Thursday, May 23, 2024

Delray Election Results & Boca Votes No On Longer Term Limits

It’s hard to see the results of Tuesday’s Delray Beach election as anything but a repudiation of Mayor Shelly Petrolia.

Petrolia didn’t just endorse Juli Casale, the Seat 2 city commission incumbent, and Angie Gray, seeking a return to the commission in the open Seat 4. The mayor campaigned for them. She wore T-shirts. She held signs. She appeared at polling places. Her people basically ran Casale’s and Gray’s campaigns.

Yet Casale lost to Rob Long and Gray lost to Angela Burns. The margins weren’t big; Long got 52.6 percent and Burns got 51.4 percent. Turnout might have been historically low.

Still, Petrolia clearly asked voters to give her a working majority on the commission. And she got the opposite. When the new commission is seated on March 30, Petrolia will have no allies. Two years ago, she worked to defeat commission holdovers Ryan Boylston and Adam Frankel.

“This was definitely a referendum on the mayor,” Long told me Wednesday. He attributed his victory in large part to the decision in 2021 by Petrolia, Casale and Shirley Johnson to evict Old School Square Center for the Arts from the cultural complex the group founded. Even after a petition asking the commission to reconsider got roughly 10,000 signatures, Petrolia refused.

Burns said, “Having lived in these neighborhoods for 58 years, I have a deep understanding of this community, and I believe voters were seeking new leadership with fresh perspectives. The result reflected this sentiment.”

Polling by his campaign, Long said, found that Petrolia “is the most unpopular sitting mayor” in recent memory. Petrolia recruited Casale to run in 2020. Rather than try to separate herself from Petrolia, Casale moved closer.

Rob Long
Rob Long
Angela Burns

From studying previous elections, Long said, his team knew that Petrolia’s people emphasized early voting. Long and Burns, who used the same consultant, sought to minimize any early deficit and make up the rest from in-person voting.

That strategy worked. Casale got just 28 more mail-in votes than Long. Gray’s margin was 101, but that still wasn’t enough to offset Burns’ turnout at the polls.

Some voters who had requested mail-in ballots for last year’s election cycle might not have known that the Legislature changed the rules. Requests can now cover just a single two-year cycle, which ended last November. Those wrongly expecting a ballot would have had to cast one in person.

Though Casale and Gray insisted that “overdevelopment” was the main issue, Long said Old School Square came up more than any other topics when he spoke to voters. “That was the tipping point,” he said, for residents put off by Petrolia’s attempt to act like a strong mayor in a weak-mayor form of government. Evicting Old School Square, like other major actions under Petrolia, happened with no public notice.

The commission will meet Friday to make Tuesday’s results official. The current commission will meet only once more—on March 28 to pick a company to redevelop Delray Beach’s golf course. The dynamic will be dramatically different for the new commission’s first meeting on April 4.

Looking ahead to Delray’s 2024 election

With this year’s results in the books, attention will turn to Delray Beach’s big 2024 election.

Petrolia, Boylston and Frankel are term-limited in their current positions. Boylston almost certainly will run for mayor, since he publicly supported Long and Burns, and his announcement could come soon.

The mayor and her faction may run candidates for the open commission seats. I’m already hearing names of potential candidates from the anti-Petrolia faction, which now seems to be the majority.

Turnout will be much higher. In 2021, when the mayor’s seat was on the ballot, turnout was nearly double Tuesday’s total. A presidential primary likely will be on the ballot, possibly pitting Gov. DeSantis against Donald Trump.

Delray property tax bonds approved by voters

bonds

Though the commission races were close, Delray Beach voters strongly supported two property tax bonds.

One will finance $100 million worth of upgrades to the city’s police and fire stations. The other will pay for $20 million in improvements to the city’s parks.

The city now must choose companies to underwrite the bond sales. City Manager Terrence Moore hopes to have a plan by summer. When spending the money, Moore said, he wants the city to be as “efficient as possible.” That means Delray Beach wants to get the most for what its residents agreed to pay.

Boca votes no on longer term limits

Like Petrolia, Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer got a slap from voters on Tuesday.

Singer had pushed hard for a charter change that would extend terms for the mayor and council members from three years to four years. It lost by almost 20 percentage points.

Singer sent out supporting emails on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Four mailers seeking a Yes vote went out from a political action committee called All For One. State records still don’t show any donations or expenditures related to the Boca Raton election.

Though newspapers editorialized in support, you could see this defeat coming. Singer and council members Monica Mayotte and Yvette Drucker angered residents when they kept the question on the ballot by itself, thus costing the city what the original estimates placed at nearly $250,000. Justified or not, suspicions about a hidden back story spread on social media. Brian Stenberg, who lost to Mayotte in 2021, urged a No vote.

In an email Wednesday, Singer said, “The voters spoke. We’ve got work to do, and I’m excited to move forward with my new colleagues.”

He disputed my characterization of his involvement. “I wouldn’t say I pushed hard. Perhaps if I had, the result might’ve been different. I sent out several emails leading up to the election when people were telling me that they were unaware of (the proposal).” 

Mayotte now will leave office next year due to term limits. If she seeks a second term, Drucker will be on the ballot with candidates for those open seats if they are contested.

Settlements in Delray lawsuits

Lawsuits by two former top city administrators against Delray Beach have settled.

Michael Coleman and Jamael Stewart challenged their firing in 2019 by then-Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus. He said they violated procedures on the awarding of grants through the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services. Coleman was director. Stewart was second in command.

According to court files, Coleman’s case went to mediation and was resolved last week. On the same day, Stewart and the city “reached an agreement in principle” that should be finalized “within 60 days.” The city commission will have to approve both settlements. Terms may be disclosed at that time.

Coleman, a former Delray Beach police officer, is one of five candidates to be police chief in Riviera Beach. Stewart coaches the Atlantic High School varsity football team and works for a beef distribution company.

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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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