Our Towns: A Formula For Success

Our Towns is a journey through what’s working in America.

James and Deborah Fallows are living the life I dream about.
Flying from town to town across America, embedding themselves in the community and writing about what they find.

James has done this for years as national correspondent for The Atlantic. For the book “Our Towns”, he and his wife alternate writing chapters as they visit places such as Eastport, Maine, Greenville, South Carolina, Burlington, Vermont and Winters, California.
Every town they write about is a place I’d love to visit.

Their prose is so vivid, their descriptions of the town’s stories are so compelling that you find yourself fantasizing about visiting or living there.
They seem to find the people that make a place go and spend time at brewpubs, YMCA’s, libraries and innovative schools.
They look for vibrant downtowns, committed business and civic leaders and along the way you become invested in the towns they write about.
All of the towns have a story and an arc: from despair to revitalization.
Some have  fully “arrived”, places like Greenville and Burlington and Holland, Michigan some are on the way (Eastport, Maine) but all have some common elements:
Committed citizens, a willingness to invest, a desire to improve, honesty about the problems they face, schools that take chances and set high standards, an embrace of culture and quality of life amenities and an ability to celebrate their wins. They aspire and they have civic pride. They also seem to have microbreweries. Seriously.

Anyway, the Fallows’ have come up with 11 signs a city will succeed based on their travels.
Here they are:
—Divisive national politics seem a distant concern.
—You can pick out the local patriots. You can answer the question “who makes this town go?” Sometimes it’s a mayor or council member. Sometimes it’s a volunteer or local business leader.
—Public private partnerships are real. Successful towns can point to examples and say “this is what a partnership means.”
—People know the civic story. America has a story. So does California. And so do successful towns and cities.
—They have a downtown. And that downtown is healthy and has some ambition. Good bones are critical but not enough.
—They are near a research university. This is somewhat controversial because not every successful town is so blessed. But it helps.
—They have and care about a community college.
—They have unusual schools. Schools that innovate, take risks and deliver.
—They make themselves open. Great cities are inclusive and work to assimilate newcomers.
—They have big plans. They aspire, they have vision and they execute.
—They have craft breweries. Fallows calls this perhaps the most reliable marker. His point: “ A town that has craft breweries also has a certain kind of entrepreneur and a critical mass of mainly young customers.”  He challenges us to find an exception.  Fortunately, both Delray and Boca have craft breweries. So does Boynton Beach.

Take a look at the list and see how many signs we have. Drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a good summer read check out “Our Towns.”

 

But For Leadership Florida

Dr. Frank Luntz gives us the numbers: we are a nation divided.

I spent the weekend in Sarasota at the annual meeting of Leadership Florida.
Leadership Florida is a statewide organization devoted to building community.

That’s not easy  in a giant and diverse state. It’s a monumental task.
Because not only is Florida huge, but many of us come from other parts of the nation and world and so we may not identity the Sunshine State as “home.”

I’m an example, I am a New Yorker and identify strongly with the northeast. But Florida is home. I’ve lived here 10 more years than I lived in New York.
Still, while I’ve always loved Delray Beach, Leadership Florida helped me gain a deeper appreciation for the entirety of Florida.

I’ve learned that we live in a remarkable state. Florida has a rich history, an exciting present and a very promising future. We also face some complex challenges ranging from rising seas to political division.
But what Leaderahip Florida proves is that if good people come together in a spirit of community they can work together to solve problems and seize opportunities.
Now I realize that sounds Pollyanna and simplistic, but the truth is these leaders from the world’s of business, politics, academia, health care, energy and the non profit world– who range from liberal to ultra conservative– show how people can work together across ideological lines.

