Rewards For Those Who Study

Do you remember when bus tours used to come to Delray to see how we did things?”

That was the question I was asked recently by a friend who also happens to work for the city.
Yes, I do. And I also remember when we took trips to other cities to see how they did things and to share strategies around subjects such as neighborhood revitalization, economic development, historic preservation, public safety, arts, culture and creating a great downtown.
Daytona Beach, GreenCove Springs, Punta Gorda, Winnipeg, Cape Coral, Miami Shores and  a few towns in Alabama,
Massachussetts and South Carolina were among the cities that made the trip here to look at Old School Square, Atlantic Avenue, Pineapple Grove, the Police Department, Fire Department, CRA and City Hall.
Organizations came here too: The Florida Preservation Trust, chambers of commerce from near and far, the Congress for New Urbanism, Florida Planning and Zoning Association, Florida Redevelopment Association, LISC and the list goes on and on.
And we went places too: Transforming Local Government conferences, to Greenville, Neighborhood USA conferences etc.
Now some would say they were junkets. But they would  be wrong.
Those trips, which many times included community partners and residents, built relationships, knowledge and sparked ideas. They were essential to Delray’s redevelopment.
These days I still visit cities and see them through a different lens than before I got involved in local government.
We seek out downtowns, love to walk city streets and try to go off the beaten path where possible.
I find it interesting and inspiring.
I just love cities.
Recently, we wandered downtown Durham, Raleigh and Apex while visiting my daughter Sam in Cary, North Carolina.
I loved seeing the old buildings mixed with the new projects and the adaptive reuse of old tobacco structures.
The Triangle is a dynamic area. Chock full of employment, beautiful neighborhoods, parks, historic districts and teeming with breweries, food halls and cool hotels.
We were wowed.
I was struck by three things: the health of the shopping centers, the abundance of reasonably priced beautiful housing and the sheer amount of employment.
And I thought, this is a good place to study and explore.
A few years ago, a group of business leaders went to Durham to study the area and its business incubation efforts.
I heard a lot about the trip. It’s a good leadership practice to visit other places and to study organizations and businesses.
These trips spark ideas and inspiration.
Similarly, hosting visitors helps you focus on your own success. stories. Sharing those stories are valuable, life affirming and help to build civic pride. Listening to another community’s stories makes us feel—in a small way—a part of things.
I’m still sharing our stories with groups and I still marvel at the work that was done. It makes me appreciate my hometown. And that’s a good thing.

Our Frances: A Most Distinguished Citizen

Frances Bourque is a legend…and we love her.

One of Delray’s heroes received much deserved recognition recently and I can’t let the opportunity to write about Frances Bourque pass me by.

Frances—the founder of Old School Square and the inspiration behind so much good in Delray Beach—was awarded the Distinguished Achievement Award by the University of Florida. It’s a rare honor and truly a “big deal” as they say.

The award recognizes exceptional achievement and leadership that merits the special recognition of the University. While a committee on honorary degrees vets the nominees, winners have to be personally approved by the University of Florida’s President. Dr. Kent Fuchs knows talent when he sees it and I’m sure when the president reviewed Frances’ materials it was an easy decision to bestow the honor.

The effort to recognize the force behind Delray’s signature civic achievement was launched by Frances’ sister Judy who reached out to several of Frances’ friends, colleagues and admirers (which is just about everyone) to help write the application. I was honored to be included in the effort and it was truly a pleasure to write about Frances’ influence on the city we love.

Old School Square is the rare project that addresses our past, present and future. Its genius lies in the fact that it touches so many aspects of community building: historic preservation, adaptive reuse of buildings, art, culture, education and so much more. But perhaps its greatest value is that Old School Square gives us a place to gather as a community.

And you can’t put a price on that simple gift.

Old School Square is where we headed after 9/11. It was where we met to discuss the Jerrod Miller shooting in 2005 and where we gather for Town Hall meetings, special performances, speeches, art exhibits and scores of festivals.

It sits at main and main on Atlantic and Swinton—if you had to design a better location you couldn’t.

And yet….

