Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Uncovering the Campaign to Extend City Term Limits in Boca

A $25,000 campaign sought to persuade Boca Raton voters in March to extend terms of the mayor and city council members. Nothing about it seems to have been illegal.

Much about it, though, appears to have been secretive.

Last November, Mayor Scott Singer proposed lengthening the terms from three years to four years. In November, Singer and council members Yvette Drucker and Monica Mayotte supported putting the charter change before voters. All would have benefited from the longer terms. In 2021, Singer endorsed Drucker for her first term and Mayotte for her second.

Critics of the proposal pointed out that it would be the only item on the ballot. Singer and new council members Fran Nachlas and Mark Wigder had won with no opposition. Boca Raton wound up spending $145,000 to hold a vote on an issue that had no significant citywide impact.

Voters rejected the change, but only after four mailers went out backing the longer terms. They came from a political action committee called All For One. Now closed, All For One listed as treasurer and agent Michael Millner, who lives in the Martin County community of Jensen Beach.

Yet in the weeks leading up to the March 14 election, All For One’s filings with the Florida Division of Elections showed no contributions or expenditures related to Boca Raton. On April 20, however, the committee listed a $25,000 contribution from another committee called Boca New Century.

According to county records, Boca New Century was formed in April 2022. The listed treasurer is Carlos Cardenas at an address in Lighthouse Point, in Broward County. The group’s issues, according to the records, were “to be determined.”

I asked Singer about the committees’ involvement in the election, since he had championed the longer terms. Singer said he had no knowledge of the mailers because “it was not my campaign.” Singer distanced himself from All For One and Boca New Century and said only the committees could address any motives behind the mailers.

I called Millner and Cardenas to ask about motives. Neither returned my calls by deadline for this post. Searching Boca New Century’s contributors, though, the campaign for the longer terms came mainly from some of the biggest players in Boca Raton’s development and tourism industry.

West Palm Beach-based Wexford Real Estate Investors donated $20,000. According to news reports, the company is part of a joint venture developing a 277-unit residential project in northwest Boca Raton. Wexford also is part of The Residences of Boca Raton, the downtown project that the council unanimously approved this year.

The owners of the former IBM headquarters, known as the Boca Raton Innovation Campus, gave $35,000. Another $15,000 came from Miami-based Key International. According to news reports, the company is part of The Residences of Boca Raton and developed Boca Beach Residences, a luxury condo.

Boca Raton-based Compson Associates is also part of The Residences of Boca Raton. The site includes the company’s office. Compson Vice-President Robert D’Angelo donated $10,000 to Boca New Century. In May, Compson secured approval of Aletto at Sanborn Square.

Another $10,000 came from Boucher Brothers, a Fort Lauderdale-based hospitality management company. One of Boucher’s clients is The Boca Raton, formerly The Boca Raton Resort & Club. Downtown property owners and investors Grover Corlew donated $15,000.

These donations to Boca New Century come as the council considers major changes that would allow more development downtown and at the Boca Raton Innovation Campus and the Park at Broken Sound, formerly the Arvida Park of Commerce. Voters knew none of the connections behind the mailers.

And despite Singer distancing himself from Boca New Century, there are connections.

On Jan. 8, Boca New Century got $4,125 from Singer’s campaign. Singer said it was to reimburse the committee for “research to [Singer’s] campaign [for mayor] completely unrelated to whatever that entity may have done months later concerning the [term] question, which was months after my election ended.”

Records also show a relationship between Singer and Cardenas, the agent for Boca New Century.

Singer’s 2023 mayoral campaign gave nearly $18,000 to Monserrate Consulting. It has the same address and contact information as Boca New Century. Cardenas is the registered agent. During his 2020 campaign, Singer paid the company $415 for “canvassing expenses.”

Then there’s a committee called Friends of Scott Singer. The mayor said he had no involvement in creation of the committee, which was formed at the same time as Boca New Century. Cardenas is the chairman and treasurer.

In 2019, a news release announced the hiring of Cardenas as director of political affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors, an industry trade group. The released touted Cardenas’ extensive campaign experience, such as on behalf of Singer when he had run for mayor and council.

Some contributors to Boca New Century and Friends of Scott Singer overlap. Examples: Boca Raton-based PEBB Capital and James Batmasian, Boca Raton’s largest downtown private property owner.

Another $5,000 came from an entity called Hillsboro 56, LLC. The agent is Randal Perkins, founder and chairman of Deerfield Beach-based AshBritt. Boca Raton has contracted with the company for debris removal after hurricanes.

As noted, nothing here appears to have been illegal. Unlike donations to individual candidates, donations to committees are unlimited. This also doesn’t appear to be a case of “dark money,” when committees use a portion of the federal tax code to hide the names of donors.

But based on the lack of responses to my questions, there clearly was—and remains—a reluctance to fully disclose who financed the mailers and why. Longer terms, the mailers said, would lead to “caring, people-focused decisions in city hall” and “neighborhood-friendly policies.”

Voters got only one mailer against the longer terms, from a committee called Parents Taking Action. Brian Stenberg, who ran unsuccessfully against Mayotte, acknowledged that he organized the mailer.

Stenberg, who serves on the housing authority board, spoke against the proposal at council meetings. He has filed to run next March for Mayotte’s open seat.

Singer can’t run for reelection. He dismissed the $25,000 investment in the election—big for a local race—saying, “Mail costs have gone up.” He has “moved on” from the term issue. “The voters spoke.”

I asked the mayor for comment about his relationship with Cardenas and the relationship between New Boca Century and Friends of Scott Singer. By deadline for this post, he had not responded to an email, a voicemail and a text.

Correction

In my Tuesday post about the hiring of Peter Licata as Broward County School Superintendent, I referenced former Superintendent Vickie Cartwright and her dealings with members of the school board whom Gov. DeSantis had appointed. She sent the following email in response to the post:

“There is a statement regarding me that is factually inaccurate: ‘Those appointees — two of whom remain — led a push to fire former superintendent Vickie Cartwright, then rehire her, then fire her again before receiving the action plan they had requested from her.’

“I was fired, rehired and then we separated through a mutual separation agreement. Also, I had provided the action plan in October/November, and they accepted the plan. An update was provided to them in January on the progress of the plan. After the presentation of significant progress, we agreed to enter discussions regarding a mutual separation (which isn’t a second termination).”

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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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