The annual meeting weekend is jam packed with learning sessions that often raise provocative questions.
This year, we listened to Michael Smith, a former Obama administration official and executive director of My Brothers Keeper, Dr. Frank Luntz, who shared some sobering news on our divisions and a path forward, former George W. Bush White House photographer Eric Draper, Claire Diaz-Ortiz, a social media expert who talked about what’s good about social media at a time when all we’re hearing is how it’s ruining our kids, our brains and our country and a raucous panel on the pros and cons of autonomous vehicles.
The sessions provoke lots of thinking and healthy debate.
And that’s good. It’s what we’re often lacking as we talk past each other.

I’ve long felt that if you populated Congress or the state legislature with a random sampling of Leadership Florida graduates, you’d see a whole lot of problems solved.
Oh there would be arguments  and differences galore, but I’m certain that these leaders would always find a way forward.
We need more of what Leadership Florida offers: intelligent debate, treating your allies with humility  and your opponents with respect.

Bits from the weekend:
–We had dinner with former White House photographer Eric Draper who chronicled all 8 years of George W. Bush’s term. I loved his session so getting to sit next to Mr. Draper at dinner was extra special. He talked about the Bush family, the rigorous nature of the job (over 1 million images shot, international travel and the pressure of not missing history as it unfolds).

Also at our table, Gregg Pettersmeyer who served two presidents (Nixon and Bush 41) in senior advisory positions and Capt. Charlie Plumb who spent 2,103 days as a POW during the Vietnam War and is a founder of the Navy’s “top gun” school. He’s a remarkable man and beyond nice.
We got lucky with our seat assignment because my Leadership Florida classmate Wendy Spencer is now CEO of the organization after serving as director of National Service for two presidents. She hooked us up. (Class XXIV perks). These types of opportunities are also called “but for Leadership Florida” experiences. They’re invaluable.
–We got some insight from Claire Diaz Ortiz on how as a Twitter executive she helped get the Pope on social media. She talked about the positive aspects of social media at a time when the technology is under siege. It was a welcome respite. But concerns linger about data privacy and social media’s role in sowing division.

–Dr. Frank Luntz talked about public opinion and reminded us how far institutions and professions have sunk in the minds of the public. (More on his findings in a future blog). But right now, elected officials, bankers, lawyers, journalists and CEO’s are held in very low regard.
And we enjoyed a great presentation on autonomous cars with advocates (the co-founder of Voyage which serves The Villages) and the entertaining Alex Roy president of the Human Driving Association. (More on that too in the future).
Hope everyone had a great Father’s Day! If you can, check our Leadership Florida. Apply for the cornerstone class program or Connect if you’re a young professional. It’s a worthwhile investment of your time.

In Praise of Dad & Dads

 

My dad was about my age today in this photo taken in 1990 before my sister’s wedding.

My dad turns 80 on Friday.
I don’t think he’ll mind me revealing his age; he’s earned his stripes, it’s just a number and honestly  he looks 20 years younger. Seriously. He does.
My dad is a hero of mine.

I’ve been blessed to have had many heroes and heroines in my life, special people who have inspired me simply by living good and meaningful lives.
But no blessing is bigger than having a father and a mother who were wonderful beyond words.

We lost mom 20 years ago this October and we miss her every single day.  But we are so fortunate to have dad in our lives through the decades.
I’m especially lucky because he lives so close, just up the road from us.

I’ve spoken and written about my dad before. And everything I’ve ever said remains true: he inspires me, he motivates me, he counsels me and he has always been there for me and everyone in our small but close family.

As you get older, you begin to think about life differently.
You appreciate the present because you know good things can be gone in an instant. You also anticipate the future because life is good and where there is life there is hope. And you look back too and reassess.
When I look back one word comes to mind: luck. I am so lucky to have had a great dad.

My dad was a very hard worker. He spent hours and hours of his life running his pharmacy and we spent those hours with my mom who was warm, nurturing and very involved in our lives but never ever in an overwhelming way. No, she had just the right touch.

She also took care to ensure that my dad had his space and time to recover from the long hours. She looked out for him and always told us how hard he was working and how lucky we were. So gratitude was taught to me and my sister Sharon. You later learn that gratitude ensures happiness because you focus on what you have– not what you’re missing.

