Heroes & Friends

Bill Branning and Frances Bourque have volunteered for decades.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” MLK.

Last Tuesday night, I sat in a room in the Cornell Museum at Old School Square surrounded by beautiful art and even more beautiful people.

It was the end of a long day, and I was exhausted.

I had been up since 4:30 a.m. worried about a friend who has Covid. I went to the gym and had a busy day at work. All I wanted to do was go home and curl up on the couch with the new puppy.

But I went to Old School Square to talk about the future of the organization with some of the best people I’ve ever met.

And I realized that this is where I should be.

I was home.

I was a few yards from the fieldhouse where I was married, a few feet away from the Crest Theatre where we held Town Hall meetings and where my family and I watched so many memorable shows.

In a few weeks— unless some common sense and a spirit of compromise shows up like a miracle—the beautiful art will come down off the walls. And the special people who created and largely funded Old School Square will be gone too. Some, I fear, will be gone forever. That would be a loss that would do more damage to Delray Beach than just about anything I can think of.

Yes, the city or some museum in Boca can swoop in with lots and lots of (taxpayer?) money and re-open the doors.

The City Manager and Parks Director can make a bunch of snappy and happy YouTube videos telling you that all is well and that things will be “better than ever” at Old School Square.

But they would be wrong.

They don’t know.

They are just good soldiers following orders. They are paid staff, who seem to come and go like the breeze these days, tasked with putting perfume on a decision that smells.

Thanks to a 3-2 vote of the City Commission, 32 years of hard work and passion for this community will be evicted in February.

I thought about that hard work and that passion when I looked around the room Tuesday evening.

There was Frances Bourque, the founder of Old School Square, a hero and inspiration to so many people.

If we lived in a kind place, there would be a statue to Frances on the grounds she saved 32 years ago. Not that Frances would want that, but her friends would, because we would want future generations to know about this wonderful woman who looked at a collection of dilapidated buildings behind a rusted chain link fence and saw so much more.

A few years back, I worked with Frances’ sister Judy and others to nominate Mrs. Bourque for a statewide award given by the University of Florida to honor Floridians for “exceptional achievement, impact, and leadership”.

Frances won.

We weren’t surprised, but she was, and the first thing she did was credit others.

“No MAN (or WOMAN) is an island,” she wrote in an email. “This recognition belongs to ALL of us!”

Typical Frances. The truly great ones are humble. Real leaders share credit.

Sitting next to Frances was the amazing Deborah Dowd.

Deborah is a retired teacher. She worked with students in Title 1 Schools, helping children who lived in poverty learn how to read. I visited her classroom a time or two. Watching her with kids could bring tears to your eyes.

Deborah is an amazing volunteer. She has done so much for wonderful non-profits such as the Achievement Center and served on many important city boards. Deborah won the “Woman of Grace” Award given by Bethesda Hospital a few years back. That award honors the best of us and Deborah is the best of us.

I looked across the room and saw Elise Johnson.

Elise and her husband Charles are generous donors and kind people. They own Putt N’ Around, one of the best places to take your family in Delray Beach. When my sister-in-law passed away recently, we took my nephew to Putt N’ Around to lift everyone’s mood. It was a memorable day—I’m sure so many other families have built memories around the landmark.

In years past, before Covid and this nonsense we are dealing with now, Charles and Elise coordinated the “Santas” who volunteered at Old School Square. We went to their home for Santa training and to receive freshly ordered Santa suits. I can’t think of better or more giving people.

A few feet away from Elise, sat Patty Jones, the chair of Old School Square. Patty and her family just suffered a devastating loss, but she hasn’t missed a beat. She loves OSS so much that she just keeps going. Her devotion moves me to my core. She is a wonderful person.

Next to Patty sat a young man named Malik Ramelize. Malik is an attorney and social justice advocate. I’m so impressed with this guy that I Googled him to learn more. I found an article from the University of Miami Law School that discussed his “wayward” path to the law, how he ran the streets in Delray, saw a whole lot of violence and became determined to make a difference. His middle name is Thurgood, as in Thurgood Marshall.

The article says that when his father gave him the middle name Thurgood, “he knew exactly what he was doing. There’s no doubt that he gave me that name with the hope of me one day becoming an attorney. And I thank him for it because I love the name. Thurgood Marshall was not only one of the greatest Supreme Court justices of our time, but he’s also one of the most influential people of our time. He broke barriers that people thought couldn’t be broken.”

Malik is determined to break barriers and make a difference. Remember his name, I have a hunch he will do great things.

I can go on and on—the caliber of human being in that room fighting for Old School Square is moving and remarkable.

Young leaders like Connor Lynch, seasoned volunteers like Scott Porten and Bill Branning and one of the nicest humans on the planet— Noreen Payne. And the list goes on.

The talented artist Patti McGuire.

Joe Gillie, the guy who won us those All America City Awards we like to brag about. Not to mention the good people on the staff who love the mission and will soon be out of work.

These are the people our city won’t sit down with and talk about a path forward. It’s shameful. There’s no other word. It’s important that you know about these people, because they are invaluable to our community.

Margaret Blume, who gave more money to charity than anyone that I can think of in the modern history of Delray, was dismissed when she appeared at a recent commission meeting to ask about her multimillion- dollar effort to improve the Crest Theatre, fieldhouse and Cornell Museum.

A majority of our commission can’t find it in their hearts to say a kind word about people like Frances and Margaret.

Some, however, have found the time to double down on misinformation about OSS.

One brand new commissioner  talks about the millions of taxpayer dollars that have flowed to OSS over the years but she doesn’t say that 75-80 percent of the budget is raised privately by OSS. How can a businesswoman talk only about costs not benefits, as if there has been no return on the public’s investment?

Really?

Look down the street at Atlantic Avenue—there’s your return.

Ask a resident if they have had a good time at OSS over the years—seeing a show, watching a free concert or taking a class. How do you measure the value of sitting on the grass and watching kids 5 to 95 dance under the stars to music in the Pavilion?

Old School Square has generated millions and millions of dollars in economic activity and investment over the past three decades. Somehow this is lost on the powers that be.

For some reason, there is a concerted effort to undo all the good work it took to build this community.

Let’s get rid of the festivals, let’s take over the CRA and politicize it, let’s ignore the neighbor’s vision for The Set—their own neighborhood. Let’s throw away OSS and the people behind it.

Why?

Because they are the “good old boys”?

Tell that to the women in the room. The only thing that’s correct in that sentence is the word good.

These are good people.

And that’s what this fight is about my friends.

This is not about performance, although OSS can always do better. OSS had turnover in senior positions and they missed an audit deadline. P.S. the city has had turnover too. Massive and costly turnover.

The Commission has made a ton of mistakes from mishandling the water issue to screwing up nearly every RFP that’s been issued.

What leaders do is acknowledge shortcomings and work with partners to make things better.

This is not about OSS’ lack of compliance; the organization missed a deadline because their auditor quit during a horrible and historic pandemic.

OSS has since produced clean audits and every document that has been requested. It’s all a red herring. This is about crushing good people.

This feels personal to those people, because it is personal.

These people have been bullied. They have been labeled and they have been maligned.

They have also been accused of being arrogant, not listening and failing to comply with the city’s rules.

It’s just not true.

