The Marble Room

Departing Alabama Sen. Luther Strange.

It’s a steady drum beat.

Day after day.

Headline after headline.

Tweet after tweet.

An endless gaggle of TV talking heads and partisan hacks that make you want to gag.

But despite all the efforts to disparage, destroy, discredit and dismiss—not much changes.

Problems remain unsolved. Opportunities go unclaimed.

There’s a reason why the electorate is mad and it’s because very few politicians seem to get it.

Americans want results—not feuds. Americans want solutions not talking points, fundraising pitches and legislation that’s so arcane that only the lobbyists understand what’s really in a bill—or at least the parts they paid for.

Senator Luther Strange of Alabama is stepping down in the New Year. He lost a primary battle to Roy Moore—you may have seen a story or a thousand about Roy in the past few weeks. Last night he lost in a special election.

But before Strange left, he went to the floor of the Senate and gave a speech. I heard about his speech from a friend who lives in Alabama and so I sought it out online. It’s a good one. His message will probably get lost, but it shouldn’t. Because he diagnoses what’s wrong and gives us a path back to a time when people on both sides of the political aisle realized that ultimately they were there to serve the American people, not their party or their base but their country.

I thought I’d share Sen. Strange’s comments. In their entirety. I hope you read his remarks. Because the lessons we can draw from them—if we choose to listen—can apply to all levels of government. We need those marble rooms—that I hope you’ll read about below– in our cities, towns, states and counties. So put aside your partisanship for a few minutes, pack away your disdain for a few of the names he praises and try and concentrate on the message. We can sure use some marble rooms around here.

“Mr. President, I rise today to address my colleagues for the last time. After nearly a year in this chamber, I am both its newest member and the next to depart. As such, I have both the optimism of a young student and the battle scars of a man in the arena. Today, I’d like to offer my colleagues some observations from the perspective of my unique circumstances.

 

My fellow Senators and I come from different places. We were raised differently, and we have lived differently. In coming to serve in the world’s greatest deliberative body, we have carried and tested different notions of America.

 

There is, however, one reality that transcends our individual experiences. In this room, we are each humbled by history. The Senate has been a forum for some of the great debates of our Republic. It has shaped, and been shaped by, citizen legislators from every state of the Union. We are awed by the strength of an institution that has weathered great challenges, and the wisdom of those who first envisioned it.

 

As I rise today in that spirit, I’d like to shed light on a page of Senate history that bears great significance in our current political climate.

 

Mr. President, across the hall behind you is a space known as the Marble Room. In a building that is home to so many breathtaking historic sights, this alcove has a singular beauty, and a story worth telling.

 

As part of the 1850s expansion of the Senate’s chambers, the Marble Room began as a public gathering place, and has been frequented over the decades by politicians and protesters alike. When the Union army camped on the grounds of the Capitol during the Civil War, soldiers even used its fireplaces for cooking.

 

For over sixty years, the Marble Room was steeped in the life of the American citizen. It hosted meetings with advocates, constituents, and the free press. It became a very tangible example of our nation’s experiment in representative government.

 

In March, 1921, it took on a new, equally important purpose. The space was reserved by the Rules Committee as an escape for Senators from the crowded halls of the Capitol, and the windowless, smoke-filled rooms where they often gathered off the floor.

 

It became the place where Senators of all stripes would come to catch their breath and take their armor off. Some would nap, some would eat lunch, and all would end up forming bonds that rose above politics.

 

Today, the Marble Room is nearly always empty. This emptiness symbolizes something that worries me about today’s politics. It is likely both a symptom and a cause of the partisan gridlock that often dominates this chamber.

 

But the story of that room – the interplay between citizen and institution; between pragmatism and principle – is the story of the Senate, and in some ways the story of republican government in America.

 

Mr. President, what was once an incubator for collegiality and bipartisanship has become a glaring reminder of the divisions that we have allowed to distract us from the business of the American people.

 

We each remain humbled by the history of the Marble Room. We stand in awe of the traditions of this hallowed body. But too often we fail to let this history be our guide through today’s political challenges.

 

Mr. President, my time in the Senate has reinforced for me what it means to balance principle and pragmatism, to serve the people of my state honorably, and it has taught me how to navigate the turbulent waters of Washington.

 

I imagine that our predecessors who spent time together in the Marble Room wrestled with similar questions. After all, the issues we face today are not all that different. This body has been strained before – it has bent, but not broken.

 

Finding lasting solutions to our nation’s problems does not require reinventing the wheel. Our forefathers have done it before, and they’ve done it right across the hall.

 

 

Mr. President, I spent my early years growing up in Sylacauga, Alabama, about 40 miles outside of Birmingham. My first hometown is known as “the Marble City” for the swath of high-quality stone it sits on, 32 miles long and as much as 600 feet deep.

 

Sylacauga marble is widely recognized for its pure white color and fine texture, and here in Washington, we are surrounded by it. It is set into the ceiling of the Lincoln Memorial, the halls of the Supreme Court, and was used by renowned sculptor Gutzon Borglum to create the bust of Abraham Lincoln on display in the crypt downstairs.

 

Sylacauga marble is used in places infused with tradition and deep history. It is used to enshrine important landmarks. It ensures that memories of the past will stand the test of time to inform the decisions of the future.

 

In a small house in the Marble City, I was raised by a family that instilled in me a deep and abiding reverence for history and tradition.

 

My father was a Navy veteran and my only uncle, a West Point graduate killed in service during World War II, was actually born on the 4th of July.

 

As you can imagine, Mr. President, I didn’t need fireworks or parades to understand the significance of our Independence Day – the look in my mother’s eyes as she remembered her brother’s birthday was enough.

 

Forged in service and sacrifice, my family understood the blessing of living in America, and the price of passing its freedoms on to the next generation.

 

Thanks to this generation before me – the greatest generation – I grew up strong in Alabama. At a young age, I was introduced to the Boy Scouts of America. From volunteer troop leaders to the older scouts I would look to as examples, the Boy Scouts created an environment of selfless service. As a Scout, I learned to appreciate the institutions of American society, and my role as a citizen.

 

By age thirteen, I was an Eagle Scout traveling to Washington on a school trip to see this great experiment in representative government up close. As I tell every young person who has visited my office this year, that experience gave me an appreciation of the value of public service.

