Sunday, April 14, 2024

It’s the mean season in Boca and other notes

Boca politics get juicy

Council Member Michael Mullaugh, Mayor Susan Haynie, Deputy MayorConstance Scott, Council Member and CRA Chairman Scott Singer and Council Member Robert Weinroth

Turnout for this year’s Boca Raton City Council election probably will be very light, but the race will almost certainly not lack for nastiness.

With qualifying having ended at 5 p.m. on Monday, four candidates will be running to succeed term-limited Constance Scott in Seat C. Yet no one filed to challenge Robert Weinroth in Seat D, even though he’s had the post for just a year after filling out the term of Anthony Majhess. “Either I’m doing something right,” Weinroth said in an interview Wednesday, “or they forgot about me.”

One candidate surely wishes that his profile at this point were lower. Most voters in Boca Raton weren’t thinking about the March 10 election during the holidays, when a mailer arrived, claiming that “Armand Grossman Can’t Be Trusted.” It came from Floridians for Integrity in Government. What’s that? Who’s Armand Grossman? What was going on?

Boca politics.

Grossman has lived in Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club for about a decade. Well before the mailer came out, he had planned on running in that Seat C race. The mailer accused Grossman of running a “deceptive real estate scheme” and being charged by the state with “fraud” and “breach of trust,” among other things. A recent, second mailer continued the attack, referring to business seminars that Grossman developed as a “bogus product.”

Grossman lives across the street from Frank Chapman, who ran unsuccessfully for the council in 2012, losing to Majhess 56 percent to 44 percent. Several people—including Armand Grossman—told me at the time that they suspected Chapman of having arranged the mailers, to scare Grossman out of the race so Chapman could run for the rare open seat. The two men had been friends, I was told, but had had a falling out.

On Wednesday, Chapman told me that his wife, Ann Chapman, financed the mailers. “She’s a very strong woman,” Chapman said. “She’s not afraid to get involved. She was concerned that there was a rush by the power brokers to clear the field for Armand.” Which, of course, would have excluded Ann Chapman’s husband.

Judging by Frank Chapman’s comments, the two mailers are just the beginning. “Boca politics is tough,” he said, “and I accept that. Everyone needs to be ready for the slings and arrows.”

Before the mailers, Grossman told me, he had planned to run on his record of community service. A graduate of Florida Atlantic University, Grossman served on the FAU board in the last decade during Frank Brogan’s presidency and on the FAU Foundation. He was an adjunct professor at Northwood University’s West Palm Beach campus, and Commissioner Steven Abrams put Grossman on the Palm Beach County Planning Commission.

Grossman called the mailers “false.” “I ran a good company,” he says, offering seminars that helped people buy homes. He is considering “legal action.” He acknowledges that a complaint was filed with the Department of Professional and Business Regulation, but claims that it stemmed from “an employee that we had to terminate. He wanted a big severance.” Grossman acknowledges repaying one customer $1,000 and paying a $500 fine for not using a copyright trademark.

And what about that supposed falling-out? “I have had some very interesting conversations” with Frank Chapman, Grossman said. “This has been very disappointing.”

Those who got the mailers couldn’t have traced them to Chapman. Floridians for Integrity in Government is an election communications organization, which can’t expressly advocate for one candidate but can slam someone whom that candidate or potential candidate opposes.

Last fall, the same group ran ads in the State Senate District 34 race—the district takes in coastal Palm Beach and Broward counties—opposing incumbent Maria Sachs against former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff. A big chunk of the organization’s money came from State Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, a Republican who wanted Bogdanoff’s vote to help him become Senate president. Despite the money, Sachs won.

Caught in the Chapman-Grossman crossfire are the other candidates: IBM employee and Naval reservist Jeremy Rodgers and Realtor and Junior Leaguer Jamie Sauer. Rodgers’ campaign finance reports show only a loan to his campaign of about $25,000. Sauer didn’t file until just before the deadline, and thus hasn’t submitted any finance reports.

Grossman has loaned his campaign $51,000. His finance reports show no other contributions. Chapman said, “I want to self-finance,” which you can probably translate as, “I will spend what it takes.”

Who has the best chance at this point? Abrams, who served nearly 20 years on the Boca council, told me that he is helping Sauer. She worked on many of his campaigns. The Junior League vote always helps in a Boca council race. Rodgers is a political newcomer who wants to “run a clean race” in which his main issue will be making the city a “tech hub.”

Grossman obviously will have to counter the early mailers, which will take money. Chapman’s criticism of Boca’s “power brokers” is interesting. In 2012, he sought and got support from some of those same “power brokers” who saw Majhess as being obstructionist solely because he wanted to run for mayor as an outsider.

All four candidates will be courting just a slice of the city. In 2012, the last time a single Boca council race was on the ballot, about 6,800 voters turned out. If it seems as though one seat wouldn’t make much difference in 2014, that isn’t necessarily so. Positions can change, and on a council of five one shift can turn the vote. This blog will get deeper into the issues and the candidates’ claims as we get closer to March 10.

Boca votes to amend design guidelines

Something unusual happened during Tuesday’s Boca Raton City Council meeting: There was a close vote on a big issue.

Not surprisingly, the debate was over what makes for a nice downtown. Boca Raton has approved a lot of downtown projects in a short time since the recession ended, under rules that the city put in place two decades ago but has amended. The downtown height limit is 100 feet, but that can rise to 140 feet for what City Manager Leif Ahnell described in a memo to council members as “Downtown Quality Projects” if the developer follows design guidelines to make a project more compatible.

To be eligible for that extra height, the project has had to be on at least 2 acres, to keep even well-designed projects from overwhelming a site. Buildings on smaller parcels are not bound by the design guidelines. As Ahnell noted, the city has approved other downtown projects on lots larger than 2 acres that are using the guidelines.

On Tuesday, Ahnell recommended that the council end that requirement. Why now? The Tower One Fifty Five residential project, at Mizner Boulevard and Boca Raton Boulevard, is on 1.2 acres. Late last year, the developer reduced the number of units from 200 to 170, and now wants to build under the design guidelines, but the lot is too small. Ahnell wrote that he, city staff and the city’s consultants believe that eliminating the acreage requirement would “greatly improve the design and character” of Tower One Fifty Five.

Of course, the change also would greatly improve the chances that Tower One Fifty Five would be taller. According to the city’s interim building services director, projects on as many as half a dozen other small properties also could get the added height.

The council eventually settled on a 1.2-acre requirement—just enough to accommodate Tower One Fifty Five. Mike Mullaugh, Scott Singer and Robert Weinroth voted for the change. Weinroth said the redesigned Tower One Fifty Five will be “a decidedly less obtrusive building.” He acknowledged that those in the nearby Golden Triangle neighborhood may not be happy.

Mayor Susan Haynie and Constance Scott voted against the change. Haynie warned of “unintended consequences.” She’s got a point. What happened Tuesday was a favor for one project that may deserve the benefit it could get, but the council has set a precedent. And still out there is New Mizner on the Green, which wants 300-plus- foot towers where the limit is 100 feet.

••••••••

You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

For more City Watch blogs, click here.About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.

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.

Related Articles

Latest Articles