And if the city felt that way, there was never an attempt to sit down and figure it out; to walk through the issues, perceived slights and alleged deficiencies in the spirit of trying to make things better.

I suppose it’s quicker to take out a two by four than it is to commit to a process meant to build mutual understanding and a better relationship. Quicker–but costly too. Costly in terms of legal fees, staff time (tax dollars) and human fall out.

I see the treatment of OSS as a metaphor for the state of our city these days.

 

For better or worse, OSS is one of our signature civic achievements.

 

Nobody from OSS has ever argued that it is perfect or all that it could be or needs to be.

But it’s still pretty damn good, and it still represents one hell of an effort by a generation of volunteers and donors. People were proud of that effort and happy to serve and write checks. They knew they were serving the community and that they had a partner in the city and the CRA.

 

Back before we became a dysfunctional municipal laughingstock with an endless parade of city managers, department heads and lawsuits, cities from all over the country came to Delray to learn how we did it. What was our secret sauce?

We always met those groups at OSS because we were proud of those buildings and the effort and love it took to bring them to life.

When we went on the road, our last presentation slide was always OSS. It was the show- stopper. And it never failed to elicit ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’. But it wasn’t the restoration of the buildings that got to people. It was the community effort and the passion that went into the effort of building community that hit home.

For better or worse, OSS has been a big piece of this community’s heart and soul. There are other important symbols—other important non-profits, but it would be hard to argue that OSS doesn’t matter.

And it’s not the buildings folks, as beautiful and historic as they are. It is the people who have been involved. The people who breathed life  into the campus, who gave us a place to gather, who built a special sense of community.

Destroying this organization is an attack on that heart and soul.

We should all care about this fight because it is about so much more than OSS.

It is about the future of this city. And how we treat each other.

Think that’s overly dramatic?  Oh, I hope so.

I hope I’m wrong.

But when some of the best people in this community  get hit by a two by four,  you can count on some of them to walk away and quit. Quit giving, quit serving, quit caring.

All I am saying is that would be  a shame. A preventable shame.

I think that’s the goal here.  To get these people to quit. (P.S. most won’t).

That’s just my hunch.

What would be the harm in talking to good people? What’s the downside?

We can talk about what’s gone wrong in this relationship, what needs to change, what needs to get better and what’s been good about this place. We can work together on behalf of the community as we are all tasked to do.

A few weeks back, 8 former mayors—every elected mayor who is still alive wrote a letter asking for that conversation and for the public to be involved in determining the future of Old School Square, the heart and soul of our community. To date, we have heard crickets. To date, the community has not been heard. Nearly 11,000 who signed a petition have been ignored.

Citizen driven planning led to the revitalization of Delray Beach. That was the secret sauce. Talking to each other about Delray and then going out and making it happen.

Why wouldn’t we go back to that formula now? Why wouldn’t we listen to the stakeholders instead of turning the fate of Old School Square over to a judge?

The people in the Cornell Museum last week are wondering the same things.

They are my heroes.

Many of us were off the board for years before we got back involved to stand up for the organization thousands of people have built and sustained over the years. Those need people need a voice. They deserve an audience with the powers that be that sit on the commission.

We would be losing an awful lot if these people walked away.

And if that isn’t the goal, we should all put down our swords, sit down like adults and figure this out.

OSS has always been willing to talk, despite the spin from the dais.

OSS has offered to talk, but they have been rejected. Repeatedly.

So it was litigate, or be put out to the trash after three decades. There was no choice.

OSS offered to settle, but a majority of the commission wouldn’t even discuss the offer among themselves.

OSS offered to mediate early, but the city’s attorneys said no.

Meanwhile, the misinformation keeps coming. And remember, the city ended the lease “without cause.”

Ironic and I’m being charitable.

I guess if you keep repeating lies, people start believing or at least questioning.

It’s even more ironic when the same commissioners complain when OSS pushes back.

Bullies will take your lunch money every day if you let them, but bullies typically don’t like it when you say enough is enough.

OSS is saying enough. They are also saying let’s work it out. Let’s not throw away everything that has been built.

I hope you will stick by these brave volunteers and the dedicated staff that remain,  because as important as OSS is, this is an even bigger fight.

I Dream Of Community

I woke up this morning and watched Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis.

He was assassinated the next day. He never got to the Promised Land. He knew he wouldn’t.

But MLK saw the Mountain Top. He saw America’s problems, but he also saw its potential. He had hope for the nation to become the Promised Land.

So do I.

I also have hope for our community.

Last week, I wrote about finding an old video from Delray Beach’s first All America City Award win in 1993.

The footage reminded me of a productive and happy time in our community.  In the 90s and beyond, Delray was brimming with aspiration and there was widespread civic engagement and a whole lot of unity.

After the hotly contested 1990 election, we would go ten years before the next contested election. That’s astonishing when you think about that through the lens of today’s toxic politics.

But it didn’t seem so strange back then because people were largely happy with the city’s direction at the time. It’s hard to imagine an uncontested seat these days.

While competitive elections are healthy, it’s hard to remember a time when the electorate wasn’t polarized. It’s also hard to remember a time when elections were about ideas not about personalities and whose “camp” you’re in.

Sadly, we are not alone.

We live in a polarized nation—a dangerously divided country in which both sides believe the other side poses an existential threat to their survival.

The division and vitriol that accompanies that division consumes a lot of the time of many people that I know.

And we wrestle with its many manifestations.

Locally, we see the division play out with bickering on social media, nasty elections and political decisions based on personalities not sound public policy.

Nationally, we all know how toxic Washington has become.

But the division has even affected families and friendships.

I know people who don’t speak to once beloved relatives because they voted for Trump or Biden.

And I’m really wrestling with my feelings for a longtime friend who is an ardent anti-vaxxer who supports a U.S. Senate candidate who believes the vaccine is “Luciferian.” When I saw a video of the candidate, it literally made me nauseous. I wanted to buy the guy a one-way ticket on Elon Musk’s spaceship.

Of course, my friend would rather have people send the candidate money so he can protect Americans from a vaccine that I consider a lifesaver. The candidate calls the jab the mark of the beast. Sigh.

I know I tipped my personal politics with that story, so I guess I can count on a few of you dropping off here. Go ahead, I’ll miss you.

Let’s just say that as a Covid survivor, I am grateful for the vaccine. If it keeps me and my loved ones out of the hospital and alive, I’m good with that. I don’t fear 5G or being controlled by Bill Gates and I don’t believe Democrats are molesting children on the second floor of a pizza shop that didn’t have a second floor.

I think the feds have done a bad job with messaging on the virus and that our government has been a day late and a dollar short on testing. But I’m grateful for the scientists hard at work to protect us and to companies like Moderna who I believe have saved millions of lives. And if you think that makes me a socialist, well I’m also glad I bought Moderna stock. 😊

When I was hospitalized with Covid in the summer of 2020, they had nothing to throw at me except some anti-virals, experimental convalescent plasma, powerful steroids, and Vitamin D. The threat of a ventilator loomed over me for 39 long and painful days. So, when a vaccine was approved, I couldn’t wait to get it.

I honestly don’t believe I have the mark of the beast running through my veins (some may disagree). I do thank the good lord for granting all of us some measure of protection.