To my dad’s credit, when he was home he was present and so we have great memories: family trips, summers at the “pool club”, visits to the U.S. Open, memorable visits to see our grandparents, aunts and cousins and family dinners where we discussed politics and current events.

Those “wonder years” influence who you are. I believe we bring our own spirit to the world, but our parents shape who we become.  So I am a grateful son. And my sister  is likewise grateful.
As I reflect on Father’s Day and a milestone birthday this week, three words in addition to luck come to mind.

Reliable—my dad was reliable. He always made a living. Always came home right after work. Always was good to our mother. We always felt safe.

Reliable is an underrated word. But if you can rely on family and friends in a volatile world where we are oh so fragile..well..that’s ultra special. In a world of constant change and tumult, being reliable is an amazing gift. And when you are reliably good to people, let’s just say there are no words to describe how valuable that quality is.

Loving—We always felt loved. That’s what great dads do. There was no doubt that we were central to his life. His career was a important means to an even more important end. The end was family; a good life for our family.

Smart– My dad is an educated man. He graduated from an Ivy League school, had a successful career as a pharmacist and was a successful small business owner. All those require smarts galore. But my dad has smarts beyond those impressive things. He has the smarts that enabled him to live a great life. He just knows how to navigate the curveballs, deal with the inevitable setbacks, bounce back from the tragedies all of us endure and find a way to be happy. He always keeps his head about him. There’s that old reliability I told you about.

I could go on, but there’s really no words to describe someone who gave you everything and continues to give.
Happy birthday dad. Happy Father’s Day too. We love you.
And to all the dads out there thanks for all you do. I hope we all continue to dance for a long time.

My dad Sandy (we are Sanford and son) and his lovely life partner and main squeeze Fran.

We Are A Tennis Town

A rivalry for the ages.

We saw a terrific movie last week: Borg vs. McEnroe which is On Demand.

The movie—which did little box office—has been called the first great tennis movie.

Truth is, there is a very little competition. I’m not sure there’s even a good tennis movie never mind a great one.

But Borg vs. McEnroe is really good.

The Swedish actor who plays Bjorn Borg looks eerily like him and while it takes a while to buy Shia Labeouf as Johnny Mac you quickly lose yourself in the story of Borg’s quest to win a fifth straight Wimbledon title.

He was all of 24 in 1980 but already burned out from having turned pro at 15. Bjorn’s son Leo, himself a top junior player, plays the young version of his dad. He’s terrific.

You quickly see the toll the sport has played on Bjorn’s emotional state. He’s depressed, exhausted and on the precipice of a big fall. He would leave the game at 26.

John McEnroe is the young, arrogant lion eager to topple Borg. He’s fire to Borg’s ice, although we learn that Bjorn is a lot more like McEnroe than we thought. Yes, he has a volcanic temper but he’s bottled it up and is paying a high price.

I’m writing about this wonderful era of tennis a day after the French Open finals only because there are many local ties to the legends of the game.

Bjorn Borg has played at the Delray Beach Tennis Stadium on a long defunct tour known as the Nuveen Champions. Jimmy Connors has played there as well both on the Nuveen and at the Chris Evert Pro Celebrity Classic. Guillermo Vilas, Andres Gomez, Ivan Lendl, Mat Wilander, Andy Roddick, Johan Kriek, Jim Courier, Aaron Krickstein, Serena and Venus Williams, Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi, Kei Nishikori, Juan Martin Del Potro, Jennifer Capriati, Jimmy Arias, Mardy Fish, Lindsay Davenport have all played in Delray.

And of course, John McEnroe too.

We are many things, but we are also a tennis town.

Boca has a rich heritage as well with classic matches between legends of the game at Boca West, the Boca Resort and Club and the Polo Club.

