This just in: Singer may challenge Haynie

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Singer to challenge Haynie?

Boca Raton City Councilman Scott Singer may challenge Mayor Susan Haynie in the March election.

“I am considering it,” Singer told me on Tuesday, adding that he plans to decide by the end of the month. “I want to bring more responsible decisions on development and traffic planning to the city.”

Before our conversation, several sources had told me that Singer has been shopping a mayoral run for weeks. The only one to speak on the record was County Commissioner Steven Abrams, who acknowledged meeting with Singer but wouldn’t disclose their conversation. Another source told me that Singer had decided to run, and would announce his candidacy after the Aug. 30 primary. Haynie filed for a second three-year term last April.

If Singer challenged Haynie, it would be the first time since 1993 that a sitting council member has run against a mayor. That year, Bill Smith defeated incumbent Emil Danciu by 102 votes. Singer said he wouldn’t consider it “a ‘challenge’ of Ms. Haynie,” but no one else—especially Haynie—would share that perspective.

It has been evident since November that Singer was seeking something beyond a new council term. After he was the lone vote against the University Village project, Singer delivered a 10-minute diatribe against the approval, sounding like a Supreme Court justice reading a dissent from the bench. It was a speech meant for an audience beyond the council chambers.

More recently, Singer railed against the proposed countywide sales-tax increase. He tried unsuccessfully to have the council pass a resolution in opposition to the plan. In his newsletter, Singer told residents that he had “pushed for our city to take a stand about money not coming back to Boca when so much is collected here. . .” Boca Raton generates far more in sales tax revenue than the city would receive from the tax, the revenue from which cities would divide by population.

Then there was Singer’s successful push for the Aug. 30 referendum that would fill council vacancies by special election. Singer made a populist pitch for the idea by saying it would prevent “cronyism.”

In addition, Singer acknowledged in an earlier conversation that he had been meeting with Republicans in Tallahassee. State Rep. Bill Hager, a fellow Republican, had been under consideration for insurance commissioner, which would have meant an open seat.

Hager, however, didn’t get the job. He’s term-limited in 2018, but Singer doesn’t live in that coastal district. He lives in the House district represented by Irv Slosberg, who is running for the Florida Senate. Slosberg’s daughter, Emily, is running to succeed him. She has the obvious name recognition, and the seat leans Democratic.

Abrams is also term-limited in 2018, and any candidate from Boca Raton would start out with an edge, given that the city is the largest in the district. Haynie, though, is considered a strong potential candidate, especially if she retains her mayoral seat. Singer could face a tough fight if he tried to succeed Abrams. He also isn’t campaign-tested, having won his seat without opposition.

Regarding a mayoral matchup, Haynie got 57 percent against Anthony Majhess in 2014. His support, running as the anti-development candidate—even though he had voted for many projects—was strongest in the Golden Triangle, where residents were angry over the approval of Archstone/Palmetto Promenade. Haynie carried 28 of 37 precincts, and had especially big margins in the northwest —Broken Sound and Woodfield.

Singer lives in that area, near the intersection of Clint Moore and Jog roads. Singer might believe that he could pull some of those votes from Haynie while keeping the Majhess base. That would include followers of BocaWatch and Boca Beautiful, which regularly criticize the council on downtown development and oppose leasing the Wildflower property for a restaurant.

To pull that off, however, Singer would have to draw a dramatic policy distinction between himself and Haynie. Based on his record, that would be difficult.

On most major issues in the last two-plus years—aside from University Village—Singer has voted with Haynie. They both supported fire and police pension reform, a Haynie priority when she ran in 2014. They both voted for the Hyatt Place hotel. They both voted for phases 2 and 3 of Via Mizner. They both voted to approve Chabad East Boca. They both voted—reluctantly but correctly—to allow a property owner to build on an oceanfront lot and thus avoid a lawsuit against the city.

And when it came to Tower 155, the downtown condo project, Haynie voted against it. Singer voted for it.

Since Haynie next month starts a one-year term as president of the Florida League of Cities, a position from which Boca Raton could benefit, Singer also would have to explain why voters should reject someone with far more connections and experience.

I reached Haynie on Tuesday in San Francisco, where she was attending a symposium on driverless cars. Haynie said, “I’ve heard that (Singer) is telling people I’m not running. I’m having a campaign kickoff at the end of the month. I think I’ve served this city very well.” Regarding the county commission, “That’s in the future.”

Singer, who also is out of town, said he is “not prepared” to discuss details of a possible campaign. He will decide after “consultation” with his family.

Of Singer, Haynie said, “He’s clearly on his way somewhere. I guess patience isn’t part of the equation.” She added, “I would hate to see his political career end so soon, but that’s up to him.”

And in other election news…

To borrow from Paul Harvey, no known connection to the previous item, but. . .

Joe Panella, who had filed last August to run for City Council Seat B, withdrew two weeks ago. Mullaugh is term-limited in March, so the seat will be open.

Aside from Haynie, no candidates have filed, though there are rumors about several possible candidates. Since the mayor’s job and Singer’s seat also are up, a council majority is in the balance.

Qualifying for the March election begins on Jan. 3 and closes at 5 p.m. on Jan. 11. Candidates who have filed must submit additional paperwork and pay the filing fee.

The permitting process to speed up?

On Aug. 1, Boca Raton will move closer to achieving a city council priority—quicker review of building permits and development applications.

The Planning and Zoning Department will begin accepting those applications and the accompanying plans and documents online. According to a city spokeswoman, the department will use the same software—called ProjectDox—that the Building Department has been using to accept permit applications. Building and planning and zoning are part of the Development Services Department.

The spokeswoman said the software has “has made a tremendous difference in the efficiency and customer service delivery” for permitting. She added that the building department “regularly gets letters and emails from businesses thanking them for their efficiency and great customer service.” That would be a remarkable turnaround for a department once known as a public irritant.

Though contractors and homeowners regularly griped about the slow pace of approvals, the potential for delay gets much higher with big projects. Example: the developer may need to conduct multiple traffic studies. Many city departments much review such applications, along with outside entities such as Florida Power & Light and the Lake Worth Drainage District.

Going digital not only will make plans more accessible, the process will become transparent. If a city staffer is late on reviewing a project, it will show up. Sometimes, though, the problem is on the developer’s end. That, too, will become apparent. Either way, such problems should be resolved sooner.

Developers will attend a pre-application meeting, to learn what documents the city needs. In creating the new system, the city involved lawyers who regularly represent developers. The city also is offering training sessions next week. The upgrade will cost about $50,000. If the shift works, that will be a major return on a small investment.

The anti-restaurant petition

At its meeting tonight, the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board will review the citizen petition that is designed to keep a restaurant off the Wildflower property, though the language doesn’t mention a restaurant.

Instead, the proposed ordinance states that all city-owned land “adjacent to the Intracoastal Waterway” be used only for “public recreation, public boating access, public streets and city stormwater uses. . .” Those city-owned properties are Spanish River, Rutherford, Silver Palm and Red Reef parks, and the Wildflower property.

The staff report from Deputy City Manager George Brown to the board notes that the ordinance wording has been “revised to make certain nonsubstantive corrections.” Presumably, that means the staff cleaned up the wording to make it conform to that in existing ordinances.

Still, the board may hear from restaurant opponents who sense malicious intent in the revisions. Either way, it will be interesting to hear whether the board members have comments about the proposal, which will go to voters on Nov. 30. It will be the first public forum for the petition. Last month, the board approved changes that would allow the restaurant, but didn’t approve the lease. The city council deferred a decision on the lease until after the vote.

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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.