Sunday, December 5, 2021

Strong mayors, elections questions & that little issue about judges

Time for a strong mayor system?

We now know just how complete Susan Haynie’s victory was over Anthony Majhess.

According to results provided by the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Office, Haynie won 28 of 37 precincts last Tuesday in the race for mayor. Haynie’s campaign had focused especially on western areas, and the effort paid off. Haynie got some of the biggest turnouts, with her largest margins in Broken Sound and Woodfield. She did well, not surprisingly, in precincts near her home in Camino Gardens and in areas near downtown.

Also not surprisingly, Majhess’ best numbers came in areas to the east and northeast of Mizner Park, near his home in the Golden Triangle.

Haynie won the absentee vote by nearly 200 and the Election Day vote by almost 1,400. Especially given that the turnout was nearly 19 percent—big for a city election— it’s the sort of victory that would discourage anyone thinking of challenging Haynie in 2017. And since there is likely to be little disagreement between Haynie and the new council, the better bet at this point is that one or more of those council members will try to position himself or herself for a mayoral run in 2020.

The mayor’s “power” remains mostly ceremonial beyond running council meetings, but because Boca Raton is nearing a population of 90,000, you wonder if the debate will start about switching to a strong-mayor system, a move that West Palm Beach made in 1991. If any other city in the county might be ready for such a system, it’s Boca.

The plot thickens in Delray

As for the Seat 4 Delray Beach City Commission race, there remains a fair amount of mystery.

Incumbent Al Jacquet had been trailing Chris Davey most of Tuesday evening, until results came in from the last two precincts. On Friday, Davey said he still cannot figure out how those two precincts took him from leading by nearly 300 votes to losing by 265 votes.

Jacquet’s margin, though, is too high to require an automatic recount. So last week Davey spoke to Ron Meyer, a Tallahassee attorney who specializes in election law. Davey said Meyer will send a letter to Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher and Delray Beach City Clerk Chevelle Nubin, seeking answers to Davey’s questions.

Davey said he will accept the results “if information is presented and it looks legitimate.”

The key precinct is 7200, which is Pompey Park, located in the city’s historically black neighborhood. Jacquet, who is black, expected to do very well there, and he did. Jacquet got 152 absentees votes to just eight for Davey. All absentees, though, are supposed to be counted first, so Davey wonders how Jacquet’s 221-vote margin on Election Day was enough to cause such a shift – especially since the two candidates basically split what seems to be the other precinct with 7200 that reported last.

Also curious is that Jacquet got 1,223 absentee votes, or roughly 61 percent of his total – an unheard-of proportion. Two years ago, Jacquet got just 318 absentees. Jacquet got nearly as many absentee votes as Haynie even though the Boca Raton mayor’s race featured nearly twice as many overall votes as Jacquet’s race.

Another mystery concerns mailers sent to voters in Democratic areas of western Delray. The mailers linked Davey to Gov. Rick Scott. Davey, who says he is a former Democrat and now is an independent, has no link to Scott. The mailers came from the Committee for Principled Leadership, whose Tallahassee address matches that for two Republican operatives. Both parties have been known to use such front groups to scare voters of the other party into supporting the front group’s candidate.

Paying it forward

The governor fills most judgeships in Palm Beach County through appointments. In some cases, though, a judge can time his or her retirement so the coveted position – incumbents are rarely challenged and almost never lose – is filled by an election. That’s the case this year with Circuit Judge Lucy Chernow Brown.

And with a judicial election comes the involvement of Weiss, Handler & Cornwell, the Boca Raton law firm that doesn’t list “politics” as an area of practice, but should.

For years, it has been assumed that support for a candidate from Weiss and Handler would get that candidate the coveted South Palm Beach County condo vote. For the Brown seat—likely to be the only contested circuit court election—word is that the firm is behind Jaimie Goodman, who is running with three other candidates.

Goodman, a West Palm Beach lawyer, must want to be a judge very badly. He spent nearly $450,000 of his own money on losing races in 2010 and 2012, and he’s already put in nearly $110,000 this time. Perhaps the Weiss, Handler help will get him that return on his investment.

As for worries about any possible return for the firm on its investment, lawyers always contribute most of the money in judicial races. Palm Beach County voters had a chance in 2000 to make all trial court judgeships appointed —there’s politics in that system, too, but no money—and they said no. So lawyers can keep raising money for those whom they will face in court

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, 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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