You’ve Got To Be In It To Win It

Misfits Gaming is consolidating operations in Los Angeles and Berlin, Germany into a new HQ in Boca Raton.

Despite an historic pandemic that has roiled the economy, the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County is bringing businesses and jobs to the area.

That’s great news for Palm Beach County because we need investment and we need job creation.

So I was thrilled to see my longtime friend Kelly Smallridge, the CEO of the BDB, talk up deal after deal on a recent Urban Land Institute webinar.

But as the presentation rolled on, I noticed something: Delray Beach wasn’t getting any deals. Boca was getting them—a lot of them. Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter, West Palm Beach and Boynton Beach too. Even the long passed over Glades had a few deals in the hopper.

But I never heard the words Delray Beach mentioned.

Now, I don’t blame Kelly or the BDB. I’ve served on that board twice and I know personally that Kelly and her amazing staff are fans of Delray.

And of course, I might have missed something or there may be something in the hopper that isn’t public yet and let’s hope so because we need to be in the economic development game. But I am concerned that the Delray Beach Office of Economic Development doesn’t have a director. When I visited the city’s website, the name of the departed director was still listed and the latest news was dated April 8, 2019. Sorry, folks that doesn’t cut it.

Economic development is a competitive endeavor. You have to want make something happen and you have to be out there selling your community as a great place to do business.

All. The. Time.

Despite the city snoozing, we are seeing some interesting investments—I love “The Linton” a new project by Menin Development on Linton Boulevard and I’m interested to see how the company’s bold move to build and operate the largest food hall in Florida downtown fares.

Good stuff, all of it.

It’s also nice to see some tenants moving into the iPic office building. We need the daytime activity.

Out on Congress Avenue, Grover-Corlew has done a good job repositioning the old Arbors office building into Delray Central and I’m guardedly optimistic that sometime we might actually get an overlay district on Federal Highway, an effort we have paid consultants to complete but for some inexplicable reason remains unfinished despite years and years of talking about it.

Meanwhile, the region is thriving.

Miami hired its first chief technology officer to provide “concierge” services to help tech companies navigate the bureaucracy when they come to the city. Softbank, the massive venture capital fund, just announced a $100 million commitment to fund Miami area companies, a testament to how hot the Magic City has become.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has been fielding inquiries via his Twitter account from a variety of companies and has gotten inquiries from Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Facebook investor Peter Thiel among others.

“There is an attitude that has been expressed by some leaders that says, ‘We don’t want you and we don’t need you,’” Suarez said to NBC News alluding to how business owners say they feel they are being treated in Silicon Valley. “It’s the opposite of the ‘How can I help?’ attitude, ‘How can I grow this ecosystem?”

Well said Mr. Mayor. How can I help is sure better than take your jobs and money elsewhere.

Meanwhile, to our immediate south, Boca has the amazing Jessica Delvecchio leading the economic development charge. Jessica heads a small office but you would think she has an army at her disposal. She sends a constant stream of good news about Boca and the merits of investing in the city. She’s a rock star.

So is Andrew Duffel, who runs the FAU Research Development Park.

Rock stars are helpful, but what’s as important is a coherent economic development strategy that is worked relentlessly by people who believe.

Such a strategy should be aspirational and realistic—two terms often at odds but indulge me for a moment.

Aspiration is essential—you have to identify a North Star and articulate why it’s important to reach for that star. It helps if the community is rowing in the same direction.

But while dreams are important, they have to be tempered by reality. So many cities want to be another “Silicon Valley” but that’s not likely.

It’s OK to borrow inspiration from a successful region or city, but I think the best strategies build off your own unique strengths.

For Boca—well the strengths are pretty amazing. Great schools, emerging universities, a world class parks system, a low crime rate, attractive neighborhoods and stable local government.

Delray has a vibrant downtown, beautiful beach, historic neighborhoods, great “scale”, loads of charm and proximity to some of those emerging universities we just mentioned.

Combined—the two cities can’t be beat. They are complementary places strategically located in the heart of South Florida.

So I’m bullish on the future but only if…

–We get in the game.

We need an economic development director. I was alarmed when a candidate at a recent forum at the Arts Garage said we didn’t need an economic development director. Sorry, Price Patton, you’re a smart man but that’s a short-sighted answer. Don’t let the crowds on Atlantic Avenue fool you. Like the rest of America, our economy has been hit hard by Covid-19. We need jobs and to help struggling parts of our city. There’s even vacancy downtown and along Pineapple Grove. We need to be in the game.