But enough about what ails us.

How about some solutions?

Nationally, there’s an organization called No Labels (www.nolabels.org) that is trying mightily to bring Democrats and Republicans together through what is called the “Problem Solvers Caucus.”

A few months back, thanks to the generosity of a friend in Delray, a few of my buddies and I had a chance to interact via phone with the organization’s top leadership. I liked a lot of what I heard, but honestly, I’ve been turned off by some other things and I’ve shared that with the organization’s top brass who have been kind enough to debate me via email.

My biggest beef with No Labels is that they seem to push a few favorite politicians and I think that’s risky in this environment. I think they should be concentrating on the basics: bipartisanship, the need for compromise and the importance of having peaceful transfers of power after elections.

They won’t get my money to support some overstuffed overrated Senator. Not that my money matters anyway.

No Labels has promise, but it’s not enough and it’s missing the mark in a few fundamental ways. Are they a solution? I hope so, but I’m not convinced. (Sorry, Randy, it’s not personal, just business).

I do think volunteering is a potential answer to bridging divides. But there’s some headwinds to overcome–namely people aren’t volunteering.

There was some bad news for Florida released to little fanfare last week.

The Corporation for National and Community Service ranks Florida as the lowest volunteer state in the nation, with 22.8% of residents volunteering statewide. The Miami/Fort Lauderdale/West Palm Beach area ranks even lower: 18.7% of residents volunteer, ranking us the lowest among studied metropolitan areas.
Yikes!

Here’s how our community/region fared on some other metrics:

  • 97.4% of residents regularly talk or spend time with friends and family
  • 39.2% of residents do favors for neighbors
  • 24.6% of residents do something positive for the neighborhood
  • 14.0% of residents participate in local groups or organizations
  • 36.7% of residents donate $25 or more to charity

We lag the rest of the state with those numbers. Here are Florida’s numbers:

  • 95.4% of residents regularly talk or spend time with friends and family
  • 50.9% of residents do favors for neighbors
  • 23.6% of residents do something positive for the neighborhood
  • 19.2% of residents participate in local groups or organizations
  • 43.2% of residents donate $25 or more to charity

Utah, with a 51 percent volunteer rate is number one, followed by Minnesota at 45.1 percent and Oregon at 43.2 percent.

Florida ranks dead last— one percentage point below Mississippi.

Minneapolis-St. Paul tops the nation’s cities at 46.3 percent, followed by Rochester, N.Y. at 45.6 percent and Salt Lake City at 45 percent. Our community ranks dead last among major metros with an 18.7 percent volunteer rate just below Las Vegas.

I think civic participation and volunteerism are solutions to polarization. It’s easy to demonize someone you don’t know, and harder to ignore the humanity of someone you work beside.

When Delray won its first All America City Award in ’93 and became the first city in Florida to win twice in 2001, we had over 1,000 people volunteering for our Police Department. We had several hundred trained for the Fire Department’s Community Emergency Response Team (which came in handy after hurricanes) and programs such as a Youth Council, Citizen Police Academies, Neighborhood Potluck Dinners, Study Circles (part of a race relations initiative), youth summits, neighborhood summits, a Neighborhood Advisory Council, Neighborhood Task Teams, Town Hall meetings, Resident Academies, Haitian Citizen Police Academies and a slew of citizen driven visioning exercises to guide our elected officials. We may have a few of these programs left, but a lot of these efforts have been gutted, discarded, and or forgotten about.

We even had a Citizen’s Tool Kit given to new residents to help them get connected. You were given a kit when you registered to get your water meter turned on.

When we look for answers I would start with beefing up volunteerism, civic engagement, and citizen input. The efforts must be real and authentic, not check the box window dressing.

It’s not easy with Covid, but it’s doable.

It will take a lot of time and resources, but if successful, we can reknit the social fabric.

People who work together toward a common goal tend not to hate each other. In fact, just the opposite occurs. Respect builds, relationships form, and community gets built.

And my friends, we need community now more than ever. We need it before it’s too late.

 

 

 

A Look Back Could Be A Map Forward

Joe Gillie leading the All America City effort in 1993.

Over the holidays, we spent some time in the 1990s.

We took the trip back through home movies. It was quite an experience.

This is not a usual “thing” for us, but my ex-wife was in town for Christmas, and she gave us all flash drives filled with memories. It was a wonderful gift and deeply appreciated.

We got to “visit” with relatives since departed and hear voices that we miss so much that our hearts literally ache.

We got to see our children when they were little. It was great.

We were reminded once again of how fast life flies by. The home movie experience makes you nostalgic for what seemed like a simpler time.

It’s the everyday stuff that tugs on your heart; seeing your son dig into his first birthday cake (with his hands). Seeing your now grown daughter hugging a long departed beloved pet. Savor these fleeting scenes….they drift into the mist as the days pass by.

As a new year begins, I think that’s a good message to hold onto. Cherish the good stuff. Hold onto hope in this crazy world.

The home movie binge led us an old video of Delray’s 1993 All America City Award win in Tampa.

It was the city’s first win and the victory put Delray on the map nationally. But more importantly, the All America City designation gave the many citizens who were working to build this community the validation that they were on the right track.

A distinguished group of judges—people who knew cities and asked tough questions—took a look at what Delray was doing and gave the city an enthusiastic thumbs up.

My wife, Diane, then the city’s assistant planning director, filmed the event and we think it may be the only video that exists. We’re not sure why, but I guess nobody thought of filming the event.

Viewed today, almost 30 years later, it’s clear that what happened in Tampa was important local history and I think it ought to be required viewing for anyone interested in what it takes to build community and instill civic pride.

Now as good an urban planner as my wife was, she was not exactly an auteur behind the lens. Scorcese she is not. (Sorry, Diane).

Still, she managed to capture the spirit of this community circa 1993 and that spirit was awe-inspiring.

A few things jump out.

City government was close to its residents.

Neighborhood leaders and the city partnered on a wide range of projects. The Police Department, under the leadership of Chief Rick Overman, was taking community policing to new heights working closely with the grass roots group MAD DADS to take back entire neighborhoods from drug dealers. That effort became legendary, but the video also reveals how integrated the efforts were with the rest of city government. The Community Improvement Department, led by Lula Butler, worked hand in hand with the Planning Department and other city departments to move the needle on blight, crime, and quality of life issues. In those days, everything seemed to be interlocked and when people, systems and organizations are rowing in the same direction you can move mountains. And Delray did.

–There was a laser focus on schools.

When one of the All America City judges asked a tough question about local schools, up came School Board member Bill Graham to testify to the city’s close partnership with the School District. Pretty cool. Delray was a model for other cities on how to partner with the School Board to make meaningful change and they did with new schools (Village Academy), award winning programs (S.D. Spady’s Montessori magnet) and improved facilities (a new Atlantic High School which was built about a decade after the ‘93 All America City Award).

—There was extraordinary camaraderie among citizens.

My favorite parts of the video footage is to see Delray’s diverse community interacting in candid moments. Old and young, Black and white, east and west—there was a real closeness and ease that was evident in those days. Everyone was on board with a common vision. They all shared the same North Star and that’s magical to witness.

I, for one, took that part for granted. Delray was built on vision. Public engagement and involvement was what crafted that vision.

