Lynn’s MBA in Delray: Only The Beginning

A most welcome addition

Last night was an important one for Delray Beach.

Quietly, before a few guests, the trajectory of our downtown might have changed forever.

That’s a big statement. I may be wrong, but let me try and back it up.

After months of negotiations, Lynn University will launch an MBA in Delray program focusing on entrepreneurship and marketing at the Delray Chamber. The one-year program will be offered at night and tailored to working professionals and entrepreneurs.

The move was announced a few weeks ago, but it felt real last night when a contingent of Lynn staff led by President Kevin Ross and Business School Dean Dr. RT Good told a small gathering of local leaders and entrepreneurs why they chose Delray and what the program will entail.

Folks, we have to make this work. Why?  Because if it does it changes the game and enhances the brand that has been fostered by a slew of Delray Beach visionaries and stakeholders since the mid-80s.

Dr. Ross and Chamber President Karen Granger see the MBA in Delray as an innovative model that chambers and universities can replicate across the country. It enables chambers to get needed revenue, enhance value for their members and grow local economies, while enabling universities to reach into communities and tailor programs to meet local needs and trends.

Dr. Good and the Lynn team have been hard at work designing a “different” kind of curriculum that promises deeper relationships with faculty, classmates and local businesses while focusing on leadership, hands-on projects and case studies.

For the chamber it enables a deeper dive into the world of entrepreneurship, a focus and passion for President Granger who has quietly but persistently nurtured relationships with a growing number of promising local entrepreneurs. Many were there for the Lynn celebration including Brian Niles of Rooster, Eric Bucher of Call Sprout and Project Runway’s Amanda Perna, who runs “House of Perna,” an emerging fashion design brand.

Delray and Boca’s emerging foodie economy was represented as well with catering by fabulous Farmer’s Table restaurant, which I think has enormous potential. (Here’s where I should plug my two food/beverage related brands Tabanero and Celsius, but that would be indulgent no? Wink)

All of this is to say, that this partnership may signal that Delray’s downtown and indeed its economy is expanding beyond food and beverage—and that’s a good thing. A diversified economy is a more resilient and sustainable model.

Many years ago, Delray made a conscious choice to lead with food, beverage, culture and festivals to jumpstart its moribund, dull and dangerous downtown corridor.

It was a smart move, brilliantly executed by many, many important contributors and risk taking entrepreneurs.

And it worked, remarkably well.

We have a vibrant, valuable, cool, and attractive and revenue generating downtown that looks and feels good.

Our restaurant “row” generates crowds, creates jobs and helped to change how people see Delray Beach.

Our cultural and intellectual amenities: Old School Square, the Delray Beach Library, Spady Museum, Sandoway House, Delray Historical Society, Arts Garage and historic districts make us a distinct destination which drives property values, tax base, quality of life and tourism which is another critically important industry.

Festivals have also played and continue to play a major role. Which is why it was incredibly disappointing to see the debate about their value so mishandled. It’s an opportunity missed because so many cities are building their economies and brands around festivals. It’s something that should be revisited and expanded beyond the myopic debate around cost and inconvenience. I’m not saying that cost and resident convenience isn’t critically important because it is, but most of those issues can be solved with creative planning and by examining the revenue side of the equation and the intrinsic value created by events.

The Delray Marriott, Residence Inn, Seagate Hotel, Hyatt, Fairfield, Crane’s Beach House, Wright by the Sea, Parliament Inn, the historic Colony Hotel, Sundy House and other properties are extremely valuable assets that drive our economy and brand. They don’t stay viable and valuable—if we don’t have a vibrant local economy with many parts working.

The Delray ATP and the many junior events as well as our golf courses and sports facilities are also important assets that can be grown, nurtured, promoted and leveraged to keep our economy sustainable and the Delray value proposition higher than most other cities—especially small cities. We compete for investment and jobs. And we’ve built a powerhouse of a charming little city.

Cities that work have many moving parts that have to work together in concert to create lasting value.

Delray—imperfect as it is, challenged as it is—has done that. Value has been created. Quality of life and place has been created. It is our job and our responsibility to keep it going and to create a city of opportunity for all.

Through my 30 years here, my community involvement and my professional life—I get to meet and work with many talented people who aspire.

Kids from Atlantic High School and Village Academy who want to come back to Delray and make a life here, City staff who went into public service to make a difference, startup founders whom I encourage, informally advise and ask for help myself on my business challenges, educators who care, non-profit leaders who perform miracles, established business owners who volunteer and invest here, retirees who mentor, artists who amaze and parents who want to see their children achieve the American Dream in a world that is increasingly complicated and fraught.

They want a Better Delray—they’ve wanted that for a long time and they’ve made and are making a difference.

So yes the Lynn MBA in Delray is very big news.

I know President Ross. He’s a friend. He’s a visionary. He and his talented team make things happen. So this is just a start.

But it’s an important beginning. A unique and innovative university is working with our Chamber of Commerce in our downtown—and the potential is enormous.

In his remarks last night Dr. Ross noted that he recently began talking to his teenage daughter about life after college (she’s still in high school). Does she want to come back to Florida? Of course, she does.

Where does she want to live?

Delray.

She’s not alone. So take pride. Something very special was built here and the best is yet to come.

Welcome to Delray, Lynn University.

We’re thrilled beyond words.

We’ve wanted you here for a very long time.

Many people have worked very hard to catch your attention and create a place you and your students will want to be.

 

 

First Day of Spring: Odds & Ends

Odds and ends.
When you work the phones for candidates, you hear some very interesting things.
Especially when you ask voters why they prefer a candidate. Here’s a sampling:
1. A certain candidate will immediately close all sober homes on day one.

Me: “How could 30 years of commissioners have missed this?”

Voter:  “Gee, I don’t know. But it’s pretty simple really. Just issue an executive order.”
2. No dogs on beach. No vote.
Me: “Well, what about some other issues?”

Voter: “What other issues?”
3. We are both from the same state.

Me: “But what about the issues and experience?”

Voter: “Who has the time to figure that out.”
4. Jim Chard wants 54 story buildings.

Me: “umm…..you mean 54 feet in height as in our height limit?

Voter:  “No. That’s Not a big deal. But he wants 54 stories and that’s too much.”
5. I like Shirley Johnson.

Me:  “So do I. She worked at IBM for”…interrupted..

Voter: “Laverne & Shirley was my favorite show when I was a child. And I’ve never met an unfriendly Shirley.”

Me: “Good point.”

As you can see from the small sampling above, voters can be interesting and unpredictable.

For instance, Seat 2 candidate Richard Alteus –who never showed up for a debate or filled out a questionnaire– received more votes than Anneze Barthelemy-506 to 488. My guess: his name was first on the ballot.

My daughter the teacher came home from Tampa last week for Spring Break. It’s fun to see the area through her eyes.
Some takeaways:
1. Habit Burger is great.
2. Compared to Tampa there’s no traffic.
3. Rents are really expensive here
4. The new apartments across from Avenue Pilates on North Federal are ideally located. Why? “It’s a cheap Uber ride to downtown and the beach.” Millennials aren’t car centric. They like the apps.
5. The east coast beaches are really amazing.

Today is the first day of spring, a relative term in South Florida. Here are 10 great spots to enjoy early spring.
1. The back deck at Che
2. Deck 84
3. Beer Trade. Now with a new Boca location.
4. The outdoor deck at Waterstone off A1A in Boca.
5. The A1A promenade in Delray. Thanks to the sea grape trim, you can see the beach. And it’s good for the dunes too.
6. The beautiful newly renovated bar and dining area at the Delray Sands, which is actually located in Highland Beach.
7. 50 South Ocean for lunch.
8. Caffe Luna Rosa for breakfast.
9. Outside at Deli on Rye. Best Black and White cookies between here and Juniors at Mizner Park. Seinfeld was right. It’s the perfect cookie. “Oh look Elaine, the black and white cookie. I love the black and white. Two races of flavor living side by side in harmony. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it?”
10. Lake Ida Park for nice views, big birds and really big iguanas.

Sometimes I think we take living in Florida for granted.
We have been enjoying amazing weather, there is a vast array of interesting things to do and if you can get out on the water you quickly realize how amazing this place is.
This blog is big on gratitude and so we are grateful for being in this magnificent place at this special time.
While I try not to harbor regrets–what’s the point–I do have one thing that irks me.
It seems like another Spring Training is sliding past me. Ugh. I last attended a game six years ago today–Mets vs. Marlins with my son who was heading to college at UF.
There was a time when I was part of a “guys” group that enjoyed Spring Training weekend trips. Three or four games in different locales over a three day weekend.
Those road trips gave way to single games squeezed in at the last minute thanks to crazy schedules, kids etc. As Bob Seger once sang “deadlines and commitments what to leave in, what to leave out.”
Sadly, many times what we leave out is what truly matters; such as good times with good friends.
It’s a near certainty that we won’t remember what we missed the spring training game for, but we will remember the time we spent with friends.
So as another season slips away– without me slipping away– for some meaningless games in the Florida sun, I’m promising myself more time with friends.
If this resonates with you, let’s hold each other accountable. Or better yet let’s catch a game.