–We maintain our charm and scale. (P.S. Please ignore those goofy fear mongering mailers saying candidates want to turn us into Fort Lauderdale. That. Won’t. Ever. Happen. We won’t ever raise height limits downtown. We won’t ever have skyscrapers. We won’t even be Boynton or Boca which allows 10 and 12 story buildings. But we do have to manage growth and insist on great design. It’s good to be vigilant about our future, but it doesn’t serve anyone well to exaggerate. Let’s raise the level of discourse if we can).

In addition, we have to fix City Hall.

Businesses coming into a city need to know that they can rely on an efficient and fair approval process.

Leaders set the course, staff implements the vision. Staff is lost if there’s a poor culture and or no vision.

Poor leadership wastes a good staff. Good leadership without a good staff doesn’t work either. You need both sides of the equation.

It’s also essential to have a good story/vision.

It’s not about incentives—a compelling vision and a process free of gutter politics, bureaucratic fear and inefficiency goes a long, long way.

Ideally,-the vision comes from the community with the City Commission leading the way and serving as the guardian and driver of the vision making sure things get done and that we stay true to what the community wants. And by community I mean everyone willing and able to show up or weigh in.

We can’t afford to leave anyone behind. We can’t afford to ignore stakeholders.

We are so quick to label in this town.

The developer is always greedy and rapacious—some are, but most aren’t.

The business community has been labeled by some as a self-serving “special interest”—and yet some of the most caring, committed and dedicated contributors own businesses in town. Shouldn’t they have a voice? And what’s wrong with making a profit, this is America and in order for a city to be sustainable we need a strong and prosperous business community.

On the flip side, opponents of projects are often labeled NIMBY’s, which stands for not in my backyard. In other words, they don’t want to see anything happen. Sometimes that’s true. But many citizens just  have some questions that need to be answered or suggestions that might make the project function better.

Regardless, effective economic development means that we need to have a common vision, a staff to carry it out, a great story to sell your town to investors and a climate that doesn’t resemble Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

But most important, if you want jobs, opportunity and tax base—(and we do because if you’re stagnant you die) you have to get in the game.

I hope we do.

Hotels and multi-family projects have their place. But job creating commercial enterprises are also needed. We shouldn’t mistake the two—and I fear we do.

Boca, Palm Beach Gardens and West Palm Beach are reeling in companies that create jobs and make their economies less reliant on food, beverage and tourism which we have learned can be very vulnerable to economic cycles, pandemics and even extreme weather events.

We need to diversify. We need to innovate. Complacency is a killer.

 

Here’s a look at some deals coming to Palm Beach County:

Beacon Pharmaceutical is building a 200,0000 square foot life sciences accelerator in Jupiter. The $80 million investment will support up to 50 companies.

NYU Langone Health is bringing 500 new jobs to Boynton Beach with a 100,000 square foot patient access contact center.

Misfits Gaming is creating 30 new jobs in Boca. Average salary $95,000.

Northwest Company is bringing 35 jobs to a new corporate headquarters in Boca.

Logistics/Distribution. 15 distribution centers occupying nearly 5 million square feet is planned for Palm Beach County. 1 million square feet and 300 jobs are coming to the Park of Commerce and 150 jobs in 75,000 square feet is coming to North Military Trail in Boca.

–The BDB’s “Behind the Gates” initiative targeting financial firms has yielded 2,500 jobs and counting.

Wealthspire Advisors is establishing a presence in east Boca.

Project Rack is in the hopper for Boynton Beach, 270 new jobs in distribution.

The Gold Standard In Local Leadership

Tom and me: Biltmore Forest, N.C. a few years back.

A month from now, on March 9, voters will go the polls and vote for Mayor and two commission seats in Delray Beach.

The upcoming election gives me an excuse to write about a very special mayor and man who has made a big difference in our city. For me, Tom Lynch has always been the gold standard in local leadership. He’s also played a special role in my leadership journey and for that I am grateful beyond words.

But how do you write about a man who opened up a new world for you?

How do you adequately describe 30 plus years of advice, counsel and inspiration?

The truth is you really can’t.

All you can do is try and share bits and pieces. I do  in the hopes that some future leader of our city will find it wise to study Tom’s exemplary model of leadership.

Tom Lynch and I have been friends since the late 80s when I moved to Delray Beach to cover the city for a local newspaper. Tom was a star on the rise in those days—already a very successful businessman, already someone leading in the community—already that someone who had that certain special something you can’t quite put your finger on.

Charismatic. Handsome. Kind. Articulate. A visionary thinker.