We have gotten away from that and it has caused all sorts of problems.

But in 1993, the community was unified behind Visions 2000 and the Decade of Excellence bond which provided the financing for all sorts of public investments. The citizens backed those efforts because they created the vision and then voted overwhelmingly to fund it.

Those investments yielded an immense return. For the life of me, I will never understand why recent commissions haven’t taken advantage of historically low interest rates (and record tax revenues to satisfy debt) to invest in our infrastructure which is aging and in need of repair.

There’s one more factor that hit me as the camera scanned the crowd and I saw the likes of Frances Bourque, Ken Ellingsworth, Dave Harden, Chris Brown, Tom Fleming, David Kovacs, Robin Smith, Deborah Dowd, Chuck Ridley, Spencer Pompey, Ruth Pompey, Tom Lynch, Jay Alperin, David Kovacs, Helen Coopersmith, Sandra Almy, Ben Bryant, Bob Currie, Dorothy Ellington, Leo Erbstein, Dave Henninger, Mike Weiner, Frank McKinney, Sandy Simon, John Tallentire, Bill Wood and so many others.

These were some really, really special people. The kind of people who move mountains.

All these folks were very different, but they were united in their love for this city, and they gave  their time, talents and treasure to Delray Beach.

I have no doubt that we still have some amazing talent and passion in our city. I see it every day.

But in my opinion our city government is no longer doing the outreach to get people involved. So many people feel adrift as a result.

And it can’t all be blamed on Covid. This drift has been going on long before we heard the word.

We are suffering from a lack of leadership and vision—that’s fatal my friends. Fatal, with a capital F. And if it doesn’t change, you can use that letter to describe what we will be.

We long ago ditched the Town Hall meeting, charrettes and visioning sessions. Now our chances to engage with the city are few and far between and some people have been cancelled because they don’t support the current regime. (see Square, Old School for a prime example).

This isn’t a healthy or productive way to run a city. And the evidence is everywhere (See, turnover and lawsuits for example).

There is a better way.

Sometimes you should look to the past for clues. It is no longer than the 90s. That’s clear. The world has changed.

But some basics never grow old. Kindness, friendship, outreach, engagement and a sincere desire to enlist the community to tackle its challenges will never go out of style. That’s what made us an All America City when that really meant something.

I’ve long ago given up on a few elected officials. Thanks to term limits they will all go some day. But we have a new City Manager. I think he’s the ninth or 50th since Dave Harden retired, I forget which because it has been dizzying to watch. But maybe this one will stick around.

If he’s willing, he ought to spend 20 minutes or so watching the video from 1993. He might get a glimpse of a town that was really working back in those days. He might just learn something.

Email me Mr. Moore. I will make sure you get a copy. I will even find someone who understands what it takes to build community to sit with you (at a respectful social distance of course) and narrate.  I suspect  you are getting a very one-sided view of what Delray is like.  Perhaps you should balance that out.

There are still a few icons from that era who I’m sure would be happy to help you.

 

 

For Randy….

Randy 2003-2021

“And in the end

The love you take

Is equal to the love you make”—John Lennon/Paul McCartney

 

Happy New Year!

Can you believe it’s 2022?

So where did we leave off?

Who knows, let’s start fresh shall we?

But first, I have something I need to share. It helps me to write, so thanks for the indulgence.

Just before Christmas, we lost our little dog Randy.

He was almost 19 years old. He was ready, even if we weren’t.

Are we ever ready to say goodbye to someone we love?

But before I tell you a little more about my friend, I want to share this insight about having dogs—mostly rescues—for the past 50 years. They have their priorities straight: sleep, play, eat, love. Repeat.

Throw in the magic of car rides with the wind blowing your hair, sniffing everything, and curling up on a blanket and you have the makings of a great life.

Those of us who love dogs,  think that they don’t live long enough, and they don’t. We should have them much longer. But if we are on this Earth to learn a lesson, it sort of makes sense that dogs don’t have to stay as long because they already know how to live and how to love.

They know that life is about love. They know that love is all you need.

We got Randy when he was about two years old in 2005 at the Delray Affair.

Diane knew about the Animal Rescue Force (ARF), a wonderful non-profit that rescues dogs and cats.

She and my daughter decided to check out the ARF booth at the Delray Affair and they were drawn to Randy, a skinny little Chihuahua mix with huge eyes and a fiery disposition. Randy weighed about 10 pounds at the time, but he carried himself as if he were a lion. He had a presence about him. He was adorable.

When they brought him home, his first two welcoming moves were to bite me and pee all over the house.

We figured it would be all uphill from that auspicious beginning.

Our golden retriever rescue, Casey, was an easy sell. They became instant friends. Casey would even “walk” Randy on the leash. Neighbors couldn’t believe their eyes. Randy was in on the joke. He was a leader, but he knew the best leaders empower their buddies.

As for Randy, he was only warming up in terms of “redecorating” our home.

Carpeting, rugs, and blinds were immediately targeted for destruction. He spent a lot of his time patrolling the back door looking out at the lake and protecting us from squirrels, iguanas, ducks, and birds. When wildlife appeared (or sometimes he would just pretend to see something that wasn’t there) he would slam his little body against the glass, grab hold of a blind or a rug and shake them furiously. He was ferocious and more than a little crazy. The golden would look at us as if to say: “you’re taking him back, right?”

She was kidding, of course. He wouldn’t be going anywhere for a long, long, long time.

In time, Randy mellowed a little bit and channeled his energy into more productive pursuits. My brother-in-law Paul called him “Mr. Cardio” because when you walked him, he would triple his steps walking out front—all the way to the right and all the way to the left—his little legs moving like powerful pistons always on patrol for adventure.

His outings to the dog park were challenging because he was there for—-how do we say this politely? He was there for the action.

So, we took him other places—car rides where he would hang his head out of the window and urge us to drive through puddles because he loved the splashing water. Our daughter, Sam, took him to Starbucks regularly and he enjoyed pup cups at Boardwalk ice cream in Boynton Beach and Kilwin’s on the Avenue.

A Delray dog through and through, he attended the Easter Bonnet Parade, Chihuahua races at the Cinco De Mayo Festival and loved Lake Ida Park and walking by the Delray Playhouse where he marveled at the wave runners. And he made tons of friends, two-legged and four legged too. There was the postman who would come every day and invite Randy onto his truck for a treat and a scratch. There were Kim and Rebecca who were extra nice to him and Bella Liguori, a big black lab who would knock on the back door every night come in, eat Randy’s food and leave.

As cool and as handsome as Randy was….well he too, had his issues with women. It made him even more endearing in my eyes.

When Casey passed, he welcomed Sophie into our home. A fellow Chihuahua rescue from the streets of Miami, Sophie was a tough little girl. Randy loved her.

When Sophie passed, we welcomed another golden, a rescue named Teddy into our home. This was a match made in heaven. Those two were so good together. Randy the feisty veteran, Teddy the sweet innocent big lug with a giant heart. When “things” happened in the house, Teddy would be ashamed. Randy would walk past the mess as if to say: “this is on you guys, you shouldn’t have trusted us.”

When Teddy passed, Randy mourned.

And he got old.

For the longest time, he seemed to defy the calendar. He never really got gray, but his once bright mischievous eyes got terribly cloudy and there was nothing doctors could do.

