Here are some final thoughts ahead of tomorrow’s elections in Boca Raton and Delray Beach.
Haynie vs. Zucaro
From a traditional standpoint, the race for mayor of Boca Raton should not be close.
The incumbent, Susan Haynie, has been involved with the city since 1974—as an employee, neighborhood activist, volunteer and elected official. She is president of the Florida League of Cities and chairman of the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization, which decides how to spend state and federal transportation money.
Haynie’s civic work started with the Federation of Boca Raton Homeowners. She served on the city’s planning and zoning board. She remains a regular at neighborhood events of any size. If you want a ribbon cut, she will show up and provide the scissors.
Haynie never has lost an election. She spent six years on the city council from 2000 to 2006, when terms lasted two years, winning the third and final term without opposition. After sitting out the required time because of term limits, she returned to win three-year council terms in 2008 and 2011, the second time without opposition. In 2014, she became mayor with 57 percent of the vote.
Among other things, Haynie approved policies that helped Boca Raton get through the worst of the Great Recession without significant increases in taxes or decreases in services. She has been a moderate voice on many emotional issues. As mayor, Haynie indulges even the most caustic and/or incoherent speakers at meetings.
But these are unusual times. Though Boca Raton happily bears no resemblance to the fading parts of the country where voters rose up in November, anger is the theme on which Haynie challenger Al Zucaro is running.
Zucaro charges that Haynie has abandoned her grassroots beginnings and has joined the elites who are ignoring the public on development and traffic. Zucaro “knows how to say NO to developers,” read one of his mailers. Haynie operates “behind closed doors,” said another. “Al Zucaro will stand up and fight for you and fight overdevelopment,” shrieked another.
So Zucaro has portrayed himself as the outsider who will stick up for the supposedly forgotten residents of Boca Raton, even though Zucaro has no record of service to the city. He moved to Boca in 2009 after marrying philanthropist Yvonne Boice and has served on no city boards. His vehicle has been the BocaWatch website—the city’s version of Breitbart News.
During a recent online exchange with Councilman Jeremy Rodgers, Zucaro said, “Facts are not what is important. . .public sentiment is. . .” How fitting an attitude for these times. The Oxford Dictionaries last year made “post-truth” the word of the year, stating that objective facts “have become less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
As in last fall’s national campaign, when immigration was the emotional topic, Zucaro has taken a legitimate issue—traffic and development—and offered demagoguery but no ideas. Seeking to divert attention from his documented ethical problems – judges concluded that he used a business loan for personal expenses and that he committed a “fraudulent” act by taking money from his uncle’s trust fund – Zucaro has made undocumented allegations against Haynie.
In 2014, Haynie defeated a candidate who ran against development. Given Boca Raton’s progress and the many city improvements on the way, resentment should not swing the election. But if Zucaro wins, that’s how he wins.
Andrea O’Rourke vs. Andy Thomson
It appears that the Boca Raton City Council Seat B race will come down to Andrea O’Rourke or Andy Thomson.
After sending out several positive mailers, the O’Rourke campaign in the last few days sent out mailers criticizing Gentile on personal finances—bankruptcy, foreclosure—and calling Thomson a “carpetbagger” for running just a few months after moving into the city.
With the Gentile mailer, O’Rourke wasn’t just going after an opponent. She was going after the other woman in the race who might pull from O’Rourke votes by those for whom gender is a factor. The Thomson mailer came later, and thus closer to the election, which to me indicates that Thomson considers O’Rourke the stronger opponent.
Thomson also had sent out positive mailers until last weekend. Then, though an electioneering communications organization controlled by his consultant, Thomson released a hit piece on O’Rourke. The mailer linked O’Rourke to Zucaro and BocaWatch. Thomson did not send out a similar attack ad against Gentile.
Thomson hopes that Gentile, who lives along the beach, will attract voters from area who might otherwise have favored O’Rourke. He also hopes that O’Rourke won’t pull many votes outside of her stronghold in the Golden Triangle. O’Rourke has sought to extend her appeal by campaigning as Andrea Levine O’Rourke, a less-than-subtle pitch to Jewish voters, many of whom— like Thomson—live west of Interstate 95. Thomson has support from Councilman Robert Weinroth.
Thomson and Haynie use the same consultant and are mostly aligned on their views. The better Haynie does, the better Thomson likely will do. The better Zucaro does, the better O’Rourke likely will do. Many yards that have Zucaro signs also have O’Rourke signs. Turnout for the mayor’s race could decide the Seat B race.
And that GoBoca organization
Zucaro criticized Haynie for having a Tallahassee group finance mailers against him. It’s true that those mailers have come from an electioneering communications organization (ECO) called GoBoca. The ECO was to have filed its campaign report by Friday but hasn’t done so.