 

Mr. President, I often wonder, if we all approached our duties here with the unblemished optimism of a young student on a field trip, whether we couldn’t accomplish more in Congress.

 

Of course, the strength of this body and the remarkable foresight of our Founders run deeper than an elementary school civics class. For me, the next pivotal moment came as an undergraduate at Tulane University in the spring and summer of 1973.

 

Some of you may be surprised to learn that I played basketball in college. In between practice and part-time jobs, I found time to watch the newly-formed Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities begin its investigation of the Watergate scandal.

 

In that moment, our nation stepped into uncharted territory. The strength of our Constitution was tested like never before. Would the pursuit of justice overcome politics? Would the institution of the Presidency be forever changed? What are the responsibilities of citizens of a republic, when the republic’s institutions are tested?

 

It was during that spring semester of 1973 that I began to understand the tremendous power of the rule of law. It is guarded by representatives who swear to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

 

When my basketball playing years ran out, it was this realization that led me to go to law school. My new game would be learning the ins and outs of this system that ensured the rights our Founders envisioned. My new team would be my fellow students, who would go on to practice law and serve our nation at all levels of government.

 

Mr. President, as so many of our colleagues know, the path from practicing law to writing it is well-traveled. I was fortunate to travel it with the help of some of Alabama’s finest public servants.

 

As a young attorney, I first met one of them for breakfast in the cafeteria of the Department of Justice. When I realized I had forgotten my wallet, he paid for my meal. Jeff Sessions has continued to pay it forward to this day as a dear friend and mentor of mine.

 

Mr. President, Jeff Sessions is both a gracious statesman and a man of principle. It is not far-fetched to say that some of this temperament rubbed off on him from our state’s senior Senator, Richard Shelby.

 

Over thirty years ago, I was introduced to then-Congressman Shelby by my friend, former Secretary of the Senate Joe Stewart. As a young lawyer, I learned from a man fast-becoming a legendary legislator. He would become one of my most treasured friends, sharing many days hunting together in the fields of Alabama and elsewhere, and many more stories shared here in the halls of the Capitol.

 

Together, Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby represent the finest Alabama has to offer to our nation. Following in their footsteps here in the Senate is an honor I will forever treasure.

 

The example of these men inspired me to get involved in public service. As the Attorney General of Alabama, and Senators, they approached elected office with an unparalleled reverence for the rule of law.

 

I spoke earlier about the balance of pragmatism and principle, and in doing so I had my friends in mind. When I was elected Attorney General of Alabama in 2010, I drew heavily on their examples of principled conservative leadership.

 

Mr. President, in this body we are too often convinced that standing for deeply-held principles is incompatible with pragmatism. In the six years I served as Attorney General, I learned that this could not be further from the truth.

 

Serving my state in that capacity required balance above all else. I had an obligation to the people of Alabama who elected me to fight for the conservative victories they were counting on. I also had a solemn duty to rise above politics and follow the law and the truth wherever they led.

 

Make no mistake – during my two terms as Attorney General, I took every opportunity to defend the Constitution, the rule of law, and the people of Alabama against federal government overreach.

 

Together with other state Attorneys General, I worked to protect farmers and ranchers from an EPA rule that would turn puddles in their fields into federally-regulated ecosystems. We stood up against threats to religious liberty and the Second Amendment, and took the fight over an illegal executive amnesty program all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. On these, and many other issues, we stood for the rule of law and we won.

 

So, Mr. President, I don’t have to prove my commitment to conservative principles.

 

At the same time, I have a record of upholding the rule of law even when my own party goes astray. I have the scars to show for it. Over my six years in the state capitol of Montgomery, I assembled a nationally-renowned team of prosecutors behind a common goal: to root out public corruption.

 

This pursuit led to the convictions of several corrupt public officials in the state of Alabama, including a county sheriff complicit in human trafficking – the first successful prosecution of its kind in decades.

 

My team took on Alabama’s Republican Speaker of the House for ethics violations, leading to his removal from office and a prison sentence. As you might imagine, we didn’t make many friends in the political establishment by doing so, but we shored up public trust in our representative government.

 

For their commitment to fighting public corruption, my team has been recognized by the National Association of Attorneys General as a gold standard. I’ve personally had the opportunity to address my former colleagues from both sides of aisle who are focusing on the same goal in their own states. More than any fleeting partisan achievement, it is work like this of which I am the most proud.

 

When faced with crises, we rose to a calling higher than politics. After the tragic Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 decimated communities and ecosystems along the Gulf Coast, I was appointed by the Court as coordinating counsel for the Gulf Coast states in the historic litigation. My team won the trial and negotiated a $2.3 billion dollar settlement for the state of Alabama.

 

Our work on the spill case built consensus and found common ground. It brought together the interests of fiscal conservatives and environmental advocates, and we delivered results because it was the right thing to do. While victims of the Alaska spill in 1989 waited 22 years for settlement, the Attorney General’s office delivered justice and set a gold standard for responding quickly and effectively to the needs of Gulf Coast communities.

 

After all, Mr. President, the institutions our founders laid out in the Constitution are only as strong as the people’s belief in their strength. When America no longer trusts that its representatives are remaining true to their oaths, the entire system loses its value.

 

As the most recent Senator to take the oath, I remember the feeling of the Bible under my left hand. I remember reflecting on a verse it contains that has brought me peace in times of challenge. Proverbs 19:21 says “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

 

I remember raising my right hand, here in the well where so many others have gone before – many of whom likely found it difficult to discern what exactly the Lord’s purpose was in that moment.

 

Each of them came to this body in the face of significant national challenges. Some faced violent conflict, others an economic crisis.

 

Our forebears would not be surprised by the issues before this body today. But I do believe they would be surprised, and discouraged, by the emptiness of the Marble Room.

 

 

Mr. President, the policy challenges we face are not new ones. This body debates a budget resolution every single year. Many years, it also faces questions of war and conflict overseas. At least once every decade or so, it faces some tectonic crisis of the economy.

 

As a lifelong student of history, I am reassured by stories of the grave crises that have been addressed on this very floor. In this chamber, the post-Civil War Senate ensured that the nation stayed the course of healing and reunification. In this chamber, the Senate put politics aside to defeat the rise of fascism in Europe, and guided the creation of a new 20th century world order.

