Monday, April 15, 2024

Election day round-up: winners, losers & what’s next in November

Boca election results round-up

From all that I can find, Boca Raton voters made history on Tuesday.

There will be two runoffs in November for the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District. Seat 1 incumbent Dennis Frisch will face Craig Ehrnst and Seat 3 incumbent Earl Starkoff will go against Erin Wright.

It appears to be the first time that the district has had a pair of contested races on the general election ballot. There was one November runoff in 2012, but in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2014 there was no election at all. New candidates won seats without opposition. Incumbents ran unopposed. Frisch and Starkoff each had one opponent in 2008, but both were unopposed four years ago.

That’s hardly the case this year. Frisch and Starkoff drew two opponents. Frisch did get the most votes in his race, with 42 percent, but he needed 50 percent plus one to avoid a runoff. Starkoff didn’t even do that well. Wright got 38 percent to Starkoff’s 37 percent.

The ongoing dispute between the district and the city explains the competitiveness of, and interest in the election. Ehrnst and Wright campaigned on the idea that changing the board would improve the district-city relationship. Frisch and Starkoff stressed their experience. Though Frisch apportioned blame for the dispute between the district and the city, Starkoff denied that the district’s interim director/attorney/construction manager Art Koski deserved any blame.

Wright told me Wednesday, “I wasn’t really surprised” by the results in Tuesday’s primary. “It’s what I had been hearing when I walked neighborhoods and what I had read on social media. People are disappointed in what the board has been doing.”

Though he did better than Starkoff, Frisch acknowledged that “I need to convince some people” between now and November. Like Wright, Frisch said the results didn’t surprise him. “The third candidates in the races. That was the difference.”

On Tuesday, I reported that two late mailers for Frisch and Starkoff labeled as coming from BocaWatch’s political action committee actually had been financed with $10,000 from a separate political action committee called Protect Florida Families that is controlled by the Public Concepts political consulting firm. BocaWatch had endorsed Frisch and Starkoff.

Protect Florida Families previously had donated almost exclusively to races for the Florida Legislature. The motivation for getting involved in such an unrelated local race remains unclear.

Wright criticized BocaWatch Publisher Al Zucaro for exacerbating the district-city dispute. “He’s always slamming the city council,” Wright said. “He never talks about compromise.”

Wright also addressed criticism that nearly all of her roughly $4,000 in contributions came from firefighters and the firefighters union. Her husband is a Boca Raton firefighter. “I know it sounds corny,” Wright said, “but this is all about the community. I happen to be married to a firefighter, and they are supporting me.” If the contributions continue, however, so will the issue.

Wright speculated that the union could have become involved because of rumors that the district might privatize some services. Koski said the city checked into it “five years ago,” but the costs didn’t justify a change.

In an email, Ehrnst said, “The concerned residents showed the establishment that they have had enough.” Indeed. There were more votes against the incumbents than for them. Conventional wisdom might say that if Ehrnst and Wright get support from those who voted for the third candidates—Shayla Enright and John Costello, respectively —they should win in November.

Conventional wisdom, however, is often wrong. Turnout in Palm Beach County on Tuesday was about 19 percent. That’s up from 13 percent in the 2012 primary, but nothing like what turnout will be in November. Four years ago, general election turnout in the county for the presidential election was 70 percent.

So the incumbents and challengers will need to run serious campaigns. Ehrnst said November will be “exciting” up and down the ballot. And in the case of the beach and park district, unprecedented.

Boca Watch and Frisch

I have more news about the relationship between BocaWatch and Dennis Frisch.

As noted, BocaWatch endorsed Frisch. Not only that, just before the election Zucaro slammed Ehrnst for citing an endorsement from the newly reorganized Voters Coalition of Palm Beach County Political Action Committee. Zucaro called the endorsement “bogus” and demanded that Ehrnst renounce it, which Ehrnst did not do.

Campaign finance documents that Frisch submitted last week show a $1,000 in-kind contribution to him from BocaWatch for “advertising.” In the days before the election, the BocaWatch website carried what it labeled as a blog post from Frisch. The incumbent touted his record and criticized Ehrnst. Though it carried a miniature version of a Frisch campaign sign, it was not labeled as a political ad. It was presented as a routine blog post.