Seize the Momentum To Come Together

Local elections are different.

They are up close and personal—almost like trench warfare among neighbors.

So when campaigns end, there is widespread relief– as if a pressure valve is finally released and you can breathe again.

It’s the morning after and it feels good for a few thousand Delray people whose candidates won and won big last night.

For the few dozen who roll up their sleeves and do the campaign grunt work–signs, signatures, phone banking, message development, fundraising, canvassing, social media, sign waving and get out the vote efforts– the feeling of stress gives way to elation if your candidate wins.

Losses sting.

On many levels, those brave enough to enter the arena deserve a measure of credit.

Because it’s no longer safe to run; not that it ever was but it’s much worse than I’ve seen it. And that’s a sad thing for our community.

Of course, we are not alone. Other cities have toxic politics too.

But that’s immaterial? Delray always dared to be different.

Campaigns used to be about ideas. Lately it’s about how Delray has been ruined. Only that’s not true. And finally people said; we’ve had enough.

Enough labeling.

Enough division.

Enough whining.

Enough bullying.

And not enough empathy, collaboration and listening.

And people said enough. Enough negativity. Enough online attacks by people who have contributed little to nothing to what has been a national model for city revitalization.

As I’ve written countless times, we are not a perfect place. We have problems, big challenges and mistakes were made. But…

A great job was done here by many many people over many many years.

And it’s time we say that. It’s ok to feel good about our town. Have pride, you’ve earned it.

We are coming off a very hard fought campaign following what has been a trying time in Delray.

I’ve written often about the need to ensure that the contributors, volunteers and investors in your city are happy. I’ve written often that it is impossible to please everyone. But if you have to make a choice it’s easy. If you’re a Mayor or a city commissioner, the best way to succeed is to please the people that do the work in your town.

A large number of workers and volunteers in our community have not been happy for a long time now.

Many of our major organizations and agencies have been criticized, bullied, dismissed and disparaged.

Some have had to spend their time justifying their very existence and past decisions. You can’t focus on your mission when you’re doing that.

So when I went to Jim Chard’s Election Night Party hosted by a young entrepreneur named Ryan Boylston a lot of thoughts flooded my mind. Ryan is a partner of mine in a local newspaper and media company. He runs a successful creative agency, employees a bunch of people, volunteers an enormous amount of hours, serves on boards, started a business incubator/co-working space and is raising a family here in Delray. His wife is a teacher.

But I’ve seen him ripped to shreds by people doing none of those things. Why? Is it because he has tattoos, ambition, energy, aspirations, and a point of view?

So what?

I wish we had more Ryans. My goal—and the goal of many other mayors—was to create an atmosphere where we would attract young entrepreneurs and their families. As the movie “Field of Dreams” taught us, if you build it, they will come. Well, we built it.  And they came here. Let’s be thankful.

And the opposite of that saying is also true: if they come, they will build it–that is take your community in really cool directions and create opportunities we didn’t dream possible.

One of my other partners in the newspaper is my friend Scott Porten. He built CityWalk, the Estuary and Harbor House in Delray and he stopped developing about 10 years ago. He took risks here, he created value and energy in Pineapple Grove and elsewhere where businesses and restaurants create jobs and serve people. I think what he and others did was pretty amazing. He replaced blight with vibrancy.

In the past decade, he has chaired city advisory boards, been heavily involved in the Beach Property Owners Association, he and his wife are raising two terrific kids, they are involved in their children’s school and Scott has chaired our chamber and Old School Square. He is a good and generous man. He loves this city and serves it every single day. I’ve never seen him say no to any person who has asked him for help and or advice. I can say the same for many other developers in town. Have you seen what Rick Caster has done with the 21 Drops Building? It’s indescribably beautiful and houses his wife’s growing business. Have you been to Ziree, the great Thai restaurant? Before New Urban Communities came to town–the area’s highlight was a drive through liquor store.

But some have vilified developers and development; when we should be encouraging good design, respecting property rights and putting trust in our land development regulations which guarantees we won’t look like Boca or Fort Lauderdale.

At Commissioner elect’s Jim Chard’s party, a woman I know came over to me and thanked me for helping Jim and Commissioner elect Johnson. She said “thanks for being fearless.”

Well, the truth is I’ve been anything but.

Yes, I speak my mind but I also pull punches. And that’s wrong. And so another guy I know called me out on it this week and we got loud with each other. And I said, “well, I have my style and you have yours. Let’s see which is more effective.”

But perhaps he’s right. A little bit anyway.

I don’t like bullies and I will and have stood up to them. But I also don’t like to fight and I don’t like politics. I like the work.

But another friend taught me that commissioners own culture in a town. Not the kind of culture we see at Old School Square or the Arts Garage. But culture in the sense of how we feel about our city—whether we have pride, whether we can work together effectively and whether we can disagree without burning down each other’s homes.

And on that measure our commission has failed. Big time.

So that’s why worked I hard for the candidates I backed this cycle—because I liked their maturity and temperament.

I left Jim’s party when Mayor Glickstein began to speak because I hold him accountable for some of the mess the volunteers have been dealing with for the past several years. I care about our Chamber—and it has its challenges because of politics. I love Old School Square—and it struggled to get a lease, lost events and rental income and I watched as two of my heroes Frances Bourque and Joe Gillie were criticized and the board I serve on accused of not being effective and worse. These are good people, our best.

I watched when the BPOA spent 6-8 years working on a Beach Area Master Plan pro bono—only to see the architect Bob Currie–who has been 48 years– get criticized and the leaders of the association feel dismissed.

And I watched a corporate headquarters and movie theater CEO who does business on a global basis be called an “amateur” at a hearing. That remark stung him. And many of us volunteers who love Delray reached out to him to apologize. Not because we’re shills or bought, but because we value people who want to invest here.

It doesn’t matter so much whether you want iPic or not, but it does matter how investors and businesses or anyone is treated when they go before our elected officials. It’s everything and it reflects on all is us.

So…I’m happy this morning. So are many others.

But we have made mistakes in this town that I hope we don’t repeat this time. When we hit a rough spot and we think we correct it, the tendency is to move on and that’s good. But it’s not good to move on before we the people discuss what has happened and why; and how we might avoid problems from recurring.

We have a chance…to mend fences with people who have spent years attacking each other culminating in ugly elections that trash our town and leave marks. But only if we seize this moment.

My hope is we do—this time. Because there is a new positive energy in the city and there is room for everyone—even those who disagree. But only if there is civility and respect. And it starts with the dais.

It always has.

 

Time to Vote

Delray elections are Tuesday, March 14.

“Apathy is the most important political force in the United States. In the 2016 election, the most important in your and my lifetime, about half of Americans didn’t think it was worth voting.” Ian Bremmer, founder of a risk assessment group.

Tomorrow is Election Day in Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

Thank goodness.

In Delray, fewer people are likely to vote than in 1990 when Tom Lynch ran for Mayor against two opponents or in 2000 when David Schmidt was elected also in a three way race.

I sure hope I’m wrong because local elections are important and the people we elect matter.

Get it right and you have a chance for progress and community happiness.

Get it wrong and you can wipe out decades of success in a few months time.

Local government consultant Lyle Sumek  who worked in Delray and Boca used to call it municipal math: it can take 20 years to build something of significance and only a year or two to wipe it out. It might take a decade to get it back and that’s never a certainty.

So that’s why I’m supporting Jim Chard for Seat 2 and Shirley Johnson for Seat 4. I don’t want to go back. We’ve slipped far enough.

That’s the sentiment of most of the people that I know and they are the very ones who have worked so hard to help Delray over the years.

They are supporting Jim and Shirley too.

They are former mayors and commissioners, board members at key non-profits, business leaders, neighborhood leaders and those involved in our schools. Our police officers and firefighters also support Jim and Shirley.

This kind of support is important.

These are the people who get up every day and work or volunteer on behalf of Delray.

I trust their judgment.

They’ve built a pretty good little city and they are worried about the future. They should be.

Because Delray is at a crossroads.

We’re in trouble. And we need to strengthen the commission not hand more votes to those who have given us division, turnover and costly dysfunction. And make no mistake, dysfunction is expensive.

It costs us opportunities and investment and it costs us emotionally too as good contributors leave or invest their time elsewhere.