 

On this floor, long-overdue support for civil rights was won, vote by vote. This struggle is held vividly in the memory of my home state. In the early 1960s, my elementary school outside Birmingham was segregated. By 1971, I was taking the court with three young black men – teammates, classmates and friends – to play for the state basketball championship.

 

As our nation evolves, the traditions and history of the Senate demand that this institution meet each new challenge, armed with the will of the American people.

 

And as I watched with the rest of the country, it was on this floor that the Senate restored faith in our institutions by delivering justice after Watergate.

 

The idea that the chaos and upheaval that we see today are somehow unique falls flat in the face of monumental history. Pundits and politicians alike are too quick to speak in superlatives, but chaos and change are nothing new.

 

The Senate was designed to endure, and rooms of marble are built to last.

 

Studying Senate history puts the issues of today in perspective, but it also sheds light on the true challenge of our generation – a newer, more serious threat to the future of this institution and its traditions.

 

You see, the Senate was designed to accommodate conflict and profound disagreement. It was not, however, designed to tolerate the entrenched factionalism that dominates today’s proceedings. It was not designed for the people’s representatives to hunker down in private rooms, emerging only long enough to cast votes.

 

There are a hundred seats in this chamber. Each was contested and hard-earned, but they are rarely all occupied. The cameras likely don’t show it from this angle, but many of them before me today are empty.

 

The less time we spend in the same room, the easier it becomes to view our colleagues on the other side of the aisle as obstacles instead of opportunities.

 

What do I mean by opportunities?

 

Mr. President, our generation of leaders will be judged by history on whether we strove to heal the divisions of this body and our nation. In pursuit of that goal, every member of this body is an opportunity to grow in understanding.

 

And yet, compromise has become a dirty word in American politics, and it’s a serious threat to our hopes of advancing meaningful policy.

 

It seems that reasonable Americans understand what we are called to do better than we do. A farmer in Alabama once told me that “if my wife sends me to the store to buy a dozen eggs and there are only a half dozen left, I’ll come home with a half dozen.”

 

On this floor, we have the power to bring home a half dozen eggs, and even make it a dozen for the American people. We have the power to be a profound force for good.

 

After all, compromise was baked into the Founders’ design. At the heart of our system of checks and balances is an understanding that no one branch, and certainly no one partisan faction, will get everything it wants, all the time.

 

From the very beginning, compromise allowed our nation to embrace both the republicanism of Thomas Jefferson and the federalism of Alexander Hamilton. The very structure of this body is a result of the Connecticut Compromise of 1787, which accommodated proponents of both equal and proportional representation.

 

The authors of this pragmatic solution, Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth, are depicted on the wall outside this chamber, not far from the Marble Room, where their example of finding common ground would be practiced for years to come.

 

Mr. President, in the shadow of these founding debates, political voices today are arguing louder and louder about smaller and smaller things. It is easy for those outside this chamber to insist that they know what should be done. As long as we remain so deeply divided, these outside voices will always win.

 

When I leave the Senate, I hope to have lived up to the words of a different voice. On April 23, 1910, in a time of change, as the United States was coming to define a new world order, President Teddy Roosevelt delivered a now-famous message, which bears repeating:

 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

 

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasm, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 

Here today, our nation faces challenges like it did during Watergate 43 years ago, and like it did in the time of Roosevelt 107 years ago. When we have each left this great body, I know we would like to be remembered as men and women in the arena – as people who spent themselves in worthy causes.

 

I am convinced – the worthiest cause we can join today is a return to the collegiality, the pragmatism, and yes, the compromise, of the Marble Room.

 

 

Mr. President, as I leave the Senate, I am indebted to so many – to those who have helped me become the man I am today, to the colleagues who have welcomed me as a partner in the people’s business, and to the great state of Alabama which I have had the immense honor to serve.

 

I thank God every day for the blessing of my wife, Melissa, my children and grandchildren. Greeting every day assured by their love and support has made my work here possible.

 

I thank my staff in Alabama and here in Washington, who have risen to the task of serving our great state through troubling times. Their tireless dedication reminds me that there is a bright future within reach.

 

I thank the staff of the Senate serving here on the floor and in the cloakrooms, the U.S. Capitol Police, and all those who preserve, protect, and defend this hallowed institution.

 

I thank each of my colleagues for the privilege of joining them in service. The friends and working partners I have found here in the Senate give me great hope that in the right hands, this experiment in representative government will long endure.

 

I thank the men of principle who have served Alabama with honor for years before me – Jeff Sessions, for his example of deep reverence for this institution, and Richard Shelby, especially for his friendship and guidance during my time in the Senate.

 

Finally, Mr. President, I thank the people of my state. Alabama is a beautiful place, and millions of hardworking people call it home. As I look back on my career, I am most proud of the last seven years I have spent working on their behalf, both in Montgomery and here in Washington.

 

 

Mr. President, in preparing my remarks for today, I spent a lot of time in the Marble Room. I reflected on the stone that built it, and the bedrock of my hometown.

 

I thought about the lawmakers who frequented it years ago. I thought about the challenges they faced – their own principled stands and pragmatic negotiations. Most importantly, I thought about the common ground they found there. Off the record and away from the cameras, this space presents us with an opportunity to once again find balance.

 

Balance between principle and pragmatism in the Senate would reflect the very spirit of America, which is defined by balance.

 

The zeal for adventure that won the West and put human footsteps on the face of the Moon is balanced by a reverence for tradition and our founding principles – individual liberty, the rule of law, and the pursuit of happiness.

 

The entrepreneurial drive that built great cities and today drives innovators to ask “what’s next” is balanced by a solemn remembrance of the struggle and sacrifice that have paved the way.

 

The Senate is the sacred place that was designed to embrace this spirit of America; to lose the art of balance and compromise in this body is to lose something essentially American.

 

If we cannot find shared cause – shared purpose – in the quiet corners of that space across the hall, then we may never find it here on the floor of the Senate, where the critics are so quick to point out how “the doers of deeds could have done them better.” As I prepare to leave this esteemed body, I urge my colleagues, who will face many more challenges ahead, to take these words to heart.

 

For the sake of our nation, I urge them to return to the Marble Room.

