Remembering Chief Strianese

Chief Strianese

Delray Beach lost a truly good man last week; someone who made a real and lasting difference.

Retired Police Chief Anthony Strianese passed away April 12. He was only 61 years old.

Chief Strianese started his career in Delray Beach on June 12, 1989 and retired August 31, 2014.

In those 25 years of service, Tony rose through the ranks from road patrol officer to the corner office. He came to Delray after spending a few years as a New York City transit cop. He told me he worked underground in the subways and being in Florida where the sun shined was a much better place to be.

I first met Tony when he was a young officer, but we became friends when he began to move up the ranks. I remember attending his promotion party when he became a lieutenant. A large crowd gathered at Boston’s on the Beach to congratulate Tony. You could tell that he was popular with his colleagues and respected as well.

Those traits came in handy as he moved rapidly through the ranks to become chief.

Being a police officer is an immensely difficult job.

Of course, I can’t speak personally having never done the job, but I have spent many a day and night “riding along” with officers and it doesn’t take but a few minutes to realize that law enforcement is a challenging profession, probably more challenging today than ever.

Law enforcement throughout our country has been on trial of late. And I stand firmly with those who believe that we must do better. But I am just as firm in my belief that the vast majority of police officers are good at what they do and that their contributions to society are invaluable.

We are blessed in Delray to have had many exceptional officers over the years.

Those men and women—Tony prominent among them– have made all the difference.

When Chief Strianese came to Delray 32 years ago, this was a vastly different place. Delray Beach in the 1980s was circling the bowl. Sorry for the coarse imagery, but it’s the best way I know to describe what it was like.

We had rampant crime, abundant violence and a crazy amount of drugs. Some neighborhoods were literally open air drug markets. I was given the education of a lifetime in the back of cruisers and police vans by generous officers who allowed me, a young reporter at the time, to tag along as they took on the extremely difficult job of making Delray Beach safe.

Delray in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s was an ambitious place. This city wanted to be something more than what it had become which was far from charming.

Here’s a brief summary of conditions that a young officer such as Tony encountered when they went to work.

Our downtown was dead, with 40 percent vacancy.

Our gateway, West Atlantic Avenue, looked far different than it does today. Yes, I know that more needs to be done, but there has been improvement. Back in the 80s and 90s, residents spoke of the fear that kept them indoors. Until community policing took root in the 90s, many residents had no relationship or a deep fear of their own police department.

That changed, because of Chiefs like Rick Lincoln, Rick Overman, Larry Schroeder, Jeff Goldman, Javaro Sims and Tony Strianese. It also changed because of generations of great police officers who went above and beyond.

Over the years, we’ve lost more than a few; including two amazing officers I considered personal friends: Johnny Pun and Adam Rosenthal.

So in this season of unrest, I feel that we have been blessed in Delray Beach.

We’ve had some truly extraordinary public servants protecting and serving us. I wish I could name them all, because they made it safe for this city to thrive.

We owe our quality of life to these special people. They made it safe to plan, invest, grow, dream and thrive.

P.S. Our Fire Rescue department is pretty special too.

I really liked and appreciated Tony Strianese.

He wasn’t comfortable politicking or schmoozing. He was at his best with his officers and with the community too. He was a regular guy. He had seen a lot over the course of his career. He played his cards close to the vest. He was a private person with a big heart.

He served Delray Beach well.

My lasting memory will be of him standing guard in my backyard while a slew of officers, K-9’s and a helicopter searched my neighborhood’s canal for a dangerous fugitive. We were locked down until the bad guy—who had perpetrated a home invasion robbery nearby—was apprehended. Tony quietly commanded the scene and kept us safe and informed. It was quite a night for me and my neighbors. For Tony it was another day at the office; doing what officers do every day. G-d bless those who protect and serve.

Today, I am praying for Tony and his family. And for the men and women who suit up every day never assured that when they leave for work that they will be coming home.

It takes a special person to do that. Thank goodness for brave souls like Tony.

May he rest in peace.

 

 

 

Good Begets Good

Carl DeSantis

What do Kim Kardashian, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett have in common with the gentleman I share Jimmy John sandwiches with every Monday and Wednesday?

I asked myself that question last week when the annual Forbes Billionaires List was released and my friend Carl DeSantis’ name appeared alongside a who’s who of international business icons.

Unlike many flamboyant titans on the list, Carl is a quiet and private person. You won’t catch him tweeting, showing off or bragging about his accomplishments which are many. His modesty is why we were so thrilled to see Forbes include Carl and do a feature story on him as well. We feel strongly that he deserves the recognition he works hard to avoid.

After all, very few business leaders have helped steered two companies to multi billion dollar valuations like my friend Carl.

He founded Rexall Sundown which became the world’s biggest vitamin company and he’s been a guiding force for Celsius which is rapidly becoming one of the hottest beverage brands in the world.

It’s a staggering achievement in a career that started modestly as a store manager for Walgreens.

Along the way, he has changed lives, nurtured careers, delighted investors in his companies and given generously to causes and organizations he believes in. In a word, he’s a mensch.

When we got the call from Forbes, those of us who work at his family office CDS International Holdings in Boca Raton, were more excited than Carl was. In fact, he wasn’t excited at all. As I mentioned, he doesn’t really like the attention but we were thrilled that such a prestigious publication was recognizing our friend and mentor. When we made contact with the editor of the project, he told us that not only did Carl make the list for his ownership stake in Celsius (NASDAQ: Celh) but they were interested in doing a feature on his one of a kind career.

