Delray Political Drama Continues as Election Approaches, Train Depot Fire, Haynie Trial, and More

vote election
Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels

Though Election Day in Delray Beach is two weeks from today, early voting starts Saturday. Here’s an update:

The city’s police and firefighter unions are all in for city commission incumbents Bill Bathurst (Seat 2) and Shirley Johnson (Seat 4.) Each union gave the incumbents another $1,000 in February and has endorsed both.

Bathurst’s campaign is highlighting the firefighters’ participation in his neighborhood walks. Candidates prize first responder endorsements. Traditionally, the fire union has been especially involved. Though many firefighters may live outside the city, the union dispatches members to help with the fieldwork of campaigns. Endorsements often have less to do with public safety than with votes on labor contracts and pensions.

On Sunday, The Palm Beach Post also endorsed Bathurst and Johnson. The paper criticized Mayor Shelly Petrolia for working to defeat the incumbents. I reported in January how the mayor hoped to replace them with candidates more to her liking—Juli Casale in Seat 2 and Chris Davey in Seat 4.

The Post called Petrolia’s action “a remarkable breach of decorum.” The paper added that “run-of-the-mill” issues before the commission “have been blown up into campaign issues of operatic proportions—not to solve the problems so much as to inflame anger at alleged bad guys.

This brand of politics is unworthy of this town’s citizens.”

Misleading campaign ad

Casale bills herself as the neighborhood candidate, casting Bathurst as the tool of developers. It’s true that most her contributions are small while many of Bathurst’s are large and come from business interests. One of Casale’s ads on that theme, however, is very deceptive.

The ad criticizes Bathurst because he voted for “the largest project in the history of Delray Beach.” That would be the planned residential/office retail project on South Congress Avenue. It’s the site of Office Depot’s former headquarters. Casale also raised the issue with Bathurst during last week’s Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce forum.

juli casale
Juli Casale

Casale said the vote occurred on Dec. 11, 2018. She doesn’t say that the vote —to approve a rezoning—was unanimous. So Petrolia—Casale’s political patron—also voted for “the largest project in the history of Delray Beach.”

Casale also doesn’t say that redevelopment of the vacant property had been a city goal since Office Depot announced in 2006 that it would move to Boca Raton. She didn’t say that rezoning is not the same as approving a project or that the commission lowered the allowed density.

There’s no doubt that the project is big. It will have between 750 and 1,049 residential units and 400,000 square feet of office, retail and restaurant space. But reaction throughout most of the city was positive. Developers will market the housing to young families, the demographic that Delray Beach wants to attract.

Campaign finance update

Bathurst remains the best-financed of Delray Beach’s seven city commission candidates.

According to the February campaign reports, Bathurst has raised about $77,000. Of his three Seat 2 challengers, Casale has received roughly $23,000, one-third of that coming in February. Debra Tendrich was at $12,000 and Jennifer Jones had received $4,200.

In Seat 4, Johnson has about $44,000 in donations. Davey is largely self-financing his campaign against the incumbent. Through February, he had loaned himself $20,000 of his $26,000 in contributions. Angela Burns, the third candidate, has received $7,300.

Election scheduling

Speaking of elections, at today’s meeting the city commission will approve an ordinance that would officially align Delray Beach’s election when it coincides with the statewide presidential primary.

Normally, Palm Beach County’s uniform municipal election date is the second Tuesday in March. It’s a week later this year because of the primary. If the city held an election on its own, the cost would be much higher and the turnout much lower. The ordinance would ensure that doesn’t happen. 

Singer’s war chest

Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer

Meanwhile in Boca Raton, Mayor Scott Singer was up to $130,000 in donations through December for his reelection campaign. On March 17, Singer faces fringe candidate Bernard Korn, who has raised $3,900.

Train depot tragedy

delray train station fire
Photo: Delray Beach Fire Rescue

One of Delray Beach’s most heartbreaking stories happened last week.

The state attorney’s office charged four juveniles with arson for starting a fire last Tuesday morning that basically destroyed the historic train depot next to Interstate 95 and just north of Atlantic Avenue. Trains don’t stop there anymore; Tri-Rail uses its own station farther north. But the city long had hoped that a restored station could create a small destination aligned with nearby Saltwater Brewery.

Roughly 30 units, from the city and Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue, responded. One firefighter suffered injuries from a backdraft as he entered the building.

Sadly, the crime appears to be homegrown. Police detectives got video that showed the four juveniles running from the building. All of them attend Atlantic High School. I can remember countless city commission meetings when school representatives discussed their many programs aimed at helping Delray Beach teenagers. Now the city and school have received national attention for this.

The depot dates to 1927. It got on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Delray Beach officials consistently emphasize the city’s history. When the city bought the depot in 2005, the plan was to make it a vibrant public place linked to Delray Beach’s past.

So what now? One problem all along was the site’s inaccessibility. You can get there only from the north. After the fire, the options are even more limited. The topic likely will come up during today’s city commission meeting.

BH3 meets deadline

(Rendering by BH3)

Fortunately, Delray Beach got better news last week on a much bigger project.

Community Redevelopment Agency Director Renee Jadusingh emailed city commissioners on Thursday to say that BH3 had met the deadline for submitting its application to redevelop CRA-owned property east of the Fairfield Inn on West Atlantic Avenue.

According to Jadusingh, BH3 transmitted all the necessary documents. The project’s components, Jadusingh said, are “consistent” with that CRA board members heard at last Tuesday’s meeting.

In January, the CRA had served the developer with a notice of default for missing its submittal deadline and gave BH3 30 days to fix the problems. The deadline to submit the revised plan was last Friday. The project, called Fabrick, would have housing, retail—including a grocery store—office and public space.

Haynie trial delayed

Former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie

The trial of former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie has been delayed again.

It was to have started March 23, having been reset to that date from last November. Last week, however, Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Gillen pushed it to July 20.

Bruce Zimet, Haynie’s attorney, said the issue again was scheduling conflicts involving himself and prosecutor Brian Fernandes. He is one of State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s top assistants, and thus is dealing with many other high-profile cases.

I had wondered if there was talk of a plea deal, even though Zimet has said repeatedly that Haynie doesn’t want one. There had been little activity on the case.

Zimet, though, said Haynie still wants a trial. Things have been happening “behind the scenes,” he told me Monday, declining to elaborate.

“I do think the trial will happen in July,” Zimet said. “I don’t think this judge will be inclined to grant another continuance.” It has been nearly two years since Haynie’s arrest on seven public corruption charges.

Hillsboro El Rio is a hit

I can verify that Boca Raton’s Hillsboro El Rio Park South is a hit.

My eight-year-old granddaughter tried out the playground on Sunday and loved it. One week after the park opened, there were few parking spaces when I visited in mid-afternoon. People were playing beach volleyball and using all the courts except those for pickleball. Every pavilion was occupied.

It is Boca Raton’s first new waterfront park, running along the El Rio Canal. One feature is launch for non-motorized watercraft. None were there Sunday, but plenty of kids were skipping stones.

El Rio Hillsboro South should look even better when all the young trees along the border have grown. The city seems to have a terrific job planning the park and overseeing construction.

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