Thanksgiving…

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.

It’s not the turkey—that I can take or leave. It’s the meaning behind the holiday—gratitude and the time you get to spend with family.

This year, of course, will be different for many American families. We are being told not to gather because of coronavirus. We are also mourning the loss of more than 250,000 plus people , more than twice the number of American soldiers who died in World War I. It’s a staggering number and it’s increasing.

Yes, 2020 has been a terrible year, and it’s not over yet.

 

Still, if we look there is usually something we can be thankful for. For me, I’m grateful to be alive after a bruising battle with Covid-19.

I had a close call and peered over the edge before thankfully recovering and rejoining my family, friends and work colleagues.

So this year I am thankful for a lot. I hope by sharing my thoughts I will inspire you to think about what your thankful for in your life.

Here’s a brief list. If I miss anything it’s because the list is long (also something to be thankful for) and maybe I do have a touch of Covid fog.

I’m thankful for, in no particular order:

—Community: This year, I have felt the warm embrace of our community. The outpouring of support during my battle with Covid helped me heal and my family cope. When the call went out for plasma, the community responded. I will be forever thankful.

—Prayer: This year, I  learned about the power of prayer. Prayer has been a part of my life for a long time, but this year the appreciation went deeper. When I learned that prayer groups were praying for me, I was deeply touched. I believe those prayers made a huge difference and for that I am thankful.

—Family: I have always been grateful for my wonderful family. I’ve been blessed. Faced with the prospect of never seeing them again my love for them deepened. I saw their faces in my dreams and I was driven to come home.

—Friends: I am thankful for old friends and new ones too. During this trying year, relationships became more meaningful. I have been given a gift; the magic of friendship. Our ability to laugh, talk, share and show appreciation for each other has enriched my life and saved it too.

—Acts of Kindness: 2020 has been a year where I have been given innumerable acts of kindness. A retired police officer who sends me inspirational texts every single morning, a business colleague who shook the trees for plasma donations, the 9 pm prayers that warmed my heart, the E Street Band legend who personally delivered the new Springsteen album to my home, our chamber of commerce which enabled me to share my story on a webinar and then honored me with a nomination for a nice award, the endless texts from friends that included videos, songs, prayers, jokes and general messages of good cheer, the cooking of friends bringing over delicious dishes, the kindness of my amazing neighbors, Dave Wasserman’s zoom calls, Zoom happy hours arranged by Connor Lynch, Scott Savodnik’s lifelong friendship, Scott Porten’s endless generosity, Sandra Allen’s love, Gina and Mike’s prayers, Perry Don Francisco’s videos and Dave Reeves’ extra special phone calls. And the list goes on.  I’m so thankful. If I didn’t mention you—please, please know I did not and will not ever forget you.

—Work: Millions of Americans are out of work. Businesses of all sizes in a variety of industries are struggling. I’m thankful I have work and benefits to weather the storm.

—Medical Heroes: I can’t say enough about the doctors and nurses at Bethesda Hospital. They saved my life and the lives of many, many others. For them, I am grateful also beyond words. My doctor Paige Morris and my pulmonologist Nevine Carp are beyond talented. We are truly lucky to have this level of medical talent serving our community.

Yes, 2020 has been a handful.

We all know the litany of woes. They are real and they are serious.

But amidst the sadness and division, the illness and the economic despair, there’s beauty. There’s hope. There’s love. There’s life. And there is a future.

It will be a brighter one—if we wish for it and if we work for it.

Meantime, I wish you and yours a Happy and safe Thanksgiving. And I pray for your safety and health.

 

Go Celsius! From Humble Beginnings….

The line-up.

Wall Street is giddy over a local stock that has been on a tear of late.

Celsius, born in Delray and based in Boca, is a beverage company that is delighting consumers, investors and those of us who love a good story of a small company slaying the giants.

When Celsius (CELH on Nasdaq) released record results last week, the stock soared continuing a run up in price that has caught the attention of CNBC’s Jim Cramer of “Mad Money” fame and lucky investors who remembered a time, not too long ago, when the stock traded under a dollar Over the Counter.

While the results reported were stupendous, nearly $37 million for the quarter an 80 percent increase over last year’s results, Celsius is far from an overnight success story. The team, both past and present, has been hard at work building a brand for more than a decade.

Celsius is a tale of belief, commitment, hard work, love, passion, sweat, a few tears and a whole lot of investment— especially from a local entrepreneurial legend who discovered the drink while dining on Atlantic Avenue.

I would venture to say that if you look closely at most successful brands you will find a familiar tale of perseverance. Each company is unique in their journey but there are commonalities including a bedrock belief that you have something special.

In Celsius’ case, there was a unique selling proposition. The energy drink burned calories—up to 100 per can. The claim was clinically proven by more than a half dozen university studies.

That’s pretty unique.

But the beverage business is brutal and capital intensive. The competition includes huge conglomerates and hundreds if not thousands of upstarts all vying for our taste buds.

But my friend and business partner Carl DeSantis knows a little something about picking winners.

He built Rexall Sundown into the world’s largest vitamin company launching hit product after hit product from its headquarters in Boca.

After selling the company for $1.8 billion in 2000 he went back into business running a vast array of enterprises ranging from hotels and restaurants to clothing companies and an up and coming hot sauce company called Tabanero. Keep your eye on Tabanero; friends it’s the next big hit.

My friend Carl has what you might call an eye for what will work and what won’t. He believed in Celsius and never wavered in his conviction that the  healthy energy drink, with the clean label (no sugar, low sodium, vitamin infused and delicious) would be a winner. It just took a while.