Way back in the 80s and 90s, Delray hosted the junior version of the Davis Cup at the old Laver’s Resort. The greats of the game came through here as kids staying with local families. The Sunshine and Connolly Continental Cup were great events. Those of us who love the game would watch the young players and wonder which ones would be on Centre Court at Wimbledon in a few years. It turns out it was quite a few.

Over the years, we attracted tennis players as residents, academies (Rick Macci and others) and other junior, senior, Fed Cup and Davis Cup events. The Slims and of course our ATP event.

During the French Open, it was fun to follow our “Delray players” (those who play our event every year) as they made their way through the draw.

It was really thrilling to see local junior Cori “Coco” Gauff—remember that name—win the junior title.

Coco is the granddaughter of Yvonne and Red Odom. We wrote about her grandma a few weeks ago.

Yes, Delray has a tennis heritage.

The greats of the game have played here and now perhaps the future.

Keep your eyes on Coco and check out Borg vs. McEnroe to relive tennis’ golden age.

 

 

 

In Praise of the Research Park

I’m a big fan of the Research Park at FAU and its CEO Andrew Duffell.

The park has become a major economic engine for Palm Beach County and beyond serving as warm and inviting place for talented entrepreneurs and researchers to build and scale their companies.

That’s important, because “economic gardening”–growing your own so to speak is smart policy.

As far as I’m concerned, Northern Virginia can have Amazon and its H2 Headquarters (and that’s where it’s going folks), I’d rather save incentive money and grow our own company’s right here at home. The Research Park is a good example of how that can work.

The Park’s impact has been profound– if somewhat unsung– in a region where it is hard to gain appreciation.

The 2017 numbers—which never tell the whole story—are nonetheless impressive. Consider:

  1. $387 million of investment capital raised
  2. $535.65 million in economic impact
  3. $67 million in annual payroll
  4. 3,088 total jobs sustained, that’s direct and indirect employment with another 250 jobs plus planned.
  5. 33 companies housed.
  6. 16 new patents in 2017.

On October 3, the FAU Research Park will host its annual awards banquet at The Addison in Boca.

It’s the fourth annual awards ceremony and it’s really a terrific idea to celebrate the success of the park and shine a spotlight on some of the standout players making it happen.

This is the power of having a university and a research park in our community. And the best is yet to come because I believe in the leadership of the park and their track record of results.

“The recipients of this year’s Research Park at FAU awards are all hugely impactful to the mission of the Research Park – to foster R&D at FAU and foster economic development in our region,” said Mr. Duffell, president and chief executive officer of the Research Park at FAU. “We are grateful to each for their unique contributions and hope that they inspire our stakeholders.”

The Research Park awards recognize distinguished contributions to the Research Park’s mission to create and sustain the ideal environment for innovation and invention, maximizing the academic and entrepreneurial talent and regional resources in South Florida to accelerate economic development and prosperity.

The award recipients for 2018 are:

Distinguished Researcher: Gregg Fields, Ph.D. is a professor, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and director of the Center for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. Fields applies chemistry in novel ways to answer important biological questions, many of which assist in the diagnosis and treatment of major diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis and cancer. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a renowned researcher who holds six U.S. patents and has one application being reviewed. The technology developed by Fields has resulted in three commercial products, currently sold by five different companies. He has authored or coauthored more than 260 scientific publications and has presented more than 190 invited lectures.

 

Distinguished Entrepreneur: Daniel Cane is the chief executive officer and co-founder of South Florida-based Modernizing Medicine, Inc., a healthcare IT company that is revolutionizing the way in which healthcare information is created, consumed and utilized to increase practice efficiency and improve patient outcomes. Joining the Research Park in 2012, Modernizing Medicine has grown to more than 650 employees and has raised more than $332 million in total investment. In 2016, the South Florida Business Journal named Cane as a “South Florida Ultimate CEO.” In 2015, he was named “EY Entrepreneur of the Year®.” Cane earned the Excalibur Award for Palm Beach Small Business Leader of the Year for 2013. Additionally, he also was named “Palm Beach County Ultimate CEO” by the South Florida Business Journal and “CEO of the Year” by CEO World. Recently, he and his wife, Debra, donated $1 million to FAU’s A.D. Henderson University School for STEM education initiatives.