 

Mr. President, I yield the floor.”

Imagine: Art Endures

Last week marked the 37th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder.
In three years, he will be gone as long as he lived.
For me and for millions of others, the loss still stings.
I was 16 when Howard Cosell broke the tragic news on Monday Night Football.
Although my friends and I were only six when The Beatles broke up in 1970, we were devoted and devout fans. Yes we missed the band when they were active, but we didn’t miss out on their music. It was a big part of our lives.
It still is.
Thanks to The Beatles Channel on Sirius XM I get to listen to the band on my morning commute to the office. It’s great to have The Beatles and the solo music of John Lennon as a part of my daily life.
Great music and great art endures. It’s timeless.
The issues of the day come and go—worries bubble up and fade– but a great song, a great movie, a great book, a great painting– they last.
And so the music of John Lennon endures.
My friends and I joined 225,000 people in Central Park a few days after the tragedy for a vigil to honor Lennon. It’s a memory that will last a lifetime; throngs of people singing, crying and trying to make sense of a senseless act of violence.

All over the world, people mourned. In Palm Beach, fans were welcomed onto the grounds of John and Yoko’s home to pray and grieve. It was interesting to read the coverage in the Palm Beach Daily News last week chronicling John and Yoko’s ties to our area.

Years later, hundreds of fans streamed  into a tent on the grounds of Old School Square to view Lennon’s art work– a testament to his lasting impact.
That’s the power of great art and great artists. Their work resonates and lasts.
Readers of this blog know that I’m a huge admirer of Bruce Springsteen another artist whose work has endured.
William Taylor, founding editor of Fast Company magazine, recently went to see “Springsteen on Broadway” which has gotten rave reviews. It’s an evening of intimate songs and stories about Bruce’s life. The magic of great art is that it somehow becomes about all of our lives. We gain insight and clarity from music, art, drama and literature.
Here’s what Mr. Taylor shared on Facebook.
“Well, some folks have asked, and now that we are back from NYC here is my very brief reaction to Springsteen on Broadway. The show is as overwhelming as people say it is. It is a funny, joyous, unbelievably personal celebration of life. It is also an aching, painful, unbelievably personal meditation on mortality, the unbearable sadness of so much of what happens to us and how it shapes us. What’s also striking is the sound. The theater is so small, the sound system so good, it feels like you are inside the guitars, like you can feel the strings on your skin.  And when Bruce, time and again, steps away from the mic and talks or sings directly to the audience, with no amplification, you truly can hear a pin drop. I am man enough to say I reached for the Kleenex three times, which actually showed some good emotional restraint. I know tickets are impossible, but keep trying….”
That’s the power of music. That’s the power of a great artist to touch and move an audience.

We won’t be talking about the small bore politics of the day six months from now never mind decades from now .
But we will be listening to John Lennon’s music.
Of that I’m certain.
When WPBT recently ran a special on The Beatles, we watched and smiled. The music is amazing. The chemistry still crackles.
It’s genius. Pure and simple.

The Arts Warehouse, Empty Bowls & Public Service

A display at the new Arts Warehouse in downtown Delray.

We attended the long awaited soft opening of the new Arts Warehouse Friday night.

It was worth the wait.

Kudos to the CRA for having the vision—and the fortitude—to stick with this project near Third Avenue and Third Street in the burgeoning Artist’s Alley area of Pineapple Grove.

The addition of the Arts Warehouse which has gallery space, public space and artist’s studios will enable artists to build their skills and their clientele in a low-cost environment in a high value part of town.

Those of us who remember Pineapple Grove founder Norm Radin will remember that the original vision of the district was to be an artsy complement to Atlantic Avenue.

With Old School Square, the Arts Garage and now the Arts Warehouse, Delray Beach is rapidly building an arts and cultural scene that will keep the city relevant and interesting to residents, visitors and creatives.

The CRA’s investment in the old warehouse and its imaginative design (great job Currie-Sowards-Aguila Architects) will pay dividends for years to come.

We ran into one of my favorite local artists the wonderfully talented Ralph Papa who was beaming with excitement. Mr. Papa says it’s critical for artists to have low cost space to grow their talent and that the lack of such space often stunts or even stops artists from developing their artistic vision.

It was also gratifying to see fans and patrons of the Arts Garage and key staff and board members from Old School Square at the opening. Their presence shows support and the potential for collaboration which only leverages each organization and the city as a whole.

The CRA often endures blistering criticism for their investments—much of it way off the mark although no agency is perfect. The fact is the true mark of a good investment is whether there is a return on that investment—in terms of tax base, business activity, vibrancy and quality of life.

Time and time again for three plus decades, the CRA has consistently delivered.

My bet is that the Arts Warehouse will prove to be a solid investment yielding dividends for years to come in a myriad of ways.

When you’re in the neighborhood, make sure to check it out.

 

Empty Bowls

I had the privilege to serve soup (delicious black bean from Cabana El Rey) Sunday afternoon at “Empty Bowls Delray Beach”.

This is the second year for this unique event at Old School Square at which we “eat simply so others can simply eat.”

 

When you think of Palm Beach County, we mainly think of our gorgeous weather, many activities and prosperity. But, even here in our beautiful county, more than 200,000 residents don’t know where they will get their next meal. Last year this event raised more than $100,000 for hungry Palm Beach residents served through the Palm Beach County Food Bank.

Not sure how they did this year, but the event seemed well attended. Kudos to the volunteers and especially Shelly and Billy Himmelrich—two amazing people—who helped to organize and promote the event.

 

The Food Bank provides food to more than 110 food pantries, soup kitchens and residential programs who serve our neighbors in need. They also provide weekend feeding packs for children (Food4OurKids), nutrition education in partnership with the University of Florida (Nutrition Driven) and connect residents with federal programs through Benefits Outreach. Each month, the Food Bank’s partner agencies serve more than 100,000 individuals across the county and annually they distribute more than 5 million pounds of food.

Those are astonishing numbers.

 

But despite the yeoman’s work of the Food Bank, the need remains great.

And particularly this time of year, when we are focused on family, fellowship and celebrations, it’s a perfect time to give back and to think of others less fortunate.

The need is year-round and unfortunately growing. Yes, there is hunger in our own backyard.