Successful brands are built  brick by brick, sometimes you take two steps forward and three back but you keep going because you believe and failure is not an option.

Carl recruited me to be Celsius’ COO in 2008. I was a year removed from being mayor of Delray and while I knew of Carl, I didn’t know him personally. But he saw something in me and we became friendly.

Carl is kind, generous, gentle and sensitive. There’s also more than a bit of magic in his personality.

He has a sixth sense about products, people and places. His instincts tend to prove true. So all of us who work with Carl listen closely when he has a feeling about something.

I’ve seen him predict hurricanes,  whether businesses will work and he even assured me I would survive COVID.

Over the years, Celsius hit more than its fair share of rough patches. As I’ve noted, the beverage business is brutal. Even Coca Cola failed when it released a calorie burner beverage a few years back.

But when you deploy a great team behind a great product you will break through–eventually.

Celsius has been blessed with a tremendous array of sales, marketing, management and board talent currently led by CEO John Fieldly who is a terrific young leader. He had a terrific predecessor in a gentleman named Gerry David.

Gerry and I sit on the board of Hyperponic, a promising startup which provides technology to the cannabis industry. Keep an eye on that company too. We are doing some groundbreaking work in Michigan and Oklahoma.

Still, the business world is a tough place.

Entrepreneurship can be thrilling and terrifying sometimes all in the same day.

All of us associated with Celsius have enjoyed watching this company grow.

There’s a thrill when you walk into Publix and see an end cap. It’s fun to see someone at the gym drink a Celsius and yes it’s very cool to see a company you care about listed on a major league stock exchange and sold at 74,000 stores domestically and across the world.

Those of us who know the story know that none of this would have been possible without Carl’s foresight and fortitude; without his good natured belief in a little beverage brand that occupied a small warehouse space on Fourth Avenue near the tracks in downtown Delray.

Back then, we were excited to see the cans on the shelf at the local gas station. Today, we have a market value of over $2.3 billion and are loved by thousands of consumers who enjoy a healthy energy drink with no corn syrup, preservatives or aspartame.

The Celsius story story is truly inspiring. It’s about the power of belief, commitment, vision and hard work. That’s what it takes to succeed in any endeavor.

Thanks Carl. Your belief in this amazing company has touched a lot of lives.

We can’t wait to see what’s next.

 

 

 

The Power & Limits Of Zoom

 

We live in a virtual world these days.
We stare at devices, attend Zoom meetings, FaceTime relatives, share our screens and curse under our breath when our Internet freezes up mid-sentence.

Welcome to life in 2020.

Recently, I was a guest lecturer for a real estate class at Temple University.
The 22 students were tiny images on my screen, dressed in hoodies and Temple sweat shirts. I tried to make the class interactive and while I had fun,  it felt more than a little surreal.
Yes the technology is incredible, but it still feels detached and somewhat cold. I miss being with people.

I’ve done a lot of public speaking in my life and I’ve always been able to “read” the room. I can feel when I’m connecting or when I’m bombing. I’ve done both. You can feel it.
But try as I might, I couldn’t figure out whether my talk on redevelopment, cities and placemaking pre and post pandemic was landing or not.

For example, Jacob wore a smile through the whole class—was he into what I was talking about or was he enjoying music on his ear buds? Who knows.

Mercy asked great questions so I guess she was listening and getting something from the conversation.
I saw a few pets drift by the screen and heard at least one bird screech.

I guess we should be thankful for the technology, it’s enabled us to stay in touch during this long, weird and difficult season of Covid. I can’t imagine how much worse this would be if we didn’t have these tools.

When I was in the hospital during my summer battle with Covid, all I had was my phone.

That little thing connected me to family and friends and the outside world.
Thank goodness, because I was isolated physically from my loved ones for 39 very long days.

My wife celebrated a birthday when I was at Bethesda and the nurses were kind enough to bring me an iPad so I could wish her a happy birthday and see her face. I was overwhelmed when I saw Diane. While it wasn’t the real thing, it was close enough and seeing her brought a flood of emotions.

Of course, she got to see me too and let’s just say I wasn’t looking my best. She didn’t seem to mind. That’s love.

The magic of Zoom has also brought me closer to my childhood friends who are spread out from California to Vermont these days.
Thanks to my friend Dave in Milwaukee, who has taken the lead in this effort, every other Wednesday night I grab a drink and settle in front of my computer and spend 90 minutes with the guys who have shaped my life in countless ways.

While I have remained in touch with most of them for over 45 years now (wow) it was always intermittent and isolated. We took a few guys trips in the 90s but the commitments of adulthood washed away those gatherings and the years flew by. The older you get, the faster they go.

So I would speak to the guys here and there, see others if they visited Florida and sadly lost touch with two or three others.

Now because of Dave’s efforts, we are in regular touch and the guys who drifted are back on the calls and in each other’s lives.

Seeing their faces makes me realize how much I treasure those friendships and how important we have been to each other through the years and miles.
We know each other’s parents and siblings, remember our early girlfriends and can talk about favorite teachers, memorable summers and the special haunts of our past.
It’s great. Just great.

So in a sense technology can make us closer just as easily as it can drive us apart if we abuse the tools we’ve been given.

Still, if I had my choice, I would always opt for the in-person experience.

There are so many people that I have missed during this time of quarantining, social distancing and remote working.
I miss the gatherings that Delray was once so famous for and the ability to get together with a large group.

Zoom happy hours are fine— but not quite the same. They just aren’t.Will behaviors change forever after this nightmare ends?

Yes and no, is my best guess.
Yes, we will continue to attend Zoom meetings rather than travel, yes telemedicine is here to stay and this situation may forever alter how we see movies (that trend was underway pre-coronavirus).