Frisch said BocaWatch determined how much the ad, and thus the contribution, was worth. He called it “naivete” on his part. “My first time, I bought 100 yards signs, and that was it.” Though Frisch said, “I didn’t look at it as a partnership” with BocaWatch, he added, “I can see how people might look at it another way.”

Candidates buy ads on media websites all the time. For a supposed media website to help finance a candidate, however, is more than a bit unusual. We will watch to see if Zucaro increases his investment in Frisch. And whether Zucaro criticizes any other endorsements as “bogus.”

Salary increases get a thumbs up

After twice rejecting salary increases, Boca Raton voters on Tuesday approved them for the mayor and city council—by what as of Wednesday afternoon was a margin of 84 votes. On a percentage basis, however, the difference was above the threshold needed for a recount.

The change won’t exactly be an economic stimulus. Mayor Susan Haynie will get nearly $30,000 more and the council members will get another $21,000. Given the amount of work these supposedly part-time jobs require, the salaries at least will be a little fairer.

Not surprisingly, Boca voters also changed how the city fills council vacancies. If the vacancy occurs more than 90 days before a scheduled election, the city will hold a special election. The measure seemed civic-minded, but it was more about a scenario that would require Haynie winning a second term in March, and then resigning to run for the county commission in 2018.

As with the waterfront referendum in November, the real story wasn’t on the ballot.

Jacquet wins

Delray Beach City Commissioner Al Jacquet won the Florida House District 88 seat on Tuesday. Even if he had lost, however, Jacquet would have been leaving the commission. He submitted his resignation letter in June, with a departure date of Nov. 8.

The term for Jacquet’s seat ends in March. So the commission will have to choose a replacement to fill the gap. Since the commission has decided some key issues by a 3-2 vote—such as the Atlantic Crossing access road—the prospect for deadlock on the Jacquet replacement has loomed. That could be Mayor Cary Glickstein and Commissioner Jordana Jarjura on one side and commissioners Mitch Katz and Shelly Petrolia on the other.

With such short-term appointments, commissioners sometimes choose a replacement who will agree not to run for the seat. Being the pseudo-incumbent obviously would give someone a big election advantage. Delray Beach asks applicants to state their intentions about seeking the seat. The responses are Yes, No and Undecided.

Katz told me, “My feelings are that it must be the person who is most qualified and will commit not to run in March.” Petrolia said the successor “absolutely” should be someone who would not run. Petrolia said she would consider a response of “Undecided” to be a “Yes.”

Glickstein acknowledged that there are credible arguments on both sides of the issue. “At the end of the day, however, I want the most qualified person at every meeting that satisfies the criteria of a city commissioner—someone with demonstrated leadership qualities and sweat equity in Delray Beach and an ability to make objective decisions without regard to what’s popular or what’s trending on social media.”

Traditionally, minorities have held the seat that Jacquet —a Haitian-American—is leaving. The city will begin accepting applications today. The deadline to apply is Oct. 7. The commission will make its choice on Nov. 1.

Old School Square and Arts Garage leases

Two issues that the commission will decide before Jacquet leaves are new leases with Old School Square and Arts Garage. City Manager Don Cooper told me Wednesday that “both are in (the legal department) for formatting of the business issues. I hope we are in the final stage of negotiations” and that they can get to the commission “shortly.”

As the commission requested, the Arts Garage lease would be for five years—the group’s first request was for 10 years—with five-year renewals.

Parting thoughts

Here’s one more thought on Tuesday’s primary.

Irv Slosberg now has spent nearly $5 million trying unsuccessfully to win a Senate seat. Not a U.S. Senate seat. A Florida Senate seat.

In 2006, Slosberg spent $3 million in a two-way Democratic primary against Ted Deutch and got 45 percent. This year, he spent almost $2 million—the final figure may be higher—in a three-way Democratic primary and got 32 percent.

Slosberg had represented West Boca and West Delray in the Florida House. To make this race, he ran outside his home Senate district—29—to challenge Jeff Clemens, whose Democratic colleagues had named as the next party leader. Slosberg established residency at a Boynton Beach apartment complex in Senate District 31.

With luck, he got a short-term lease.

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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