Here’s a list of the generous sponsors—- and to the chef who made the artichoke soup—well let’s just say words can’t describe how good it tastes.

Empty Bowls Delray Beach sponsors: Old School Square, Old School Bakery, Elmore Family Foundation, Patty & Rod Jones, Pechter Family Foundation, Under the Sun, Brenda Medore & Leanne Adair, Bethesda Hospital Foundation, Katherine and Joshua Littlefield, Jeffrey Pechter, Deborah and Michael Pucillo, Transforming Kids, American Heritage school, Michele and Randy Broda, Caffe Luna Rosa, Cheney Brothers, City Capital Group, Menin, Coco & Co, Delivery Dudes, Delray Beach plastic Surgery, Floridian Community Bank, peacelovesolve, Red Steel Property and Stuart & Shelby Development, Inc.

 

Our trip to the Glades….

Every year, the Palm Beach County League of Cities hosts its year-end meeting at a beautiful waterfront park in Belle Glade.

The event collects toys for needy children and also serves as a reunion for municipal leaders from throughout the county. County officials and state legislators also gravitate to the event for a fun afternoon of food, home grown vegetables and networking.

I like to go every year because it keeps me connected to city government. So while I have been termed out for a decade now (hold your applause), I still feel a kinship with local elected officials and staff. I also know quite a few from my era who are still serving (bless their souls) and it is fun to catch up and trade stories. (It was nice to see you, Chevelle).

We have such a vast county—which you realize when you make the long trek to the Glades.

It’s also a diverse county—with bigger cities such as West Palm and wealthy towns such as Palm Beach, sharing common challenges with smaller cities such as South Bay and Pahokee.

The League of Cities is an important organization because it’s a convener, a connector and a fierce advocate for the principles of Home Rule and the needs and interests of cities.

As the government closest to the people, local cities and towns have the ability to be nimble and affect positive change rapidly…if they are focused, determined and willing to stand up against the naysayers who exist in every town.

There’s not a lot of glory in local government service, but there could be immense satisfaction and opportunity if local leaders engage stakeholders, forge a vision and most important of all, execute.

You have to make decisions and get things done.

It’s that simple….if you choose to take advantage of the huge opportunity presented by public service.

 

A Place For Humanity Amidst Change

A vintage Sears catalog.

When I read the news, I look for patterns.

What’s bubbling just under the surface? What trends are starting to emerge? Are there clues out there to tell us where we are going next?
It’s fun to discern what might be happening and it’s also helpful in business to try and see where the world is heading.
What I’m seeing lately are a bunch of stories that indicate angst about technology and a push back against the dominance of our digital society. It seems that we are beginning to really worry about the addictive power of our smart phones, the amount of data tech companies like Facebook and Google have on us, the corrosive impact that social media can have on society and the ubiquitous reach of Amazon.
So this could get interesting.
One of the best trend spotters out there is marketing expert Seth Godin. Here’s what he wrote on Black Friday:
“The buying race is over. Amazon won. The shopping race, though, the struggle to create experiences that are worth paying for, that’s just beginning.”
Godin was lamenting the herd mentality whipped up by media to shop on the day after Thanksgiving.
But while he acknowledged Amazon’s dominance, he also sees opportunity for physical retailers in the “real world” to compete by offering experiences, service, design, fun and community.
We better hope so, because there are a lot of jobs, sales tax for local governments and consequences for Main streets and shopping centers if retailers don’t figure out a way to compete more effectively.
Another go to source for trends is “Redef”, an email newsletter that aggregates great stories from a wide variety of sources.
One recent piece came from the LA Times which talked about the comeback of catalogs. In an era of seemingly endless growth for online shopping, the humble mail order catalog is getting new life as merchants strive to battle email fatigue. 
While nobody is predicting the return of the Sears catalog (or the iconic retail chain) there seems to be growing anxiety over a purely cyber world. 
Don’t get me wrong. Facebook is great in moderation. Amazon is convenient and Netflix is wonderful.  
But it would be sad if we lost face the face interaction we get at a great retail store and the experience of seeing a movie with a group of people. 
While these and other industries are under assault by the threat of mobile and internet technology, there is some evidence that the “analog” world won’t go without a fight. 
The New York Times has experienced a surge in print subscriptions, vinyl records and cassettes are staging a comeback,  physical books and independent bookstores are enjoying a mini renaissance and there are retail districts around the country that are doing very well. 
While AirBnB is thriving, smart Hotel brands like Aloft, Hyatt Place, Canopy, and Ace are also proving to be enduring competitors. Boutique hotels such as Cranes Beach House, historic properties such as the Colony Hotel and larger but stylish options like the Seagate remain desirable for travelers of all ages. 
As for theaters, there seems to be room for Netflix and iPic, Hulu and Alamo Drafthouse. 
While Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has reported on the phenomenon of people “Bowling Alone” which chronicled the struggles of civic groups and bowling leagues—there are a raft of new groups emerging:  One Million Cups, Creative Mornings, WiseTribe, Community Greening, Human Powered Delray and Better Delray carving out community. 
Locally, Rotary, Elks and Kiwanis remain vibrant and vital.
 
As for me, I don’t see technology retreating. I think we will see autonomous cars within the next 10 years, streaming services will grow and groceries will be delivered to our homes. But I do think that smart retailers who create experiences and relationships will thrive. Great restaurants will continue to draw crowds and while golf courses will continue to close— options like Top Golf (food, fun, night golfing) will fill the gap. 
I think the key will be placemaking. 
The cities that create vibrant, safe, walkable places will draw crowds and investment. Fred Kent, a part time Delray resident and founder of the Project for Public Spaces (www.pps.org), has reported on the “power of 10” –the need for communities to create at least 10 activities in order for places to thrive.  PPS is right. 
We will look up from our phones–if there’s something compelling and active to draw us in.
 We will want to gather for concerts at Old School Square and Mizner Park. We may want to take a class or two online but there will also be a desire to interact in person with other students and a desire to go to happy hour even though you can order beer, wine and spirits online. 
I think a backlash is brewing. We will bend technology just enough to allow us to remain human. 
At least that’s my hope. 

Things We Love: November Edition

Fifth Avenue Grill’s holiday decorations are a Delray tradition.