Mr. Cane is a local product hailing from Lake Worth. What makes Dan extra special is that despite the rigors of running a hyper growth company, he has taken the time to be visible and accessible to local entrepreneurs and organizations. It makes a difference, because Mr. Cane serves as an inspiration and a role model for those aspiring to make a dent in business.

 

Distinguished Leader: Steven L. Abrams has been a member of the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners since 2009, winning re-election twice. Abrams has a lengthy record of public service. He is the former mayor of Boca Raton, elected in 2001 and re-elected in 2003 without opposition. In the 2005 election for mayor, Abrams received the most votes in city history and was later named mayor emeritus when he stepped down in 2008 due to term limits. Abrams’ work in regional transportation has been instrumental in the success of the Research Park at FAU’s access to Tri-Rail and the new I-95 interchange at Spanish River Boulevard, making the Research Park at FAU the only research park to have a direct on-ramp to an interstate.

Mayor Steven has been a terrific friend over the years and has served with distinction wherever he has landed. Many years ago, we went after Scripps together leading our cities joint efforts to bring the institute to Boca. While we fell one vote short, Steven showed his mettle and his commitment to economic development. He’s a very worthy recipient.

 

Distinguished Organization: Small Business Development Center at FAU delivered substantial consulting and training services in 2016 that resulted in a significant return on investment, including delivering more than 13,000 hours of consulting to 1,360 entrepreneurs at no cost. The SBDC’s services resulted in the creation and retention of almost 6,000 jobs in our region, and generated almost $700 million in sales. The SBDC’s role in Florida’s economic development by assisting entrepreneurs in every stage of the business life cycle is invaluable and an important complement to the greater FAU community.

To purchase tickets to attend the event visit www.research-park.org.

 

 

 

 

 

The Perils of Bickering

I subscribe to Axios.com which is serving as my morning news fix because my newspaper carrier can’t seem to deliver before I leave for work these days. (Sigh)
Axios is a compilation of well written news “bites” and analysis that makes you feel somewhat “in the know.”

Last week, there was an item that caught my eye and made me think. And worry.
The writer opined that the era of American economic and technological dominance was coming to an end and that China was going to surpass the USA within a decade.

Whoa!
Why?

Because China has a vision to dominate trade and technology and to become the world’s indispensable nation.
But beyond having a vision, China is executing by making investments in infrastructure, artificial intelligence and robotics with a stated goal of dominance.

Of course, China is a one party dictatorship with a President who just made himself leader for life. What Xi says goes. Period.
It doesn’t exactly work that way in the United States. Good thing too.

But it does make one wonder how we stave off competition from a nation as large, as capable and as determined as China.
It also makes you wonder when the last time we had a national vision that went beyond the next election.

It wasn’t always this way.

The Space Race, World War II and the war on terror are just a few examples of near universal national resolve.
It seems like everything else has been a struggle: civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, health care, immigration, gun safety etc., have been battles.

There is nothing wrong with struggling for what you believe in. In fact, it probably makes you more appreciative when you achieve your goal. Also, Democracy is inherently messy and loud. But if it is to remain viable and competitive it needs to lead to something. The process (struggle) should be Democratic, but there needs to be outcomes too–or you risk losing your edge as a nation. Today, we have too many problems left unsolved by national “leaders” focused solely on beating their enemies, getting re-elected, rewarding their friends and erasing the other team’s work. Partisanship reigns over patriotism. It’s not just sad, it’s tragic and fatal if not addressed.

This blog is a champion of local solutions (localism) but there are some things that only a competent and effective federal government can accomplish: a national defense for instance, immigration policy, rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure.

But…
These days we bicker. These days we dawdle.
All the while, the competition plans and executes.