And yet before Frances nobody saw the potential. They saw a rusted chain link fence, crumbling buildings and blight. But Frances saw potential and beauty. Some saw the need for new office buildings. Others saw the need for a downtown anchor store. Frances saw a place to gather and celebrate the arts—the best of humanity.

Pretty soon, everyone shared the vision. That’s Frances’ magic. She makes you see, she makes you believe and while you may have to work hard to get there you don’t mind the journey because she makes every step of the way fun.

Earlier this week, I wrote about the 100th anniversary of Plastridge Insurance and the leadership contributions of Tom Lynch and his family. Frances is yet another example of how a community can be blessed when an extraordinary individual decides to fall in love with a place and commit to a vision.

Back in November, when Frances received word of the award she wrote a few of us an email. She had just driven 12 hours from Highlands, N.C. and was tired. When she got home and saw the letter from President Fuchs she immediately reached out—and immediately sought to share credit. She was clearly elated, but she quoted Thomas Merton who said “no man is an island” and said the recognition belonged to “ALL (her caps) of us!”

Typical Frances.

The truly great ones are humble. They seek to share credit.

People like Frances don’t do what they do for the awards. But it is important to recognize them and to celebrate their achievements so that we too may learn, appreciate and be inspired to get to work ourselves.

For 32 years, I have hung on her every word. She remains an inspiration to all who are blessed to have crossed her path.

 

 

Plastridge Makes History

From left, Brendan, Tom and Connor Lynch.

If you Google companies that last 100 years…you stumble on some interesting facts.

The number of businesses that last a century is a very short list….less than half a percent of companies according to one study I found. It’s a rare company that lasts these days.

Delray Beach and Boca Raton are home to one of them. Plastridge Insurance, founded in 1919, is celebrating its 100th birthday this year and we were honored to attend a banquet for employees, friends, retirees and family recently.

For my wife and I, it was a true pleasure. We feel very close to the Lynch family, who have led the business for the past 50 years or so. That’s when Tom joined the company after teaching English for a spell at St. Vincent Ferrer School on George Bush Boulevard.

I first met Tom 32 years ago when I moved to town to take a newspaper job. He was considered an up and comer in those days, a prominent business leader who was a founding chair of the CRA, chair of the Chamber, active at the local hospital and a key member of the Mayor’s Atlantic Avenue Task Force.

When Tom was elected mayor in 1990 it proved to be a landmark election for the city. As a reporter, I had a bird’s eye view of the changes he and his fellow commissioners were poised to make—implementing the Decade of Excellence bond, bringing Visions 2000 to life, working on local schools, stabilizing attrition at City Hall and hiring a police chief who would turn around the fortunes of the Police Department.

It was a great time to be in Delray and I loved covering the goings on. Diane, who came to work for the city during the same era, would later tell me that she (and others) were inspired by the vision, professionalism and team work that Tom and others on the commission championed. She (and others) were also struck by the courtesy extended to staff. Department heads and rank and file employees felt empowered to bring forth ideas, question assumptions and suggest the best path forward.

As a journalist, I was paid to question and to be skeptical. But I was won over by the leadership style of Mayor Lynch. Later, when I pursued my own entrepreneurial endeavors, I sought advice from Tom and began to become fascinated by his success with Plastridge and some of his other business endeavors. He was always generous with his time and advice. When we would get together, it would seem that we would never run out of subjects to talk about and while we agreed on many things, we also proved that you can be friends and politely disagree on the subjects where we saw things a little differently.

I’ve written before that Tom encouraged me to pursue local politics and it was his initial belief in me that got me to seriously consider a run for office in 2000. During my 7 years in office, he served as a trusted sounding board and I can’t overstate how valuable that is. He never once told me what to do, but he helped me through some difficult times with advice I knew was always meant to help me and the city we both cared a lot about.

Sitting at the Marriott listening to long time colleagues such as Mike Bottcher (38 years at Plastridge) and his assistant Paula Post recount how many lives he’s touched at the agency and in the community, I realized how lucky I was to be one of them.

Over the years, I got to know Tom’s wife Hillary who is wonderful and community focused too and his terrific children all of whom are accomplished and kind.

Out of the six kids, I’ve gotten to know Connor and Brendan the best. Both have done a great job moving Plastridge into the future now that Tom is taking some time to paint and indulge other interests.