For me, that was the saddest part of all. I loved Randy’s big expressive eyes. Suddenly, the light that was in his eyes went away. And that created an ache in my heart.

Being the resilient dog that he was, Randy learned to navigate the house without his eyesight. He avoided the angles of the kitchen but otherwise got along very well. Another lesson we can learn from dogs: they adjust, they adapt, they don’t complain they keep going on until they can’t no more.

For Randy, that day came on December 22.

We knew it was coming.

When we decided to get Gracie, our new golden puppy, we never thought Randy would be around to meet her. But he was. And he took one last Christmas picture dressed up next to a willful puppy who knew enough to be gentle around her senior brother.

All of the kids, except for Viktor, were home for the holidays and to say goodbye.

Jim Grubb, the world’s best and kindest vet, was here to ease Randy into the next world. I sure hope the Rainbow Bridge is a real thing. I think we all do.

Over the holiday break, I often found myself staring off into the corners of the house to Randy’s favorite spots. I would look to the spot where Randy would catch the sun, glance at where he would patrol and tear up a little when I looked at where he would curl up and sleep so peacefully. I looked at old photos of his big dark eyes and found myself aching for that little ball of energy.

He was the constant in our house—even the kids grew up and went away as they should. But there was always Randy; hopping  into our laps, sitting at the table when nobody was looking and always alert —hanging on our every word.

Diane and I, the kids and so many others loved him, I think that’s why he stayed around for almost 19 years. Our love sustained him, and his love sustained us.

That’s how it’s supposed to be. As it’s meant to be….

Until we meet again Randy.

I know, if it’s at all possible, you will be there waiting for us.

 

In Search of Hope & Joy

“Stay gentle, keep the eyes of a child

Don’t harden your heart or your hands

Know to find joy in the darkness is wise

Although they will think you don’t understand

Don’t let the world make you callous

Be ready to laugh

No one’s forgotten about us

There is light on your path

—“Stay Gentle” lyrics by Brandi Carlile

 

This will be my last post for 2021.

I want to wish you all a happy, safe, and joyous Christmas and New Year and I want to thank you for reading. I’m grateful for your time and attention every Monday (and sometimes Wednesdays).

This column is a labor of love and something that I look forward to every week.

I cherish your feedback and take it all to heart.

As we wrap up 2021, I find myself thinking about the twin concepts of hope and joy.

Those words were planted in my brain by none other than Stevie Van Zandt, guitarist for the E Street Band, and the guy who played Silvio on The Sopranos.

I just finished Mr. Zan Vandt’s awesome autobiography “Unrequited Infatuations” which has become a surprise best seller. The book is terrific, and I love the title because it summarizes the experiences of most guys I know. Sigh.

Littler Steven is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, consigliere to Bruce Springsteen and a political activist who played a prominent role in the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa. He’s also quietly been at the forefront of everything from satellite radio and Netflix’s international expansion to the resurgence of arts education through his “Teach Rocks” foundation and curriculum.

He seems like a cool guy and is certainly a larger-than-life figure hanging out with the likes of Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, James Gandolfini and Little Richard. Now that’s a dinner party!

A minor but recurring theme of the book is the notion that we, as a society and as a nation, have lost our sense of hope and joy.
Stevie feels that those words were a common thread behind the spirit of the 1960s, but somewhere along the way we lost our mojo.

There’s no joy in Mudville as they say. Little hope that the world we inhabit will get better.

The 60s were a turbulent era—war, assassinations, street protests, struggles for civil and equal rights. But despite the chaos, Mr. Van Zandt says there was joy and hope in our music, in our culture and even in our politics. There was a sense that we were working toward a more perfect union.

I’ve been thinking about these heavy topics amidst the turbulence and division of 2021.

We’ve lost 800,000 plus Americans to Covid; but instead of this threat binding us together; the virus has driven us apart—physically, spiritually and politically.

We hold elections and a great many no longer trust the results.

Faith in our institutions—government, courts, media, schools, universities, the financial system and businesses are suffering according to public opinion surveys. Attendance at religious services— in person and on-line— is dropping.

It’s a scary time of public health crises, inflation, climate change and spasms of gun violence.

We fear and loathe those who do not think like us.

Right here at home, we end the year with arguably our greatest civic icon, Frances Bourque, embroiled in a lawsuit pitting Old School Square against the City of Delray Beach. Think about that for a moment. It’s just a big, loud (and sad) wow.

Which begs the question; is there still room for joy? Is there space for hope to take root in such a climate?

I believe there is.

I have no evidence to support my feelings. No magic formula that says things will get better other than faith.

I still have faith.

It may be misplaced, it may be delusional, but I still harbor a belief that before we sink further our better angels will wake up and save the day.

As Mets fans used to say: “Ya Gotta Believe”.

Reknitting our torn social fabric is the leadership challenge of a lifetime. The stakes could not be higher. I believe the survival of American Democracy is at stake and because we remain a beacon for the world, if we fail, there will be grave global implications. The world needs America. And we need her too.

So, what should we do?
Well, we need to re-establish the existence of objective facts. That won’t be easy but if half of our population says today is Monday and the other says Tuesday, where does that get us?

If half the nation wants to try and address climate change but the other half doesn’t– what happens to our world if the overwhelming majority of scientists are correct and we are indeed experiencing an existential crisis affecting every corner of our globe?

If we hold elections and half the country doesn’t trust their basic integrity how do we function as a Democracy?

And if we lose faith in our courts and large swaths of our nation decides to ignore rulings where does that leave the rule of law, the basic building block of a civilized society?

I don’t know the answers or even where to begin, yet I remain full of hope that we can somehow find a way forward.

It seems to be that most people I interact with—on both sides of the aisle—are pretty miserable these days, especially at the state of our politics—on all levels federal, state and local.

There’s no joy and where’s there no joy hope wanes.

As someone who believes in the power of community, I believe the answers start right here at home.

We can resolve to be kinder to each other. We can resolve to talk more and shout less. We can resolve to listen to those who are disaffected.

We can make it a point to confront bullies and not cede them the public square.

We can resolve to respect each other, to listen and to be stewards instead of bulldozers.

We can summon the courage to stand up and be counted— in a respectful way of course. We can stop pretending that we can’t be found when our friends ask us to stand up for what’s right.

We can show up and speak truth to power even if that truth may hurt our interests in the short term. It’s called doing the right thing.

We can react or we can respond.

From Seth Godin: “When we react to a medicine, that’s a bad thing. When we respond, it’s working.”

We can throw a tantrum or we can respond—with something that works. With an approach we’re proud of, proud of even after the moment has passed. It’s not easy, it’s often not fun, but it’s the professional’s choice.

It’s also the citizen’s choice. We need to become citizens again.

We can save our communities. We have the power to do so.

It starts with kindness and empathy and ends with joy and hope.

Joy keeps us going. So does hope. Right now, we have to keep moving forward even when we feel tired and want to chuck it all. Especially when we are tired. We must never ever give up.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a safe New Year.

I’ll leave with part of a  poem called “One Today”  that I recently discovered. It’s by Richard Blanco.

“We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight

of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,

always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon

like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop

and every window, of one country—all of us—

facing the stars

hope—a new constellation

waiting for us to map it,

waiting for us to name it—together.”