Jim Chard is a dedicated community volunteer with a distinguished resume and a skill set that we need. He’s thoughtful and he listens. That’s an important trait—because “leadership”  that keeps its own counsel and is cut off from those volunteering and investing in Delray is not really leadership at all. It’s an echo chamber and it leads to frustration and lost opportunity.

Jim’s been involved in many of the most important issues facing Delray as a member of Delray’s Drug Task Force and Congress Avenue Task Force. I chaired the Congress Avenue Task Force. Jim was an invaluable contributor, a hard worker and a fountain of ideas. I watched him build relationships with our large and diverse task force and build bridges that led to a great final report and solid, actionable recommendations.

As Vice Chair of our Site Plan Review and Appearance Board he is well versed in projects coming through the pipeline and has been a champion of walkability, sustainability and placemaking. If elected tomorrow, he will hit the ground running with a deep understanding of the issues.

He is also a level headed adult. And we need that now.

Shirley Johnson is also a warm and caring individual. She’s hard working and is embraced by the northwest and southwest alliance; neighborhoods that are critically important to our city.

She will provide needed maturity to the commission and will help bring civility and warmth to City Hall.

And for those who don’t think that’s important, I respectfully disagree. People perform best when they feel supported. A culture driven by fear or micromanagement might get short term results. But you’ll never soar unless you inspire, lead, motivate and support those doing the work. Right now, many contributors feel estranged, bullied, disrespected and ignored by their elected leaders. That’s an unsustainable arrangement and needs to change.

I believe that Jim and Shirley are equipped to support staff and lead our community. I believe they have the emotional intelligence to reconnect us.

We need them.

Because Delray has been been damaged.

Some say key parts are broken.

I never thought I would see a day where volunteers from neighborhood associations would feel estranged from their city commissioners.  I never thought I’d see a day where Old School Square would have to spend over a year to get a lease or where we would beat up corporate headquarters that we invited to our city or watch as we lose events that built downtown Delray and supported key non-profits. And the list goes on and on.

People react to the word broken–because it’s a harsh word and it sounds final.

But success is never final and failure is never permanent unless we allow it to be.

So let’s put the word aside for a moment and survey the landscape before tomorrow’s important election.

Let’s start at City Hall.

A friend posted on social media last week that over 300 city staffers (not including those who retired) have left in the past four years. It’s an astonishing number in a city our size with roughly 900 positions.

There has been tremendous turnover among senior staff with a dizzying array of managers, assistant managers, city attorneys, chiefs and department heads coming and going.

Some will say that’s Ok or call it growing pains. But it is not the sign of a healthy or stable culture. And when you lose institutional memory—and send messages that the past was terrible—you risk losing the good (and there was a ton of good). Value was created here. Good work was done. Period. Let’s take pride in our history and get to work on building a better future.

I’m hearing good things about interim city manager Neal DeJesus and Assistant City Manager Dale Sugerman but city staff can only succeed if leadership supports them, sets policy, holds them accountable and gets out of the way.

The greatest gift leaders can give their people is clarity but when your commission is split—as it has been –that’s impossible.

Debate is good. Division is not. There’s a difference.

Division does not allow for collaboration and it takes collaboration to move a city forward—which in my view means you are capable of working together to solve problems and to seize opportunities. It also means you are capable of moving on–even if, especially if–you don’t get your way.

When Delray was clicking it was because we had a diverse group of stakeholders from all parts of our city who were hard at work collaborating on building a Better Delray.

Yes. We were a Better Delray before there was a Better Boulder –and it was the leadership of this city who were invited to speak across the country on how to revitalize a city.

That was our brand. And it created enormous value. It’s why our homes in Lake Ida are worth 5 times more than 25 years ago or why developers were able to sell $500-$1mm townhomes on U.S. 1.

“Best Run Town in Florida” said Florida Trend magazine when Mayor Lynch presided civilly at meetings and was happy to make decisions which included building a tennis stadium downtown and challenging city staff to implement the Decade of Excellence –projects that put us on track and were adopted as a result of visioning done during Mayor Doak Campbell’s term.

And City Staff delivered.

 

Now we’re challenged to get a kitchen permit before styles change.

That’s not a shot at staff. Because I’ve been told by contractors that our building department is excellent. That is a shot at our politics and our “process” which our elected officials have labeled torturous but nobody seems to find the time to sit down and fix. Why not?

It also may be a symptom of culture. And elected leaders own culture.

 

The best leaders empower. They don’t micromanage.

The best leaders inspire and get out of the way.

The best leaders instill pride and spread praise.

It’s not happening.

If you read certain candidates literature (the barrage I wrote about) and take a look at social media you’d think Delray was war torn Beirut. It isn’t. We have our issues and challenges, but nothing that good leadership and community collaboration can’t solve or positively impact.

And so if we are not “broken”, then we are certainly exhausted and at risk.

At risk of losing our civic pride.

At risk of losing our brand.

At risk of losing the sense of community that is the true measure of a village. It’s not whether you have a building that’s 54 feet tall or 48 feet tall or gasp 60 feet tall. Most people—even architects– can’t tell the difference anyway.

It’s about how we debate issues and how we approach opportunities and problems. And it’s about how we disagree with each other because it’s easy to agree. The test comes when we don’t.

Do we rip each other to shreds on social media? Do we bully and intimidate? Do we demonize?

When citizens say “we’ve had enough and we’d like a Better Delray” do we embrace that aspiration or do we make snide remarks and buy up similar website URL’s in a snarky attempt to undermine a sincere effort?

When someone wants to invest in our community do we work with them or do we beat the tar out of them and their supporters?

Do we label them shills and challenge their integrity?

If someone wants to see jobs and downtown housing to support locally owned businesses and grow our tax base are we corrupt?

Yet we have Facebook phenoms—none of whom I’ve seen contribute much if anything—disparage the people who do.

Again, I’m far from perfect. I’ve labeled and I’ve gotten angry. But mostly I’ve held back. So have others I know.

I understand how change and growth can be scary and agree that there is a need to preserve our charm. There is also a need to create opportunities for young people and an economy that is deeper than food, beverage and recovery.

I honestly believe that most people want what’s best; but we just have different visions for what makes a sustainable city sustainable. I also believe there are some cranks who just want to sow division and create problems from the comfort of their couch. Ignore them. But embrace those willing to listen and compromise.

Leaders need to be willing to listen, evolve, include and reach out.  They need to be able to gather facts and make decisions. You can’t lead if your mind is closed.

But I don’t see a desire for compromise among certain people. I do see a desire to discredit and disparage others. Especially those who are hard at work in our city. And that’s dangerous. That’s a recipe for dysfunction, instability, bullying, destruction and incivility.

That’s how cities plummet. That’s how we give it all back. Remember municipal math…

That’s why I’m supporting Jim Chard for Seat 2 and Shirley Johnson for Seat 4 on Tuesday.

I think they are capable of listening. I think they are kind and able to compromise.

I think they are mature community servants and promising leaders.

I think they can be healers and we need healing.

I just pray that it’s possible.

Vote March 14. It’s important.

 

 

Division or Collaboration It’s a Choice

We are at the point in the campaign for commission seats in Delray Beach where the word bully gets thrown around.

So this post is about bullying. And how to recognize who the real bullies are; because often bullies accuse others of being bullies when you stand up to them.

I’m not talking about the school yard kind, but adult bullying. Although there are similarities.

When I was a young man, I thought bullying was a pathology that ended in junior high.

Then I moved to Delray and got involved in local politics.

When you enter the arena, you can count on meeting the bullies in your town. I’m not talking about the normal back and forth of debate on the issues or about people who just don’t like what you’re peddling.

I’m talking about folks who wake up and decide to make you their hobby.

It’s usually not about policy or ideas—although occasionally how you vote on a single issue can trigger abuse. But more often, it’s personal; like in personal destruction.

I’ve encountered a few of these charmers in my adult life. And I’ve seen others experience them as well.

It comes with the territory.

If you want to avoid the bullies–don’t say anything and don’t do anything. Don’t support a candidate, don’t ever take a side on an issue or even be seen with anyone who does.

But if you do, you can count on somebody questioning your motives, your character, your friends, your livelihood and your ethics. Check that: they won’t question you they will judge you and convict you. And the rub is they often don’t know you.

Nope.

Not.

At.

All.

It has nothing to do with likability or whether you’re a nice person.

For instance, even the Dalai Lama has detractors.

I strive to be a decent guy. I try to be polite and courteous. I pick up my share of checks and I love animals. I even recycle.

But I also have opinions. I like to express them. And the last time I checked, that’s still guaranteed by our First Amendment. Here’s a smattering of opinions that have earned me some wrath over the years.