Both Connor and Brendan are friends and I’ve grown to admire them both greatly. They are smart, talented, dedicated and effective in business and in the community. I was thrilled when Connor was recognized by the Sun-Sentinel last week with a prestigious award that recognizes his devotion to the community and his business acumen and potential for even greater success.

As I made my way around the party and ran into a few folks I’ve known over the years—Tom McMurrian, Peter Arts, Lula Butler, Janet Meeks, Ryan Boylston—all noted the incredible achievement of lasting and thriving for 100 years. And all noted how special the Lynch’s are.

Communities rise or fall based on the quality of people that show up to lead, encourage, mentor, volunteer, run for office, serve, give, employ, invest, think, risk and nurture others.

We were so fortunate that Tom came from the cold of Chicago to the warmth of Delray. Here, he and his family have chaired non-profits, given generously to good causes, dreamt of a better city/county/state and did something to make it so. The list goes on and on. Now, thanks to a new generation, all the good is sure to endure.

Here’s to the next 100 years.

 

 

4Kids Addresses The Silent Crisis

Karen Granger, Tom Lukasik and other dignitaries celebrate the new 4Kids office in Delray.

I have known and admired Karen Granger for well over 20 years now.

We go back to her days at Levenger, the Delray Beach company that I loved so much because they built a business around my favorite hobby: reading.

Karen was in public relations back in those days and I was with the press, first the Delray Times and then my own education newspaper. Levenger was one of the early Delray entrepreneurial success stories and so Karen and I found ourselves crossing paths every now and then.

We became closer friends when she was hired by the Delray Chamber of Commerce where she eventually served as president and CEO. I was on the board for those years and I thought she brought a lot to the job. She had the warmth of former chamber execs Bill Wood and Ken Ellingsworth and she had a special affection and way with the young entrepreneurs who were flocking to our city as a result of Delray’s long renaissance.

Along the way, we become each other’s confidants and supporters. When Karen felt the political heat on hot button issues such as Ipic and the future of special events in Delray, I and others tried to be there for her. When I published my book and agonized over whether I should run for office again, Karen was there with sage advice and support.

So when she landed at 4Kids, a non-profit that focuses on helping children, I was thrilled for her. I truly believe she is where she needs to be; doing important work for a great cause and shining a light on a silent crisis in our community—the need for adoptive and foster homes. As a woman of faith, Karen also believes that she is where she is meant to be.

Last week, a large crowd came to celebrate 4Kids’ new location at The Arbors office building on Congress Avenue and Germantown Road. My company, CDS International Holdings, owns the building and it is part of a redevelopment project envisioned for the abandoned site where Office Depot once had its worldwide headquarters. LynLee Fraser of Parkview Realty (another CDS entity) worked hard to bring 4 Kids to The Arbors and I am proud of our company for supporting the new regional office.

Having a Delray location means that more children in crisis will be served and more foster families will be identified, supported and engaged.

At last week’s ribbon cutting, an array of 4Kids executives, volunteers, board members, supporters, business leaders, elected officials and chamber presidents from Boca and Delray discussed the acute crisis in our community.

More than 100 children in Palm Beach County needed to be removed from their homes for their safety last month. Tragically, 145 children had to be turned away because there is a lack of foster homes in which to place them. Those are staggering and sobering numbers.

If you visit the 4Kids website http://www.4kids.us , you can plug in your zip code and see how many children from your neighborhood were removed from their homes in a year’s time. My zip code saw 22 children removed. It is a silent crisis. Each story is unique. Each child needs love. They are being saved from violence, dysfunction even human trafficking. Yes, it happens here.

Karen and others—including 4Kids executive Tom Lukasik who has fostered 57 children—asked those in attendance at the opening to spread the word. But even if you can’t foster yourself, you can donate clothing, movie tickets, gift certificates—anything kids can use.

Pastor Casey Cleveland, who gave a heartfelt and emotional blessing at the ribbon cutting, also noted that it’s important to support, visit and nurture foster families in our community. Visit them. Bring a dish. Drop off something they can use. “Show them love,” says Casey.