With some gentle cajoling, we convinced him to do an interview and I promised to sit along side him for our phone call with Forbes. Joining us was Carl’s long time friend and assistant Jim Steinhauser who has been at Carl’s side for 34 years.

That’s how Carl rolls—loyalty, family, collaboration. He promotes a culture of input from everyone and lives by a simple credo: “good begets good.”

In short, he has been a blessing to so many lives.

Wealth and riches are not the true measure of a life well lived and while Carl certainly has both, he knows that the only scorecard that really matters is how we treat people and how we use our gifts to benefit the communities we touch. We can all attest that he lives up those ideals. He’s kind, gentle, compassionate and extremely generous. He’s also very unique.

Carl’s innate talent is his uncanny ability to discern whether a product will resonate in the hearts and minds of consumers. He can look at an idea or a brand and tell you with certainty whether it will succeed.

He believes the gift is innate or G-d given; refusing to take credit for a special ability or talent.

In the case of Celsius, he was a steadfast believer even when, especially when, the brand was left for dead a number of years ago after being delisted from NASDAQ and when product was shipped back off the shelves of stores nationwide.

He never stopped believing in Celsius and he never stopped putting his money behind his belief.

It was going to work, he insisted and because he believed we did too. All of us.

Carl doesn’t know it but he’s inspiring in his own unique way. He doesn’t give flowery speeches but he has a special way of letting you know he believes in you and the mission we are on—and that if we stay the course we will succeed.

That’s leadership. The ability to instill that belief in a team. There is nothing more powerful.

The story of Celsius is still being written but it’s a remarkable saga of resilience, hard work, belief, investment, trial and error and a miraculous breakthrough.

The brand that was born in a small warehouse like office in downtown Delray is now sold internationally and is valued at close to $4 billion.

There have been many key players in this ongoing story and I hope someday that the full story will be told because it contains many lessons for budding entrepreneurs.

But the steady thread has been my friend Carl.

We’ve been working side by side for years now on a variety of projects and he has taught me more than I can ever adequately describe.

I adore him.

I’m not alone. Like I said earlier, he has touched a lot of lives.

And at an age when many have long retired, he continues to make some noise. I love that about him.

For all the success he has experienced, he’s never grown complacent. He still wants to win—the right way through generosity, teamwork, love and concern for others.

He knows that success is never final and failure doesn’t have to be fatal. And now we know that too.

A few years back, on the occasion of Carl’s 80th birthday, a colleague and I produced a book on some of the lessons we have learned from out friend over the years. We gave it to Carl and his family which includes those of us who work for CDS, his family office.

When the Forbes piece hit last week, I thought it might be a good time to take a look at that book. Maybe we could flesh it out, freshen it up and publish it because it might help others.

We tried to capture the wisdom and essence of a very special man. Of course, we won’t be able to come close but even if we can distill a little of what we’ve learned it would be worth it.

My friend is that special.

Here’s the link to the Forbes article. It’s awesome. So is Carl.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/hanktucker/2021/04/07/florida-octogenarian-becomes-a-billionaire-after-investing-in-celsius-energy-drink/?fbclid=IwAR0b8Hfu8AvPRIPQE3zirA3ojVAuLtR0s-Cs1VgD9kEpu0SunEWGWeXi25A&sh=3c373f562b62

 

Rituals, New Favorites & The Simple Pleasures

Amar is a welcome addition to the Ave.

The older I get the more I value the little rituals.

Sitting in the backyard on a cool night and watching the birds.

Taking a walk with my wife after the evening news.

Losing myself in a podcast (Tim Ferris or Guy Raz) and listening (ever so softly so as not to disturb my colleagues) to Spotify while I work.

After spending six weeks in an ICU/Covid unit flat on my back with a mask glued to my face, I’m finding that it’s the little pleasures that are giving me the greatest joy these days.

So I’d thought I’d share a few and I hope you share some of your favorites with me and others.

–Amar, a new Mediterranean restaurant, is a solid addition to Atlantic Avenue. Delicious Middle Eastern dishes and attentive service. Don’t miss the appetizers and the kebabs.

–I’m finding I get more joy these days from Instagram than Facebook. The golden retriever videos and photos of nature never fail to brighten my mood.

But if you do find yourself on Facebook,  don’t miss Gaetlyn Rae, an adorable monkey who bakes, whips up salads and opens packages in the most entertaining way imaginable. For me, a few moments with the monkey is almost as good as a meditation video whenever I need to relax. (P.S. I never thought I would ever write the previous sentence).

Streaming gems“Imposters” a dark comedy on Netflix, “Allen v. Farrow” a very dark documentary on HBO and  “I Care A Lot” a dark drama with great performances. I just realized I have a “dark” theme going so if you can recommend anything light please let me know.

I also recommend “Tina” about the amazing Tina Turner and the “Last Cruise” about the now infamous Diamond Princess cruise ship which experienced a Covid outbreak in the early days of the pandemic. Both are on HBO and well worth your time.

—Hillsboro El Rio Park in Boca just celebrated its first birthday. This park on Southwest 18th Street was once home to the city’s landfill. It’s now an idyllic escape with walking paths, a playground, pickleball and picnic pavilions. It’s a great place to picnic before the heat sets in.