I don’t get hives over festivals, my life isn’t ruined if the bridge goes up and I don’t see all developers as the local version of Freddy Krueger. Some yes, but not all. I have (or at least had) faith in our Land Development Regulations and I’m a believer in the long time community vision for Delray Beach. I was there when it was shaped by a wide range of local stakeholders who have given a great deal to Delray Beach and continue to serve the community.

Heck, I even have civic pride. (I even use the word heck not the pejorative alternative).

I think this community came together and did some amazing things over the years. I don’t believe that Delray was ruined, overdeveloped or in need of being taken back. In fact, I think it was saved by the very people who forged the vision and made it happen—and that includes developers, business people, neighborhood leaders, the CRA, the DDA, the Chamber of Commerce, festival producers, non-profit leaders, police officers, firefighters and city staff. It really does take a village.

That’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it. Sorry bullies, that’s just the way it is.

I also understand that not everybody embraces the same things that I do. I think that the strategy employed by Delray created a remarkable place and a whole lot of value and quality of life. I think it’s a sustainable strategy. But I understand that some of the changes and policies are not to everyone’s liking. The question is whether we can respectfully disagree. And that’s where we can find both the challenge and the opportunity.

Can you disagree with a bully and not be attacked? Or can we find a way to work together, find compromise and at times agree to disagree knowing there will be issues down the road where opponents on one issue can actually help each other?

Here’s why I prefer the latter to the bully model; which promotes division and dysfunction.

In my experience, the typical “my way or the highway” civic bully isn’t interested in getting to know you or hearing about the rule of law, the principles of economic development or what might make a city sustainable. In their closed minds, you’re wrong and you’re evil. See, it’s not about policy it’s about their need to discredit and bash you.

Many of the people I’ve seen bullied have reached out to those who have judged them in an effort to clear the air, find a way forward, listen to the grievances and answer questions. They seek common ground–after all we’re  neighbors and we might see each other at Caffe Luna Rosa or in the hot sauce aisle of Publix. But their entreaties are almost always rebuffed.

Why?

Because it’s easy to demonize someone you don’t know. It’s harder to hurl hate and lie about someone you’ve looked in the eye and learned something about.

You may find that they have kids, love animals, enjoy music, coach baseball and have a sense of humor. You may even figure out that they actually believe in what their selling and that they are not bought and paid for. But that narrative won’t work for the bully. If you are a real person it might make it harder to go back on social media and beat you up.

So while bullying and negativity seems to be a fact of life these days and some of it is so crazy and false as to be laughable–the toxicity it produces isn’t funny. In fact, it’s ruinous.

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve seen some amazing things happen here.

A dead downtown revived.

A land trust formed.

Have you seen the homes they’ve built? These are real families in real neighborhoods once neglected and now beginning to show some signs of improvement.

We’ve seen the southwest plan come to life. Oh, not all of it, but a great deal with more to come. (But only if we stop the endless bickering and get back to work).

We’ve seen schools conceived and built from the commitment shown at community meetings and the passion of two members of the Delray Beach Police Department.

We’ve see a cultural center rise from the ruins of a neglected old school.

And a library built on West Atlantic when a bully from my day told us it would never work if you put it “out there with those people.” I kid you not, that was actually said. We built it anyway. And he’s as miserable as ever.

He was told–politely–to pound sand. PS he’s still out there peddling hate, lies and conspiracy theories.

I can go on.

I’m a firm believer that many amazing things that occurred could not have happened today because the culture has become toxic. And toxicity is fatal to progress.

And friends, we had better start caring about culture.

Because It’s everything.

If it doesn’t get better –and trust me it needs help– the community is at risk.

So how bad is it? Here’s an example. There are many.

A few weeks back, a group of people came together and launched an effort to fight back against the nastiness and negativity by forming a group called Better Delray. Almost immediately it was assailed by a small group who questioned (sorry proclaimed) Better Delray’s motives, hidden agendas etc.

Really…they did. And they are so wrong. And they drew their conclusions based on what?

 

Nobody sat down and talked. There were no questions asked, but conclusions were drawn based on exactly nothing but personalities.

But there is a lightbulb going on around town. People are finally getting tired of the negativity, the endless fighting, the attempts to muzzle and intimidate. The fact that issues hang around for years because “leadership” is too busy fighting each other and majoring in the minor.

Thank goodness there’s an awakening taking place.

Because we need you to get angry.

We need you to understand the stakes.

We need you…

To call it out.

To demand civility.

To volunteer.

To vote.

Yes, vote. In a local election. Because it’s important and so few of us do. Less people show up these days than in 1990 despite a much larger population. So as we inch toward the March 14 election…

Seek out the positive–reject the toxic. Reject those who manufacture division.

I’ve noticed a few common themes in my 30 years here.

If you want to see progress…

Support those who go to work for this town. Put your faith and your trust in those who are involved over those who sit back and criticize and (mis) judge.

My best friends in Delray Beach are the men and women who have rolled up their sleeves and went to work on behalf of this community.

They’ve helped children, created jobs, supported the arts and charities, volunteered and put skin in the game, in short they’ve cared. Sometimes so much it hurts. A few are even developers…gasp.

But whenever I look around I never see the critics. I never see the bullies. They are AWOL.

When it comes time to pitch in, they are absent. When it comes time to build they can’t be found. But they are always there when it’s time to criticize. They are always ready to judge, condemn, label, divide and threaten. Always.

They never miss an opportunity and when necessary they create things to whine about.

None of them ever bother to get to know those who have been and are involved.

But somehow they know they’re dishonest, they know they’re self-serving, they know they are shills.

Only they’re not.

And we are not going away. It’s our town too.

Many are tired of the bickering, the disrespect of the people, events and organizations that built this town, the constant turnover of senior staff, the endless lawsuits, the insults of those looking to invest here, the lies about the CRA, the embarrassing behavior of so-called leaders, the bullying of event producers, the demonizing of people in recovery and those trying to help them and the lack of progress on important issues.

They were left a 40 point lead and they are blowing it. I’m willing to say it, because I love this city.

Call me a shill, label me, threaten my friends and our businesses.

But a great many who are involved in the major institutions in our town are dispirited. Many are scared and won’t speak out for fear of retribution.

They shouldn’t be. Something is seriously wrong if they are.

We must come together because we have been driven apart. By people who have not given back.

We must replace division with collaboration.

And that’s why I am  supporting Jim Chard for Seat 2 and Shirley Johnson for Seat 4.

And I’ll tell you why and what I see is at stake in my next post.

SUD Talks: A Model For Conversation

We attended SUD Talks on Saturday night at the Crest Theater.
The event is a TED Talk like confab that shines a spotlight on one of the most vexing issues of our time: addiction or substance use disorder (SUD).
The event was produced by former Delray Drug Task Force Director Suzanne Spencer. A standing room only crowd heard from elected officials (US Representative Lois Frankel and State Attorney Dave Aronberg), large local employers seeking to give people a second chance, treatment providers, counselors, people in recovery and our Police Chief Jeff Goldman.
It was a powerful and poignant evening.
As we all know, addiction, recovery, heroin, sober homes and its impact on lives, neighborhoods, public safety personnel and budgets are front and center in the Delray municipal election which is in 8 days.
With every candidate talking about the issue it was conspicuous to see only one candidate–Jim Chard–show up; especially for the Seat 2 race which seems to be built on the impact of the industry on Delray.
But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at all.

Mr. Chard has been working on the issue with the Drug Task Force and lives amid sober homes in his neighborhood. He’s hard at work, knows the issue inside and out and knows the players who can actually affect change.
His opponents–have been largely absent on the issue. One has a Facebook page long on vitriol, but short on solutions.
I prefer my leadership to be real not virtual. And to be real, you have to be present and invested.  If  you expect progress, it’s important to support candidates who are involved in the issue not merely paying lip service to it. And that’s enough politics…for today anyway.
What’s been great about the Drug Task Force and SUD Talks is its depth and its power to convene the key players on the issue.