Show them love.

Thanks, Karen for opening our eyes to the silent crisis. Thanks 4Kids for all the good that you do. And welcome to Delray Beach.

 

 

 

Wanted: A Great Manager Who Can Lead

“Managers watch over our numbers, our time and our results. Leaders watch over us.” Simon Sinek

 

Delray Beach finds itself in the market for a city manager these days.

Again.

They may not have to look too far, as City Commissioner Ryan Boylston has suggested lifting the “acting” tag in front of Neal DeJesus’ name and giving him the permanent position.

We may see where that idea goes this week. Stay tuned.

But this blog isn’t about that idea and it’s not about the continuing instability at City Hall although that should concern everyone who cares about Delray Beach. Instability is costly; in many many ways.

But rather than dig into that subject, this post is about what we should be looking for in our next City Manager. Get that piece right and a lot of other pieces fall into place.

First, let’s just outline some givens: having a stand out city manager in a council manager system is critical.

The CM is the government equivalent of a CEO and sets the tone for the entire organization.

A good CM can attract and motivate talented people. And once you get the people equation right anything is possible.

I think the next city manager will need to succeed in three distinct worlds: the political, the external and the internal.

Let’s look at all three:

Ideally, you want an apolitical City Manager who will leave the policy making to the elected officials, as the charter mandates. The job is to implement commission policy, goals and community visions and to do so efficiently and cost effectively.

While this may seem basic, in the real world it can be complicated. Delray is a complicated city and the job of City Manager is a hard one.

While policy makers are responsible for coming up with coherent and innovative policy and goals, the manager does have a role as a coordinator of that policy and to encourage the development of goals and visions.

A neighboring community’s city manager once told me this.

“Look at me as your driver. You tell me where you want to go and give me the resources to get there. If I don’t think I have enough gas, I will tell you before we embark on the trip. Once you give me the destination, hop in the back.  My job is to get you there, on time and within budget. If I crash, run out of gas, drive erratically and get tickets along the way get a new driver. But please let me drive.”

I thought that was a pretty good explanation.

To navigate effectively in the political arena, it’s incumbent on the manager to develop relationships with all elected officials while also understanding the myriad of constituencies in Delray: business community, neighborhoods etc.

City Managers who play favorites, don’t communicate equality with all of their bosses and spend too much time with politicos and gadflies are at risk and won’t survive.

The best defense against politics is performance. Do the job. Do it well and stay in your lane. That’s good advice for both elected officials and senior staff.

As for the external, I think good city managers are accessible (with limits because if you scratch every itch the big stuff doesn’t get done), responsive to citizens and have an ability to build and empower a good team that will make him or her look good.

We leaves us with the internal world.

A great city manager will have both formidable managerial skills and solid leadership credentials. They will be able to hire well, develop talent once they are on board and motivate and inspire. They are team builders who understand the importance of accountability but who score well in the areas of communication and emotional intelligence.

It’s a tough, tough job and this isn’t the easiest town in which to succeed as we have seen. But it’s important that we get someone who can succeed. It’s important that we find and support someone who can be a great CEO.

Of course, nobody has all the skills necessary to succeed. But the great ones know what they don’t know and surround themselves with a capable team.

It’s difficult but it can be done.

Complacency Is A Killer

I think we’re at risk of losing our edge as a nation.

And that worries me. It worries me a lot.

Every day I read and hear about the dysfunction in our nation’s capital.

The hyper-partisanship.

The inability to seize opportunities, solve problems or to get things done.

The endless bickering and sniping at each other.

Climate change is real, but there’s a large swath of people who just won’t accept the science. So we nibble around the edges, endure catastrophic and costly weather “events” and seem immune to bad news such as a new report that says up to 1 million species of animals and plants are in danger of mass extinction. That’s not a typo…one million species the biggest “event” since the dinosaurs went bye bye.

And the list goes on.

Time Magazine reports that Russia is palling around with the world’s despots exporting trouble and trying desperately to hack into every institution the West values.

China is using its money to buy influence by financing infrastructure projects in other countries while working feverishly to take the lead in key emerging areas such as Artificial Intelligence and 5G wireless.