When Tom was elected mayor in 1990 we did a front page feature story on him. Tom was a youthful and energetic 41-year-old who oozed confidence but was always down to earth and never egotistical. But he sure looked the part of a confident leader.

I remember thinking about his “presence” when our photographer took photos of Tom in front of his Plastridge Insurance office on Federal Highway.

“Delray is a leader,” said a former city commissioner I quoted for the story. “This man will take us places.”

He sure did.

That’s what special leaders do—they transform.

They take us places that maybe we didn’t know we wanted to go—but when we get there we sure are glad.

In Delray’s case, Tom took us to a place of stability that we longed for after a tumultuous decade that featured lots of political infighting and a revolving door of city managers. When we stabilized, when we began to get along, when we talked through our differences—it felt good. Around town, the possibilities felt infinite. Nothing changed—except the leadership dynamic—and therefore everything changed. We were on the way…

–“Best Run Town in Florida” said the cover story in Florida Trend.

–A coveted All America City Award in 1993.

–An intangible feeling of optimism in the air that made all the difference.

We started believing again.

Sometimes I think we underestimate the value of belief. Businesses, relationships, organizations and yes cities can’t succeed without belief.

Great leaders instill belief.

They make you feel safe and they make you believe that things can get better; we feel protected when they are on the job and that leads to trust, cooperation and achievement.

My wife Diane, who worked in the planning department when Tom was mayor, remembers what it felt like to work with a mayor and commission who cared deeply about what the staff thought and recommended. City staff felt empowered and important, they had a sense of mission and a notion that they were doing big things—and they were doing big things.

My wife and others felt they had found heaven working in Delray where the mayor and commissioners were polite, passionately committed to building something special and willing to stand up for what was right.

Meetings were civil, productive and business like. For someone like Diane it was a sea change from what she had experienced as a young planner in Hollywood where staff presentations were often fraught and stressful exercises.

In Delray, the culture set by Tom was collaboration not confrontation. It made all the difference.

There’s a saying by Maya Angelou that I think sums up some of what I feel about Tom’s leadership legacy: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Tom made us feel confident in our future. He made us believe.

We’ve had some terrific mayors before Tom and some good ones since, but Tom Lynch was and is extra special.

He had a calming presence.

He saw the big picture.

He was a holistic thinker and he was kind to staff, fellow commissioners and constituents.

Tom Lynch was the mayor who put us back on track after we were divided and unstable in the 80s. He was blessed with a citizen driven “Visions 2000” and bond issue money which funded a slew of great projects in the 1990s.

One could argue it would have been hard to fail given those advantages, but one would be wrong to assume that success is ever assured.

It takes leadership to execute on a vision, maturity to build a team and strength to steer through the inevitable rough seas. We’ve all seen leaders fail despite given great advantages, it takes skill and intelligence to navigate the land mines which are many in public life.

Nobody did it better than Tom.

For me and I suspect others, he was the gold standard of leadership and I quietly tried to model myself after him. I don’t think I ever told him that. But every time we spoke I was taking mental notes.

We were and are very different people, but there’s a whole lot of common ground too.

We’ve been engaged in a 30 year plus conversation which is the best part of friendship and while we’ve agreed on scores of topics we’ve had a few differences as well.

But we’ve always managed to listen to each other and find a way forward. I learned from our agreements and I learned even more when we saw things differently. His high standard made me want to work hard. If you want to talk about  philosophy and leadership with Tom Lynch you best come prepared because he’s thought through or lived through the issues we’re talking about.

While Tom’s civic resume is beyond impressive—mayor of Delray, mayor of the Village of Golf, School Board Chair, Chair of the Business Development Board, President of the Palm Beach County League of Cities—and the list goes on—the true measure of a person is the lives they touch.

Tom has touched more lives through his service, friendship, business acumen and all around goodness than I could possibly quantify.

Personally, I’ve been blessed with many incredible friends and for that I am grateful. My friends have brought me immense joy and have been incredibly supportive through every phase of my life.

But there are four men in my life who have shaped me in ways too profound to describe.

Two of those men were family, my grandfather and original hero Abraham and my father and all-time idol Sandy.

The other two special guys have been Carl DeSantis—my mentor in business who opened up new worlds to me and my family and Tom Lynch who sat me down all those years ago in the old Annex in Pineapple Grove and talked to me about  giving local politics a whirl. It took a few years for me to take the leap, but he planted the seed and never left my side through hurricanes, shootings, lawsuits, controversial votes and term limits. He advised me in business and in life, attended my mom’s funeral (even though he didn’t know her), and supported me after a divorce and when I found new love.