 

 

 

The Ties That Happily Bind

Retired Delray Beach Police Officer Chuck Jeroloman.

Every year, around Christmastime, I get a text from a retired Delray Beach detective.

“It’s time to meet for dinner at Arturo’s Restaurant in Boca Raton.”

And every year, 5 to 7 of us, retired cops, a retired businessman and one washed-up politician (me) get together to catch up. They even let one retired firefighter attend. That’s a big concession for a police officer to make, but in the spirit of the season the invite is issued and usually accepted.

I look forward to this dinner.

In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, this event stands out for its warmth, its meaning and just the genuine feeling of camaraderie you get when you sit with old friends.

Even though we don’t see each other much, time just melts away when you are with certain people and you fall right back into the comfort of a good friendship.

I really admire and in some ways, I am envious of police officers and firefighters. They share a bond that unites them in a very special way.

To be sure, I’ve been blessed with some really special work and office friendships too. But there’s something different about cops and firefighters. It’s a next level connection.

Working in a newsroom, alongside talented writers, editors and photographers was a gift that I will always miss and remember fondly. My current office culture is special too. I’ve worked with incredible people and I am deeply appreciative of that experience and worry about what others who work remotely are missing.

Yes, I know it’s safer and convenient to work from home. It’s liberating as well because you can live anywhere that has an internet connection. But….

But you don’t get the closeness and the magic of what it’s like to see and interact with people every day.

But as special as my work environments have been—the richness and the bonds between police officers and firefighters is something else entirely. They refer to each other as brothers and sisters and they mean it.

When they lose a brother and a sister, they feel it deep in their souls because they shared so many adventures and stories.

As an old crime reporter, I know not all is bliss. There are cliques, divisions, politics and jealousies in police and fire departments. Combined with the stressful nature of the job, the dangers, the responsibility for life and property etc., you can see why many of the retirees are happy to be doing other things after long careers working long shifts. But…

They do miss it.

And oh, the stories they can tell.

I got to be very close with a generation of police officers and firefighters in Delray Beach. These men and women are remarkable.

Some of the newcomers to our community may not know that Delray was a rough place in the 80s and into the 90s too. Some neighborhoods were open air drug markets and there was a lot of drugs, guns and violence.

Remarkably, I was given carte balance to ride along with detectives, fugitive task forces, field training officers and the well-known and much respected “jump out” crews who tackled street level drug sales day and night.

I was a reporter in those days, and I kept crazy hours—riding in the back seat of police cruisers all night and ending with breakfast at a long gone IHOP on North Federal Highway before rushing back to the newsroom to write it all down before I forgot what happened. Over time, the officers I rode with began to trust me.

I strived to be accurate in my reporting. I tried to convey to readers what was happening on the streets of Delray through the eyes of the men and women tasked with serving and protecting us.

When fights broke out—and they did often—the always outnumbered cops waded into the fray. When someone got hurt, the paramedics were called in and were often pummeled with rocks too.

Delray was a long way from the posh, hip and trendy location it has become today. Commissioners didn’t have the luxury of arguing over sea grapes back then. In those days, it was about whether the city would ever turn it around.

I credit our public safety departments with making Delray safe for investment. They are the unsung heroes of Delray’s revitalization because if you don’t feel safe you can’t build community, you can’t attract residents, businesses, and tourists. You have nothing without public safety. Nothing.

So when I see gadflies whining about the costs of these departments I shrug. They just don’t know. Providing top-notch police and fire services is expensive. But it’s more expensive not to do so.

When I was elected to the City Commission in 2000, that was the one subject I felt very secure of  in terms of my knowledge. These officers, detectives, firefighters and paramedics took me to school, and I knew that my job as an elected official was to support their efforts which were bearing fruit. Crime rates went down. The relationship between officers and the community improved; trust was built through a deep and sincere commitment to community-oriented policing. On the fire side, insurance rates went down and we heard story after story of lives being saved because of the efforts of our paramedics.

During this era, Delray Police and Fire  built a robust volunteer network with citizens rolling up their sleeves to make our community safer.

It worked.

It all worked.

Along the way, I became friendly with that detective who organizes the annual Christmas dinner. His name is Chuck Jeroloman. We had New York roots and a mutual passion for baseball in common and we became quick friends.

I first met Chuck when he was on that jump out crew, known officially as the Tact Team. He was a big, strong, charismatic guy—kind of larger than life. But his biggest strength was his relationship skills. He knew how to connect with people.

He became a detective, an expert in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, a union leader and later a very knowledgeable and effective member of the Police and Fire Pension Board. He also served on the SWAT team and  was involved in the department’s anti-terrorism efforts post 9/11. He spent 28 years in law enforcement, 23 of those years serving our city.

Chuck loved Delray and he was always quick to share what he had learned at a conference or through hard won experience.  He also has a great sense of humor in a job where that comes in handy.

When he retired, he moved to Alabama but got a job with a law firm that advises police and fire pension funds. He has been doing that job for a long time now building relationships throughout the country with clients.

He’s going to retire from that position in the New Year to spend time with family. That makes me happy. Despite his latest transition, we are resolved to keeping this dinner an annual tradition.

This year, Chuck brought his son, Brian, to the dinner. And a new generation was introduced to the great stories and warehouse of knowledge that exists when you sit with men like Tom Judge (Delray PD retired) and Perry Don Francisco (former owner of Boston’s on the Beach and co-founder of Delray Citizens for Delray Police.)

Brian is a former UF baseball star who played 11 seasons of professional baseball for the likes of the Nationals, Blue Jays and Pirates. He currently scouts for the Yankees. He has some amazing stories himself and so the circle continues.

The next morning, still flying high from our great dinner conversation, I got a text from another Delray retiree.

“Hey,” I wrote back. “I had dinner with Chuck and TJ last night.”

“Oh man, I love those guys,” my friend wrote back. “Chuck’s wife delivered all of my children (she’s a nurse).”

That’s a link I didn’t know about. Another tie that bonds these people together.

In the history of Delray, there are a lot of men and women who have worked for our city that have quietly done an amazing job to advance this community in ways large and small.

They don’t get a whole lot of recognition, but they are all vitally important.

They are all a big part of the tapestry that makes this a place we can call home.

Many of these people move on after serving—but their hearts remain here alongside their life’s work.

I feel such a debt to these people. I treasure them.

They are invaluable.

They are cherished by those of  us who know what it takes to build something special.

8 Mayors: We Can Do Better

The recently renovated Cornell Museum features a new exhibit that celebrates OSS’ contributions to Delray Beach.

Last week, eight former mayors signed a letter in support of Old School Square.It was an extraordinary gesture. I don’t think we’ve ever seen this level of solidarity among every living former elected mayor.The eight mayors—Doak Campbell, Tom Lynch, Jay Alperin, David Schmidt, me, Rita Ellis, Woodie McDuffie and Cary Glickstein represent 33 years of service. Some have lived in Delray for 50,  60 and 70 plus years. I may be the newcomer with almost 35 years in town.We’ve seen a lot.We’ve all worked with Old School Square which has been serving Delray for 32 years.Our call to action is simple: we’d like to see the public have input into the future of Old School Square and we’d like to see a discussion/process on how to heal some of the divisions and hurts caused by our current political environment, a culture that we all feel threatens our present and our future.Old School Square is a casualty of this environment. It’s lease was terminated without notice, cause, public input or even an agenda item that may have notified it’s many supporters.Given no choice, the non-profit was forced to litigate the very city it has served. It was either sue or walk away from three decades of service and millions of dollars in assets.What’s next is costly litigation for the organization and taxpayers. There’s a better way.Here’s the letter.  It calls for our better angels to prevail. In this holiday season, it may be the best gift we can give our community.

