Friday, February 16, 2024

Scott Singer vs. Boca Watch and Campaign Updates 

Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer isn’t just running against Al Zucaro in the Aug. 28 special election—Singer is running against BocaWatch.

Zucaro is the publisher of BocaWatch, which tried for a time to cast itself as a news site but these days functions as Zucaro’s campaign site. When Singer sent out a campaign mailer noting that he had “championed (a) new public school for Boca,” BocaWatch contributor Jim Wood responded with a “fact check.”

Since school crowding figures to be an issue in the election, let’s fact check the fact check.

Wood calls the new school “a distraction from the full extent of the Boca Raton school overcrowding problem.” More capacity, though, obviously relieves crowding. So the new elementary school is anything but a “distraction.”

Wood further perpetuates the myth that when residents complained last year, former Mayor Susan Haynie told them that school crowding “was not the city council’s problem.” In fact, Haynie and other council members noted that the school board sets policy.

Because of public comment, however, the council scheduled a presentation on crowding from school district demographers and planners. That presentation undercut the claim made regularly on BocaWatch that “overdevelopment” caused the crowding. In fact, more young families have been moving to Boca Raton, drawn by new jobs and…good public schools. The new, large, multi-family projects add comparatively few students.

The presentation further showed that Republicans hostile to traditional public schools have cut sources of money to build and expand schools. One source of help will be money from the sales tax increase that county voters approved in November 2016. BocaWatch ran commentaries critical of that tax increase.

Within three years, school crowding in Boca Raton will shrink significantly. One reason is the elementary school that Singer “championed,” presuming the state stops stalling and approves it. State approval of new schools also is beyond the city’s direct control.

Wood argues that Singer could have prevented the school crowding problem. That’s ludicrous. Cities and counties can’t reject development projects because they would add students. Republicans in Tallahassee also rejected attempts to add such a requirement.

It’s fair to say that Singer and other council members could have pushed earlier for better communication between the city and the school district. It’s also accurate that Singer tried to get the council to pass a resolution opposing the sales tax increase.

But it’s also fair to say that since the school crowding problem presented itself, Singer has done about as much as a local official in Florida can do. Meanwhile, BocaWatch’s role has been to misrepresent the basic facts of this very important issue, now with the goal of helping Zucaro.

Mayoral race

Al Zucaro

After showing only a $3,500 personal loan in his first fundraising report, Zucaro raised $20,000 in June.

Some BocaWatch regulars are among the donors. Zucaro got $1,000 from Nancy Hendrey. She and her husband, James Hendrey, started the petition to keep a restaurant off the Wildflower property. BocaWatch backed the ordinance and continues to state falsely that the measure protected an attempt to develop Boca Raton’s public waterfront.

Zucaro got $500 and $200, respectively, from BocaWatch contributors Katherine MacDougall and Jack McWalter. MacDougall is one of two plaintiffs who sued the city over approval of Chabad of East Boca Raton, claiming that Boca Raton harmed Christian residents as part of a secret plot to help Jewish residents.

Zucaro got $500 from Kim Do, whom BocaWatch backed this year in her campaign against Councilman Jeremy Rodgers. He also received $250 from William Angelides, whose opposition to Midtown redevelopment BocaWatch has noted. Zucaro’s donations to this point don’t show much support from outside his predictable base.

Singer did even better, raising $30,000 in June. He got $1,000 from the developer of the One Ocean condo and $1,500 from the company that developed the Hyatt Place Hotel. Singer voted for both, but in each case council approval was unanimous.

Singer also got $1,000 from the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce and $2,000 from iPic and a related entity. Other notable contributions include $200 from County Commissioner Steven Abrams and $250 from Rick Coffin, a member of the planning and zoning board. His total of roughly $110,000 puts him almost $90,000 ahead of Zucaro. As noted, however, Zucaro has that regular source of free media known as BocaWatch.

Seat A

In the Seat A city council race, which also is on the Aug. 28 ballot, Kathy Cottrell and Andy Thomson continue to lead in fundraising.

Cottrell has about $40,000 through June, including a $25,000 personal loan. She is the favored candidate of BocaWatch, and her donations include $200 from Yvonne Boice, who is married to BocaWatch Publisher Al Zucaro. Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke has endorsed Cottrell, who reported a $250 contribution from O’Rourke’s husband. Two other Zucaro contributors, Nancy Hendrey and Katherine MacDougall, also gave to Zucaro.

Andy Thomson raised $15,000 last month, giving him $52,000. Thomson has loaned himself $20,000.

The Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce gave Thomson $1,000. The chamber also endorsed Thomson when he ran unsuccessfully for the council against Andrea O’Rourke. Thomson received $3,000 from interests associated with Ouzo Bay Restaurant in Mizner Park and $500 from land use attorney Wendy Larsen. Thomson also got $250 from fellow attorney Jeffrey Deutch, managing partner of Broad & Cassel’s Boca Raton office and the brother of U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch.

Tamara McKee, the third Seat A candidate, stands at about $31,000, with $23,000 coming from loans. Her June report includes two interesting donations.

One is for $1,000 from Frank Chapman. When Zucaro ran for mayor a year ago, Chapman helped him circulate accusations against Susan Haynie that led to a complaint with the county’s ethics commission. The investigation of that complaint became part of the criminal charges against Haynie. The other donation was $50 from Jack McWalter, a BocaWatch contributor who has touted Cottrell.

Special note: McKee took issue with my comment in an earlier post that overdevelopment is a core part of her campaign. McKee said “transparency” in her priority.

Delray CRA Uptown Atlantic vote

Mayor Shelly Petrolia

Thursday night’s vote by the Delray Beach City Commission went as expected.

Acting as the community redevelopment agency, the commission voted to sell three-plus acres of CRA-owned land to Uptown Atlantic, formerly Equity Delray. This is a second chance for the company, which failed to complete a project on the site after taking three years.

Mayor Shelly Petrolia, commissioners Adam Frankel and Shirley Johnson and appointed members Angeleta Gray and Pamela Brinson voted for Uptown/Equity. Commissioners Bill Bathurst and Ryan Boylston voted to seek new proposals. Six other companies had expressed interest in the property. Uptown/Equity CEO John Flynn has built no projects in the United States.

In backing Uptown/Equity, Petrolia and the others ignored the Downtown Development Authority and the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce, both of which wanted the CRA to start over. Petrolia and the others said they chose Uptown/Equity to speed up development on the site and thus benefit residents of the northwest and southwest neighborhoods. Yet all but one resident of those neighborhoods opposed Uptown/Equity.

Petrolia criticized the six other inquiries as flawed. How could the CRA truly evaluate these letters of interest, however, without asking for complete proposals?

The deadline for negotiating a new purchase agreement with Uptown/Equity is Aug. 3. The CRA would review the agreement at its Aug. 15 meeting. Staffers are drafting a Request for Proposal if the CRA board doesn’t approve the new agreement, but Delray Beach remains on track to sell the city’s most important vacant land at a discount of more than 90 percent to a company with no track record that already failed.

Good news for Ag Reserve

Good news came last month on Palm Beach County’s Agricultural Reserve Area.

The county commission extended until 2053 leases on two key pieces of farmland, with Bedner Farm and T&D Cattle. Using land from the 1999 bond referendum, the county bought 262 acres from Bedner with the promise that the company could keep farming. A similar deal produced the 195 acres leases to T&D Cattle. Bedner expanded to a retail store in downtown Delray Beach.

Both leases will help to fend off the push for more suburban-style development. Too much of it would tip the balance in the reserve away from agriculture.

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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.

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