Things we liked/loved in November…

Thanksgiving at Fifth Avenue Grill—great food, unmatchable holiday decorations and terrific service add up to a great experience. While we prefer staying home for the holidays, with kids spread out and other family traveling, we decided to go out. We had a memorable time.

The Cornerman Bar—Have you seen the Delray Boxing Gym? It’s incredibly cool. On the other side of the glass you can sit at a great bar and watch the action and be served by the amazing Marit Fitzpatrick. You can also enjoy Copperpoint beer and other libations and dream of hoisting your own championship belt. A very unique concept. Only in Delray as they say.

Breakfast gatherings at Ellie’s 50s Diner. Bob Smela and his lovely wife were pioneers on the North Federal Highway corridor more than two decades ago. Today, they and their great team are still thriving serving great breakfasts, awesome lunches and great dinners at fair prices. When I can, I like to go on Friday mornings when I’m sure to run into some great Delray people. Topics range from politics and business to family and our aches and pains. Count me grateful to have people to share with.

Old School Bakery—Billy Himmelrich and his team bake the best bread imaginable at a terrific facility on Congress Avenue in Delray Beach. When you visit, you’ll be taken by the great aroma of bread baking. Warning: the bread can be addictive.

The new Cornell Museum—thanks to a generous gift by the Blume’s—two wonderful people—the Cornell Museum has been re-imagined and it’s truly incredible. Don’t take my word for it—visit the new museum at Old School Square. You will be impressed. We guarantee it.

 Dinner at Café Martier—We love the historic ambience of this Atlantic Avenue gem. Great signature cocktails, an interesting menu and a choice between dining in a really historic restaurant or a very hip breezeway. It adds up to a winning experience. We recommend the falafel appetizer and the hummus is out of this world.

The Walk to Cure Arthritis—Ok the event is actually in December (Dec. 2 to be exact) at John Prince Park but we wanted to alert you because there is still time to be a sponsor and support the Arthritis Foundation. It’s a great cause and a great organization. Visit www.walktocurearthritis.org/palmbeach for more information and to get involved.

The Blackberry Cider at Saltwater Brewery—Ok, so most of you don’t go to a brewery to taste the cider, but we did and we loved it.

Deli On Rye—If you are looking for a p lace that can quickly whip up a great sandwich on those days when you are on the run, look no further than Deli on Rye on U.S. 1 in Boca. The friendly staff is lightning fast and the food is always good.

Special shout out to our good friend Chuck Halberg of Stuart and Shelby Development for his crowdfunding efforts that made sure our public safety personnel had good food and cheer on Thanksgiving. We are proud to support Chuck’s efforts, which are always heart felt and generous. Also, a shout out to Kate Volman and Ryan Boylston co-hosts/creators of Delray Morning Live. The Facebook show (which has a large and growing following/buzz) recently marked its one year anniversary. It’s a great forum to showcase community events, news, non-profits and people doing good things for Delray. Check it out on Wednesday mornings at 8:30 on Facebook’s Better Delray page. The show is archived so you can watch it at your leisure.

Have a great December!

 

Never Too Late, Never Too Old

The one and only Mavis Staples.

I read magazine stories last week about two women that were positively inspiring.
I thought I’d share.
The first story was actually an interview with Mavis Staples, one of the world’s truly great singers and proof positive that there is indeed a higher power.
That how good she is.
I’ve been a fan since I was 12, when my buddies Scott and Howie I and went to the Smith Haven Mall to see “The Last Waltz”, probably the greatest concert film ever made.
In that Scorsese classic, The Staples Singers perform the definitive version of The Band’s Classic song “The Weight.”
Watching Mavis trade lines with the equally amazing Levon Helm hooked me for life.

So I discovered the rest of the Staples Singers catalog—songs like Respect Yourself and Do it Again.  They are timeless classics.
So it was inspiring to see an interview in Time magazine to mark the release of Mavis Staples’ new album “If All I Was Was Black.”
It’s her 15th album as a solo artist. She’s 80.
So why keep keeping on?

In Mavis’ words:

“I’ve been doing this since 1960. When we met Dr. King in church, my father told us that if he can preach it, we can sing it. We’ve been singing the message songs ever since. Every year people tell me, ‘Mavis, my goodness, when are you going to retire?’ I’m almost 80 years old. But I’m not ready to retire. This is what G-d wants me to do. My voice is as strong as ever.”
Isn’t that so cool?
Why stop just because you reach a certain birthday?

The second story I read was both sad and inspiring.
Sharon Jones, another incredible soul singer, was a great talent who got discovered late in life.

She played with a band called the Dap Kings and found fame after years of relative obscurity.
Sadly, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died last year at the age of 60.

While she did live long enough to enjoy a Grammy nomination and a critically acclaimed documentary on her career, she is not around to see the release of her last album “Soul of a Woman” which was just released.

The review I read was glowing.
Always a supreme talent, she was reaching her artistic peak late in life—proof that greatness can be achieved in middle age and beyond.
That’s something that most of us know intellectually but it’s still good to see and feel it.
As Mavis Staples might say: You’ve got to earn it. Yes, you do. But it’s possible.

In our community, we get to see people of all ages succeeding in a range of endeavors.

I have long marveled at the energy and vitality of Delray’s police volunteers—many of whom work and serve well into their 80s and 90s. They are a treasured resource. So is another group in town.

On occasion, I get invited to have breakfast with a group known as “The Elders”. They meet at Donnie’s on 5th Avenue to discuss the issues of the day. It’s an honor and a privilege to be included and so I never turn down an invitation. The conversation is always interesting, deep, passionate, humorous, serious and wide ranging. My words can never describe the magic and depth at that table, which also includes some young up and comers as it should. Because it’s important for wisdom to be passed down, for stories to be shared, for insights to be revealed. Those stories, those insights and that wisdom was earned–a lot of times the hard way through the hard knocks of life and time.

As I get older, I find myself in an interesting position. To some up and comers in the community, folks my age (50 somethings) are the elders. Yet, the people that I know that are around my age are still learning and seeking insights from people of all ages. There’s a lot you can learn sitting with those who have navigated decades of life and there is much to learn from those who are young and provide fresh perspective.

It’s a cool time of life.