A similar group called Taxpayers for Public Integrity, however, financed an anti-Haynie mailer. The group has the same address as Patriot Games, the consultant working for O’Rourke. Last month, Taxpayers for Public Integrity paid Patriot Games $4,500 for “consulting services.”
Singer vs. Dervishi
The Boca Raton City Council Seat A race may reveal the level of anyone-but-the incumbent sentiment among city voters.
Incumbent Scott Singer is running against Patty Dervishi, who has raised almost no money and has little knowledge of how city government works. She’s among the least-qualified local candidates I’ve met in nearly three decades of covering local elections.
So Singer will win. There is no reason beyond wanting to “throw the bums out” to vote for Dervishi. But everyone knows that some voters have that attitude. Even the most qualified Florida Supreme Court justices rarely break even 75 percent when they stand for merit retention. Whatever Dervishi gets, that’s the minimum in Boca Raton.
Chard vs. Barrette, Smith vs. Johnson
In Delray Beach, City Commissioners Mitch Katz and Shelly Petrolia are campaigning as if they’re on the ballot, which they aren’t. But their candidates are.
Katz and Petrolia are backing Kelly Barrette against Jim Chard in Seat 2 and Josh Smith against Shirley Johnson in Seat 4. Anneze Bathelemy also is running in Seat 2, but she’s not a strong candidate.
With Al Jacquet’s resignation last fall and Jordana Jarjura’s decision not to seek re-election, Katz and Petrolia apparently are attempting to build a four-member majority aligned against Mayor Cary Glickstein. The shadow Cabinet of such a majority surely would include Ken MacNamee, who has asked repeatedly in emails to the commission whether Glickstein is a “fraud.”
Chard has more money, more time on city boards and more endorsements. Barrette has her website, TakeBackDelrayBeach.com. Johnson and Smith are African-American, and Johnson seems to have more support from Delray Beach’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods.
If Barrette or Smith wins, and especially if both win, Petrolia could run for mayor next year. Glickstein is eligible for another three-year term because he first ran in 2013 to complete the term of Woodie McDuffie. Glickstein was re-elected in 2015. As in Boca Raton, Delray Beach’s 2018 election will start soon.
One issue in Delray Beach is the iPic project, which the city commission approved in 2015. A vote last week by the community redevelopment agency moved the project closer to construction.
Before the CRA was a proposed agreement covering the parking garage and financial incentives. By a vote of 6-1, the CRA approved terms that require the CRA to pay $75,000 per year toward maintenance and operations of the 90 public parking spaces in the garage and to pay iPic $40,000 a year in incentives for 10 years.
IPic still must agree to the shared parking cost. The company wants the CRA to contribute roughly $115,000 a year. The agency’s consultant recommended the lower figure. CRA board member Paul Zacks said he doubted that the company would want to further hold up a $50 million project that the CRA approved more than three years ago over an added $40,000 a year. Zacks defended the incentive money by noting that property tax revenue from the project would finance neighborhood improvements.
Board member Daniel Rose was the lone vote against the agreement. Rose said he wanted conditions that would protect the CRA and the city if iPic didn’t keep its headquarters in the project or sold the project. The CRA’s attorney said the agreement included sufficient protections.
IPic and the CRA still haven’t closed on the property, which the CRA assembled. CRA Director Jeff Costello had anticipated that closing would happen in February. In an email, Zacks expressed hope that closing could happen “in a week or two.”
Boca student housing issue
In practical terms, the lawsuit against Boca Raton over student housing appears to be over.
The Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches sued the city, claiming that the city had discriminated against married college students when the council approved the University Park housing complex in a former industrial area near Florida Atlantic University. The city wanted to create student-only housing so that fewer students would rent homes in single-family neighborhoods, where their lifestyles could clash with those of adult residents.
The Fair Housing Center sent a “tester” to University Park, posing as the mother of a 12-year-old daughter. She was turned away. The federal lawsuit followed.
Last week, however, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Middlebrooks granted Boca Raton’s motion for summary judgment, meaning that the city won the case on the facts—without a trial. Among other things, Middlebrooks wrote that there was no evidence of any intent to discriminate against students with children.
In addition, the city council recently amended the ordinance to allow students with children in student-centric residential complexes. The Fair Housing Center’s lawyer did not return my message asking for comment, but there seems no good reason to appeal Middlebrooks’ ruling.
If you live in Boca Raton or Delray Beach, get out and vote today. The national election always draws a much bigger turnout, but up for grabs is 60 percent of the power in Boca and 40 percent of the power in Delray. The winners will decide how much you pay in taxes and your level of public services. They also will decide how the cities will deal with issues ranging from growth to sober houses. Elections for the government that is closest to us should get the highest turnout, not the lowest.