Meanwhile, our infrastructure is falling apart, we don’t have enough housing, our public schools struggle, we suffer from widespread opioid abuse and we can’t even pass a disaster relief bill to help people in the flood prone Midwest, wildfire scarred Northern California and hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico. The beat goes on, but you get the picture.

Sure, every other nation on Earth has its fair share of maladies but this is more about our inability to respond and collaborate than it is about the issues themselves. Truth is, if you are able to respond, work through problems and find common ground, you can solve just about anything or at least make things better.

But I see our nation’s leaders more focused on sticking it to each other than buckling down and working to create a better world for future generations. By the way, that’s what leaders do, focus on leaving a better world. So if you are failing the present and letting down the future you are not leading.  You are laying an egg.

But this is a hyperlocal blog, focused on our community so how does this all relate?
Well, glad you asked.

Boca and Delray are two very successful communities—not trouble free, not perfect, not without challenges and real issues, but fairly successful nonetheless. But like America, if we rest on our laurels, we will be passed by. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday for sure.

The core question then is how to do we survive our success?
Atlantic Avenue is so popular that it’s literally bursting at the seams.

Now that’s a better problem to have than tumbleweeds on your Main Street, but it is an issue.

If I was still a policymaker (and thank goodness I’m retired) I would be worried about high rents on Atlantic fueled by sky high acquisition prices forcing establishments to sling high margin drinks to make ends meet. This leads to a Bourbon Street feel that some people like and others don’t care for.

Now I remain a fan of downtown Delray and take pride in our success, but I’d be concerned about those trends, competition from nearby cities and the need to spread the crowds to other parts of our downtown and make sure that the offerings appeal to a wider demographic.

I know far less about Boca, but I spend a lot of time in that city and I see traffic problems caused by sprawl and hear a lot of angst about the future.

The bottom line is that cities– and nations– no matter how successful can never rest.

Complacency is a killer.

A smug attitude will set you up to be knocked off your pedestal. You have to wake up a little scared every morning…especially when things are going well.

For so long, America led the world and we still do, but our future hegemony is not guaranteed. And the nitwits in D.C. and cable news pundits should be putting America before party loyalty…and that’s directed at both the left and the right.

Back here at home, we can’t assume that Delray will always be the reigning “hot spot” or that Boca will always be “all that” as they say.

Cities need constant renewal. They need vision. They need leadership and competent management and an active, engaged and dedicated citizenry.

No shortcuts.

And no exceptions.

 

 

 

 

Things We Loved in April

A Delray institution celebrates a landmark birthday.

Things we Loved in April

A Milagro Milestone & A Proper Affair
April was a big month for Delray’s Milagro Center.
The non-profit celebrated its “Gala of Light” at the Loft at Congress and also marked the opening of its new Middle School program at the Virginia and Harvey Kimmel Milagro Junior Teen Center.
The opening means that the Milagro has three distinct centers serving the needs of our children from Kindergarten through high school.
The Kimmel’s have been a true blessing to Delray supporting many key nonprofits including the Delray Beach Public Library and Old School Square.

Speaking of great non profits, the Achievement Center for Children & Families is marking it’s 50th anniversary this year.
It’s Proper Affair fundraiser honored two of our favorite leaders: Karen Granger of 4 Kids and leadership consultant Suzanne Spencer who did stellar work with Delray’s Drug Task Force before departing to work with clients, our schools and the chamber’s leadership program.
Both are deserving honorees and fabulous leaders.

Recommended
We tried the Vino Wine Bar for the first time this month. This charming Boca Raton restaurant offers great Italian food in an intimate setting. Also a highlight: a wonderful and vast wine list and awesome food.

Mr. Plum Was A Local Legend
On a sad note, Delray lost a wonderful friend with the recent passing of Bill Plum at age 90.
It’s hard to overstate Bill’s contributions to the community.
Owner of Plum’s Pharmacy, founder and manager of the Delray Beach Club, President of Carney Bank, owner of Plum Realty, developer of the Plum Building and a prodigious fundraiser for Bethesda Hospital.
He also co-founded the Drug Abuse Foundation and was active in the Delray St. Patrick’s Day Parade and The Haven. And the list goes on.
He was a wonderful man. Who will be fondly remembered by all who were fortunate to cross his path.