But I think people will still want to work with other people in offices and that there will be pent up demand for live entertainment and experiences such as festivals and sports.
We are social creatures, we like other people and while screens are cool, nothing beats the real world. Nothing.

Sharing My Covid Experience With The Chamber

Note: Earlier this week, the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce hosted a webinar on Covid featuring a panel of distinguished health care professionals. I was asked to share my experiences which I was happy and honored to do. We need to raise awareness as this disease continues to run rampant. I want to thank Chamber President Stephanie Immelman, Angelica Vasquez of the Chamber and my good friend Dr. Craig Spodak for their efforts and for including me. The response was terrific and I was asked to share my comments by those who missed the broadcast. I’ve included a transcript below, but I urge you to watch the webinar because there is a ton of great information to help keep you safe. The webinar is available on youtube, Facebook (Chamber page) and the www.delraybeach.com.

I want to thank the Chamber for giving me the opportunity to share my story with everyone today…

It’s a privilege for me to share my experience because I hope that by raising awareness maybe we can—in a small way—do our part to save lives and keep the people we love safe and healthy.

My goal today…is to give you a glimpse of my Covid experience.

I’m just one of almost 10 million plus cases in America—my hope is that I can make those statistics we are bombarded with a little more real. They are more than numbers on a TV screen—they are real people.

I did not have a common case—I had a severe one. But while my experience may be statistically unlikely— it is possible to get very sick. This virus is real and it is dangerous.

But as bad as it was for me….it could have been worse. We have lost more than 230,000 Americans to this virus.

That is a staggering number.

And while I got sick in the July surge, we are in the midst of an even worse outbreak now.

So I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be careful and to follow the advice of the experts.

Because while I survived and am feeling much better…..I do have lingering problems. Like me, there are potentially millions of others who continue to suffer symptoms and long haul impacts to their health.

My friends, you don’t want this virus.

 

My Covid experience, was a nightmare. There’s really no other word for it.

There were entire days and nights where I did not believe that I was going to survive. And that is an emotional experience that I never anticipated, don’t wish on anyone and am still trying to process.

I want to paint a picture of where I was pre-Covid….

I had been working remotely for months. I wore a mask. I socially distanced. I washed my hands—a lot. I stopped going to the gym but did work out with a trainer in a friend’s garage. I did go to restaurants—I wanted to support our local businesses.

 

I was a month and a half short of my 56th birthday when I went to Bethesda Hospital on Friday, July 10 to get a rapid test because I was feeling tired and was running a slight fever. I had actually gone into my office that day for the first time for a brief meeting where I sat six feet away from a colleague.

Those who saw me said I looked very tired….I went home and took a nap. When I woke up I felt warm. My wife Diane took my temperature and I was running a slight fever. I wanted to take a Tylenol and go back to bed—my wife insisted that I call my doctor. She didn’t want take a chance since we were heading into the weekend.

That was my first break. I called Doctor Paige Morris and she insisted that I go to Bethesda for a rapid test. I said a quick goodbye to Diane and left for the hospital—not knowing that I wouldn’t see her for 39 days.

At Bethesda, I was diagnosed with Covid-19 and told that I had double pneumonia. Within hours, I was struggling to breathe. I am convinced that had I not gone to the hospital, I would not have made the night.

I was that sick.

Getting a bad case of Covid—one that spreads to your lungs is like getting hit by a truck that repeatedly backs over you.

That night began a nearly 6-week battle to survive—with every breath labored, every part of your body weak and in pain and a feeling that there is no way out…no way back to your life and your loved ones.

I had what was described as a violent case of pneumonia that was ravaging my lungs. I have mild asthma and this virus seems to attack where you are most vulnerable.

There were at least two times where I felt I was going to die and I had this one recurring thought and it was about my late mother who we lost to cancer at 59.

In the 22 years since her passing, as my children grew up, as birthdays passed, as good and not so good things happened to those she loved—I always thought about how much she missed.

She never met my wife Diane, the love of my life.

She didn’t get to see her grandchildren grow up and she didn’t get to meet Diane’s boys.

In short, she was robbed of our greatest gift—time. And now here I was four years younger thinking that I won’t even make it to her age. And how much of life I will miss. I thought of all the people I love—many on this call—and how I never got to say goodbye or to sit down with each and every one of them and tell them what a gift they have been to my life.

 

There was a night in the ICU—where I could tell by the sense of urgency that my nurses seem to have as they hovered over me—that I was in real trouble. I don’t remember too much, I was very weak, but I remember this urge to let go.

It was as if the virus was beckoning to me—I can’t explain it, but it was palpable. And I felt that I needed to make a choice—I could let go, that seemed to be the easy route. Or I could fight. And I decided to fight. I wasn’t sure that I could win, but I wasn’t going to let go. I just wasn’t going to let go.

I prayed—a lot. And I concentrated on every breath, Breathe in, breathe out.

I felt like I was suffocating. I just couldn’t get air. And that is a horrifying experience.

As the days and weeks passed, I was on a variety of oxygen—including a bipap mask—that felt like putting a hurricane on your face. They strap it on tight and it forces air into your lungs.

My eyes burned, I ended up with blood clots and bladder spasms and pain I cannot describe. They gave me morphine and it didn’t really dull the pain. The masks are very claustrophobic—and I wore the most restrictive ones for up to 7 hours at a time.

I feared going to sleep because I wasn’t sure I was going to wake up. I only slept when I was exhausted and couldn’t stay up anymore.