–We recently peaked our heads out and visited the Living Room Theater at FAU, a pre-pandemic favorite. With only 10 seats available for sale when we went and masks required, we felt safe and saw “Nomadland” on the big screen. Nomadland is a majestic film that was made for the big screen.

Only five seats were occupied on the Friday afternoon we snuck away, but we enjoyed the experience and were reminded about the magic of the movies. Seeing a movie in a theater is an immersive experience. As good as streaming can be, the big screen is still magical.

We really like Wood & Fire restaurant in west Delray. The food is good (the Delray salad is awesome), the service is excellent and the ambience is very appealing. In this era of Covid, we like how the restaurant is open on two sides with ample ventilation and two large outdoor dining areas. Things are really picking up in the western part of our community.

As for books, I’ve got a few recommendations: Delray’s own Steve Leveen has written “America’s Bilingual Century” which I deeply enjoyed. I remember talking to Steve about the merits of bilingualism at a Christmas Party so to see the book come to life is very cool.

“How I Built This” by Guy Raz is a quick read based on the stories covered on his amazing podcast chronicling the journey of some very talented entrepreneurs. If you dream of starting a business, currently run a business or just want some inspiration this is the book for you.

“Who is Michael Ovitz?” is the autobiography of the super-agent who once ran Hollywood. Lots of insider tales of how the entertainment biz works and sometimes doesn’t.

“How to Change Your Mind” by Michael Pollan is the story of how psychedelics affect us. I was turned onto this fascinating read by a childhood friend who sent me an article in Fortune magazine about the growing research into how psychedelics might treat anxiety, depression and PTSD.

“Unreasonable Success” by Richard Koch came to me from the Tim Ferris podcast. It’s a great character study of people throughout history who leave an outsize mark on the world. That book led me to “The Hidden Habits of Genius” by music professor Craig Wright who teaches a very popular Yale course of the same name. I learned that I might be the opposite of a genius—but at least I have self-awareness.

I’d also like to give a plug to the vaccination site at the South County Civic Center where my wife and I recently received our first doses of the Moderna vaccine. The site was so well-run, the vaccinators so kind and the location and parking is very convenient. Get the shot wherever and whenever you can, but if you are lucky enough to score a slot at the Civic Center you’ll be delighted by how well it is run.

Hope you had a great Easter and Passover. Stay safe this spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Culture Is The Killer App

I don’t have a lot of interest in revisiting the recent Delray Beach municipal elections.

You probably need a break from the negativity. I know I do.

Out of all the analyses I’ve seen, I recommend you take a look at Randy Schultz’s take. I think it’s a pretty accurate analysis. Here’s a link:  https://www.bocamag.com/boca-delray-election-results-ruminations/

 

Still, I do think it’s worth taking a deeper dive into the topic of culture which was hotly debated during the last cycle and has been an issue for a very long time.

The fact that culture and civility continue to be debated indicates that it’s lacking. After all, if things were humming, we wouldn’t be talking about it. (We’d be humming. We’re not.)

It’s hard to remember, but there was a time when Delray Beach had a remarkable culture; remarkable not perfect. There’s a difference.

There’s always been strife, friction and some level of toxicity in local politics and community life. That comes with the territory. But it was largely manageable and what rancor existed was overwhelmed by the positive relationships that had formed throughout the city. Those relationships formed because major efforts were made to create initiatives that brought people together and asked them to work closely on topics of importance to the community.

Evidence of this dynamic is all around us.

Cities don’t succeed without a coordinated and concerted effort. The vibrancy we enjoy is not an accident, it’s a result of planning, tons of citizen input, relentless execution and investment–both public and private. The reward is our quality of life.

Over the years, these engagement efforts were acknowledged in the form of  a few All America City Awards which honors a city’s ability to identity its problems and create solutions that bring people together. It was nice validation, but the creation of a special sense of community was the real prize.

Another example of Delray’s strong culture was how we were able to navigate some really sticky situations and tragedies over the years.

From severe hurricanes and divisive development projects to a tragic shooting and the controversial move of Atlantic High School, we’ve had our fair share of challenges. But we survived them all with our civic fabric sometimes strained but largely intact.

Thankfully, we haven’t had any natural or man-made disasters to navigate of late, but yet we seem to be at each other’s throats a whole lot. Which begs a question.

Why?

Why are sea grapes such a fraught issue? Why is every CRA RFP (request for proposal) a bloodletting or a lawsuit?

Why has there been so much turnover at City Hall?

We can blame social media —and Facebook surely has served as an accelerant for political strife— but it’s more than that. It goes deeper.

Delray’s secret sauce is/was its culture. If we lose that, we lose everything.

Close watchers of all things Delray worry about the divisions they are seeing. They know these breaches don’t heal themselves and they long for leaders who work on the issues that drive us apart.

I long for the days when leadership was defined by people who could rise above the noise and inject much needed calm and common sense into the day’s heated debates. Today, we seem to laud the bomb throwers, grandstanders and loud mouths who launch missiles but never seem to get a darn thing done.

They start problems, but they don’t solve them.

They add to gas to fires, but never seem to think about how things might change if they took a deep breath and offered up a few words of conciliation. They are, however, always equipped with a barb.

Oh yes, these charmers are quick with a sound bite, quick to label and even quicker to condemn.

Here come the “special interests”—be very afraid.

Here come the “power brokers” —lock up your loved ones because they are plotting to pillage the village.

Malarkey—to quote my grizzled former city editor who once told me that malarkey was an Irish term that was three degrees worse than blarney. He was a colorful character but that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, we can do better.

