Delray Election Poised for Big Turnout and Boca Gets Marijuana Dispensaries

delray beach city hall
Delray Beach City Hall (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

“This will be a campaign unlike any other in Delray Beach.”

That’s from Rick Asnani, whose consulting firm is working for Seat 2 City Commissioner Bill Bathurst in the March 17 election. Bathurst faces three opponents. Seat 4 incumbent Shirley Johnson has two challengers.

Asnani based his comment on the fact that Delray Beach’s election comes on the same day as Florida’s presidential primary. As we saw with Boca Raton’s special election in August 2018, city turnout rises dramatically when the election coincides with a statewide vote. Asnani expects double the usual turnout for a normal Delray Beach election, with much of the increase from people who usually skip city elections.

In addition, though city elections are non-partisan, there will be a partisan twist this year. Bathurst is a Republican. Juli Casale—the opponent who has been attacking Bathurst and has Mayor Shelly Petrolia’s support—is a Democrat.

Since registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Delray Beach by 18 points, one could assume that more of these new municipal election voters would be Democrats. Bathurst told me that he acknowledged the potential partisan slant. “I’ll just have to point to my record on votes regarding the environment and other issues that matter in Delray Beach.”

Casale’s mailers and emails have not dropped any partisan hints. She has focused on Bathurst’s record, portraying him as a tool of the city’s business establishment and contending that he votes based on campaign contributions. But consultants have ways of injecting partisanship into non-partisan contests.

Other dynamics could be at play. All three candidates challenging Bathurst are women. One, Jennifer Jones, is African-American in a city with a large minority population. Though most attention has focused on Bathurst and Casale, lower-profile candidates can get enough of the vote to affect the overall result.

Still, nothing will matter more than massively higher turnout. Early voting with the presidential primary will force city candidates to organize and get out their messages much earlier than normal. That could favor Bathurst, who has raised about $50,000 more than Casale. But Petrolia has been using her status as mayor to help Casale. Petrolia also is asking voters to reject Johnson.

Never has a mayor so publicly worked to defeat commission colleagues. Never has turnout been considered such a factor. It’s indeed an unprecedented election for Delray Beach.

Dispensaries are in

medical marijuana boca

Medical marijuana dispensaries are coming to Boca Raton.

The city council voted Tuesday night to allow them. Mayor Scott Singer joined council members Monica Mayotte and Andy Thomson to approve the ordinance. Andrea O’Rourke and Jeremy Rodgers voted against it.

Singer had been the swing vote all along. Previous councils had deferred to the staff’s resistance, but sentiment shifted when Mayotte and Thomson joined the council in 2018. They asked the legal and planning departments to craft an ordinance, which went through several revisions.

During the first public hearing, Singer proposed a cap on new pharmacies— and thus dispensaries—to address concerns about proliferation. On Tuesday, Singer said that idea turned out to be “problematic.” No dispensary, though, can be within 4,000 feet of another. The council reduced the minimum square footage from 5,000 to 2,500.

During discussion Tuesday, Singer noted, “The state has really tied our hands.” The Legislature prohibited cities and counties from writing their own rules. Local governments must allow dispensaries where they allow pharmacies or ban them outright. Yet dispensaries can’t operate in pharmacies—though they also fill prescriptions—because marijuana remains an illegal substance under federal law.

O’Rourke criticized the ordinance as “trying to contort the law.” Unfortunately, the Legislature has refused to allow any more flexibility. Rodgers sought to delay the effective date of the ordinance, to see whether Tallahassee might modify the rules, but no bill in the current session seeks to update the implementing legislation.

During public comment, some speakers stressed the help that medical marijuana had given themselves or family members. Others contended that dispensary operators care less about medicinal help and more about preparing for when Florida legalizes or decriminalizes recreational marijuana.

Rodgers and O’Rourke stressed that they weren’t disrespecting those with serious illnesses for whom marijuana can offer relief from pain and nausea. They noted that Boca Raton prohibits businesses—such as traditional car dealerships—that are prevalent elsewhere. They pointed out that residents can get medical marijuana at dispensaries near the city and can have it delivered.

The majority, though, saw no reason to go against the statewide vote that approved medical marijuana. Most Boca Raton voters also favored that constitutional amendment. The ordinance takes effect immediately.

Delray war chests

money

Here’s more on Delray Beach’s election.

Bathurst and Casale nearly matched each other in fundraising for January. Bathurst took in about $7,300 while Casale received $7,600. Buoyed by a mammoth October report, Bathurst has raised roughly $75,000 and has approximately $62,000 cash on hand. Casale has raised $23,000 and has about $15,000 in cash.

Debra Tendrich, another Bathurst opponent, raised $2,600 in January. Her total is $12,200. Jennifer Jones, the fourth candidate, has not filed her January report. She had only about $1,000 in contributions through December.

Shirley Johnson, seeking a second term in Seat 4, got $3,000 in January, for a total of $44,000. Angela Burns, one of Johnson’s opponents, has raised $74,00, with about $2,000 coming in January. The third candidate, Chris Davey, entered the race in mid-December and loaned himself $8,200. He has not filed a January report.

Casale mum

juli casale
Juli Casale

After speaking with Bathurst, I had hoped to discuss the election with Casale. She declined to do so.

At first, however, Casale was willing. She responded to my interview request by asking whether I wanted to speak in person. I said that a phone interview would be fine. Then she claimed that her schedule had become crowded and asked that I email questions. I did. When Casale failed to submit her responses, I followed up and got this email:

“Thank you for your recent message. 2020 is an unusual campaign year in Delray. Voting is delayed beyond previous years and it coincides with the State Democrat primary.

“As a result, there remains approximately two months before the voters go to the polls.  I look forward to exploring the issues you raise, and others, with the residents of Delray Beach during that time. I will engage directly with voters, going house-to-house, at neighborhood meetings and in debates. I prefer to address the issues directly rather than through the media at this time. It is an exciting opportunity to meet my fellow residents, and to discuss the future of our town.”

I followed up again. Casale responded by saying that Boca Raton magazine’s readership “is primarily in Boca. I have a limited time to get things done, and I really need to focus on Delray Beach voters. I apologize for any inconvenience.”

For the record, almost every news organization that might cover Delray Beach’s election does not have a readership or audience that is primarily in Delray Beach. As the race goes on, I will analyze mailers from Casale and other candidates.

Groups also will host candidate forums. The Northwest/Southwest Neighborhood Association held its event Monday night. The Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce will host the other big citywide forum on Feb. 26 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. That event will be at Arts Garage.

Boca’s conversion therapy ban before court

Boca Raton’s gay conversion therapy ban went before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday.

In October, 2017, the city council prohibited the practice on minors. Palm Beach County passed a similar ban. The three-judge panel heard arguments on both cases.

Two therapists challenged the bans. A year ago, U.S. District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg ruled for the city and county. Rosenberg cited the overwhelming research showing that the therapy harms young people who are coming to grips with their sexual identity.

The three judges hearing the appeal are Beverly Martin, whom Barack Obama appointed, and Barbara Lagoa and Britt Grant, whom Donald Trump appointed. The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights urged the Senate not to confirm Grant because of her poor record on LGBTQ issues.

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