A Theatrical Gem

We have become big fans of FAU’s Theatre Lab, a small intimate space where new plays come to life.
Under the direction of the talented Matt Stabile, local audiences get treated to cutting edge theater works.
We’ve  had a chance to see two plays by Jennifer Lane, an up and coming playwright who is bound for big things.
In April, we saw Lane’s  “Harlowe” an at times funny but mostly intense family drama.
It was a powerful performance and we highly recommend that you check out this wonderful venue if you enjoy thought provoking production. Another great treasure in our backyard.

Big Time
Nice to see State Attorney Dave Aronberg on Morning Joe.
Mr. Aronberg was opining on the college admissions scandal and particularly the questionable decisions by actress Lori Loughlin who at the time had not taken a deal by pleading guilty. (Disclosure: I went to high school with Ms. Loughlin).
Aronberg has gotten a lot of national press lately as a result of the situation involving Patriots owner Robert Kraft and the Jupiter Day Spa.

Madison’s
Madison’s restaurant off of Glades Road is a terrific place. Love the bar, a great happy hour menu, amazing food and the wait staff is always great. Highly recommend.

Celebrating a Landmark
Delray’s Fifth Avenue Grill is celebrating its 30th anniversary in May.
That’s a lot of years in a tough business and a competitive landscape.
We recently dropped by for lunch and loved the new menu. Lots of great choices and always a bunch of specials. Now under new management with a new chef too.
(Disclosure: my company has an ownership stake).

The Mighty Max Delivers
The Max Weinberg’s Jukebox show at the Crest Theatre was in a word: amazing.
Two hours of unadulterated fun and great music from a rock and roll hall of famer and his terrific band.
Max, a proud Delray resident, talked up how much he loved playing the Crest and also gave some shout outs to local favorites Da Da and Doc’s.
If you have a chance to see the Jukebox don’t miss it. It’s a great night of music courtesy of an E Street legend.
Also kudos to promoter Rusty Young and his Music Works for bringing all sorts of great acts to the Crest—John Sebastian, Karla Bonoff, Stephen Bishop etc.

Healthy Options
We discovered the Bee Hive restaurant in Boca last month. Healthy food, reasonably priced and very generous portions. A welcome addition to the fast casual scene.

Motivation at La Cigale
We had a chance to have dinner at La Cigale with performance coach and best selling author Dr. Kevin Elko.
Dr. Elko has worked with 7 national college football champions and several NFL teams including the Cowboys, Eagles, Steelers and Packers. He’s about winning in business, sports and life by connecting, eliminating distractions and being present.
It’s a good message. Check out his website. https://www.drelko.com/

Pompano Rising
Sometimes we go a little afield to  try new things. So we traveled to Pompano to experience Mora Grill, a Lebanese restaurant.
It was outstanding. Lively (lots of belly dancing), really good food and just plain fun. Also very reasonably priced.
We then wandered down the recently improved beach promenade and ended up at the magnificent Beachhouse which is a really vibrant hot spot directly on the ocean. Keep an eye on Pompano.

Attracting VC attention
Congratulations to our friends at Bidtellect for ranking 13th on the South Florida Business Journal’s list of top 25 venture capital deals for the past four quarters ending March 31.
The Delray based paid content distribution platform raised $8.68 million.
Keep an eye on this company. It’s going to be big.
Boca’s Greenlane, a vape company, landed in  third place landing a whopping $48.2 million.
Christine’s is Magnificent
Kudos to Lynn University’s newest culinary gem: Christine’s.
Located on the second floor of the beautiful University Center, Christine’s offers great food with a beautiful view of the campus. A wonderful addition.

Devour
We visited Devour Brewery in Boynton Beach and sampled several excellent beers. My favorite: the Pineapple Hefe.
Definitely worth your time to visit and sample.

The Power of Vulnerability
If your not willing to build a vulnerable culture you can’t lead or innovate.
That’s was one of many messages/gems in the new Brene’ Brown Netflix special. “Call to Courage” is a great way to spend 75 minutes. So step away from the endless division on cable TV “news” and learn from a thought leader who teaches us about courage and vulnerability and how you can’t have one without the other.