Still, on this corner of the web, we focus on cities and hyper local topics and so here’s where there are parallels.
The cities that have visions; the cities that execute win.
The cities that bicker and dawdle miss out.
It’s that simple.
Really. It is that simple.
So make decisions.
Take risks.
Be civic entrepreneurs.
Invest.
Re-invest.
Reach out and involve the whole community.
Listen.
Learn.
Question.
Experiment.
Make the good stuff easy.
Turn down the bad stuff.
But don’t bicker.
Don’t dawdle.
We live in a competitive landscape and we can’t afford our communities to major in the minor.
Progress and prosperity flows to cities which create a culture that celebrate those who aspire.
Progress and prosperity will miss places that bicker and dawdle.

As Bruce Springsteen sings about Atlantic City: “Down here it’s just winners and losers and don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line.”

 

Remembering The Oldies, Celebrating The New

A classic…

Last week, I found an old menu on Facebook from Tom’s Place, an iconic culinary mecca in Boca Raton.

And I mean mecca, because people made pilgrimages to Tom’s Place to worship at the altar of bbq ribs.

The Boca Historical Society shared the post and it got a big reaction on their page.
Aside from the really low prices ($1.50 chicken sandwiches!) it struck a chord of nostalgia in those of us lucky to have experienced Tom’s amazing food.

I remember taking my dad to Tom’s many years ago. It was at Tom’s that we witnessed someone going up to the take out window  and ordering brisket which was met with a quizzical look. We talked about that experience for years.
But I digress.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. We tend to remember the good stuff and disregard the rest. So we remember Tom’s  but tend to forget that we weren’t exactly awash in restaurants back in the 80s. Of course, there were some great places—the Arcade Tap Room, Boston’s on the Beach, Scarlett O’Haras, Ken and Hazel’s, Damiano’s, Pineapple Grille, Splendid Blendeds, LaVielle Maison, Arturo’s, Caffe Luna Rosa and there is more.
But…
As good as the old giants were and are (here’s looking at you CLR), it seems like we are living in a golden age of restaurants.
Everywhere you look, even in nondescript locations, there exists some great restaurants.

Innovative menus, knowledgeable servers, gifted chefs, interesting interior designs, exciting craft cocktails and beers, world class wine lists, unique concepts. We are living in a special era. And the arms race seems to be just beginning.

Food halls, green markets, secret suppers, farm to table concepts, craft breweries, food tours, food trucks it’s extraordinary. Even convenience stores are turning into foodie havens, with artisanal sandwiches, kale salads and specialty breads.

We are also living in a great age of creativity.
To combat e-commerce and to stand out in the crowd, retailers, theater owners, hoteliers and even office developers are stepping up their games. (Boutique hotels, co-working, pop-up concepts etc).
For retail it’s all about the experience.
Movie theaters have added food, plush seating, film clubs and cocktails—a far cry from sticky floors, popcorn loaded with transfats and jujubes (remember those odd fruit chews?). While the changes are rapid and ongoing (please save the raisinet) the outcomes are pretty cool. Some local examples are iPic and the Living Room Theater at FAU. Both have raised the bar on the movie going experience and both seem to be doing well in the era of streaming and binge watching Netflix.
Sometimes the changes and the speed of change seems overwhelming. So yes, I miss the good old days.
But isn’t today and tomorrow exciting?

 

Bookends

He’s been a  brother to me.
Ever since we became friends at the age of 8 or 9.
I’m not sure how old we were,  because it has been so long; through childhood, junior high school, bar mitzvahs, high school, first cars, college, post-college, first jobs, weddings (mine), children, grandchildren (his) we’ve been more than friends. We’ve been family.

The brother I never had moved back to South Florida this week almost 31 years to the day since he lured me here from the gray skies of upstate NY.
Yes you can blame my friend Scott for my presence here. If we get along… thank him when you see him on the Ave. If we don’t… well let me guarantee you that his intentions were good.