Because despite the great weather, the fact that we live in a place desired by just about everyone, we don’t seem to be very happy with how we choose our elected officials or how we handle difficult issues.

Rampant turnover, nasty elections and Facebook bullies are just symptoms. The disease is a poor civic culture.

Luckily, the disease is curable even though it won’t be easy.

It will require every stakeholder who cares to do their part and it will require us to raise our standards of behavior.

We need a reckoning.

Now I happen to think we’ve had many—Covid was a wake-up call, the nastiest mayoral race in memory was another, the Jan. 6 insurrection was yet another. Reckonings come in all shapes and sizes. They are international, national and local.

But reckonings can be healthy if we see them as teachable moments. To quote therapist and best-selling author Esther Perel, “reckonings require us to invest in the core facets of relational health: empathy, dialogue, commitment, responsibility, the sharing of power and resources.”

We have been through some traumas. Trauma requires healing and collective trauma requires collective healing.

It looks like we will eventually move beyond Covid-19 although the emotional scars will be with us forever. Our national divisions need to be addressed. We the people need to insist on that happening. So far, we haven’t.

As for our local divisions, we have a real opportunity if we choose to see it and seize it.

We can insist on better debates about community issues and more stakeholder input. We can insist on substance, performance, accountability and civility. Those words are not unreachable ideals; they are the basic table stakes of community.

If you lack of any these traits, you just cannot sustain success.

We have substantive issues to address, we have big time opportunities too but we won’t get to any of that if we don’t develop a winning culture.

So here’s what I’m suggesting:

We should develop a “Geneva Convention” for our elections and how we treat each other.

Post-Covid we need to go back to the old playbook and revive initiatives and programs that built community such as:

Community Dinners in which associations are invited to pot luck get togethers where they can meet their neighbors across the city.

Charrettes to discuss community issues and opportunities that are open to all stakeholders. We absolutely have to get away from a resident vs. business dynamic. Building a quality culture is not a zero sum game, it’s a win-win endeavor.

We need to facilitate intelligent discussions about development, gentrification, affordable housing, climate change and how it affects Delray, infrastructure, crime, education, culture, historic preservation, race relations and more.

It’s a lot of work but it’s worth it because these issues don’t go away if we ignore them, they just fester. But before we can address anything we have to focus on how we treat each other.

I believe, strongly, that if we create a more civil and professional culture in Delray Beach, we will end the turnover issues that have plagued our city and dinged our reputation .

And guess what?

We will end up getting a whole lot done. You can’t address problems or seize opportunities if you’re a divided community spending precious time settling scores and finding ways to be vindictive.

We can and must do better.

 

Thankful For The Vaccine

The Health Care District did a great job.

On the day I got my first vaccine, Florida reported 5,093 new Covid cases and 94 more deaths bringing the death toll to 33,219 and the total case count to almost 2 million.

By the time you read this, those numbers will have increased. But we know that the numbers only tell part of the Covid story.

Every “stat” is a person with a family, friends—a life. This virus is a beast—it is not the flu.

Covid can be lethal and for those who survive but suffer  from “long hauler” symptoms, it’s not something that you can just power past.

So when I got an appointment to get my first shot last week at the South County Civic Center in West Delray I was thrilled.

Sometimes you don’t realize how stressed you are until you experience relief. And truth be told, I’ve been worried about re-infection and anxious about the variants I’ve been reading about.

I was able to book an appointment with two of my co-workers so went together. Like most Americans—indeed most humans—they’ve been touched by Covid with family members suffering from the virus and with a few relatives dying as a result.

We talked about how lucky we were to be getting the vaccine and how sad it is for those who died before a vaccine was available.

I’m especially grateful because I thought this virus was it for me. So when I sat down, rolled up my sleeve and thanked the Palm Beach Fire Rescue “vaccinator” for giving me the shot, I got a little choked up.

He asked me if everything was OK and I said “oh yeah, I am so happy to be sitting here right now.”

He talked to me briefly about soreness and side effects and truth be told, I barely listened. Because a little soreness or a fever doesn’t compare with 39 days in the hospital wondering if I’d ever see my loved ones again. Bring it on, if it spares millions from the horrors of this disease I’m all in.

Yes, I’ve seen the anti-vaxxer screeds on the Internet and social media—isn’t the First Amendment grand? But I’m throwing my lot in with the scientists. I have faith in them. I am so grateful for their efforts.

These vaccines are modern day miracles, I believe they will save millions of lives.

That’s my  firm belief.

Everyone is entitled to their own views, but I’m rooting for people to take the vaccine and I’m rooting for herd immunity because I’ve felt the ferocity of this virus from inside the belly of the beast. It didn’t want to let me go and it has claimed a ridiculous amount of lives.

And every day…every single day… when I ache, experience headaches and feel some “brain fog” I am reminded that I had this thing.

I don’t say this to elicit sympathy, I know that I am a very lucky man.

I chose at the beginning of this experience to share with you the good, the bad and the ugly in the hope, that maybe my sharing would raise some awareness.

So we chronicled it all. I say we because I’ve had a lot of help all along the way.

We talked about long haul issues and the emotional aspects of Covid, because the pandemic has unleashed a lot of trauma on society.

To continue in that vein,  I wanted to come full circle and share about vaccines.

My belief: they are safe and effective.

My hope: you will get vaccinated.