Over the decades, we’ve talked about kids, family, education, politics, business, technology, people we admire and how to build cities and companies. We have never run out of things to talk about.

He’s been elemental in my life. Absolutely elemental.

How lucky am I?

How lucky has Delray been?
So my wish is for future mayors to find each to find each other or others who might mentor them so they can be all that they can be.

Because when a mayor succeeds so does a city. Mayors cannot succeed alone. It really does take a village.

I should note, that while Tom and I agree on many things, we are members of different political parties. And yet, we have found a way to be close, to change each other’s minds on occasion and to find a lot that we can agree on.

The two of us are admittedly, a small sample, but it shows that agreement, reconciliation and mutual respect is possible and a whole lot more desirable. We benefit when we open our hearts and minds to the special people in our midst—especially those who see some things differently.

Thirty plus years ago, I interviewed a newly elected mayor not knowing that 10 years later I would be taking the same oath that my mentor and friend took. How could I have known? But I am grateful that I knew enough to listen to this special man because he has meant the world to me and my family and I owe him more than I can ever describe.

Here are five (there are hundreds) of principles that Tom brought to our community:

The notion that cities are like sturdy tables—you need a strong foundation that includes a healthy business community, strong neighborhoods, good schools and healthy non-profits. All the legs have to be strong. Now that sounds basic, but as we navigate the blizzard of campaign mail over the next month watch the messaging of candidates who bemoan “special interests”—code word for businesses and organizations. Truth be told, successful mayors have to cultivate relationships with all the stakeholders in town. Tom felt it was important for the city to be engaged with local schools, homeowner associations and non-profits. He also knew how critical it was for the city to have good relationships with the business community, local cities, the county, School Board, state and federal governments.

 

Business-like, civil proceedings. As noted earlier, civility and professionalism breeds stability and progress. Delray became ‘the’ place to work not because we paid more than other cities, but because of our culture and the fact that we were doing big, creative things. As a result, we attracted and retained talent. Having institutional knowledge is critical.

Open Government. Tom introduced the “town hall” meeting—which was mothballed even before Covid. But the intent was to provide an annual report to citizens and business owners, much like a corporation does for its stockholders. A big part of the town hall was a presentation giving everyone a full report of where the city stood in terms of projects, financials, building permits, initiatives etc. It was educational and built community.

Brings us solutions, not just your problems. Tom stressed the importance of the community leading the process of providing solutions so he challenged groups to come to the city with ideas on how to fix problems. If there were disputes, parties were often encouraged to work it out before the city imposed a solution that might not be ideal. It proved to be a good incentive.

The Mayor as consensus builder. Tom saw his role as the consensus builder on the dais and so he most often spoke last making sure to hear the thoughts of his fellow commissioners, staff and citizens. He would try to sift through the input to piece together areas of agreement. He built consensus, he didn’t polarize, label or divide. When an issue was voted on and he lost, he moved on and urged others to do so as well.

 

 

The Merits Of Comfort

We just marked the one year anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death.

“To lead others, you have to constantly learn. I wouldn’t say my leadership style changed over the years. I like challenging people and making them uncomfortable. That’s what leads to introspection and that’s what leads to improvement. You could say I dare people to be their best selves.

“That approach has never wavered – from basketball to business. What I did adjust, though, was how I varied my approach from player to player, business to business. I still challenge everyone and make them uncomfortable; I just do it in a way that is tailored to them.

“To learn what would work and for who, I do homework and watch how they behave. I learn their histories and listen to what their goals are. I learn what makes them feel secure and where their greatest doubts lay. Once I understand them, I can help bring the best out of them by touching the right nerve at the right time.” Kobe Bryant on leadership. Found on the website of his venture capital firm Bryant Stibel.

 

I’ve been on a reading tear of late.

I guess that’s what happens during a pandemic where it’s just not safe to resume your normal life of running around.

I’ve always loved to read and I’m a late bloomer when it comes to education—I did the minimum to get by in school excelling in the subjects I liked and struggling in those that didn’t interest me because I just didn’t work very hard. But sometime in my late 20s, a ferocious curiosity overtook me and I just became a voracious student of life. I was a journalist back then which meant that every week I got to interview interesting people and learn a little about their lives. I spent time with homicide detectives, street cops, paramedics, doctors, developers, entrepreneurs, scientists, farmers, chefs, techies and more. I learned a little bit about a whole lot of things.

Being in newspapers in the late 80s and early 90s, was the best job imaginable for someone like me who was curious and liked to write. And so I became what some refer to as a “generalist.”

