Florida Senate Race Heats Up, PBC Commission Considers Expansion, and More

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Old and new capitol buildings in Tallahassee, Florida. (State Archives of Florida)

At one point, the race for the Florida Senate seat that includes Boca Raton appeared to be uneventful.

Enter Irv Slosberg.

The man who served two, six-year stints in the House qualified just before the deadline on June 12. Since then, Slosberg has put $800,000 of his own money into the race. He’s raised only about $21,000 from other sources. His opponent, Tina Polsky, has raised about $175,000.

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Tina Polsky and Irv Slosberg

Slosberg also has brought his usual campaign touches. On Monday, having advertised an “important announcement,” he dressed up with two other people to portray Polsky as a “Pinocchio.” Yes, a woman wore the Disney character’s nose.

Senate District 29 also includes West Boca, portions of West Delray and the small cities south of Lake Okeechobee. All are heavily Democratic areas, which more than cancel out the Republican majority in Boca Raton.

The Democratic primary almost certainly will determine the winner. Four years ago, Kevin Rader won it and faced no opponent in the general election. This year’s winner goes against Republican Brian Norton.

Rader probably could have won another term, but he announced on short notice that he would not seek re-election. Polsky, who likely had received a heads-up, quickly switched from a re-election run in House District 81—also West Boca – to the Senate race.

As usual, Slosberg is running against most of the Democratic Establishment. He did so in 2000, when he challenged incumbent Curt Levine. That was four years after Slosberg’s daughter, Dori, and four other children died in a car crash on West Palmetto Park Road. Dori Slosberg’s twin sister, Emily, survived the crash and represents her father’s former House district.

Slosberg brought to that race a call for better traffic safety. He also brought gimmickry and a lot of his own money. Many potential constituents were Jewish, like Slosberg. In those neighborhoods, he gave away tote bags— which his company sold—that he called “schlepper” bags. Schlepper is Yiddish for, among other things, moving man.

Levine accused Slosberg of an elections violation for paying “consultants” that Levine said actually were key political operatives. Slosberg won by 82 votes. Sheriff’s deputies had to be assigned to polling places in West Delray’s Kings Point and West Boca’s Century Village to keep their people from harassing voters.

Afterward, then-Supervisor of Elections Theresa “Butterfly Ballot” LePore said of the race, “We’ve had nothing ever go to this level of pettiness. I’ve never had to leave my office on Election Day, but this is like kindergarten — but worse, even below kindergarten.

“First I get a call from Levine complaining, then I get a call from Slosberg. Frankly, I’m sick of both of them.”

After three terms, Slosberg ran for the Senate against Ted Deutch, who now represents Boca Raton and West Boca in the U.S. House. If you think $800,000 is an eye-popping figure now, Slosberg spent $1.3 million of his own money against Deutch. He still lost the primary.

In 2016, after six more years in the House, Slosberg put $1.8 million into another Senate race. He lost another Democratic primary, this time to Jeff Clemons.

History would indicate that Polsky’s chances are good. She has support from most of the area’s prominent Democratic officials, though Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and County Mayor Dave Kerner have endorsed Slosberg.

Little on policy divides Polsky and Slosberg. Each wants a stronger COVID-19 response from the state, a better unemployment system and criminal justice reform to end racial bias. So Polsky mailers accuse Slosberg of being “pro gun” because of two minor votes on firearms and Slosberg accuses Polsky of being controlled by special interests because of her contributions from lobbyists and industry trade groups.

Slosberg’s gimmick this year is a mask with his usual slogan: Let Irv Serve. Polsky’s mailers counter by claiming to expose “the man behind the mask.”

Polsky would be more likely to work well not just with Democrats but also with Republicans in the Senate, which is more moderate than the House and more collegial. Slosberg would be more of a free agent and more likely to be a grandstander.

As before, Slosberg is trying to buy the seat. As he has shown, however, money doesn’t always equal votes.

County Commission to expand?

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Palm Beach County Commission

In these times, do you believe that Palm Beach County should consider expanding the county commission?

I didn’t think so.

County Mayor Mack Bernard, however, wants this major change to be on the November ballot. At Tuesday’s meeting, he got enough support to have the staff report back at the Aug. 25 meeting.

In addition to raising the membership from seven to nine, Bernard favors making the mayor’s position strong. How much stronger? He isn’t sure.

Until 2013, the title of chairman rotated annually among the commissioners. That person ran the meetings and performed ceremonial functions but had no more power than the other six.

Seven years ago, the commission changed the title to “mayor,” justifying the action by saying that “chairman” puzzled outsiders – such as businesses seeking to move here. Still, the new name brought no new power.

Bernard didn’t say he wanted a strong mayor system like that in West Palm Beach. But the extended pandemic, Bernard said, shows that vesting more power in the office could help during such extended emergencies.

The commission last expanded, from five members to seven, in 1990. All would run from single-member districts rather than be elected countywide. Voters approved the change two years earlier. The Economic Council of Palm Beach County pitched it as a way to increase minority representation.

District 7, which Bernard represents, was drawn to include minority neighborhoods from Riviera Beach to Delray Beach. Bernard is Haitian-American. A minority has held that seat for 30 years. No minority has held any of the other six seats.

The economic council’s real goal, however, was to dilute the power of the condo communities west of Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach. Those retirees consistently opposed large development projects, and developers dominated the council.

County Attorney Denise Nieman pointed out that the commission would have to approve any referendum for the November ballot by Sept. 1. Since the commission will meet just a few days before to discuss a proposal that even Bernard has not fleshed out, voters probably won’t see it this year. But the idea likely won’t go away.

Perlman vs. COVID

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According to former Delray Beach Mayor Jeff Perlman, he’s beating COVID-19.

Perlman has been at Bethesda Hospital since contracting the disease three weeks ago. In a Tuesday Facebook post, he wrote, “One of my favorite nurses just said goodbye to me with the words ‘stay strong, keep fighting.’ I promise I will.”

Perlman added: “I’m still on oxygen. My eyes burn. I struggle at times to draw a breath. And yet I’m one of the fortunate ones. Surrounded by love and your prayers. Getting the best possible medical care. I’m so grateful. If you have symptoms, please get immediate help.”

And please wear a mask, so you don’t unknowingly infect someone.

Boca Regional update

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Boca Raton Regional Hospital. Photo by Aaron Bristol.

When I interviewed Chief Medical Officer Samer Fahmy last week, he said that Boca Raton Regional Hospital nearly had run out of Remdesivir. The drug that doctors once used to treat Ebola has been an effective therapy for some COVID-19 patients.

One shipment had arrived just before we spoke. Another was due this past Monday. According to a hospital spokesman, Boca Regional also got that shipment.

New COVID-19 patients are straining hospitals across Florida. Hospital representatives and Gov. DeSantis had asked the Trump administration for more Remdesivir.

Boca’s new vice mayor

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Andrea O’Rourke

For now, Boca Raton has a new vice mayor and community redevelopment agency chairwoman.

Tuesday night’s meeting was the first without Councilman Jeremy Rodgers. A member of the Naval Reserves, Rodgers was called to active duty and is on his way to deployment in Afghanistan.

Rodgers had been vice mayor, meaning that he would run the meetings if Mayor Scott Singer could not. The council named Andrea O’Rourke to fill in. She had been CRA chairwoman, running those meetings. To avoid making O’Rourke title-heavy, the council named Monica Mayotte to take over the CRA position.

Those roles will revert when Rodgers returns. He is term-limited next March.

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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.