Taking a Free Ride
Beatles on the Beach…Edgar Winter in Delray. How cool is that? Nuff said.

Long Awaited
We finally visited Louie Bossi in Boca. It was very good.
Wonderful food, excellent service and Nonna’s cheesecake is to die for.

Thanks & Happy Retirement

Congratulations and a heartfelt thanks to Phil Dorfman who retired after 30 years with the Delray Police Department.
I had a chance to ride with Phil several times over the years. We saw some things..Delray has come along way thanks in large part to the efforts of officers like Phil. We wish him well in his retirement.

From City Hall To The White House

A good farm system…

Two mayors are running for president and if any of them makes it,  they will become a rarity: only Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge went from City Hall to the White House.
The two mayors are Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana and Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey.

If it’s possible, let’s put partisanship aside for a moment or two.
Can we do that?
Good.

Now let’s focus on whether being a mayor of a city qualifies someone for the most powerful position in the world.
The case against:
—it’s a big leap from City Hall to the Oval Office. One position deals with potholes and variances, the other deals with national security and the global economy.

—mayors move policy through their city council’s, presidents have to deal with 535 members of the House and Senate.

On the local level, if you have a good idea on Tuesday night and a few commissioners agree with you things start to move on Wednesday morning. In Washington, it takes an act of Congress to get action from Congress. Ideas may not even resemble what you proposed by the time it makes its way through committees and to the floor in both the House and the Senate. It’s a wonder anything gets done. Come to think of it, not much does.

Good mayors are used to getting things done.
The case for:
–Good mayors work on more than potholes, they are involved in economic development, education, civic engagement, urban planning, transportation and the health and safety of their communities.
They tend to come with a bias toward action and tend to look at issues practically and in a fact-based manner. They are not partisan. That’s a good thing.
–Most mayors develop a thick skin.
That will come in handy on the national stage. We are, after all, a nation of critics.
Mayors understand this because they can’t go anywhere without facing criticism—not the grocery, gas station, to their favorite social media hangout or to dinner without running into someone who seems to live for the chance to insult, berate or complain to you.
Truth is, most people are nice and very sweet. And that’s what makes being a mayor worth it. But if you are in the arena (and mayors are) you will suffer your fair share of slings and arrows–mostly from the cheap seats, i.e. people who don’t have ideas or contribute.

Of course, as President, the Secret Service won’t let you mingle too much with the people. Which is sad but understandable. Mayors can’t hide, but neither can presidents.

Now I’m of the belief that partisan politics is for the birds.

Nothing gets done which is anathema to good mayors who always have a bias for action and decision making.
So I’m thinking that the idea of a mayor as POTUS is not such a bad concept.

Good mayors know how to promote their cities, grow their economies, bring people together, solve problems and serve the needs of constituents. Those are skills that translate.

We’ve had a haberdasher (Truman), a slew of lawyers (I will resist the lawyer jokes), a couple of generals, a community organizer and a reality TV star.
I’ll take my chances on a mayor.

But only a good one.

Culture & Vision

Vision and culture move the needle…

 

If you boil it down, Mayors and City Commissioners are responsible for two big things and a lot of little things.
This blog will focus on the two big things.
They are:
Vision and culture.

Those words deserve to be bold because it all flows from those two words.
Everything else—budgets, development, bidding, contracts— suffers if you don’t have a vision and you don’t have a positive culture.

A community’s vision should drive its budget. After all, how do you know where to make investments if you don’t have a vision for your city?

How do you shape development if you don’t know where you want to take your city?

I happen to believe that the best visions are citizen driven, created by a large cross section of stakeholders and implemented by elected officials and city staff.
But it’s the elected officials responsibility to see to it that there is a vision and that the vision is being followed. In other words, elected officials are stewards of their community’s dreams and aspirations.

Frankly, I don’t know how you lead without a vision.

Goals and visions drive everything—where you spend money, what projects you approve, where you allocate time and resources. Having a compelling vision is the best economic development tool imaginable. If you’re serious about making it happen the private investment you need to transform your community will come. Yes it will. You just have to believe and relentlessly focus and implement a compelling vision. (Execution is a key; visions left to gather dust on a shelf are to be avoided at all costs).