I have learned to be wary of those who feel they know it all–because none of us do. So as I scan the community looking for the next generation of leaders I look for those who would find value in meeting with and learning from other people. If they don’t seem open-minded or willing to learn from others, I have learned that they won’t succeed. They can’t succeed. You can’t live or lead in a vacuum. You can’t learn if you think you have all the answers.

It’s just that simple….

Thankful…

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we’d like to offer a short list of what we’re thankful for in Boca Raton and Delray Beach.
This is by no means a complete list, just some things that are top of mind these days.

Wise Tribe -this Delray Beach based organization is quietly but effectively building community and asking provocative and important questions via a series of events and talks. We’re grateful for their passion and willingness to convene.

Boca Bowl– Isn’t it cool that we have our very own Bowl game?

Boca’s Office of Economic Development—This very active office is crushing it. Just check out their social media feed. Always positive, always newsworthy and always announcing lots of jobs and partnerships with local companies and CEOs.

The holiday display at 5th Avenue Grill–Simply magnificent and a great Delray tradition. GM Glenn “Zippy” Fiedler and his staff do an amazing job.  Make sure to check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

Delray’s downtown seasonal festivities– Lots of hard work goes into making Delray a holiday hot spot. We appreciate it. So do tens of thousands of visitors and residents.

Community Greening—this nonprofit has a simple but profound mission: plant trees in Delray and educate people about the benefits. If you want to see how this works up close head to Knowles Park on November 25 from 9 am to noon to help the group plant trees. You’ll have fun and they’ll give you pizza.
Sounds like a deal.

Creative Mornings —At the risk of being sappy, we just love the positive energy and smart conversation. This month’s meeting at Saltwater Brewery was lots of fun and an eye opener about the health of our oceans and planet.  They have built something very special at Creative Mornings. Very very special.

Delray Art League–This community institution is a local treasure. Not only do they produce wonderful works of art, but they support young artists with scholarships. You can catch this amazing group during its next Artists in the Park outing Dec. 2 at Veterans Park. You won’t be disappointed and the artists are also very nice.
Happy Thanksgiving!

The Power of Saying Yes

Peter Kageyama preaches the virtues of loving your city.

The talk could have been titled: “Just Say Yes.”

“Or for goodness sakes….relax and experiment.”

We’re talking about author/speaker Peter Kageyama’s keynote at last week’s “Community Conversation” at Old School Square convened by the Delray Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Kageyama is the author of “For the Love of Cities” among other books and pieces that encourage people to fall in love with their city and experiment. The St. Pete resident is a dynamic speaker who shows real world examples of how cities from Auckland to Anchorage and Grand Rapids to Greenville, S.C. have benefitted from “co-creatives”—people who move forward with ideas and projects that help you fall in love or stay in love with their cities.

Most of the projects are small—some are bold and some are simple and they can range in cost from $20 to a whole lot more—but the end result is often surprise and delight.

Kageyama believes cities should be fun places that encourage experiments and pop-up experiences—even if you have to break a few rules along the way.

Examples ranged from a lip dub version of “American Pie” in Grand Rapids that garnered 5 million views on YouTube to a $1,200 project in Greenville, S.C. that placed statues of brass mice in fun places downtown. It may sound silly—and it is—but the message is that’s Ok, cities should be fun.

But these projects also create value—Grand Rapids’ version of the Don McLean classic was in response to a report that the city was dying (Get it: “the day the music died”) and stirred hundreds of citizens to show the world that their city was alive and had pride. The statues of cute little mice in Greenville is an endless source of fun for visitors and locals alike and even led to a children’s book.

From murals and dog parks to public art and drum circles—cities that have personality win our hearts, minds and wallets.

And when you fall in love—you tend to commit, volunteer, invest, interact and put down roots. It’s community building and in a polarized world full of all sorts of sad and calamitous stuff these little “endearments” make a huge difference.

The cities that are fun will win and the cities that are boring will lose.

This debate has been simmering in Delray for a few years so Mr. Kageyama’s presentation was both timely and relevant. While Delray was named “America’s Most Fun City” there’s been a lot of hand wringing over festivals, parades, parks, 100-foot trees, tennis tournaments etc.

We hear about “full cost recovery” and the burdens that some of this stuff place on city budgets, staffing etc.

But we never really talk about the value of these types of activities or the cost of being boring.

Kageyama started his presentation with a pyramid giving a hierarchies of elements cities strive to deliver.

At the base is functionality and safety: cities need to function (permits, toilets flushing, roads in good shape etc.) and they need to be safe. The next level is the ability of a city to be comfortable: are there places to sit, is their shade, is our downtown walkable, can we ride a bike without being killed etc.)?

The next rung is conviviality—are we nice to each other? Is our public discourse toxic or civil?

The top of the pyramid is fun. Do we enjoy living here? Do we enjoy each other as neighbors? Does our city create opportunities for us to connect?

A local panel consisting of our Downtown Development Authority Director, Old School Square President, West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition Director, Chamber President and the head our Marketing Cooperative talked about the need to work collaboratively—which is the true definition of an All America City.

There was a palpable sense in the room—and I see and hear this in my travels around town—that Delray is tired of dysfunction, infighting, divisiveness and a lack of progress on key initiatives ranging from ideas to help South Federal Highway to enacting the hard work of the Congress Avenue Task Force. (Disclosure: I chaired the task force, it’s no fun to see the hard work of dozens of volunteers gather dust on a shelf).

But it’s not just the big ideas and vision that is lagging—it’s the small stuff too. The sense that city staff has been stifled, that talent is frustrated and that we are at risk of losing the creative spirit and sense of community that distinguished Delray.

Interim Chamber President Vin Nolan—an economic development professional—said it best when he said in cities “you are never done” and if you think you are then.. you really are done.

Rob Steele of Old School Square senses a desire to take Delray to a new level of creativity and inclusiveness. He’s right.

You can have progress, job creation, opportunities and fun without breaking the bank or losing your uniqueness and charm. Nobody said it was easy. But enlightened leadership welcomes ideas—isn’t afraid to experiment and looks for ways to engage citizens. Kageyama mentioned the Delray Affair—our city’s signature event, both historic and important.

Why not have a series of events that encourages us to have an affair with our city?

Why don’t we invite people to fall in love with Delray?

