Delray Races Heat Up and Special Events Are a Go This Spring

election
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Three weeks from Delray Beach’s election, the races have come into clear focus. Here’s a look at all three:

Mayor: Shelly Petrolia vs. Tracy Caruso.

This is a brawl. Incumbent Petrolia and challenger Caruso aren’t holding back.

Caruso accuses Petrolia of lying about the city’s water quality problems and of causing upheaval in City Hall from the firing of two city managers in 15 months. She has ripped Petrolia for approving higher salaries for the mayor and commission that will kick in after the election.

In response, Petrolia all but calls Caruso a carpetbagger, relying primarily on her husband—State Rep. Mike Caruso, whose district includes part of the city—and his connections through the Legislature.

Of all Caruso’s charges, the one most on point is that Petrolia wants to control the commission and act as a strong mayor even though Delray Beach’s charter doesn’t allow it. Petrolia is openly supporting challengers to commission incumbents Adam Frankel and Ryan Boylston.

Last year, Petrolia succeeded in defeating Bill Bathurst, who had disagreed with the mayor on major issues, such as the hiring of a manager. Petrolia recruited neighborhood activist Julie Casale, who has echoed the mayor on every big vote.

Ironically, in 2018 Petrolia portrayed herself as the steady, experienced candidate again Jim Chard, who had served one year on the commission compared to Petrolia’s five. But Petrolia has been more of a disrupter, leading the charge to abolish the independent community redevelopment agency board and fire the city attorney, in both cases with little or no notice. Delray Beach also is on its eighth city manager—permanent or interim—since Petrolia went on the commission.

Though Caruso never had run for office and had served only briefly on the historic preservation board, she has emerged as the establishment candidate. The public employee unions have endorsed her.

But campaign finance reports do show that Caruso is getting the majority of her contributions from entities linked to the Legislature. Petrolia thus characterizes herself as the champion of old-timers and the neighborhoods. The mayor also warns that Caruso would allow rampant development.

For all the local angles, however, this non-partisan race may come to partisan politics.

Delray Beach is a majority Democratic city. Michael Caruso is a Republican who called himself a strong Donald Trump Republican when he ran in 2018. The Sun Sentinel reported that Tracy Caruso changed her registration from Republican to No Party Affiliation when she filed for mayor. The paper also reported that Tracy Caruso belonged to the “Trumpettes,” a group of women who have been big supporters of the former president.

Petrolia is a Democrat. But Caruso has support from some of the county’s leading Democrats, such as County Commissioner Robert Weinroth, Tax Collector Anne Gannon and School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri.

The Palm Beach Post also reported that several Democratic precinct leaders are backing Caruso. They believe that Petrolia has neglected minority residents—most of them Democrats —in the northwest and southwest neighborhoods.

The outcome could turn on how Caruso does outside of her husband’s House district. It includes areas of Delray Beach east of U.S. 1. If Caruso can peel off enough support downtown and west of Swinton Avenue, she could win. The mayor has angered residents in the Northwest and Southwest neighborhoods because of her delay in approving the redevelopment plan for West Atlantic Avenue.

Petrolia defeated Jim Chard three years ago by just 416 votes. She also benefited from record absentee voting in Haitian-American areas. The totals were such outliers from previous elections that Chard raised the issue with the supervisor of elections. Nothing came of it.

In a Facebook post, Chard—acknowleding that some could accuse him of “sour grapes”—said he ran against Petrolia because he feared that she would be a “disaster.” Her term, Chard wrote, has been “worse than I expected.”

Petrolia counters that she sticks up for the people and that things are running well at City Hall. Voters will decide which of those characterizations they believe.

Seat 1: Adam Frankel vs. Price Patton.

Patton is a first-time candidate. Frankel has a nine-year record for voters to consider. The race may turn on how they perceive Adam Frankel, who served on the commission from 2009 to 2015, leaving because of term limits.

In 2014, then-City Manager Louie Chapman had given ample reason to be fired for cause. Most notably, he scheduled a controversial vote even though two commission members had asked him to delay it because they would be out of town. The vote was on what would have been a bailout of an affordable-housing developer at great expense to the city.

Yet Frankel and another commissioner, Al Jacquet, refused to fire Chapman. Only after voters changed the charter to allow a 3-2 vote to terminate the manager was Chapman gone.

Worse, Frankel voted for the bailout, which almost every speaker at the meeting opposed. Fortunately, the commission rescinded it when everyone was present.

This time, Frankel is reaching out to the community on issues such as affordable housing, which clearly did not interest him before.
The residents who opposed that 2014 bailout were from Delray Beach’s minority neighborhoods. Frankel has worked hard for support from those areas, casting himself as an opponent of the mayor.

