Saturday, August 13, 2022

Polsky Mask Controversy Fallout, Delray’s “Master Plan” & More

Last week, not everyone in her Florida Senate district that includes Boca Raton might have known Tina Polsky’s name. Her profile now extends statewide and nationwide.

It’s happening because of the encounter last Wednesday in Polsky’s Tallahassee office. Florida Surgeon General Joseph Lapado refused Polsky’s request to wear a mask when they met to discuss his confirmation.

On Sept. 27, Polsky had surgery for Stage 1 breast cancer. Her follow-up treatment was about to begin. Polsky told Lapado all this, since he ignored the sign outside Polsky’s office asking visitors to “Please wear a mask.” If all that wasn’t enough, the wife of Ladapo’s boss—Gov. DeSantis—is undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

Yet the state’s chief physician, who one presumes understands that cancer patients are at particular risk from COVID-19, still refused. So Polsky asked him and two Department of Health aides to leave. Ladapo reportedly snarked that he enjoys trying to reason with “unreasonable” people. Polsky described his behavior as “smug.”

The story broke first on the Florida Politics website. Monday night, Polsky told her story on MSNBC and CNN. Predictably in these times, she spoke of death threats. Ladapo’s defense, if one can call it that, was that he has trouble communicating while wearing a mask. Health care professionals from across the state quickly rejected that argument by noting that they have spoken through masks throughout the pandemic.

As of Wednesday, at least 10 Florida newspapers had editorialized that Ladapo should resign and, if he doesn’t, that DeSantis should pull Ladapo’s nomination. Polsky is a Democrat and DeSantis is a Republican, but the editorial criticism spread far beyond Democratic stronghold of South Florida to the Southwest coast and the Treasure Coast, which are reliably Republican.

The Orlando Sentinel wrote, “What kind of person—what kind of physician—refuses such a simple request from a cancer patient in the midst of a pandemic caused by a highly contagious and deadly airborne virus? An arrogant, self-absorbed crank, that’s who.”

The only message from DeSantis’ office, however, was agreement with the Department of Health—which Ladapo oversees—that employees will “meet through Zoom or outdoors” if asked to wear masks. So it’s on record: Florida officially shares Ladapo’s unfounded belief that masks don’t help to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Criticism of Ladapo went beyond the media. The Rev. R.B. Holmes of Tallahassee delivered the benediction at DeSantis’ inauguration. Like Ladapo, Holmes is African-American. Like Ladapo, Holmes knows that the pandemic has hit minorities in Florida disproportionately hard.

Holmes said, “We are extremely alarmed and saddened that the surgeon general would not meet with the elected state senator. . .when she asked respectfully, ‘Will you please, sir, wear a mask.’ “ Holmes called Ladapo “disrespectful and dishonorable,” then said he would change his voter registration from Republican to No Party Affiliation.

Ladapo has dismissed the proven efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. He opposes mask mandates in schools. He has suggested that a good diet can thwart the pandemic.

And now he has the Polsky controversy.

DeSantis’ press secretary responded, “The governor stands by Dr. Ladapo’s qualifications for this role and is not withdrawing his nomination.”

Delray’s “master plan

delray

Delray Beach is crafting what Downtown Development Authority Director Laura Simon calls a “tourism master plan.”

To that end, the city is assembling a task force that Simon told me will include between 60 and 65 members. Working with Don Kolodz, president of West Palm Beach-based Tourism Strategic Solutions, Delray Beach hopes to have that marketing plan ready in about six months. The group’s first meeting will take place Nov. 5.

Some of the usual suspects—the DDA, the chamber of commerce—will participate. But Simon said the group will reach out to those with successful records. “Ocean Properties, we certainly want their expertise.”

One result could be creation of what Simon called “a consolidated website” to promote the city. Overall, the goal is a centralized, rather than segmented, approach to finding out, “Is this the person we want to bring, and how do we get him here?”

The timing for such an effort makes sense. Pandemic shutdowns disrupted tourism, and Delray Beach is seeking to recast its marketing. Delray Beach Market opened this year. The Ray Hotel recently opened in Pineapple Grove and the opening of another Pineapple Grove hotel, a Hampton Inn, is planned for early 2023. The operator says it will have “a coastal feel” that separates it from those normally seen at interstate interchanges.

As Simon described the task force, it will produce a report similar to what a consultant produced for Boca Raton about recreational needs. Kolodz will work with members to identify where Delray Beach is doing well on marketing the city and where the weaknesses are. Simon notes that Delray Beach does no sports marketing and hasn’t gone after “niche markets.”

Simon said, “More than ever, we need this. If downtown dies, the city could go with it.”

Boca Golf & Racquet Club update

boca country club
Boca Raton Golf & Racquet Club, photo courtesy of the City of Boca Raton

On Monday, Boca Raton will have what Assistant City Manager Chrissy Gibson calls the “soft opening” of the new municipal golf course.

The facility’s name is the Boca Raton Golf and Racquet Club. For now, however, the “racquet” part will wait. City officials are still studying how to renovate the tennis courts that were part of the club donated by The Boca Raton.

Also for now, the golf course will lack some amenities. Golfers can’t schedule tee times online yet because of what Gibson called software problems. So they will have to come in person. During November, 18-hole greens fees for city residents will be $55—including a cart—and $85 for non-residents.

The driving range won’t be open; renovation isn’t done, just as landscaping and maintenance of the course continues. Normal food and beverage service won’t be available. Gibson said food trucks soon should be present “most days.”

As city council members have been saying, when all the work is finished in a year or two, Boca Raton should have a facility that offers golf, tennis and pickleball, plus a nice restaurant and an event venue. Gibson and others ask for patience as the work progresses.

Because those lower fees now are for November only, will the work on the golf course be done by December? “We will evaluate,” Gibson said. Boca Raton, she added, faces supply chain issues like every government and private company. Still, “We are expecting things to move along.”

Brightline’s plan

brightline

I wrote Tuesday about Brightline’s new service, Brightline+, through which passengers will be able to book a ride not just on a train but to and/or from their home to a station.

Details emerged during a media event. The radius for Brightline+ will be five miles from the stations in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Brightline will resume service Nov. 8, having suspended it in March 2020. Brightline+ will start in December. Travelers to Miami will be able to link service to other local transit options.

Brightline now plans a December groundbreaking for the Boca Raton station. Company officials said Brightline+ will be available at the new station.

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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