SUD Talks dived into the nuances and humanity of the crisis which is multi layered and complex.
The evening took us inside the world of the police officer showing up at the chaotic scene of an overdose and being tasked with saving a life.
Delray officers responded to over 600 such calls last year, Chief Goldman told the standing room only crowd. That’s astounding and tragic.
But to listen to our Chief in person is to get a glimpse into the challenges facing our officers every single day. It’s also evident that Chief Goldman is immensely proud of his officers and deeply concerned too, as good leaders should be and Jeff is a good leader.
I happen to know many officers. They are hard working, dedicated and stressed. So are our firefighter/paramedics. This is a challenge without a defined play book.
We also heard from Dr. Ashok Sharma, a psychiatrist at Fair Oaks Pavilion, which is part of Delray Medical Center.
Dr. Sharma bravely talked about burn out among clinicians, counselors and treatment center staff as they deal with complicated cases and “frequent fliers” –people who consistently relapse.
He acknowledged the real dangers of burn out and his talk focused on the importance of compassion and empathy as a way of reconnecting with the very reason why professionals enter the field.
It was a powerful and real speech. And citizens and policymakers need to hear from the providers and front line personnel on this crisis in order to understand the scope of the challenge.
We heard uplifting stories as well; of people thriving in recovery, overcoming adversity, finding meaning, love and health.
A recent post on this blog warned of the barrage of election mail and messaging sure to come this week.
The issue of recovery–a national one–but one of great importance in Delray Beach will be front and center.
Candidates will tell you they will close sober homes, drive the industry out and clean up neighborhoods.
Many will ignore the complexities, laws and nuances surrounding the issue.
They almost certainly won’t discuss the need for these services in this and every community. Almost everyone has been or will be touched with addiction issues in their lives.
It would be nice to remember these are our son’s and daughters, fathers, mothers and friends caught in the grip of a deadly disease. I have several friends who came here for recovery and have become stellar contributors to our community.
Compassion and intelligent conversation is needed if we are to truly make a dent and rid our neighborhoods of bad operators and those who exploit people needing help.
SUD Talks delivered that by convening the agents of change in our community.
Delray has a serious problem. Our city is not alone.

But it’s also good to know that our community and Palm Beach County are on the cutting edge of leading the way for communities across Florida and America.

An Old Interview: Elections and Servant Leadership

Best-selling author Jeff Pearlman (I always wanted to write that sentence, alas it’s not me).

Editor’s Note: This came up in our social media memories today. An interview with author, blogger, former Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman and his namesake (without the A). We thought there was some fitting content considering our upcoming election. Lightly edited for language (his, not ours). The Quaz feature is a unique interview series featuring a wide array of people including actors, musicians, writers, child stars and namesakes.

Jeff Perlman is cooler than Jeff Pearlman.

I actually just proved that, by calling myself as “Jeff Pearlman.” Which reminds me how tons of athletes used to refer to themselves in the third person. I always found that to be quite lame, and quite obnoxious.

So, again, Jeff Perlman is cooler than Jeff Pearlman.

Jeff Pearlman is a loser writer with a seldom-read Q&A series. Jeff Perlman was a two-term mayor of Delray Beach, Florida; a problem solver who recently authored the book, “Adventures in Local Politics: How leadership brought Delray Beach back.” Jeff Pearlman picks his nose. Jeff Perlman may well pick his nose, too, but he does so with the confidence of a man who understands the intricacies of governance and—despite the awfulness of men like Donald Trump—believes public service can genuinely result in positive change.

Jeff Pearlman stinks.

Jeff Perlman is the 248th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Jeff, I’m gonna start quirky: How do you feel about our name, and what’s your history with it? What I mean is, when I was a kid people used to call me “Pearlgirl” at school. Then, with age, I’d be asked whether I was related to Ron Perlman, and the guy who managed all those boy bands, or Itzhak Perlman. So, how about you? And why’d you even get the name?

JEFF PERLMAN: Great question, Jeff. Like most people, I was born with the name. I was not consulted prior to or after the fact. My parents were pretty traditional, they felt it was their responsibility to name me. I was never called “Pearl Girl” at school, but I’m sure that you put that out there, I can expect that now. I was asked about Ron Perlman and there were the obligatory “Beauty and the Beast” jokes when people saw me with a cute girlfriend. I was always asked about Itzhak Perlman and also about Rhea Perlman and I admit I tried to claim them as relatives a time or two.

But as you became famous, I started getting questions about whether I was the guy who interviewed John Rocker and wrote those great books about the Mets and Walter Payton. And while it saddened me that someone else with my name made it as a writer and I never did, I was also very proud of you. And I was keenly aware that it could have been worse; I went to Hebrew school with a kid named David Berkowitz, not the “Son of Sam”, but just a nice Jewish boy. So I am grateful that you have brought fame and fortune to our name and that you did not become Son of Sam.

I also feel a responsibility to you, so I will not do anything heinous, if I can avoid it. As an ex-politician, I always want an out, but I promise to try to make us proud so that when people Google you, I don’t mess up your rep.

I should also say that I like our name, but I do prefer Jeff to Jeffrey.

J.P.: We spoke when I was running for city council in New Rochelle, and you seemed pretty upbeat about politics. Now, a decade removed, I thank God every week that I lost to Barry Fertel. Meetings, more meetings, complaints, rubber chicken dinners, etc. You served as the mayor of Delray Beach—which seems like a nightmare of a gig. Am I off? And why, or why not?

J.P.: You’re right and you’re wrong. Does that make sense?

Yes there are meetings after meetings and chicken dinner after chicken dinner and stress beyond belief, but serving a city that you truly love is also an amazing experience and a great honor and responsibility. It is beyond cool.

Local government is also perhaps the best place to make a difference since most state capitols and Washington are cesspools of dysfunction. But in theory, in a place like Delray, which is a magical city by the way, if you have an idea on a Tuesday night and two of your colleagues like that idea, change can occur Wednesday morning. That’s very powerful and an incredible opportunity to make a difference. If, of course, you choose to make a difference. When you get elected to local office there are two fundamental questions I think you need to answer. The first is: Do you see the role as a job to do or a job to have? That’s a very simple but profound question. Because if you see it as a job to do, you will take risks, you will seek to move the “big rocks” and you’ll be willing to lose an election if need be. If you decide it’s a job to have, you will spend your term playing dodgeball, avoiding issues, kicking the can down the road and pandering. We have too many dodgeball players, empty suits with egos and too few people willing to frame reality and then have the courage of their convictions. As I grow older and crankier, I have less patience for the panderers and way more appreciation for the transformational leaders—who unfortunately are very rare these days.

The other question you have to ask is who do you want to delight? Being a mayor is a complicated job, but you can simplify it by asking yourself who do I want to please? Because you cannot please everybody; although people try.

Do I want to please the negative five percent who hate everything and tend to be concerned with their own needs or do I want to help those who roll up their sleeves and are out there trying to create opportunities and move the city forward? Do I want to pander to the critics, or do I want to get behind the people trying to clean up a neighborhood or help kids or create cultural opportunities and jobs. To me, the choice is easy. It’s not a trick question. But I see a whole lot of local officials who piss off the doers and kowtow to the angry crowd. At the end of the day, they don’t accomplish much. And they are not remembered fondly.

The former mayor with Flo Rida.

The former mayor with Flo Rida.

J.P.: I always feel bad for athletes when they retire, because they often seem lost, wayward. Is it also that way being an ex-mayor? Was there an adjustment period following your last day? Any depression? Feelings of inadequacy, etc?

J.P.: When you leave office, you instantly become a Pip. Not a Gladys Knight kind of Pip, but a Previously Important Person. So you go from the center of your small piece of the universe to no longer having a vote. But it doesn’t mean you don’t have a say or that you don’t have a responsibility if you truly care about the community.

It is difficult. Most ex-mayors I talk to will deny it, but I have a feeling that most aren’t being truthful. It’s a great experience and then it ends, for most of us just when we begin to figure it out. So unlike athletes who begin to shoot 4-for-24 from the field or throw wounded duck interceptions, we sometimes are retired just when we know what we’re doing. At least that was my experience. I left because there were term limits but I had accumulated all this knowledge and insight—at least I thought I did. Smart mayors are confident enough to look back and involve their predecessors at some level. I had several former mayors I leaned on for advice and insight. There were things that only they understood having sat in the seat.

So yes, there is an adjustment period, but I wouldn’t call it depression. There is a lot of relief—the pressure is off, you get a big chunk of your life and your privacy back. You get to hang with your kids again, but you do miss the action and the ability to make an impact. At least I do.

How do you fix that? You write a book. That was cathartic for me.

J.P.: Your first-ever election. Why? When? What? Tell me everything.

J.P.: I ran once. And I won comfortably against a guy who later became a friend and a neighbor.

We ran a hard race; there were lots of debates and forums. It’s an incredible experience as you know. And it is something that I think is important … you should be willing and able to campaign on your ideas and your vision and if you’re an incumbent you should have to go out and defend those votes. It’s good for the soul. You get heckled, you get doors slammed in your face, you get attacked, you work like crazy and then it’s over.

I was re-elected three times without opposition, which I suppose is a good thing. But I was never afraid to be in an election because I was happy to defend what we were doing. And I was proud of the team’s effort.