In contrast, Patton is a Petrolia ally. He and his wife, Carolyn Patton, are Petrolia donors. He has been campaigning with Kelly Barrette, one of Petrolia’s biggest supporters. “I make no bones about supporting Shelly,” Patton said. “But if there’s something where we disagree, I won’t vote with her.”

The Pattons were among the original investors in The Coastal Star publication and remain on the masthead. Patton said he “probably” would have to sell that share if he wins.

Patton said of Frankel, “I don’t think he gives back to the community.” Patton cites his own service on the site plan review and advisory board, the historic preservation board and on campaigns to save historic properties.

Frankel notes the irony that he appointed Patton to those boards. Though Patton told me that Frankel “never met a development he didn’t like,” Frankel responded that during the Sun Sentinel candidate interview Patton accused him of voting for the iPic project and Swinton Commons. Frankel was not on the commission for those votes.

When I told Frankel that people saw him differently this time, he said, “I take that as a compliment.” Then he added, “I’m tired of the toxicity on the commission.” He blames Petrolia.

Naming several former mayors, Frankel said, “I could never imagine any of them going on Facebook to bash other members of the commission.” Frankel will rely on name recognition. Patton will rely on the mayor.

Seat 3: Ryan Boylston vs. Mitch Katz.

This is a rematch of 2018, when Katz was the incumbent. Boylston defeated him with 56 percent of the vote.

In addition to running his advertising/marketing firm and serving on the commission, Boylston has involved himself in many civic and community projects. He worked to preserve buildings from the old Carver High School and to create affordable housing at the former Plumosa Elementary.

When the pandemic hit and layoffs mounted, Boylston helped with food drives. His wife teaches at Plumosa School of the Arts, and Boylston advocates for improvements to Delray Beach’s public schools. Like former Mayor Cary Glickstein, Boylston believes that a better education system will help the city draw more young families.

Boylston and Frankel aren’t running as a slate, but they have disagreed with Petrolia on the same issues—from city managers to sea grape trimming—and Frankel credits Boylston for presentations that challenge the mayor’s positions.

On his campaign website, Katz touts the need for “civility.” On the commission, though, Katz did not practice it.

During a discussion about whether to retain departing City Attorney Noel Pfeffer on a temporary basis until the city had a replacement, Katz out of nowhere accused then-Commissioner Jordana Jarjura of an ethics violation because of her and Pfeffer’s relationship with a law firm. The allegation was false.

Then-Mayor Cary Glickstein finally had to intervene. Katz eventually issued a non-apology apology.

For this campaign, Katz has accused Boylston of an ethics violation stemming from Boylston’s time on the Downtown Development Authority board. The agency advertised in a publication that Boylston partly owned.

In fact, Boylston paid $2,000 to settle two of six complaints. Chris Davey, a Petrolia ally, filed all of them. The public records requests came from Katz.

When I reported on the settlement, Boylston told me that he expected the settlement to be an issue. “In Delray Beach,” Boylston said, “the only reason these things are done is so they can be used in campaigns.”

Katz has not been very active since leaving the commission. He filed late. I’m told that Petrolia tried to recruit other candidates before Katz made the race.

Boylston probably has broader support than the other two incumbents, Petrolia and Frankel. He balances help for business with help for neighborhoods. This race may have the widest margin of all three.

And the war chests

money

Caruso more than doubled Petrolia’s January fundraising.

She brought in $49,000, compared to $22,000 for the mayor. That puts Caruso at roughly $150,000 for her campaign, including a $50,000 loan. Petrolia has made a similar loan.

Petrolia and her supporters will find lots of evidence in this report to bolster their case that Caruso has more support from outside the city than from within it. Several come from “government consultants,” meaning lobbyists in Tallahassee. Money continues to come from political action committees that normally focus on state government.

Closer to home, Caruso got $1,500 from the firefighters union, which has endorsed her and remains in contract talks with the city. Another $1,000 came from the Service Employees Union International, which also has endorsed her.

Caruso also received $1,000 from John Deleonibus. He is suing the city over what he claims was an illegal reversal of his permit for a duplex near the ocean. She got $1,000 from Fran Marincola, owner of Luna Rosa Restaurant and $500 from Pam Weinroth, Robert Weinroth’s wife.

Most of Petrolia’s contributions are for $250 or less. Notably, she has spent far less than Caruso. According to her January report, Petrolia has had expenditures of about $23,000 while Caruso has spent nearly $100,000. In part, that’s because Caruso began with much less name recognition. If the campaign is as close as many people think, candidates will need ample resources up until March 9.