After taking the shot, they ask you to stay 15 minutes to see if you have a reaction. I sat with a bunch of people who were just jubilant. You could sense the relief and the emotion in the room. A woman nearby cried softly and said she wished her mother had lived long enough to get the vaccine–Covid took her a few months before the shots were approved. Yet, amidst the sadness there was a lot of joy and a lot of relief too.

I sat there with a sense of hope and pride; hope for a better future and pride that we have the scientific chops to protect humanity. It was a very powerful moment.

Let’s do all we can to get our lives back.

Let’s do all we can to help our health care workers who have been through so much and let’s support our local businesses who have suffered mightily by doing what we can to venture out again.

That’s my hope, that’s my prayer. I hope you and your loved ones are spared now and forever.

 

 

 

 

A Year Later…..

Poignant memorials to those we lost to Covid-19 sprung up all over the nation.

Last week, we marked the one year anniversary of Covid-19.

It’s impossible to quantify what’s happened to our world since last March when the first cases of coronavirus emerged. So much has changed.

So much loss.

So much pain.

We watched the various tributes and news reports recounting the last year’s toll in stunned silence. We have lost more than 534,000 Americans. It’s just staggering.

Covid has touched all of us in so many ways.

We’ve experienced fear, grief, anxiety and frustration.

Then there’s the economic devastation.

The closed and damaged businesses, the lost jobs, the social loneliness and isolation. The damage to our children’s education’s and psyches.

It’s been overwhelming and enveloping.

And terribly, terribly sad.

We miss our old lives: friends, family, travel, shows, dining out, being with other people.

Like any cataclysmic event, the pandemic has focused our hearts and minds.

A year later we revere health care professionals, marvel at science and have gained deep respect for essential workers. We’re also grateful for the technology that has allowed us to stay somewhat connected.

Our world has changed, I believe forever.

Some of it’s good; I’m so glad to see nurses and teachers getting the props they deserve.

Public health is in the spotlight and hopefully will get the investment it so sorely needs.

I’m hoping that when we get back to normal we will have a deep appreciation for the little things, which by the way, are really the big things.

The year anniversary of the start of the pandemic marks seven months since I left the hospital after my bout with the virus.

And I can share that my life is not the same.

Everything feels more precious.

Every little thing.

And fragile too.

I used to think in years and decades, now I think in terms of moments. I’m not sure I’m saying that quite right but let’s just say that the simplest things are filling me up these days.

A lazy afternoon sitting outside with friends and reminiscing, a text from a childhood friend linking me to a great article, a short weekend away to see our son play hockey and meet a new girlfriend, time with family, listening to music and reading is suddenly more appealing to me than any exotic experience I can imagine.

And I don’t think I’m alone.

I believe COVID has focused many of us on what’s important and while we miss “normal” we also realize that normal was very hectic and maybe not as appealing as we thought it was.

But oh my has this damn virus extracted a price.

Having experienced Covid’s insidious power, I find myself very moved by the stories I read, see and hear.

The heroism of health care workers, the loss of special people —each soul indispensable.

The pain of long haulers, those still experiencing symptoms months after their infections. I am one of those people. It hasn’t been fun.

But we’re alive. So many aren’t. We can enjoy those special moments. And for that and a million other reasons I’m grateful.

Please stay safe. We have lots more to do and a better world to create.

 

One year stats:

29.2 million cases in the United States

534k deaths.

32,254 deaths in Florida

126k cases in Palm Beach County

2,546 deaths in Palm Beach County

120mm cases worldwide

2.65 million deaths worldwide

Smart Capital + Vision= Transformation

Boynton Beach’s new city hall anchors an ambitious vision that includes culture and business.

Have you seen the blizzard of news coming out of Miami?
It seems like every day there’s a major announcement; one headline more exciting than the other.

–“SoftBank makes $100mm bet on Miami as next US tech hub”—Financial Times

–“Why Miami is the next hot tech hub”—Crunchbase

–“Miami is becoming a magnet for companies trying to escape high taxes”—CNBC

And the list of interesting news goes on and on.

But the headline that intrigued me the most came from the real estate site Bisnow: “Miami Billionaire Launching Downtown Innovation Hub.”

The story details how Moishe Mana has broken ground on a downtown building that he intends to make the center of a burgeoning tech and startup community.

The 13-story “Nikola Tesla Innovation Center” will have 136,000 SF of space, mostly for offices with 2% reserved for retail. It is expected to be completed at the end of this year, with occupancy to begin in Q1 of 2022.

Mana and his team assembled about 60 properties downtown; which is an impressive feat. But he has also laid out an audacious goal: make the area the “economic engine of Miami.”

While the real estate “placemaking” is an interesting part of the equation it’s only one part of the vision. Mana is also doing what he can to assemble talent and connect key players who can make the dream come true.

In January, Mana announced a partnership with California based Plug N Play, a “global innovation platform” that works to build relationships between startups and large corporations.

Also at the table is city and county government and that’s important and essential.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is getting a lot of buzz these days for using his Twitter account to talk with tech titans and sell them on the virtues of Miami. Mayor-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, was my Leadership Florida classmate, and I can say with certainty that nobody will work harder to make things happen. Daniella is the real deal.

So yes, the stars are aligning in Miami.

While vision is also important and essential so is the ability to execute.

I researched Mr. Mana’s career and learned that he has done something similar before; he played a key role in transforming Manhattan’s Meatpacking District from a derelict section of the city into a trendy area driven by art and culture.