I had some really strange dreams—which is common with Covid. I dreamt that I was wandering Delray at night with my golden retriever Teddy who recently passed and I dreamt that I was hiding in the hospital. When I awoke, the steroids that I was on would sometimes leave me unable to figure out where I was in the room. I thought the TV was on the ceiling. I was completely disoriented.

I often was awakened by screams from my neighbor whose Covid affected her brain and gave her hallucinations. Those screams ended up haunting me, because it’s just hard to hear a human being going through that—and not be able to offer comfort.

Being in ICU or a Covid unit is a very unique experience. You are essentially alone for 39 days—24 hours a day left to your thoughts. No visitors.

The only humans you see come dressed in two layers of PPE—you can’t even see their eyes. —I was in 8 different rooms, many with no windows that I could see out of. There was a lot of equipment and the rooms were something called negative pressure—the hospital air couldn’t get in and my air couldn’t get out.

It was loud and it was lonely.

Now, I had the most amazing nurses. And my Doctor, Paige Morris came to see me every single day which was amazing.

Dr. Morris served as my Quarterback and advocate, answering questions, holding my hand, reassuring me, keeping my spirits up and just chatting because the nurses are so busy and overwhelmed that when they come in they have to focus on all those wires sticking in your arms and glued to your chest. I can’t say enough about Doctor Morris and my pulmonologist Dr. Nevine Carp, who also came to my listen to my lungs every day.

The staff at Bethesda is so good. They are truly amazing. They saved me. We are so blessed to have these health care professionals in our community. They are heroes and right now and for much of this year they have been under fire and stressed to the max.

We have to—as a society—consider their needs and listen to their advice. It’s not enough to have an I Heart Nurses bumper sticker—we have to do what we can to support them and try our best to keep infections under control.

 

My case hit the news—-and it’s not because I am special. So many other cases worse than mine go unreported, but I suppose my being a former mayor of Delray was newsworthy.

We are a small town…and I knew some of the hospital staff and they knew me. A few of them came by for quick hello’s—which I loved.

I had one young nursing assistant who actually spent her breaks in my room talking to me about her boyfriend, her dreams to further study medicine and the fact that I must have seen her dance at Delray’s Cinco De Mayo festival when she was a little girl and I was mayor.

That young woman, was a gift from G-d. She raised my spirits just by allowing me to be a real person for 15 minutes here and there.

Early on, I decided that I wanted to communicate as best I could to the outside world about what Covid was like—so I saved up my strength and once a day I would post an update on Facebook.

The response was wonderful…soon prayer groups formed and I think I heard from almost everyone I’ve ever met. Old friends from childhood, former teachers, people I’ve worked with….it was wonderful and their prayers and kind words also saved me. I am so grateful and so blessed. I do believe in the power of prayer—and when prayer and medical angels get together—you get to live. You get another shot at life.

While at Bethesda, I received state of the art medical care—two doses of convalescent plasma thanks to an overwhelming response from the community to donate…I had steroids to help me breathe, I got a course of Remdeservir, lots of vitamin D and round the clock monitoring by wonderful doctors and nurses.

I made it out—after 39 days.

I came home on oxygen, weak and using a walker. Lots of therapy, hard work, love, prayers, medical skill, family and friends are helping me get back to being myself.

 

My lungs are scarred—but they are healing. I have headaches every day, I’m very sore, I have some brain fog and lots of pain in my left leg and my right arm which makes sleeping difficult.

I think it’s important to share that I am getting counseling because I have what they call “survivor’s guilt” and a touch of anxiety. Ok, more than a touch.

I know I was saved for a reason and I am working hard to figure out how I can make the best of my second chance.

I love my family and friends even more. And words cannot express what Diane has meant through my illness and my recovery. Every moment of every day I was determined to survive so I could come home to this wonderful love that we have found.

I am worried about lingering impacts—covid is a vascular disease and there is still so much that they don’t know. Sometimes I get frustrated when I am winded after a short walk, but I remember that when I came home I worried about how I was going to walk from the car into my house.

Still, I’m so grateful. I was spared….so many aren’t.

If you take anything away from my story I hope it’s this. Covid is real. Covid can be deadly. So, please, please be vigilant. Let’s follow the science, let’s employ common sense and let’s support each other during this difficult time—especially our front line medical professionals and our essential workers.

Thank you so much for this incredible opportunity to share my story.  It means the world to me and my family.

Choices

“The refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another is not some mysterious force beyond our control. It’s a decision. A choice we make. And if we can decide not to cooperate, then we can decide to cooperate.” President-elect Joe Biden Jr.

History is fascinating.
It delivers us moments in time where if we make a choice we can make progress, squander an opportunity or make a colossal mistake that will set us back.
Good leaders don’t miss the moments. They get them right.
Like most of you, I watched a blizzard of pundits opine on the election and what it means for America.
My personal read on the election is that moderation won and divisiveness lost.
One of the commentators noted that voters determine the direction of our Democracy and I agree. Government of the people, by the people and for the people is our American DNA.
But while the people have the ultimate say at the ballot box, those we choose to lead us play an outsize role in our society.
Their style, personalities and demeanor make a difference.
If our leaders have empathy, our communities feel a little more empathetic. If our leaders strive to listen, our communities will feel heard, not marginalized.
I had lunch with an old friend last week. He did a lot for Delray Beach over many, many years.
We talked about what’s happened in recent years: the vitriol of social media, the turnover at City Hall, the infighting on the commission dais.
And we talked about what works too—civic engagement, team work, goal setting.