When I ran, I raised about $20,000. Now the campaigns in little old Delray are well into six figures. We have Super PACs, candidates writing huge checks for their own campaigns, negative attack ads, TV ads, lots of noise on social media but not as many forums in neighborhoods where you actually stand up in front of real voters and debate your opponent. There are a few big ones, but the grassroots stuff has been overtaken by the air war. And the negativity, even on the local level, where we all know each other and have to see each other at the grocery and the Little League field is astonishing. The last mayoral campaign in Delray was a major turn off.

If I showed you the mail you would have thought Delray was Beirut at its lowest point instead of a really successful, vibrant, cool little city with a kick-ass downtown, a gorgeous beach, wonderful weather, nice neighborhoods and tons of culture and fun things to do. It turned me off and others too. I didn’t vote for any of the candidates—the first time in nearly 30 years that I just couldn’t pull the lever. I walked into the booth and couldn’t vote for either of them; and both were people I have known and enjoyed over the years.

The result of the mud is that good people refuse to run. They are not reluctant, they flat out refuse. So you end up with people not quite ready for the job or even completely unknown; people who don’t understand the community they are tasked to lead.

We should have tough debates about issues, but politics has gotten personal and many people just don’t want to deal with it. Most of us are not perfect, we’ve made mistakes. We’ve inhaled, failed in business before succeeding, been divorced, missed a credit card payment etc. I don’t want to vote for the perfect person who hasn’t failed. That’s not real to me. I don’t want to vote for a train wreck either, but give me somebody who has been humbled by life and has learned from it. For the record, I have a good credit rating, done OK with my career, inhaled and was divorced. And I feel bad about saying I was related to Itzhak Perlman.

With daughter Samantha

With daughter Samantha

J.P.: When John McCain nominated Sarah Palin, much was made of her time as a mayor in Wasilla, Alaska. It was pretty pumped up—tough decisions, business-minded. And I think a lot of us sighed, in that, “Gimme a break–you’re going to use small-town mayoral experience as a reason we should put you in the White House?” But, whether you liked her or not, was there something to it? Can the argument be made that mayoral experience might be helpful as a high-powered federally elected official? Or is that just dumb? And, for kicks, what DID you think of Sarah Palin?

J.P.: I think it’s a big leap from Wasilla or Delray to leader of the free world. But I do think good mayors are problem solvers, great marketers for their cities, non-partisan and solution oriented. And isn’t that what is missing on a national level? Are they solving problems in Washington? I think they are creating them. I think they are ignoring problems and denying facts. I think we ought to be embarrassed and fighting mad about what’s going on. Do I think our best and brightest are running for federal office? No way. Our best and brightest are becoming entrepreneurs and then philanthropists. Our politics have become a clown show and that’s being charitable.

What do I think about Sarah Palin? I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about her.

J.P.: How do you deal with the kook? I mean, every town has them—the man or woman who attends e-v-e-r-y public meeting with some oddball agenda (the aliens are eating our corn; we need more guns in the hands of teachers, etc). I’m sure you know who I mean—loud, obnoxious, irritating, ubiquitous. And do you have a story about one? No names required …

J.P.: Well, we have more than our fair share of charmers in Delray. We had one lady who swung a dead cat in the air while speaking in rhyme. We had people who threatened to kill us in creative ways and we had one woman who walked around and filmed us incessantly, following us to the car hoping to catch us saying something heinous. And Jeff, I have promised to try and not be heinous. My favorite story had to do with a woman who was upset because a builder needed to cut down a tree on a property. It was a big tree. It was an old tree and it was—in its day—a beautiful tree. We had a tree doctor give us a report on whether it could be relocated and the diagnosis came back that the tree was dying and could not be moved. The woman insisted that she grew up playing in the tree and she strapped herself to it in protest. I happened to know the guy who owned the property for 50-plus years and he told me he had no idea who the woman was and she certainly did not grow up in the tree.

On the eve of the tree vote, I got a call from the woman who said she was coming to the meeting and was going to humiliate me. She screamed through the phone, “the only thing that will stop me is if I get hit by a truck.” The next night as we are poised to vote on the tree, we have the tree doctor there, our city horticulturist etc. No sign of the woman. I kept looking out into the crowd and into the hallway—nothing. Turns out, she was hit by a truck on her way to the meeting. She was hospitalized but made it … sadly, the tree didn’t. We felt bad about the tree … you simply cannot make this stuff up. Which should have been the title of my book.

Election night joy.

Election night joy.

J.P.: What’s your back story? Like, why politics? Womb to office, how’d that happen?

J.P.: I was born in Queens, N.Y. and raised in Stony Brook N.Y., which was on the eastern end of Long Island. I was a sports fanatic as a kid and a pretty good baseball and tennis player. I grew up listening to classic rock and going to concerts with my friends, one of whom was the little brother of ESPN broadcaster [and 211th Quaz] Linda Cohn. Linda was a few years older and drove us around. We made her laugh and she knew more about sports than anybody we knew. When we turned 50 a year ago, Linda met us in New York City for a sports weekend and she hooked us up—sideline passes to the Giants pre-season game, US Open tickets, Mets tickets. It was great.

I graduated Ward Melville High School, one year ahead of Kevin James, who was a great baseball player, wrestler and football player and who bought a house in Delray. So he has great taste in home towns, too.

I had great parents, a great sister and grandparents who I worshipped and who told incredible stories. We grew up talking politics at the kitchen table, but I never thought I would run for office. I went to college at SUNY Oswego and went to work for local newspapers. I came to Florida in 1987 to escape the snow of upstate New York and committed the cardinal sin of journalists—I fell in love with the town I was covering. I was encouraged to run for office by a mayor I really admired, Tom Lynch, who was incredible and that conversation led me to run in 2000.

I left office in 2007 and went back to my entrepreneurial roots, creating publications and working for a family office helping to grow businesses ranging from a hot sauce company named Tabanero and a beverage company named Celsius to various other ventures including hotels, real estate and restaurants.

I remain involved in the community serving on lots of boards, mentoring kids and young entrepreneurs and starting a foundation called Dare 2 Be Great, which identifies, mentors and provides college scholarships to kids we think can be difference makers right here in Delray. We want them to come back and make our community even better. I was drawn to politics because I wanted to make a difference in the town that I love. I never aspired to higher office; there is no higher office than being mayor of a cool city.

Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 11.55.52 PM

J.P.: Greatest moment of your political career? Lowest?

J.P.: My greatest moment was walking out the door in March 2007 after giving a short goodbye speech in front of all the people I respected and loved. They stood and cheered and I knew that I got the equation right. I made the right people happy. I’m proud of that. For me, that was the Holy Grail.

The lowest point was the tragic shooting death of a young man named Jerrod Miller, who was shot and killed by a rookie police officer exactly 10 years before Trayvon Martin. He was 15, I had a 15-year-old daughter at the time. It was the most challenging period I had, because the emotions were raw, there was overwhelming sadness, deep-seated anger and tremendous pain. I had hurricanes on my watch, various controversies and they even discovered that many of the 9/11 terrorists had been living in Delray before the attacks, but nothing compared to the Jerrod Miller shooting. There’s no playbook you can read to prepare you for that kind of challenge … where you feel that if you say something wrong, you could lose a city. So you just be human, you let yourself cry with people, you absorb the anger and you try and provide as much comfort as possible. I went to bed every night with his image in my head and there are still mornings where I wake up to that image, probably because I am a father myself and I couldn’t imagine losing one of my children.

J.P.: The American political system just seems so messed up right now. Hate, hate, anger. Obama is Satan, Trump is Satan, we need more guns, we need more abortion, on and on and on. Jeff, what happened? And is there a way to fix this?

J.P.: What happened? We lost our way. And it’s ugly and it’s astonishing and it’s depressing and the state of our politics ought to be a source of deep national introspection. It is just gross out there. It’s surreal.

So we have a golden age of political comedy because every day we just see more craziness and I laugh like everybody else at Jon Stewart and John Oliver and Colbert. But if you think about it, it’s deeply, deeply distressing.

But I am an optimist, so I think we can fix this. Or I think the next generation can because we have screwed it up something fierce. I think better leadership is the answer to all of our problems. This dysfunction is a result of bad leadership, corrosive leadership. I want that to be my next book, only I want to put it out under your name so it actually sells.

Things can change for the better if we find better leaders, not perfect people, but better leaders. Ones who are emotionally intelligent, not narcissistic bullies who are there to grandstand.

Would federal term limits help? Yes. Is special interest money a problem? Oh yeah, the average person has no voice anymore.