Mr. Mana’s strategy for Miami also includes art and culture. The concept is being called “Mana Common.”

On a recent webinar discussing the projects Mana had this to say.

“I totally understood we needed to do something exceptional,” Mana said. “The problem is, every time there is a neighborhood built, then come the real estate funds that basically destroy the whole ecosystem. So I said, ‘We’re going to buy a big critical mass of real estate and we’re going to build a sustainable community where we do not need to trade with the real estate.’ This is a home for the brain. This is a home for creation. This is a home for changing a city.”

The operative word in that thought is exceptional—the desire to do something special and transformational.

Closer to home, I recently took a tour of Boynton Beach’s new City Hall complex, innovation center, library, children’s museum and amphitheater. If you haven’t seen this project yet, it’s well worth the drive.

The vision shown by this public private partnership is inspiring and the potential is enormous.

The City Hall— which includes ample community space— is beautiful with natural light and cozy meeting rooms available to the public.

The plan is to add a café and build out a space that will be used to grow local companies.

Post-Covid there will opportunities for art, music and events in a beautiful open space anchored by the amphitheater.

As I took the tour, I thought to myself “hey, Boynton Beach has got it going on.” I think it’s the nicest City Hall I’ve seen.

I admire cities and entrepreneurs who aspire.

Smart capital + Vision= transformation.

It’s not a sure thing. But you miss every shot you don’t take.

All Healing Is Local

“All healing is local.” – David Schmidt, former mayor and newly installed Chair of the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce.

 

I had a chance to catch a replay of the Delray Chamber’s Annual Membership Luncheon and Installation of Officers on Facebook recently.

It was a nice virtual event and the Chamber is to be commended for weathering a brutal 2020. It’s important that our community have an active and strong chamber and that business in our city has a voice.

Outgoing Chair Noreen Payne is a wonderful person who did a remarkable job alongside President Stephanie Immelman and a small but dedicated staff.  Not only did they keep the chamber alive during a pandemic, but they kept the organization relevant too. We should all be grateful.

For more than 90 years, the Delray Chamber has been a leader in our community producing Delray’s signature event, The Delray Affair, advocating for business and supporting all aspects of community life.

It’s an important institution; a pillar in a disposable world in which pillars are rare and needed more than ever.

That’s why I am thrilled to have seen the installation of my friend Dave Schmidt as the chair for 2021.

Mayor Dave —as I call him— is a steady, capable and intelligent leader at a time when we crave those traits.

He’s also correct when he says that all healing is local, a take-off on Speaker Tip O’Neill’s old adage that all politics is local.

Friends, our little village by the sea has become a pretty toxic place at least during election season.

If you swing by Facebook and spend five minutes perusing the pages devoted to Delray Beach, you will witness the social media version of Chernobyl. Warning: prolonged exposure will give you hives and make you want to pack your bags and leave our perfect weather for Antarctica.

At least nobody is trying to turn Antarctica into Fort Lauderdale.

In case you don’t know, we are in the middle of an election season in Delray with the mayor’s seat and two commission seats up for grabs on March 9.

We have the usual accusations of stolen signs and the tired and false narratives about evil developers and behind the scenes power brokers. I’ve been accused of being a power broker myself…someone who controls events from behind the scenes. It’s insulting because truth be told— if I were doing so— I’d be doing a better job because the city is a hot mess and that’s not my modus operandi.

I like progress, vision, outcomes and aspiration. I think we all do, but from where I sit, we’re sorely lacking in all of those areas. And I also value good relations with city staff, local organizations and our police, fire and general employees. We’re having some “challenges” there as well.

A few days from our election, candidates are being accused of anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, crimes, corruption, extremism, bullying and all-around thuggery.

Yes, we are going to need some healing after the dust settles. Check that, we are going to need a whole lot of healing.

And I would hope some reflection too because temperatures don’t get this hot in a healthy town.

I write this while still recovering from watching graphic video of traitorous thugs who violently attacked the Capitol Building on Jan. 6. Watching the footage made me physically ill.

What’s going on?

Really, what’s going on?

The Capitol Building—built by slaves, where so many American heroes worked to create Democracy, was desecrated. If you are a true patriot, not some guy with a headdress dressed like a shaman, but someone who loves America, that footage levels you. You just can’t shake the images.

Unbridled social media, unchecked meanness and years of incitement leads to violence. In hindsight, it seems inevitable.

I can see this dynamic unfolding right here if we don’t take a deep breath and check ourselves.

I’m hoping—regardless of who wins—that we can have a reset after the March 9 election. We desperately need one. We have to learn to be a community again.

Right now, we are terribly and dangerously divided.

I’m not the only who feels this way. Many long time contributors to Delray have similar feelings.

The fact that we feel this way annoys some people who would just rather continue down this ruinous path of insult and division.

Over the years, whenever I and others have ventured an opinion there have been attempts to silence us. Some people express shock when you express an opinion. Some of these people would like us PIPS (previously important people) to sit home and stay quiet.

It’s the local version of shut up and dribble. Sorry, not going to happen.

I believe you only critique the stuff that you care about, otherwise why bother.  The truth is I (and many other “exes and formers and used- to- be’s) love this town.

We care about the people who live here. We care about the people who work here and we care about the businesses who invest here.

We are all stakeholders.

Everyone should have a voice and everyone should be encouraged to use that voice hopefully to build a better community.