Somewhere along the way, we as a country and a city decided to demonize those with whom we disagree. We chose not to listen. We chose to bully, marginalize, divide, disparage  and spread misinformation.
This choice—and it was a choice—has done a lot of damage to America and to our hometown of Delray Beach.
Nationally, we the people have watched helplessly as America has become tribal and we have paid a price as we watch the tribes do battle.
We have lost our unity, ceded our leadership position in the world and watched our problems pile up.
Problems can’t be solved if we can’t compromise and find a way forward together. They don’t go away either, they fester and grow in complexity.
Same in  our communities.
There was a time when other cities made pilgrimages to Delray to learn how it was done. How to rejuvenate a downtown. How to implement community policing and how to leverage culture to build community. We were a leading municipality; a place where talent longed work.
I miss those days. So do many others.
Partisan politics aside, I invite someone to argue with President-elect Biden’s statement that he will work as hard for those who didn’t vote for him as those who did.
That’s how it’s supposed to be.
In my hometown, I have friends who live in fear of retribution  if they back the wrong candidate—therefore the one who loses.
So rather than choose the candidate they feel will be best for Delray they try and pick winners. This isn’t good.
We shouldn’t feel threatened by our endorsements or lack thereof.
We should elect leaders who work as hard for their supporters as they do for those who didn’t support them. We should elect leaders who follow our codes and make decisions based on what’s best for our town. Period.
We can have those leaders.  It’s a choice.
There is no mysterious force keeping us apart. We just have to recognize each other’s humanity and good will and vote out those who divide.

November 4 Matters

Governing matters more than campaigning.

There was a time ,when win or lose , when we accepted the outcome.

We wished the winner well and went about our lives. And if we were patriotic, we hoped that whoever won would succeed.

Elections had consequences for sure. But we accepted them and hoped for the best.
We moved on.

If the winners were smart and magnanimous (and it’s smart to be magnanimous) they reached across the aisle and assured the opposition  that their interests would matter and their voices would be heard and respected.
We don’t seem to do these things anymore and it’s killing us.

It’s killing our spirit, our sense of unity and our hopes for a better future.
It doesn’t have to be with this way.

How we treat and view each other is a choice.

We can—if we want to—summon  our ‘better angels’ as Abraham Lincoln advised.

I have friends on both sides of our national political divide.

We will remain friends although we have struggled to understand how and why we think the way we do.

For the life of me, I can’t see what they are seeing and they can’t see what I am seeing but our affection for each other trumps (no pun intended) any ill will.
That’s how it should be.

But I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that at times it has been a strain to maintain these relationships.

I think the reason is that both sides see each other as existential threats to our way of life.

Democrats fear Republicans will role back rights and ignore climate change and science to the detriment of our planet and our health.
Republicans see Democrats as hell bent on rolling back rights they enjoy and endangering our capitalist system.

Those beliefs make it hard to accept outcomes that don’t favor your side.

But somehow we have to figure out how to live together.

If we don’t, this experiment in Democracy can’t survive. A house divided cannot stand to quote Honest Abe again.

I happen to think we are at the breaking point and the next few weeks or months may well determine the future of our nation.
We can decide to stick together or we can agree to blow it apart.
That’s our choice.

Sadly, it’s easier to destroy something than it is to build and sustain.
So the easier choice will be to indulge our anger and exercise our grievances.
But the better choice is always to seek common ground, learn to compromise, listen to each other and work to keep it together.
It’s not easy.
The differences are real and they are deep. The mistrust and hatred we are experiencing is also very real.

The formula to turn this around is not readily apparent. It is the leadership challenge of a lifetime.
But we need to meet that challenge. Or at least try.

In my opinion, whoever is elected —if they are serious about bridging the divisions, or if they even want to—should start by reminding us about what binds us. There are things we all agree on and we need to insist that those issues be addressed.
Our national leadership—both Democrats and Republicans—have let us down by failing to address problems or seize opportunities.
Washington is dysfunctional and the fact that we can’t find a way to work together to address health care, infrastructure, immigration and environmental issues is a disgrace. So is our response to COVID which is not going away November 4. Oh, how I wish it would.
There are scores of other issues that have gone unaddressed.
Most of these issues can be solved– but only if we work together. A good leader will focus on what binds us, not what divides us.

Still, this blog focuses on local life so here goes.

There are parallels between our toxic national scene and what we are seeing right here  in Delray.

I can and maybe will write a book about how we went astray. How we went all the way up the mountain and then decided to give it back.

And it was a decision. Or rather a slew of decisions that threaten to undo a whole lot of good work.

Imagine, if you will, a quilt. Then imagine pulling a thread and then another and another and all of sudden your quilt falls apart.
Cities are like quilts—pull a thread here and a thread there and suddenly you don’t know why your reclaimed water project is a mess or your reputation has gone from best run town in Florida to a place where every headline seems to scream scandal and dysfunction.

The parallels with our national scene are eerie and rooted in divides.
One faction thinks the other will or has ruined Delray.
Again, this kind of division is dangerous and unproductive.

The battle doesn’t play out on Cable TV like it does nationally but on social media with charges lobbed like bombs on a daily basis.
It gets us nowhere.

It creates a mess and it prevents us from solving problems or seizing opportunities.

It also plays on our mood. Civic pride, once strong ,weakens. Trust in local government also weakens and with it we lose something very fundamental.

We lose respect for the past, hope for the present. and faith in the future.
Sound familiar?
Sounds like America.

If you love your country and your city—as many of us do; you want to see us fulfill our vast potential. You want to see progress, jobs, opportunity, safety and happiness.
Cities and nations need North Stars. We need a common set of values that we fight for, cherish and protect.

When you lose your North Star, you get lost at sea. You drift, you fight and you waste time and resources.