An open letter to the citizens and stakeholders of Delray Beach:
We are a group of former mayors whose service to Delray dates to 1984.
Some of us have lived here for 60 plus years.
We love our city, but we are worried about the direction the current administration is taking.
We find our community is divided, unable or unwilling to talk and we fear that the progress we have made as a community is in danger as a result.
The most recent issue is the impulsive termination of the lease with Old School Square Center for the Arts, Inc., the non-profit organization who created and has successfully managed Old School Square for the past 32 years, without a conversation with the organization or input from the City’s diverse stakeholders who deserve a say in its future. All of us have worked closely with the dedicated volunteers at Old School Square during our terms. We believe that they are willing to work hard to improve their partnership with the city. As with any long-term relationship, we believe that any problems can be solved with open communication.
This decision to terminate Old School Square’s lease has proven to be highly controversial, but we are just as alarmed at the lack of transparency and due process when making such a monumental decision.
We must do better.
Delray has a rich history of citizen involvement. That involvement has been a key factor in our success.
But while the Old School Square termination is what’s on everyone’s mind, we see a similar pattern in the general culture of division and polarization in our city politics that has led to costly turnover and litigation.
We don’t believe this is the “Delray Way,” and while we may not ever see eye to eye on the issues, we risk losing what’s been built if we don’t call a time out and endeavor to do better as a community.
As former mayors, we understand the difficulty in leading a city as active and complex as Delray Beach.
We stand ready to assist and suggest the following:
• A charrette to gain public input on the future of Old School Square.
• A process to discuss the culture in Delray Beach so that we can find a better way forward for everyone.
We need to reverse the damage and hurt that has occurred in our town before it is too late.
Sincerely,
Mayor Doak S. Campbell III (1984-1990)
Mayor Thomas E. Lynch (1990-1996)
Mayor Dr. Jay Alperin (1996-2000)
Mayor David W. Schmidt (2000-2003)
Mayor Jeff Perlman (2003-2007)
Mayor Rita Ellis (2007-2009)
Mayor Nelson “Woodie” McDuffie (2009-2013)
Mayor Cary Glickstein (2013-2017)

Get Back Is A Joy

The iconic rooftop concert caps the documentary Get Back.

For me, and I suspect millions of others, it was a Beatles themed Thanksgiving weekend.

We watched the Peter Jackson film “Get Back” on Disney Plus and were swept away by hours of footage of John, Paul, George and Ringo (and the great Billy Preston) working to craft the album that would become “Let it Be.”

As a lifelong Beatles fan, the documentary was a total joy— although I’m not sure the casual fan can brave the 8- hour length— but if you manage to hang in, the rewards are plentiful.

The Beatles have become so iconic that we sometimes forget that they were once a working band, consisting of real people doing real things—acting goofy, cursing, arguing, laughing—and oh yes making sublime music that still sounds amazing more than 50 years later.

Last week, also marked the 20th anniversary of the death of George Harrison and I found myself mourning his loss again while watching the documentary. George was blossoming in 1969…brimming with song ideas and chafing at the constraints of being a songwriter forced to compete with the juggernaut of Lennon and McCartney.

Watching the documentary, you see the depth of the friendships between the four Beatles—the easy camaraderie, the sheer joy they found playing together. It’s really a beautiful thing to watch and does change the conventional wisdom about their break-up.

The documentary exonerates Yoko, but also hints that the lads are growing apart and life will take them in separate directions.

Are there signs of friction and impending doom?
Sure, in hindsight.

In part 1, George quits the band briefly but is talked out of it when the other three visit with him.

When he returns, you see how quickly they fall back into old patterns of warmth, humor and amazing performances whenever the light turns red and the tape is rolling.

The best part of “Get Back” is to watch the creative process unfold and to see how collaborative the recording process is— at least for The Beatles. All four contribute ideas and you get to see how the classics came to be: “Let it Be”, “The Long and Winding Road”, “Two of Us” and a whole lot of songs that ended up on Abbey Road and George’s amazing solo album “All Things Must Pass.”

You also get to see how extraordinary the Beatles were: Paul is scary gifted, John is a remarkable singer with a sharp wit, George is an emerging songwriting talent and Ringo is the glue that keeps it all together. He’s as steady as his beat.

Local resident Max Weinberg, of E Street Band fame, has helped me appreciate Ringo as a drummer. Ringo is often given short shrift, but he had the best back beat in the business and his style served the songs. He was averse to drum solos but if you listen to his fills in song after song, you begin to realize just how important Ringo was to the band. The Beatles themselves acknowledged this saying that when Ringo joined the band “everything just clicked.” He is criminally underrated.

Of course, the best part of the film is the music. But another takeaway is the magic of real partnerships.

Even toward the end of their unprecedented run, the Beatles exhibited the best of what a true partnership can be: everyone working together in a spirit of mutual love, respect and admiration. Ideas are listened to and debated. It’s a creative environment in which good ideas become better with the input of others. It’s a reminder that when we sacrifice our egos and commit to a team dynamic, wonderful things happen. It’s a lesson for all of us.

The film leaves you with so many “ifs.”

What if they just committed to giving George more songs on future albums?

What if John had lived, would they have found their way back together?

But then again, you must be appreciative that we have what we have; hundreds of great songs, decades of memories and now this film—a document that fans of great music will return to again and again to see the masters at work.

 

Show A Little Love For SoFla

Lake Ida Park is a local gem. A great place to walk, play with your dog and enjoy the wildlife.

We recently bought a small escape place in a wooded setting in Portland, Maine.

Having a getaway in Maine became a bucket list item a few years back when Diane and I visited the state to celebrate my 50th birthday. We fell in love with the southern Maine coast. It’s breathtaking.

After a bout with Covid and the painful loss of a few family members and friends who are gone too soon, Diane and I realized that we need to start doing some things we’ve longed to do —right now. Tomorrow is just not guaranteed. That’s a poignant lesson to learn but it’s also freeing in many ways. It’s time to live a little.

While I have always enjoyed traveling, at this stage of the game, I would much rather get to know a specific place. I want to fall in love again. Portland, you’re it.

When you are getting to know a place it’s natural to want to read all you can about it, so I subscribe to Portland Monthly, DownEast, Maine and Yankee magazines.

I read the Facebook pages, follow the Instagram accounts devoted to Maine and scan the headlines in the Press-Herald. It’s fun to learn the history, read the ads, scan the restaurant reviews and follow the ebbs and flows of a new place.

We dream of spending time in our new digs and having a second home will create healthy pressure to take some time off.

We are beginning to be in touch with our new neighbors and it’s exciting to think of the new places we can explore. Of course, Maine has its Delray/Boca connections too and we look forward to seeing our local neighbors in a new locale.