We can fix leaky pipes, collect parking fines and fill potholes—that’s the functional part and it’s important. But we can have fun too.

I think we’re ready.

Check that, I know we are.

 

The Power of Compound Interest

There’s a famous quote from Albert Einstein on the magic of compound interest: “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it.”

Warren Buffett was another big believer in the concept. He once said: “Read 500 pages every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up like compound interest.” (500 pages? Really Mr. Buffett?).

The definition of compound interest is the following: “Compound interest is the addition of interest to the principal sum of a loan or deposit, or in other words, interest on interest. It is the result of reinvesting interest, rather than paying it out, so that interest in the next period is then earned on the principal sum plus previously-accumulated interest.” Got it. It’s easy.

I’ve been thinking about compound interest as we head into yet another election season in Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

And I’ve decided that I want to support candidates who believe in the concept and how it might apply to leading communities.

I’m looking for candidates who believe in learning from the past and those who believe in tapping into the vast knowledge that exists everywhere you look so that we earn interest and not pay the price for ignoring hard earned knowledge and experience.

I recently had lunch two former elected officials including a former mayor who is in the process of moving to Delray.

Inevitably, the conversation turns to shop talk—as we share war stories and opine about local politics.

One former elected said something that I agree with—he felt that the best local elected officials are those who are capable of changing their minds if given new information. That very simple act—seeing something another way–shows that an elected official is capable of evolving.

It also demonstrates that an elected official is capable of taking a position that may—hopefully only temporarily—cause them to lose some supporters.

Because if elected officials are beholden to their base or an influential handler, the chances of growth and success decline markedly. But if they are capable of growth, they will add supporters over the long- term and gain respect for their well-thought out positions.

Now that doesn’t mean that you ignore people or fail to represent them, but it does mean that you have the ability to lead with an open mind based on information that may come to light in the course of debate.

This ability to grow and evolve is in many ways the beauty of local government, where you don’t have to vote with a team as politicians tend to do in a partisan, legislative environment.

That type of blind faith in your team leads to gridlock or progress that gets built and then undone when the opposing team takes office—and the opposition always gets in at some point.

I prefer the compound interest approach to community building where one group builds upon the accomplishments of the previous group. That style tends to build traction and sustainability.

It helps enormously if you have elected officials who follow community driven visions and take the time to set goals.

City Commission’s and Council’s tend to fall apart when you have five free agents or factions working on their own pet projects or those who are hell bent on undermining their colleagues.

That doesn’t mean that elected officials can’t disagree or debate, but it does mean that once the vote is called and decisions are made it’s time to move on. Commission’s that endlessly litigate, refuse to make decisions or continually revisit old issues tend to get nothing done—which frustrates citizens and confuses staff.

I want to support candidates who get this—because frankly if they don’t– they are going to fail.

I don’t want elected officials who believe they only represent those who supported them or worse yet gave them money.

I talk to many business people who feel the need to “cover their bets” by writing checks to everyone even though it’s clear that they may prefer one candidate over another.

They do this is out of fear—because they are worried that candidates are watching and will exact retribution if they get elected.

For the most part, when you support everyone out of fear, you’re either trying to buy votes or insurance against revenge. If you think about that—it’s horrible. Who wants to live and invest in such a place?

Projects should be supported or opposed based on whether they follow the city’s rules, advance the community’s vision or are good for the city. Period. Not whether your name showed up on a campaign report or not.

Those who tend to cover their bets end up spending twice as much as they should and being trusted by neither campaign.

So pick a candidate and have the courage of your convictions. You’ll win some races and lose others, but if we elect the right candidates there won’t be anything to fear. And if you are the victim of retribution take a bunch of people to City Hall and speak up about it. Remember, elected officials work for us. We don’t work for them. It’s called servant leadership.

One final thought on compound interest: it doesn’t mean you can’t be a disruptor or that you must continue to do things the same old way.

In fact, the best elected officials take things to the next level; they push, question, challenge, work hard and don’t stop at the first sign of resistance. They are not afraid to lose their seats if it means doing what they feel is best. They embrace change; they evolve.

They are civic entrepreneurs willing to take calculated risks, push the envelope and ask ‘why not’ when they are told something can’t be done.

But they do study the towns they seek to lead. They learn from the mistakes and from what has worked in the past.

They don’t keep their own counsel…they seek and welcome input from a wide range of stakeholders. Those are the candidates who tend to win and tend to get things done during their terms in office.

The one’s who reap the rewards of compound interest, not those who pay it.

 

 

 

What She Found In A Thousand Towns

A love letter to some great places.

When it comes to great books, I’m on a roll.
I just finished “What I Found in a Thousand Towns” by Dar Williams.
Ms. Williams is a critically acclaimed folk singer. I don’t know much about her music although I plan to fill that deficit as soon as I can find the time.
But she’s a good writer and an even better observer of towns.
The book chronicles what Williams learned visiting 1,000 or so towns as a traveling musician for the past thirty years.
Not content to hang out in green rooms and hotels when she’s on the road, Williams has become an urban expert of sorts. She knows what makes towns work and her book is a travelogue of places I now yearn to visit.
Places like Moab, Utah, Beacon, NY and Phoenixville, Pa.
Her insights are smart and refreshing.
She doesn’t advocate large scale transformations —stadiums, spending huge on luring Amazon to your town etc. –but she does talk about the importance of coffee shops, performance spaces, walking trails, art and projects that bring people together.

She coins two important phrases: positive proximity and conscious bridgers.
Both are important to creating special places.
Positive proximity refers to activities, places and initiatives that bring people together.
They could be hills for sledding, playhouses, art centers, great parks, coffee shops etc.
It’s important for towns to have these places. They build community, create relationships and lead to all sorts of cool outcomes.
Conscious bridgers refer to people in your towns who connect people to others. They are alchemists, initiators, starters—sort of like community spark plugs— essential for ignition.
I’ve seen both positive proximity and conscious bridgers since becoming passionate about cities some time ago.
If you have both magic happens.
If you have a deficit in these areas…well let’s just say your town will suffer.
So encourage great places that bring people together and activities that encourage collaboration and teamwork.
And when you find a connector, embrace her and let her connect you. You won’t regret it and that’s how great towns happen.