We need leaders who understand the importance of values and a North Star. We need leaders who strive to bring us together. We don’t need to be labeled, libeled and let down. We need to be inspired, motivated and united.
Yes, that’s a very tall order. And it can’t be accomplished easily or readily. But it needs to start somewhere.

We put a lot of burden on our leaders, but we citizens have an even more important role.
We have a responsibility to vote and vote wisely. We have a responsibility to be informed on the issues and to speak truth to power.

Remember, we stand for what we tolerate. We have a responsibility to work for a better tomorrow and to insist on performance and accountability.
Our lives depend on it and future generations are depending on us to do better.

We need to do better.

And we can.

A Cautionary Tale

I read an interview with Kenosha, Wisconsin Mayor John Antaramian that I found very interesting.

Mayor Antaramian has been in the national news lately after his city erupted in protest after the shooting of Jacob Blake.

Blake, 29, a Black man, was left paralyzed after an encounter with local police.

In my experience—which I’ll get to in a minute—the level of unrest that cities experience in the wake of violence is directly correlated to the relationships and work that has been done years before.

If your police department and city government connects to the community,  your odds of finding a positive way forward increase exponentially.

Former Delray Beach Police Chief Rick Overman—who was a remarkable chief—used to say that in his line of work trouble was inevitable. You did all you could to avoid it—you train your officers, you create rigorous standards for hiring, you embrace community policing—but at some point something bad was bound to happen. You will face a challenge, it’s the nature of the profession.

Policing is dangerous and important work.

While I can’t pretend to know what it’s really like, I’ve had a glimpse by spending lots of hours in the back of cruisers as a journalist and a policymaker. I’ve met and gotten to know scores of officers over the years.

I’ve had many late night conversations with officers who confided in me about what it’s like to put on a gun and a vest and head out to work not knowing what you are going to encounter. Those conversations have deepened my appreciation for the special people who choose that profession.

Chief Overman used to talk about something he called the “reservoir of goodwill.” Overman knew that there would come a day when something tragic would happen—he felt it was inevitable in his line of work—and his department would have to draw on that reservoir. So he and his officers worked every day to fill the reservoir by building trust and relationships citywide. Community policing was not a PR stunt or a photo op, it was a governing philosophy. Officers were urged to get out of their cruisers and to find ways to get to know the people and businesses in their zones.

We have seen incredible examples of this—officers past and present—who have connected in truly wonderful ways with the communities they serve. It makes all the difference in the world.

But police departments—as important and essential as they are—cannot do it all.

Again, Chief Overman recognized this fact. He needed the community to volunteer. He needed the community to tell his officers what was really happening on the street and he needed city government to care about all parts of our city.

Now many cities talk the talk.

They issue proclamations and mouth the words about investing in underserved communities. But too few cities walk the walk.

And those cities get in trouble when something happens and they realize that the reservoir has run dry or doesn’t exist at all.

Which leads me back to Mayor Antaramian in Kenosha.

He has been mayor of that town off and on for 20 years. When he was asked what he regrets the most, one mistake sticks out in his mind.

In 2000, the mayor formed a committee to address what he described as “racial issues.”

In Kenosha, the committee focused on housing and homeownership and according to the mayor they developed policies to address the issues identified.

“We spent about a year working on different issues,” he told USA Today. “We actually came to some solutions on those issues. My mistake was I didn’t keep that committee together. I’m refusing to make that mistake a second time. I’m getting too old to make too many mistakes. We thought we solved the problem and we didn’t.”

The last sentence is a key one.

A mistake many cities and mayors make is they think that once they address something it’s done.

The truth is, in this line of work—community building—you are never done. Never.

You must constantly be working to strengthen what you’ve built and you must be constantly be thinking about what’s not working and why.

Delray Beach has made this common mistake.

We think our downtown is done—it’s not.

We think our beach has been re-nourished and is safe, but we better maintain our dunes or they will wash away.

When I was mayor, the commission identified race relations as an issue we wanted to work on.

So we did.

We had study circles that encouraged people from different backgrounds to share their stories and learn from each other. We had neighborhood dinners in which people from different neighborhoods would gather to meet and share their hopes and dreams and we did our best to invest in neighborhoods that were neglected.

There were successes and there were disappointments. But there were no failures because making the effort yields dividends.

You learn.

You grow and you adjust—as a community. You do the work together.

Was it enough?
Unquestionably, the answer is no.

But the effort was never meant to end. It was designed to be an ongoing discussion and effort—long after me and my crew left.

Sadly, politics got in the way—as it often does. Personalities clash. Grudges develop and if not addressed—and they weren’t—they fester and eventually those feuds crowd out just about every initiative.

An old friend asked me recently whether it was possible to succeed if your government is dysfunctional or downright wacky.

My guess is—it’s not really possible.

Oh, there will be bright spots—non-profits doing good work and people who shine.

But think about how much more success you’d have if government was engaged and rowing in the same direction as the people they are supposed to serve.

Today, I worry about my city.

I fear that the reservoir is dangerously low.

Our Police Department is terrific and enjoys a great reputation. It remains an amazing asset.

But I sense anger and frustration out there—a lot of people are feeling marginalized and there is a huge concern over the poor treatment of several high ranking Black city employees whose careers were derailed in Delray.

I could be wrong.

I’m no barometer and I live behind a gate (when it’s working) in a lovely (mostly white) neighborhood. But I see stuff on social media and I still talk to a range of neighborhood leaders and I hear, see and feel the frustration out there.

We ignore it our peril.

We have got to get back to the work. We can’t make the mistake Kenosha did.

 

 

 

On The Path

The staff at Bethesda is truly remarkable.

