1, Deputy City Manager George Brown emailed Art Koski, the district’s executive director. Brown was following up on the district’s offer to help the city acquire the course. Brown asked about the potential impact on the district of buying Ocean Breeze, rehabbing it and operating it as a golf course.

The district has hired the Fort Lauderdale firm of Goren, Cherof, Doody & Ezroll to conduct the eminent domain analysis. The district also has hired a firm to appraise the 200 acres of Ocean Breeze.

Under one of three proposals Boca Raton is considering, Lennar would buy the western course and convey Ocean Breeze to the city for $10 million off the western course purchase price. Lennar has a contract to develop Ocean Breeze, but a majority of unit owners in Boca Teeca would have to agree. The city would net roughly $30 million less from the Lennar deal than what the highest offer, from GL Homes, would bring.

When the council last discussed the golf courses, an attorney representing Lennar basically said the company would fight eminent domain. Koski said the district has asked the law firm and the appraiser to complete their work in time for that Jan. 23 council workshop.

Delray Place South

The developer of Delray Place South had better be prepared to lose on Jan. 24.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, the city commission rejected Delray Place LLC’s request to delay until April 4 appeals of last October’s site plan review and appearance board rulings. The board approved four requests from Delray Place South, but rejected the site plan, which was the main request.

Delray Place LLC appealed to the commission, but sought the postponement to seek “common ground” with potential neighbors in Tropic Isle. As those neighbors made clear Tuesday night, there is no common ground. The developer wants a road that would disrupt the neighborhood, and the neighborhood opposes the road.

The commission voted unanimously to deny the extension. On Jan. 24, the commission almost certainly will vote unanimously to deny Delray Place LLC’s appeal of the site plan rejection.

Uptown Atlantic back at square one

Speaking of starting over, the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency will try to do that on the three blocks that were to have been Uptown Atlantic.

Last month, the CRA terminated the agreement under which Uptown Atlantic would have bought the roughly six acres over three blocks east of the Fairfield Inn for the mixed-use Uptown Atlantic. The CRA had chosen Uptown Atlantic in October 2013 from among three bidders.

At tonight’s meeting, the CRA board will consider two options.

The CRA could attempt to contact the two other bidders from 2013 and see if either is still interested. The board report notes that both bidders wanted subsidies. In addition, construction costs have increased, and the CRA has acquired another one-acre parcel that could be part of any project. The purchase price, of course, would rise.

Or the CRA could issue a new Request for Proposal. Since the city issued approvals for Uptown Atlantic, the property could be more appealing than it was three years ago. Developers now could acquire a portion of the combined property, not all of it. Obviously, that could make for something less than the transformational project that the West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition believed that Uptown Atlantic could become.

Whatever option emerges, one would assume that the CRA will question bidders more strenuously. Uptown Atlantic was not the staff’s first choice in 2013.


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