One thing that I’ve noticed when I read the magazines is the loving prose devoted to all things Maine. The descriptions of nature, towns, local businesses, and local characters are rich in details and brimming with civic pride.

Frankly, I think it contrasts with what I see in our local media which is often full of criticism for Florida and our beloved Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

We see laments about rude people, bad drivers, bad service, traffic and all the rest.

Yes, there’s truth to the kvetches (that’s Yiddish for complaints). I’ve been known to kvetch myself from time to time. Ahem….

But friends, South Florida is paradise—at least in wintertime. The weather is sublime, the breezes are refreshing, the ocean is beautiful and there is so much to do and see.

We have a lot to be proud of—a vibrant downtown, great restaurants, some cool new developments, and a very bright future as people flee the taxes and harsh weather of the northeast.

Yes, the summers are brutal. Yes, our politics are often wacky, and we are home to “Florida man” but have you seen Lake Ida on a crisp morning? How beautiful this place is if we can only slow down enough to look.

Have you walked along the beach on a cool winter morning and wondered about those poor people freezing in places like Pittsburgh and yes— Portland, Maine?

Aren’t you excited to see some new restaurants in Mizner Park, have a drink on the roof of The Ray Hotel and marvel at the cool companies flocking to South Florida?

We have a lot of good stuff going on here.

So, my little side hustle in Maine is not a knock-on life here. It’s just a desire to experience something a little different—with far less humidity.

 

 

Thanksgiving, Values & Love For A Place

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

I am so thankful for every one of you. I’m grateful that you read my weekly ramblings and especially grateful when you provide feedback and ideas for future blogs.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it celebrates gratitude which I believe is the key to happiness.

If you are grateful for what you have, you’ll find happiness. If you are constantly fixated on what you don’t have, well that’s a recipe for sadness and frustration. I hope you choose gratitude. And I hope you live in the moment, because each one is precious.

Thanksgiving consists of two words, thanks and giving.  We are called to give thanks and we are called to give to others.

So, as we sit down with friends and family this week, I’m thinking of the community leaders who have teamed up to provide Thanksgiving meals to the needy. I think of our first responders responding to emergency calls while we relax and watch football and I think of our amazing health care workers who save lives every day or ease the pain of those they can’t. They saved me…I am trying to make my second chance count.

And I’m grateful for the community that rallied to my side and comforted my family as I struggled with a virus that has claimed over 5 million lives worldwide.

While we have come a long way, we must remain vigilant. Covid-19 has claimed more lives in 2021 than in 2020. Prayers and the wonders of medical science saved me. I’m forever thankful.

This space is often dedicated to my take on our local slice of the world. Many times, that take can be critical. But as Moliere said: “the proof of true love is to be unsparing in criticism.” I agree, Monsieur, but I don’t want to be unsparing which is just another word for merciless. We need more mercy and forgiveness in this world, not less.

I write from a place of love, affection, belief, and encouragement.

I care about my community. And I believe we can do better. I hope my words encourage good people to get off the sidelines and get involved.

From my earliest memories, I have always abhorred bullies. I was not a victim of bullying as a child—I guess everyone has had an experience or two—but I witnessed bullying and it bothered me to my core.  I’ve always felt compelled to call it out. When you do, your nose gets bloodied from time to time. But something else also happens—many times when bullying is called out, it wanes.

Recently, I have witnessed a major case of bullying regarding Old School Square. OSS has responded to that bullying with a lawsuit. Sadly, the organization was given no choice. It was either fight for their reputation and their future or walk away from decades of devotion to Delray Beach.

As you know, the City Commission voted 3-2 to terminate the non-profit’s lease after 32 years of service to the community. The vote wasn’t on any agenda, there was no call from the public for action, there was no opportunity for the organization or public to weigh in on the decision and pleas for a workshop and dialogue were ignored. More than 10,000 people signed a petition in opposition to the decision and they were dismissed. There’s something fundamentally wrong with that.

It was the worst decision I’ve seen in nearly 35 years of following local politics and trust me that’s saying a lot. I believe the decision was personal, short-sighted and lacking in basic empathy. Those are the types of subjects I feel compelled to write about.

But I still love my town.

Let me repeat, I still love my town.

Even if I hate its politics.

Even if I abhor its bullies and the behind-the-scenes puppeteers who wreak a whole lot of havoc and offer nothing productive in return.

There’s a human cost to these machinations—people lose jobs and their families suffer as a result, nearby businesses lose revenue, volunteers feel disrespected, artists lose an important venue (for the time being anyway) and taxpayers pay for it all.

I write because I want to see a better town.

I believe in the power of words, narratives, and stories to change the world or at least our slice of it.

I also write to give thanks to my civic heroes and heroines…. the people who transformed this community and improved lives along the way.

I think it’s important to say thank you to those who give their time and their hearts to our hometown.

I feel if we don’t say thank you, or if we hurt these people, we will lose our sense of community.

That does not mean that we don’t have accountability or that we ignore problems. In fact, just the opposite. When problems arise, we need to double down on dialogue and work collectively to fix issues and seize opportunities. That is the call of leadership. As a leader, you are not responsible for the answers, but you are responsible for creating an environment in which you can find a way forward—together. Always, together.

I believe that gratitude should be a community value and ingratitude should be strongly opposed.

As we speak, I’m part of a small team that is forming a private foundation. You’ll learn more in the new year about our efforts.

The foundation we are creating will celebrate generosity, kindness, warmth, and empathy. It will give back to a community we love, and it will invest in great causes.

In building this new endeavor, we have reached out to foundation leaders throughout Florida.

One foundation executive talked about creating what he called the “city generous.”

It’s a big idea, one he acknowledges will be difficult to achieve. But it’s the big ideas that change our world. It’s the big ideas that animate us as human beings and inspire us to build community.

The revitalization of Delray was a big idea too.

It gave birth to a method of doing business some affectionately called the “Delray Way.” Others, especially in our African American community, called it the “covenant.” The covenant and the Delray Way were shorthand for what we value as a community: inclusiveness, civic engagement, community building, dialogue, civility, vision, execution, a fair and open process, and a willingness to confront our issues head on and work and learn together to improve our community.

I’m not saying it was ever achieved or that things were ever perfect, but there were lots of moments where those ideals were realized and that led to every significant achievement you can think of when you think about the things we love about our town.

Those ideals gave birth to Old School Square. The abandonment of those values threatens its future and ours as well.

I would argue that the way Old School Square has been treated is a rejection of the ideals that built this town. The way that decision was made poses an existential threat to what it means to live in a caring, generous, loving, respectful and empathetic community.

Yes, that’s a big statement. But I stand by it. I feel it with every fiber of my being.

So, if you love this town, we need you to suit up and pay attention. We need you to get involved, speak up and vote.

Because once it becomes personal; once decision making becomes about payback, the slope gets very slippery.

Municipal math is an unfair master. It can take 30 years to build something of value, but only a few months to undo it all, and there’s no guarantee you will ever get it back.

This Thanksgiving, I wish you peace, love, health and happiness. And I wish for us to get back to a place of looking forward not back, of healing not hurt, of love not malice. I’m hoping that next Thanksgiving we will be able to give thanks for a restoration of our civic  values and spirit.