Florida in 1987 was a vastly different place. My first impressions were almost overwhelming: I loved the colors, which contrasted with the gray skies I had left behind. I was thrilled to see the palm trees and the sun. It felt like summer camp. We played tennis, hit the pool after work, enjoyed the bagel places, frequented the bars in Fort Lauderdale (who remembers Cadillac Jack’s?) and generally had a great time. I still remember the first time I saw the Boca-Delray area. I remember driving over the Linton Boulevard Bridge and marveling at the view and after a job interview at a local newspaper I hit the Town Center Mall which was the nicest mall I had ever seen. Yes, I thought to myself, I could live here.

Ward Melville Prom 1982..with another old friend, Greg.

I’ve written before that I’ve been blessed to have made and kept many friends from my childhood in Stony Brook, N.Y., a magical little place located on the north shore of Long Island.
I treasure these friendships because of our shared history and the comforting sense that we will be in each other’s lives for the duration.
I like the sensation of permanence in a fast changing world. But I’m keenly —and at times painfully aware —that there is no such thing as permanence.
Still, there’s  no chance of these friendship’s ending, but of course we know that nobody and no thing lasts forever. And that gives me a sense of urgency  to enjoy life, savor important relationships and pursue some bucket list items.
One of those items is to spend more quality time with my best friends. So I’m overjoyed that Scott is coming back to Florida. For one thing, it means we can fulfill a promise we made way back when.
Let me explain.

When we were little guys we listened to great music together. One of the songs, an oldie even when we were 12, was a Simon & Garfunkel hit called “Bookends.”
The song is about old friends who sit on a park bench like bookends—surprised and a little taken aback by being 70.

Scott and I have long joked about living that song. Spending time watching life go by and reminiscing on a park bench.

We even took a picture almost four years ago when we turned 50 in Central Park.  We gathered —with a few old friends –to celebrate a half century on Earth and forty plus years as pals.
I used to wonder whether we’d be able to actually live that song’s premise.

Bookends: Central Park 2014

Scott has been living in Northern Virginia for the past 16 years and  me in Delray Beach for 30 years or so. Our park benches were far away.
But not anymore.
Nope, not anymore.

That’s a really good thing.
So savor your friendships. As Paul Simon once wrote about old friends: “our memories brush the same years.”
Indeed they do. And the memories are special. We knew each other’s parents and grandparents. We know each other’s sisters. We dated best friends (twice). We laughed. We did some dumb and dangerous things (not mutually exclusive) and we lived to tell the tales.
I’m looking forward to new adventures and making more memories.
It’s a new chapter in a long story.
Here’s to new memories and old friends.

The Restless Wave

“Maybe I’ll be gone before you read this. … I’m getting prepared. I have some things I’d like to take care of first, some work that needs finishing, and some people I need to see … I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times. … The bell tolls for me. I knew it would … I hope those who mourn my passing, and those who don’t, will celebrate as I celebrate ,a happy life lived in imperfect service to a country made of ideals, whose continued success is the hope of the world. And I wish all of you great adventures, good company, and lives as lucky as mine.” -John McCain in his new book “The Restless Wave.”