As for culture, in this case I don’t mean arts and music (which are also important) I’m referring to the atmosphere in your city.

Culture is the air that we breathe—is it positive, enthusiastic, hopeful, crackling with energy and enthusiasm? Or is it negative, nasty, toxic, untrusting and treacherous?

Is the mood in your city exciting or is it negative or milquetoast? Because while milquetoast may be better than nasty it’s still not good and it’s not going to move the needle in your community.

So when we look at our local leaders, or our state and national leaders for that matter, we ought not settle. We should not compromise. It’s too damn important.

Enlightened leaders change places.

They create opportunities, they change neighborhoods for the better, fix problems, heal rifts, seize the day and meet challenges. We need them.

But we play a role too.
We need to set a high bar.

We need to participate.

We need to vote, state our opinions, talk to our neighbors and help to shape the vision. We also need to hold elected leaders accountable.
We need to insist that they work toward creating and standing for a good culture and a kind community. Nothing else works.

Wrestling With Marie Kondo

Two of my favorite baseball players Don Mattingly and Keith Hernandez graced the cover of this vintage Newsday special section. I’m keeping it!

We’ve been doing a lot of spring cleaning these days.

Check that, Diane and my niece have been knee deep in the garage and I get to come home and decide what parts of my past I want to keep and what to throw out or donate. I have to admit it has been difficult for me to part with mementos from the past.

I don’t know if you’ve caught any of the Marie Kondo phenomenon but the organizational guru who challenges people to throw things out if they don’t “spark joy” wouldn’t be my top choice for a dinner party at my house. Truth is, all of my stuff sparks joy—it’s just that there’s so darn much of it.

There are three main causes driving my collection: I’m sentimental, I’ve spent two decades plus as a journalist and I did 7 years in local politics.

That character trait and those two endeavors have generated an overwhelming amount of mementos: clips of articles I’ve written and a slew of plaques, proclamations, letters and ‘do dads’ from my civic work.

For better or for worse, they represent my life’s work—or at least a great deal of it. I’m still out here writing my own story.

So all of it means something to me. The newspaper and magazine stories I wrote, the letters from people who liked something the commission did (we had plenty of critical letters too and I kept some as well) and of course the souvenirs from the places we visited. So while I understand that material possessions pale in comparison to what really matters, these artifacts spark memories and yes Ms. Kondo a certain amount of joy.

But my argument to keep this stuff falls apart if you ask a few basic questions such as: Who is going to want or care about these things when I pass? And short of expiring, how are we going to store/move/organize this stuff should we decide to move or downsize?

Of course, I don’t want to answer any of those questions. But my better half is posing them and it’s hard to put off answering the woman who was brave enough to wade into my vast archives. Plus, she’s really cute and very smart and totally logical. I am simply no match for Diane.

So every night, I come home and wade through another pile.
It’s been an interesting ride…newspapers that take me back to the 80s and 90s, articles that reintroduce me to newsmakers from back in the day, magazine columns penned for Atlantic Ave magazine, old photos, campaign literature from landmark races, vintage Rolling Stone magazines,  a stray Playboy or two (read for the articles of course) and a really bad fake ID that I remember paying $20 for in Times Square so I would be old enough to buy a beer in downtown Port Jefferson—life was sure simpler then.

So here’s what we’ve decided and I think Diane is mostly on board although I’m sure she’d like to cart it all away.

I’m keeping some stuff.

I’m getting rid of some stuff.

I’m donating some stuff.

I’m looking at all of it and reminiscing.

These are my takeaways…

Memories are precious.

Life goes fast.

But you sure rack up a lot of miles and accumulate a lot of stuff.

Most likely, my kids and hopefully my future grandkids, won’t be interested.

 

And hopefully, there won’t be time to sit back at the end of it all and look back. Why?

Because if all goes well, I’ll be busy making new memories up until the very end. In other words, I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to sit in that rocking chair.

As my friend from across the miles and the years texted me this week—“Life’s about the moments.”

Indeed.

You have got to keep making them.