I have long believed that being a “village” was a lot more than the size of our buildings, which will never be more than 54 feet tall downtown. Friends, we will never be Fort Lauderdale, or even Boynton Beach or Boca Raton which allow 100 foot tall buildings.

We have to find a way to raise the level of discourse in this community and frankly that starts at the commission level.

Our elected officials may not run the day to day operations of the city, but they are tasked with setting the tone for our community. The mayor and city commission own culture.

And culture is everything.

It’s how we feel about our city. It’s how we treat each other. It’s about civility, respect, kindness and compassion.

That does not mean holding hands and singing kumbaya. Some decisions are tough ones and they are divisive by their very nature. We will “win” some votes and be on the losing side of others, but we must learn how to debate better and then move on. This level of divisiveness is not healthy or sustainable.

Our city has a reputation and it isn’t a good one.

The notion that our CRA did nothing for 30 years until it was taken over the by commission is just not true. And anyone who doesn’t believe that can email me through this blog and I will give you a personal tour of projects.

Here’s another myth….our labor unions are not greedy—their job is to care for the welfare of their membership. But they see the big picture too and if you work with them and listen—you’ll find them to be reasonable people who care about our city and are proud to serve us. In my mind, their endorsements mean something.

In terms of aspiration…our northwest and southwest neighborhoods are passionate about the future of The Set, why can’t we work with our neighbors to realize their vision for their neighborhood?  And why can’t we call the neighborhood The Set?

While we are on the subject of vision, I chaired the Congress Avenue Task Force, never did we consider getting rid of a lane of traffic. There was plenty of talk about making it safer to cross the street. Is that controversial?

Sigh…

It wasn’t always like this.

We can blame social media, but that doesn’t change anything.

All of us have to do better. Me too. I thought long and hard about this blog and others. I’m not naming names, there’s nastiness on all “sides” and it’s all wrong and wasted energy.

A happy village is a better village.

If any place can do it, it’s Delray.

We can be the beacon that other communities look to in a nation sorely in need of reconciliation.

We have done this before.

After 9/11—when we learned that many of the terrorists lived here among us—we came together.

When one of our firefighters, Pete Firehock, was murdered—we came together.

In February 2005, when Jerrod Miller was shot and killed, we grieved and we came together.

We were leaders in just about any category you can name: downtown rejuvenation, affordable housing, education, race relations, citizen engagement, urban planning, redevelopment, neighborhood revitalization, historic preservation, sports, events, the use of culture to drive community rebirth and the list goes on.

But for the list to grow. We need some healing.

Right now.

 

Note: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the sad passing of Richard Jones, a super talented architect and very nice man who did a lot for Delray. We pray for his family during this difficult time. We also continue to pray for the memory of Jerrod Miller, someone I think of every day. 2021 marks the 16th year since Jerrod was killed outside the Delray Full Service Center. That means he is gone one year longer than he lived. That fact is a hard one to fathom. We mourn his loss.

When Is Decency Going To Be Cool Again?

 

We live in caustic times.

Corrosive, toxic, rough, tough and at times ugly.

It wears on you, slowly and then all at once when you find yourself feeling blue.

Take a peek at Facebook and watch the usual suspects duke it out.

Spend a minute, just a minute on Twitter and you’ll be soaked in snark.

Take a trip to your mailbox around election time and you better have some Maalox handy.

So when you see an authentic act of decency it catches your attention. In the example I’m about to share, it actually brought a lump to my throat.

It’s a clip sent to me by a buddy of Merrick Garland’s confirmation hearing to become our next Attorney General. It’s one minute long and well worth your time.

Here it is.

https://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2021/02/22/merrick-garland-emotional-family-story-obligation-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/top-news-videos/

 

In that one minute, I learned a lot about Merrick Garland the man. I saw his love of America, his gratitude for this country and what drives him. He’s a good and decent person. We need more of these people in public service.

The day before I saw the video, I read a profile of Judge Garland on the front page of The New York Times, which talked about his work as a prosecutor investigating the Oklahoma City bombing case. Judge Garland went to the scene and spent weeks walking in the rubble absorbing the enormity of the tragedy. He still thinks about the sound of the broken glass crackling as he walked the site and absorbed the emptiness of an obliterated day care center.

These kind of experiences mold you. They forge who you are.

As much as I love and value education, a degree is only the table stakes for some of these jobs. What really matters is your experience—those times when life almost breaks you. If you can survive, you come out stronger, fuller and more capable. Unless you’re a narcissist, then you don’t change. You don’t learn. Beware of those types—they are all around us.

Merrick Garland strikes me as the kind of man who can absorb life’s lessons.

I’ve been thinking a lot about decency lately so I looked up the word and the definition doesn’t quite fit what I feel the word means; so let’s just say you know you it when you see it.

To me, decency is dignity, modesty, courtesy, politeness and fairness. When you experience decency, it moves you.

I don’t think you can sustain success without being decent; without being what my mom would call a mensch.

Oh, you can have short term “wins”—maybe even make a fortune. But eventually you’ll be unmasked.

I recently read a case study of American Apparel founder Dov Charney who was a pretty talented guy but by most accounts a horrible person. He was kicked out of his own company after the board collected texts, emails and photos to create a dossier of his abhorrent behavior.

He was a genius on a lot of levels, but a dose of decency might have saved him. He was sorely lacking and it bit him.

I think the same happens with politicians—at all levels. And most are not close to being geniuses. Nor do they have to be. But they do have to be decent people or they will fail. There’s no exceptions.