 
John McCain is quite a man. 
If we can put partisanship aside– for just a moment– and focus on our common humanity, our love of country and basic empathy we might be able to agree that Senator McCain is an extraordinary man who has lived an “imperfect” but remarkable life. 
Personally, I don’t share much of his politics, but I admire much about him. 
I admire his patriotism. I admire his sincerity and I admire his willingness to be a maverick and speak his truth to power. Even if  it doesn’t mirror party orthodoxy—especially when it doesn’t meet party orthodoxy. 
People respond to Senator McCain not just because he’s willing to “stick it to the man” –as one of my Leadership Florida classmates used to say– it’s because he can be counted on to speak his mind regardless of circumstance or consequence. 
John McCain typically does not go along to get along—and on the rare occasion that he did—it cost him. I’m referring to his choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate in 2008 when he wanted to choose his friend Joe Lieberman. 
His illness brings to mind my late mother’s struggle with cancer. She had lung cancer that spread to the brain and so I empathize greatly with Senator McCain’s struggle. 
Cancer is a horrendous disease. And when it enters your brain it’s positively horrifying. 
But like my mother, John McCain is facing his fate bravely, with strength and dignity. He’s become a model of grace to so many in an era where grace is in short supply but desperately needed.
Regardless of political persuasion, I think most of us could agree that our cities, counties, school boards, state governments and federal government would be better off if they were populated by elected officials who spoke their minds, were willing to buck convention and had something more in mind than their next election. 
When I was elected to the Delray Beach City Commission in 2000, I found a quote in one of the city related magazines we used to get. 
Being an elected official was “a job to do, not a job to have” it read.
The quote grabbed me and so I clipped it out of the magazine and put it in my wallet where I managed to see it everyday. 
I strived to live up to the ideal—even if at times I fell short. After all, as Senator McCain reminds us, we are all imperfect. 
Still, when newly elected officials ask for advice I repeat the quote. And I often follow with something former Mayor Tom Lynch used to say: “vote your conscience. Be willing to lose an election if it means doing the right thing.” 
Too many officials at all levels of government don’t live up to this fundamental ideal. Too many go along to get along, refuse to speak their mind, stay silent when they need to lead and then wonder why nobody respects them. Too many spend their precious time in office rewarding friends and punishing enemies. Then one day, it’s over and we are all left to wonder: what did they do to help the people they were elected to serve? In too many cases, the answer is not much. When they fail, we the people bear the brunt.
I may not agree with Senator McCain on many issues. But I sure do respect him. So do his colleagues from what I’ve been told by people who would know. 
We could use more politicians who stand for something (even if we don’t agree with that something), speak their minds, vote their conscience and understand that public service is a job to do, not a job to have. 

The New Localism

I conducted an experiment last week.

I asked 10 random friends/colleagues/acquaintances from all political stripes one question: What’s the first word you think of when you hear the words Washington D.C.

The answers I received were as follows: three said “swamp”, four said “dysfunctional”, two said “partisan” and one replied “nausea.”

Chances are you might have answered the same way. And it’s not because the nation’s capital isn’t a cool city full of great museums and monuments.

Sadly, this is not exactly a golden age for “can do” federal government.

So what’s a caring citizen supposed to do in times like these?

The answer: go local.

If you want to solve problems think local, work local, vote local and get involved in your city, county, or region.

That’s the advice given in a great new book “The New Localism” written by urban experts Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak.

I breezed through the book soaking up the stories of successful efforts in cities as varied as Pittsburgh, Copenhagen and Indianapolis. It’s heartening to read success stories in our time of national dysfunction and gridlock.

“The New Localism is a philosophy of problem-solving for the 21st century,” says Katz who works for the Brookings Institution. “Cities are now dealing with some of the hardest challenges facing our society: social mobility, competitiveness, climate change, and more. The 20th century was very much about hierarchical systems; specialized, compartmentalized, highly bureaucratic. The 21st century is going to be networked, distributed, and led by cities.”

Says Nowak: “It (New Localism) calls into question how we think about leadership. It must be much more horizontal than vertical. These are things that we have observed on the ground, so this isn’t only aspirational, although we’re certainly in a nascent stage.”

I would respectfully disagree with Mr. Nowak in that “new localism “may be a nascent term, but local problem- solving has been around for a long, long time.

Look at any successful city—Austin, Boulder, Boston, NY, Chicago and yes Delray and Boca—and rest assured any success you see did not happen by accident.

It took planning, vision, implementation, entrepreneurial thinking, private sector engagement and public and private sector leadership to create whatever level of success you experience.

But while there is no newness to the efficacy of home rule, it is good to see a new term applied to it: New Localism has a ring to it. I hope it takes off.

Why?
Because it needs to.

Because the swamp just isn’t going to be drained any time soon.