But those are band aids, needed and necessary but we have to attract better people to the process at every level of government. We need to teach leadership skills in school. We need to learn to compromise and work together. We need to learn to listen and we need to rediscover empathy in this country. Empathy built America. My grandparents came here because this was the land of opportunity and because they were safe here. My grandfather, Abraham Perlman, was a tailor, with no formal education. He came here not speaking the language and his son, my dad, went to an Ivy League school. In one generation—that’s a great country. We have these wonderful traits in our DNA, I don’t believe they are lost. But our political class is awful. They are doing a huge disservice to America. If we trade them out for some of the kids that I am seeing through Dare 2 Be Great and there are thousands and thousands of kids like them all across America, we will begin to fix things in this country. So I say bullies and egotists go away and let’s find, nurture and support servant leaders. They are here. We have them. Let’s get them involved and push out the bullies.

J.P.: So as I mentioned, before moving to California I lived in New Rochelle, N.Y.—an awesome place with a decaying downtown. And there was always talk about improving it, making it more upscale, more businesses, expensive buildings, etc. And yet—lots of low-income people live there, work there. And you can’t just discount that and say, “we need to gentrify.” You had a good run with downtown revitalization in Delray Beach. How does one balance the needs to residents with the needs to giving the city a jump?

J.P.: Progress is not a zero sum game as some would frame it.

You can grow responsibly and keep and I believe enhance your charm. There is nothing charming about blight and decay, but vibrancy is very cool.

The best leaders frame reality and the reality is change is going to happen unless you live in Williamsburg or a museum town. So the key is to have a citizen driven vision that addresses what kind of change that you want to see. What kind of feel and scale do you hope to have and preserve? What are the important buildings? Let’s save them or repurpose them if they are vacant.

We have a responsibility to please our residents but also position our cities for the future. They need to be sustainable economically, culturally, socially and environmentally. A good leader sells that message, seeks input from a wide range of residents and tries to learn as much as possible about trends, design and planning principles. Bad leaders are reactive and chase investment away. They are know it alls, always the smartest people in the room.

You have to establish what you value and then have the courage to stick to the vision because it takes years and you’re never done. You can’t declare victory and get complacent, which is a common malady. If you value affordability, there’s a tool box you can use to try and keep your city accessible to small businesses and young families or seniors on fixed incomes. You don’t have to be at the whim of the market nor do you have to bend over for every developer and lower your standards. But you can and should work with developers, you can and should roll up your sleeves and insist that they build to the vision of the community. The best ones will, the ones who won’t—kick them to the curb. We did.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JEFF PERLMAN:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Butch Hobson, Cary Glickstein, J. Cole, Cheesecake Factory, Sears, Big Apple Circus, Rumer Willis, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Miami, Dan Fouts, The Gap, fart jokes, guinea pigs: Miami, guinea pigs, Dan Fouts (he was great), fart jokes, Butch Hobson, Big Apple Circus, The Gap, Rumer Willis, Real Housewives, J. Cole (what is that a store?) Sears and Cary. I would have rated Cary the developer higher. He was a good developer.

• Five reasons one should make Delray Beach his/her next vacation destination?: Great downtown, just incredible. 2. Great hotels (especially Crane’s Beach House). 3. Great restaurants (some even have Tabanero Hot Sauce) 4. Great Beach. 5. Free Concerts at Old School Square every Friday night with great cover bands playing music that boomers love.

• Hillary Clinton calls—she wants you to be her running mate. What do you say?: Can you move the White House to Delray? The weather is better and we have free concerts.

• Three memories from your senior prom?: My date was beautiful. I wore a white tux that made me look like Mr. Roark from Fantasy Island. All the girls had really big hair. It was Long Island, 1982.

• Can Taco Bell revolutionize the burrito?: Only if they use Tabanero Hot Sauce (shameless plug).

• How annoying did you find it having to get book jacket blurbs for your book?: Very annoying. I wish I had asked you. Although it would have looked like I’m blurbing about my own book, which must be against the blurbing rules.

• You wrote in a blog post that “civic pride moves mountains.” What if the mountains are sorta gross and covered in dog snot?: Jeff, it was a metaphor. We don’t even have mountains in Florida. For the record, I have two dogs, I have seen it all, stepped in it all, cleaned it all. I’m not afraid.

• One question you would ask Davis Love III were he here right now?: Mr. Love, we’re both 51. I can’t even win at miniature golf, so how did you win the Wyndham at our age?

• Five favorite political figures of your lifetime?: My mentor Mayor Tom Lynch. My predecessor Dave Schmidt. A guy who ran for office in the Glades under the name “Secret Squirrel”. Commissioner Bob Costin who owned the infamous tree we talked about earlier and never had an email account or a computer and Ian Mellul, who’s not yet a political figure but is a brilliant young man in Dare 2 Be Great who will be president and will fix a whole lot of problems. Remember the name. He’s a magician too, which will help.

• Five least-favorite political figures of your lifetime?: I thought Charlie Crist was the worst panderer of all-time. Ted Cruz—Cruz’ college roommate said he would rather pick someone out of the phone book to be president than see his old roomie in the Oval Office. Yikes. I’m not a big Mitch McConnell fan. To show that my dislike is bipartisan, I don’t like Jimmy Carter and I thought Sarah Palin gave small-town mayors a bad name. That’s three Republicans and one Democrat. Crist was a Republican, a Democrat, an independent, a conservative and a liberal—all in one election cycle. That’s hard to beat.

We Need You To Make An Impact

We need you: To Make An Impact

We take a break from local politics  to focus on something just as important: local philanthropy.
Last week, the newly formed Impact 100 for Men Palm Beach County held its first awards night at Delray’s Arts Garage.
It was a fun and memorable evening. And hopefully, the start of a long history for the nascent group started by my friend Chuck Halberg, a local contractor (we won’t call him a developer..heaven forbid) who spearheaded the group to support non-profits serving children in southern Palm Beach County.
I am honored to be part of the founding board along with a group of truly great guys. Impact 100 was modeled after the wildly successful Impact 100 for Women’s group which I think now gives close to $600,000 a year to local charities.
The concept is brilliantly simple: write one check, attend one meeting and vote to give a big amount to a few non-profits. Repeat year after year and make an impact.
In our first year, we managed to attract 56 men who stepped up and wrote checks for $1,000 plus a fee to the Community Foundation which houses the funds eliminating the need for us to form and administer a 501c3.
While we fell short of our goal of giving away $100,000 we were pleased with our debut and hope to grow each year.

The big winner in our first year was The Miracle League  founded and run by our friends and neighbors Julia and Jeff Kadel.
We’ve written about the Miracle League in this space before. The program allows children with special needs to play the great game of baseball.
It’s an amazing and beautiful endeavor. I was fortunate to be on the City Commission when the Kadel’s approached the City of Delray with the idea of opening the first accessible baseball diamond in Palm Beach County. We provided some seed money along with the county and the league formed at Delray’s Miller Field. It has grown and thrived ever since attracting private philanthropy, grants and scores of volunteers.
The dream now includes creating a boundless playground for children at Miller Park.
The Impact for Men group voted last week to award the Miracle League $50,000 toward the dream after hearing a compelling presentation from Julia.
We were also proud to donate $3,000 each to the amazing Milagro Center in Delray and to Junior Achievement which teaches kids the importance of entrepreneurship.
We are hoping that those dollar amounts increase in subsequent years and that we can make as large an impact as the Women’s group has been able to achieve.
While we live in a community that features great wealth, we are also a community that has overwhelming needs.
Less than a mile from million dollar homes and a rocking downtown there are many people living in crushing poverty.
There is hunger and deprivation in our communities and children and families  who go without.
We are fortunate to have many great non-profits that work hard to address the needs from Family Promise of South Palm Beach County which provides emergency housing to families and the Milagro Center which has a remarkable track record of impacting our most vulnerable children to Delray Students First which mentors and cares for kids looking to break out of the cycle of poverty to the stellar Achievement Center for Children and Families we are blessed with organizations that care and do a great job.
But despite the talent and dedication to making lives better there are unmet needs. And each of the organizations mentioned and many others struggle to raise funds for their critical missions.
I have long felt that while Delray has done a remarkable job revitalizing our city we have fallen somewhat short in our potential to develop a deeper pool of local philanthropists.
Yes, we have many generous people and a few foundations that have been invaluable. But from my vantage point, too many people are sitting on the sidelines, giving “back home” or simply unaware of the needs we have here at home. And this is our home.
While I’m sure there are unmet needs in Boca, from across the border I’ve long admired that community’s ability to raise funds for education, health care and the arts.
I have had the good fortune to sit on many non-profit boards over the years and it’s been a struggle to expand the pool of those who give back.  And so I see many of the same people going to the well time and time again. I’m so thankful for them. But we need more people to give what they can.
Many of the charities in our community are designed to break the cycle of poverty or inspire people to do more and be more.
Whether it’s teaching a child to consider business as a career (Junior Achievement) providing children with an arts experience that may spur a career choice or inspire beauty and understanding (Old School Square, Milagro) or spurring an interest in education (The Delray Public Library, Delray Students First) etc., we have vehicles to transform people. We just need some more fuel.
I’ve enjoyed the first year of Impact 100 for Men. The camaraderie of guys getting together to do good and the emotion of awards night.
I continue to marvel at the leadership and energy of people who step up, like my friend Chuck and many others.
As Uncle Sam might say, we need you to get involved. It really does take a village.