When I entered the hospital with a positive Covid test and double pneumonia in July, I tried to think about how I could shed light on the virus and maybe help others by raising awareness.

I hoped that by sharing the good, the bad and the ugly of my experience I could —in a small way—serve my community.
I thought by sharing my specific experience, others might find something they could connect with.
My Facebook posts and now my blog were greeted with generous displays of love and caring. I’ve heard from many of you and your comments have given me strength and boosted my spirits. But more importantly, I’ve heard from several of you that my story made you stop and think about the virus and the safety of your loved ones.  For that and more, I thank you.
That’s the good.
The bad is the virus itself.
It’s dangerous.
It’s scary.
And it’s potentially lethal.
It’s important that we know that and respect that fact. It is not a flu and it is not a hoax.
It’s also not going away the day after the election.
I wish it would. But as we experience yet another surge in America and across a good swath of the world, it’s becoming apparent that we are up against a dangerous hydra that will alter our lives for the foreseeable future.
The ugly of this virus can be put into two buckets. The political aspect and the long lasting effects that some will experience.
The politics of this pandemic can be frustrating.
  I will probably be attacked for pointing out the seriousness of the virus because some believe that Covid is an overblown hoax. That’s OK, bring it.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion but not their own facts. I just don’t share those views. I trust in science. Not that science gets everything right, especially on its first pass, but eventually our best and brightest scientific minds figure things out.
The other bucket relates to the potential long haul of this disease.
For some, even when you recover, there are lingering issues to deal with.
When I decided to write about my experience I committed to telling the truth even if that truth is well…ugly.
So let me say that while I feel much, much better I’m still struggling.
My breathing is improving but still not quite back to normal. I remain very sore, my physical strength is returning but is vastly diminished and I suffer from horrible stabbing pains in my left leg and steady pain in my right arm.  I have daily headaches and have experienced Covid related hair loss.
All of that is bearable—even the leg. And it sure beats the alternative. I know I’m very fortunate.
But there’s an emotional aspect to this virus as well.
So here’s my confession—I’m a little off these days.
I get sad a few times a day.
It comes in waves triggered by stories I hear about people who have lost their lives during the pandemic or songs that just get to me. I get restless at night, have some trouble sleeping and feel anxious for no reason.
I’m really worried about my family and friends. I’m really worried about our community and the world itself.
I think about kids missing out on a normal social life and about senior citizens who are at risk and unable to enjoy their lives —cut off from grandchildren and others who enrich their lives.
I worry about small business owners and the unemployed and I think about the families of the more than one million people who have died worldwide in the pandemic.
I also worry about our medical workers, teachers, first responders and essential workers who fear for their health every time they leave for work.
I’ve been told that the flood of emotions I’m experiencing is to be expected.
Last week, I learned about a concept called “survivors guilt.”
Readers of this blog may remember the name Skip Brown.
Skip is a friend, a retired Delray police officer and a Vietnam veteran. I had the honor of pinning the Bronze Star he earned in combat to his chest a few years back. It was one of the great thrills of my life.
Skip has taught me a lot over the years and he explained the concept of survivors guilt, the idea that you feel pressure and question why you survived while others died.
We spoke on my way to a pulmonologist appointment I had last week. When I walked into the doctor’s office I was told of other patients who died and how lucky I was to have made it considering the violence of my pneumonia and the damage the virus did to my lungs.
Hearing the stories of those who didn’t make it, leveled me. It just leveled me.
It’s important that I share that because you may know someone who gets this virus and it’s important that we be there for them not just with medical care but with spiritual and emotional support as well.
I believe I was spared for a reason. I’m not sure why, but I’m searching for answers.
I’ve been wrestling with what to do with my second chance.
I’ve been told by people I love and respect that the answers will come and I believe they will.
I’m on a path and I have to trust.
So far, several people have come to my rescue. And I believe that there may be some divine intervention involved.
The call from Skip came at just the right time.
A call from Max Weinberg, yes that Max Weinberg, which inspired me and pointed me toward a book I need to read.
Two calls with friends who recommended psalms that are relevant to my experience.
A conversation at work about grace, healing, love and faith.
At the height of my illness, so many people sent messages of love and kindness.
I was overwhelmed; grateful for each and every message of hope. Thankful for every prayer.
I vowed then that I would share my story because I wanted to let people know not only about the virus, but about doctors and nurses, family and friends, prayer and hope, love and friendship.
I experienced the power of community in the midst of a period in our history where we are angry and estranged.
I feel compelled to tell you that love and community feels a lot better than anger and division.
I honestly don’t know what I will do with my second chance.
I’m going to trust in the path laid out for me.
So when the darkness washes over me, when the waves hit, I’m going to keep fighting. I’m going to keep working. I’m going to keep breathing—for as long as I can.

How To Lead

An easy to read primer on leadership.

 

I saw an interview with the philanthropist David Rubenstein on Face The Nation recently.
Mr. Rubenstein just released a book on leadership that waits for me patiently on my night stand each evening.
In the book, Rubenstein talks with a variety of successful leaders and distills some of the things they’ve learned along the way.
I was sold on the book by his answer to this question by host John Dickerson.
“What do you look for in a leader?”

DAVID RUBENSTEIN: I’m looking for their ability to focus, their ability to communicate well, their ability to have some sense of priority of what’s most important to them, their ability to inspire people, their ability to rise to the occasion. And I also think humility is important. Anybody that is really a successful leader I think has failed in life. And you have to persist after your failures. But failure gives you some humility.”