In the Seat 1 race, Frankel raised $17,000 in January. He got $3,000 from individuals and entities associated with Big Time Restaurant Group, which owns Elisabetta’s, City Oyster and Rocco’s Tacos. The unions also are backing Frankel, who received $1,000 from the firefighters and $500 from SEIU.

Other notable donations included $100 from Bob Victorin, president of the Beach Property Owners Association, and Yvonne Odom, longtime activist in the northwest/southwest neighborhoods. Another $100 came from former Commissioner Jim Chard, who lost to Petrolia in 2018. Frankel also has a Tallahassee connection: a $1,000 contribution from Ron Book, one of the Legislature’s most high-profile lobbyists. Book’s daughter is state Sen. Lauren Book.

Patton raised $11,000 in January. His donations now total $32,000, which includes a $10,000 loan. Among his donors is former Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency Director Chris Brown, who gave $250. As with Petrolia, most of those on Patton’s list are small donors.

The biggest fundraising disparity is in Seat 3. Boylston has raised $58,000 compared to $16,000 for Katz. Boylston’s total includes a $10,000 loan.

Among Boylston’s contributors ($500) are Elise Johnson, who chairs the Old School Square board, former Mayor Jay Alperin ($450) and former City Commissioner Rita Ellis ($250). Boylston got $1,000 from the firefighters union and SEIU, both of which have endorsed him.

Interestingly, Carolyn Patton donated $500 to Boylston. Her husband is running in the Seat 1 race as an ally of Petrolia, who is working to defeat Boylston and Carolyn Patton gave $1,000 to Katz, but Carolyn Patton and Boylston worked together on the campaign to preserve historic buildings at the former Carver High School. It’s a small town.

Noel Pfeffer also gave Boylston $250. As noted, Pfeffer was caught up in Katz’s tirade against former Commissioner Jordana Jarjura. Pfeffer hasn’t been Delray Beach’s city attorney for five years, but resentments linger.

Standalone bars get a reprieve

bars

The Delray Beach City Commission last week threw struggling standalone bars a lifeline of sorts.

Commissioners allowed bars to serve patrons outside an additional two hours—until 11 p.m. Owners had sought relief after nearly a year of COVID-19 restrictions. Though restaurants can continue outside dining until 2 a.m., bars— where food is not the primary business—operate under different rules.

That relief, though, comes with a condition. If the city gets noise complaints from neighbors, the bar will lose that privilege and could face code enforcement fines.

Historically, Delray Beach had not allowed outside service at bars. The city relented on a temporary basis because of drawn-out economic damage from the pandemic. According to Downtown Development Authority Director Laura Simon, two of the city’s nine bars already have closed.

Commissioners settled on the 11 p.m. deadline after much debate. Adam Frankel said he preferred it because between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., East Atlantic Avenue “is a different place.” Ryan Boylston suggested that the bars might contract with a food truck so they could operate more like restaurants. Such discussions will recur until we reach herd immunity.

Special events given a green light

In addition to bars, commissioners talked about special events in Delray Beach—especially Savor the Avenue.

Last year, the popular food fest on a pedestrian-only East Atlantic Avenue didn’t happen. Though sponsorships had sold out, the usually late March date came a week after the city’s COVID-19 emergency order.

Like the people who run pro sports leagues, organizers hope to pull off this year’s event by using public safety precautions. (Disclosure: Boca Raton and Delray magazines are two of Savor the Avenue’s producers.)

Attendance will drop from the usual 1,200 to 800. Attendees must wear masks except when eating and drinking and what Simon called “mask police” will enforce that rule. The event would take place on April 19. Thirteen restaurants have agreed to participate.

“We want to lead by example,” Simon said. Staging Savor the Avenue requires a special events permit from the city. Petrolia determined that a majority of the commission was willing. Two months out, there’s no certainty about the virus, but Petrolia said, “We’re going to try.”

Boca Raton still is issuing no special events permits for now. One concern for both cities is that special events require the presence of first responders. Delray Beach Fire Chief Keith Toney said the number of COVID-19 cases within his department has been “pretty significant.”

Wildflower Park seawall 

Boca Raton has begun construction for Wildflower/Silver Palm Park, but not on the park itself.

The current work is on the seawall along the Intracoastal north of the Palmetto Park Road bridge. That was the home of the Wildflower night club. Boca Raton bought the property in 2009 for $7.5 million.

New flood control standards require that the seawall be higher. A city spokeswoman said the project should take about nine months. Only when that’s done can work start on the park. The opening remains a long way off.

Boca: State of the City

Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer will deliver the annual State of the City address at 6 p.m. Wednesday. In keeping with COVID-19 restrictions, the event will be virtual. Viewers can watch on ATT/UVerse Channel 99, Comcast Channel 20 and Hotwire Channel 395. Access also is available through the city’s Facebook and YouTube accounts.