I believe getting elected is like signing up for an MRI, it reveals who you really are. If you have strengths, they will be revealed. But so will your weaknesses. Each of us have plenty of strengths and weaknesses, but the best leaders recognize where they fall short and work to address the areas where they’re lacking.

Self-awareness is essential.

Knowing what you don’t know is critical to achieving success in any endeavor that requires leading or managing people.

So is a large dose of plain old decency.

I worry that the coarseness of our politics will dissuade decent people from getting involved.

Close readers of this blog know that I Zoom with childhood friends every other week. On our last call, one of my buddies said his three 20 something kids want absolutely nothing to do with politics.

They are smart and engaged young people with a big stake in the future but they think politics is absolutely stupid. And sadly, they are right.

That’s a shame and it’s tragic really because politics is important. It matters to people’s lives.

Public service is a noble pursuit. At its best, leadership has the power to transform communities, nations and the world. At its worst, it will sink anything. I don’t care how hot your city is, how great your product is or how much money you have socked away—you’re toast if you get the leadership piece wrong.

This is a hyperlocal blog, so I will bring this home to Delray.

What do I look for in local candidates?

Here’s a partial list: vision, creativity, and passion for Delray, passion for people, empathy, compassion, intelligence, self-awareness, the ability to get along with others and integrity. But the table stakes—the bare minimum is decency.

It’s a lot to ask for. But I’ve seen the damage done when any one of these traits are missing; especially if the candidate can’t find it in their hearts to be decent to others, especially those that hold opposing views.

Farewell T.J.

Coach Jackson has been a valued mentor to scores of young athletes.

Last week, T.J. Jackson, the decorated football coach at Atlantic High School, announced that he would be leaving for a new opportunity which has yet to be announced.

When I saw the news, I was happy for T.J.

He’s a really good guy and a great football coach. It’s not surprising that his talents would take him away from Delray Beach.

 

Mr. Jackson was the Eagles’ head coach for eight seasons, compiling a record of 68-23. His 2017 team made it all the way to the Class 7A state championship. And this past season, the Eagles won the Class 7A Tri-County championship after going 5-1 in what was a shortened season because of the pandemic.

 

But T.J. is so much more than his impressive win/loss record.

He is a beloved local figure, an inspiring young leader who earned the love and respect of hundreds of young men that he has coached.

Lee Cohen, a great supporter of Atlantic High football and all-around good guy, had this to say about his friend when news of the resignation was announced.

“Coach TJ understood the importance of not just having a winning team, but in creating a successful program.  Over the past 8 seasons, he led the Eagles to incredible success both on and off the field.  Following a challenging first season, the Eagles’ overall record was 66-16 over the next 7 years and included a trip to the state championship. He created a winning culture that included attention to education, discipline and respect.”

Delray’s current Chief of Police Javaro Sims and former Chief Jeff Goldman praised TJ for his mentoring skills and for his leadership in the community.

In scrolling through the congratulatory comments, my mind drifted back to when I first met TJ a number of years ago.

He was running a non-profit at the time called “Prep and Sports” which was teaching football skills and life skills to kids in our community. He was doing great work and was passionate about making a difference.

T.J. was quiet, almost painfully shy.

But as the saying goes, still waters run deep. T.J. knew kids, had his fingers on the pulse of the community and had a passion for football. That’s a great set of tools if you want to make positive change in the community.

T.J. and a partner brought scores of NFL players and prospects to Delray to train for the season or the NFL Combine, the annual showcase where aspiring players perform physical and mental tests in front of coaches and scouts. The players seemed to like Delray and I had a few lunches with players who expressed a strong desire to help kids find a positive path and they did.

T.J., former Delray Police Capt. Michael Coleman and former assistant community improvement director Jamael Stewart and a few others led that effort.

It’s the kind of activity that often goes undetected, but this is the type of work that builds a community by changing lives.

So let’s say it straight out: these guys change lives.

Michael and Jamael no longer work for the City of Delray. That’s a longer and sadder story for another day. But I sometimes fear that we are losing sight of the special efforts below the radar that make all the difference. If my instincts are correct and those efforts dry up we will be in trouble. Because if we care about the entirety of this community we need to care about the men and women who do this work.

And we should care. We either rise together or we will we fall.

It’s really that simple.

T.J. is a guy who helps people rise.

Losing him in this community is a big deal.

So was losing Jen Costello, a neighborhood planner who went above and beyond because of her passion for Delray—her hometown.

Back in the day, we had Officer Skip Brown organizing Haitian Roving Patrols and working with a wide cross section of the community. I don’t think anyone ever quite replaced Skip or Sgt. Adam Rosenthal who died 10 years ago last week while on the way to work in his police cruiser. Adam taught self-defense classes to women in our community and worked with kids interested in martial arts.

We also lost Officer Johnny Pun, who along with his partner Fred Glass, founded a charter school to teach kids marketable automotive repair skills. The Delray Police Department became the first department in the state to charter a school, an effort that the City Commission at the time was proud to support. Johnny died tragically in a motorcycle crash. He is deeply missed.

When these guys and gals move on, retire, pass away (or are shoved out) it leaves a void. You just don’t go to a job board and replace people like this. It’s not that easy.

Their success is borne of passion for a place and for the people who live there. When you find that, it’s gold.

When you lose it, well you lose a lot.

See you down the road T.J. We all know you’ll do great things at your next stop.

Many in Delray are sorry to see you go.