Isn’t that cool? I mean, doesn’t that sum it up?
Let’s break it down.
Focus: the best leaders I’ve seen are focused on goals. They don’t get distracted by bright shiny objects and they don’t let distractions throw them off their game. In other words, they don’t major in the minor. A good local example is former Mayor Dave Schmidt.
I learned many things sitting next to David for my first three years on the commission. Mayor Dave was focused on the big picture and always exhibited calm under fire. And he faced some raging ones: protests against the move of Atlantic High School and the discovery that several of the 9/11 terrorists were living in Delray which put an international media spotlight on our town. Regardless of what was thrown at him, Mayor Schmidt kept his eyes on the prize and made sure his fellow commissioners did so as well. 
Communication: Good leaders communicate. They have an ability to explain their positions and views. And they take the time to do so.
I thought former Mayor Tom Lynch did a great job articulating the city’s goals, aspirations and potential when he served from 1990-1996. I was a young reporter back then, assigned to cover city government. I always knew where the city was headed because Tom was a consistent and reliable communicator.
A sense of what’s important: Great leaders want to accomplish something. They don’t seek power for power’s sake. For the good ones, it’s a job to do, not a job to have.
I kept that phrase in my wallet through my term in office. It means that you are willing to lose your seat if it means doing the right thing for the city. Sometimes that means taking positions that are not the most popular at the time but that you know is the right thing to do for the community long term. Great leaders are willing to plant trees knowing they won’t be the ones to enjoy the shade.
An ability to inspire: I’ve seen some good leaders who were lacking in charisma, but that’s not the same as inspiration. A solid steady leader can be quietly inspiring. Why? Because they are solid and steady.
Former Chamber President Bill Wood did have charisma. And he was also very inspiring because he was reliably optimistic, had a wonderful sense of humor and a warmth that made everyone in his presence feel good. Consequently, he made businesses feel good about being in Delray. That’s an intangible that is hard to place a value on.

Rising to the Occasion: Good leaders have a way of meeting the challenges they are presented with. So if tragedy strikes they meet the moment with compassion. If there’s some sort of disaster (man made or natural) they have a way of handling it that calms the community and helps inspire confidence in the future. My local examples for this item are former police chief Rick Overman and former fire chief Kerry Koen. 
Both leaders were battle tested and enjoyed widespread support among the troops and the broader community. So during hurricanes or difficult incidents —which are par for the course in their line of work —they always rose to the occasion and you felt that everything would be OK. Steady hands during stormy seas..invaluable. 
Leaders who rise to the occasion find ways to create wins even when the going gets tough. 
Consequently, if there’s an opportunity they can seal the deal.

Humility and Failure: The best leaders are humble, real, honest and service oriented. I also happen to think a sense of humor is enormously important. The best leaders can admit when they are wrong and are committed to personal and professional growth. They have an ability to evolve. They know they aren’t the smartest person in the room and seek to surround themselves with people they can learn from. I call it intellectual humility. Those that have it can learn from others. Those who think they know it all, really don’t. 
I also think that failure is an important life experience. Failure informs. It keeps us humble and enables us to learn critical lessons. 
A good leader knows that as long as you learn from mistakes and don’t repeat them the experience is not really a failure at all.
As we edge toward national, state and local elections in November and again in March it may be helpful to review this list of traits and see how the candidates measure up. 
 
 

 

Artists Speak Truth To Power

We cans sure use some can’t we?

 

John Lennon would have turned 80 this week.

That’s kind of a jarring fact. It’s also jarring that he has been gone as long as he lived, having been murdered outside his home in 1980. He was only 40 years old.
I was 16 when John Lennon died and his shocking loss was a traumatic experience for me and my friends.
It was so hard to fathom—how someone so young, so accomplished, so brilliant and so important could be taken away in an instant.
How could John be gone? He was a Beatle. He had just made a comeback with an album tragically and sadly called “Starting Over.”
How could someone so amazing and important be gone forever?
Forty years later, we all know how fragile life is. Tomorrow never knows, as The Beatles song goes.
When John died, we ventured to Central Park to attend a vigil. It’s a memory I will never forget, hundreds of thousands of grief stricken people gathering to pay tribute to an artist who touched their lives deeply.
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
Truer words have never been spoken.
The great ones touch our minds and our hearts. Great music and  great art can make us happy or sad, it can force us to confront truths we are sometimes uncomfortable to acknowledge.
The best artists hang it all out there. John Lennon was not afraid to take risks, he was not content to be trapped in a box and labeled as one of four cute mop tops.
John wanted more. He was daring and that spoke to me even if I winced at some of his work. That’s another characteristic of the truly great. They push their audience. We won’t like everything they do, but it will surely be interesting.
I wonder what John would have been like at 80; what he would have made of today’s scene.
2020 has been quite a year.
We are fighting a pandemic, a recession and confronting racism, inequality and calamitous climate change all at once.
These are the times that we turn to our great artists for insights.
Art can be clarifying, but it seems in 2020 we are lacking clarity.
I may be too old to be be current, but I just don’t see the artists leading the way these days.
They don’t seem to have the cultural relevance that they did back in John Lennon’s day. If I’m wrong, I’d love to know.
Recently, the social critic Bob Lefsetz wrote a piece about artists. It was fascinating.
An artist, Lefsetz wrote:

Endures negative feedback.

Takes risks on a regular basis.

Does not create to satiate the audience but themselves.

Creates because they need to.

Works without the audience in mind.

Knows that they will oftentimes be ahead of the audience.

Knows to ignore their most vocal critics. It’s usually more about the person who is criticizing than the work.

John Lennon did all of those things—-all those years ago.
All I know is we miss that kind of leadership and artistry and we need artists/leaders more now than maybe ever.