Prepping For the Barrage

Promises, Promises.

Its election season in Delray Beach and the knives are out.

Sigh.

Over the next several weeks you will hear the following tired old phrases. So if your new to this or just plain curious, we thought it might be helpful to provide a glossary of terms.

“Special interests.” -anyone with a profit motive or an opinion contrary to those who really know best.

“Developers”–usually described as greedy, corrupting and insensitive to neighbors. You know, bad hombres.

Dark Money”-money given to PACs usually by greedy self -interests.  Of course, it’s OK for the “pure” candidates to hide the sources of their cash.

“Puppets”–corruptible elected officials who are typically weak and told how to vote.

“Puppeteers”–those who direct the puppets.

 “Overdevelopment”–most anything proposed in the central business district even if it meets the city’s rules, fits into citizen adopted plans and replaces blight or functionally obsolete buildings.

 “Recovery”–refers to the recovery industry includes sober homes.

“Lobbyists”–those who register to advocate for a particular good, service or project.

“Chamber types”-mostly small business people who care about the city. Some live and work here. Some just work here–that’s often not good enough for some despite the fact that some of Delray’s most valuable contributors have actually lived outside city limits. Also referred to as “good old boys.” Reality: step into the Chamber and you’ll see a lot of new faces, (and some older ones) and a whole bunch of smart women running and growing businesses.

“Slick consultants” – usually referring to the political type. If you use them you are not to be trusted. But frankly, trust has nothing to do with consultants. If you can be trusted you can be trusted. If you can’t, it’s usually not because you engaged someone to help you run a campaign.

 “For profit event producers”-those who stage events to make oodles of cash. PS. They typically don’t.

 “Resident taxpayers”—As Tarzan might say: renters no good. It also sometimes implies that business owners who live elsewhere are not qualified to volunteer for City boards even if they care, pay tons of taxes, donate handsomely to local nonprofits and want to serve and have the chops to do so. And sometimes it refers to people who live here and pay taxes.

“Out of control” –usually refers to events, development, spending etc.

You’ll soon be barraged by mail, robocalls and social media messages that will paint a dark picture outlining threats to the Village by the Sea by dark, greedy forces who ignore the people unless of course you vote for the protectors who will magically lower taxes, fight crime, stop overdevelopment, fight special interests and shut down sober homes.

You’ll also hear that while they care and have pure motives their opponents…oh their opponents…well they are just plain evil. Bought and paid for by dark money forces aiming to destroy our way of life.

What you are unlikely to hear is reality or any ideas. Oh they’ll say they have plans but you’ll never see details.

If I sound cynical maybe it’s because I am. Can you be a cynical optimist? I don’t know, but I do see bright skies ahead once the dust settles anyway that’s another blog.

But I would love to be wrong.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if candidates would just level with the voters?

What would that look like?

Well it might include the following:

We have a pretty terrific small city.

Lots of things have gone right.

Lots of value has been created out of a town that could have easily gone the other way.

Like so many other cities have.

But this town had guts. This town had vision. This town had leadership. And a great deal of unity too.

Great things were achieved. But more needs to be done. Too many people and neighborhoods have been left behind. And there are challenges and opportunities galore.

Schools that need attention—and yes the city has a role and there are ways to make a difference.

Too much property crime—if you don’t feel safe in your home and neighborhood nothing else much matters.

Opioids and terrible sober home operators who are exploiting people pose grave problems—but the issue is full of layers and complexities that don’t lend themselves to sound bites. A little empathy for people doing wonderful work in this field would go a long way.

Kids are dying. On our streets. Needles are everywhere. It’s taking a toll on our police officers and firefighter/paramedics. Our city needs great officers and firefighter/paramedics and they need to be supported not just with words (which are important) but with policies that ensure we are competitive and can attract and retain the best talent around.

Rising property values have made commercial rents skyrocket and many treasured mom and pop businesses are threatened as a result. This is a blend of “irrational exuberance” (and 1031 money sloshing around) and market acknowledgement that investors see great value in Delray Beach. But if we think the downtown is bullet proof, guess again. In order to remain sustainable, we need a mix of uses and more good jobs to complement a food and beverage based economy. Tourism is critical, but so is finding space for businesses, young entrepreneurs, family entertainment etc. We have to be concerned about demographics and keep our central business district attractive to people of all ages.

We lack middle class housing and need a passionate commitment to attract millennials  and jobs that will bring back our children after college. I’m seeing talented young people bypass coming here because they can’t get traction in our market. And yet we capped density where young professionals might want to live limiting supply and driving up already high prices. It’s about design folks—not some artificial number. We learned that lesson in the early 2000s, we need to learn it again.

Our community is divided–by personalities, history, perceptions, rumors, innuendo, social media, armchair critics, racial lines and even whether we like festivals or not.

You get the picture.

There are answers to all of those challenges or at least ways to make things better.

But an honest candidate would tell you that it’s hard to impact anything if your divided, focused on the wrong things and too busy labeling others to enjoy the good things in our community while working together on alleviating the bad and uniting against the ugly.

This March please vote. But kindly insist on honesty and experience in the candidates you ultimately choose to support. Seek candidates who have rolled up their sleeves and done something FOR this community.

It’s easy to discern those who are genuine and real from posers who divide and label in order to amass power.

Ask them what they will do with the power if they get it. Ask them how they plan to solve problems and seize opportunities if they divide, judge and label.

The truth is they can’t.

Because it really does take a village.

 

 

 

Voting is Critical

The lineup is set.
Many “pull” papers but only those who gather the requisite signatures of registered voters get to appear on the March 14 ballot.
And so we have two Delray City Commission races to watch over the next few weeks.
For Seat 2,  Jim Chard, a long time community volunteer and member of several boards will run against Kelly Barrette, a founder of TakeBack Delray, a Facebook page and Richard Alteus and Anneze Barthelemy.

For Seat 4, 38 year resident Shirley Johnson is running against Josh Smith, another long time resident and retired educator.
For this go round, I will leave my personal opinions out of the mix.
But there are a few general points that need to be made.
First, elections matter.
A lot.
Not just on a national and state level but also on a local level, where it’s possible that city government impacts our lives as much or more than larger and more heavily covered governments.
From kitchen permits and land use policy to whether your city will have culture and a sense of community, local government swings a big bat.
I happen to believe it’s the best form of government, large enough to be interesting and small enough get your arms around and make a real and lasting difference. But there’s an ‘if’ attached to that last sentence.
You can only make a difference if you understand the city you seek to lead and if you have the capacity to listen and collaborate. You can only succeed if you have an  open and curious mind that allows you to grow as a policy maker, evolve as a leader and drum roll please…even change your mind if you hear evidence that sways you.
And you can only make a difference if you understand the job you are running for; its possibilities and its limits.
We have a charter in Delray that defines our form of government which happens to be a council/manager form.
That means that the mayor and commission sit as a board of directors, setting policy, making decisions and holding staff accountable for achieving results and delivering services efficiently, timely, ethically and within a budgetary framework set by the commission. (Hopefully, that budget reflects the priorities of citizens and the commissioners that represent them).
It’s a leadership role, at times a sales role (you should sell your city to prospective residents and investors for instance) and at times you are called upon to be a cheerleader, protector and advocate.
It can be exciting and rewarding and also sad, lonely and stressful–sometimes in the same day.
And so much more.
The opportunities are enormous if you choose to grow. I’m sometimes amazed at those who are given the opportunity but refuse to engage, grow and expand their thinking. And I’m delighted when I see the elected official who rises to the occasion.
Sadly, that has become rare these days–at all levels. And that’s why people are so frustrated with politics. Because if elected officials step up–and dive into the experience they can make a profound difference. They can touch lives. They can get things done. They can create value–or they can squander the opportunity.
Public service is an opportunity to build community and connect to people. You can’t do one without the  other.
Look for candidates that seek to connect, beware of candidates who label, divide and demonize.
Because if you connect by opening your heart and mind you can’t help but succeed.
We need our elected officials to succeed. So much is possible if they do so. If they fail, it’s hard for our city to succeed.
So the stakes are high. Vote accordingly.