My editors knew they could assign me to any story and I could figure it out. So I wrote about business, law, education, crime and even agriculture. I profiled athletes, playwrights, professors, detectives, artists and politicians.

But when you are a generalist, you don’t master any one thing. And so in my business life and my civic life, I have had to lean on experts and reading materials to make it through. It’s worked—for the most part.

I thought about all that last week, when the world observed the one year anniversary of the tragic helicopter accident that killed Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others. What a horrible ending to a magnificent story. Kobe was focused on one thing. I am not.

Kobe is an interesting model because he was a flawed man with a past (a sexual assault accusation in 2003) that marred his legacy. He worked hard to reinvent himself and edit the narrative of his past, according to one profile I recently read. He learned that real life is not so easy to revise. I think we all learn that.

We also learn that we are fragile. All of us. Money, power, fame, talent and smarts doesn’t give us protection against all the things that might rear up and bite us. And so if we survive, we might find that we get stronger, wiser and more empathetic.

We can’t let setbacks define us, or we get lost forever.

As Hemingway said: “We’re stronger in the places that we’ve been broken.”

So like I mentioned, I’ve been reading a lot these days—a book about those who achieve “unreasonable success,” another on the “hidden habits of genius” and a book about how to change your mind.

These books have made me think about life and the people I have observed along the way.

In Kobe’s case, I thought about his leadership style which he describes in the quote above—and his efforts to make people feel uncomfortable.

I like everything about that quote except the word uncomfortable. Oh, I guess being uncomfortable has its place in life. Sometimes you need to be uncomfortable to garner the will to make a needed change.

But I have found that making people comfortable is a better way. Comfort is not complacency, which is a killer. But comfort allows people to feel safe to do their best work, make good mistakes (there is such a thing) and to settle in so they can work hard to break through.

Everywhere I have worked or spent time, I have wanted people to be comfortable. I despise complacency, believe in accountability and like to be around people who work hard. But I have found that if you’re having fun, over time you’ll find success.

I like cultures that encourage experimentation. With experimentation you will experience a fair amount of mistakes. But you’ll find that most mistakes aren’t fatal and if you learn from them and don’t repeat them you’ll break through.

I’ve worked in organizations where fear ruled and it isn’t pretty.-Sure, you might get some short term results but fear isn’t sustainable and it doesn’t age well.

The best organizations are those where people feel free to innovate, experiment, speak openly and where they know they are listened to and respected.

These are not genius insights, I know that. But yet, why is that kind of culture so rare?
Why?

In my recent reading, I’ve marveled at the game changers who achieved unreasonable success and I discovered the hidden habits of genius, but the common thread seems to be people that really want to change the world and are obsessively focused on doing so. Some were individuals who worked well on their own and some built teams and companies. Some led countries, some used art to expand our consciousness.

Still, not too many of us are Einstein’s, Edison’s, Dylan’s, Van Gogh’s or Kobe’s.

So maybe the key is to surround yourself with people who are relentless about self-improvement and doing good things. Once again, Kobe left us some advice: he looked for two characteristics when evaluating people. “The most important thing is curiosity first. I want curious people — people who ask questions, people who want to figure things out, and people who figure out new ways to do things,” he says. “From that curiosity, then you need to have the determination to see that curiosity through.”

I’m comfortable with that.

What do you think?

Pre-Election Thoughts

One day, I hope the arena will be safer. We will all benefit.

In my fantasy world, election cycles would be uplifting events in which we debate issues, weigh competing visions and cast ballots for candidates that we admire.

Sadly, the reality often doesn’t quite live up to the fantasy.

Our national scene is a toxic cesspool in which billions of dollars are spent to convince a very thin slice of undecided voters to turnout for candidates who almost always leave us scratching our heads and asking the question: “is this really the best we can do?”

It has been that way for a long time now. But there was a time when local politics was an exception. There was a time when local candidates ran on the merits of their ideas and their civic and career track records.

Sadly, those days are in the rear view mirror. Too often, local contests become mud-slinging exercises instead of a debate over vision, voting records and performance.

I hope someday that we can return to a more civil discourse and create an atmosphere that may attract our best and brightest because as we have noted on many occasions— leadership is important. And local leadership is especially important because city government touches so many aspects of our lives.

When I moved to Delray Beach in the 80s, our politics were very reminiscent of today. If the past is prologue, then we can look forward to a golden age in Delray because the strife of the 80s was followed by the 90s “Decade of Excellence.”

By that, I mean that the turnover we saw in the 1980s in the city manager’s office and staff ranks was followed by a long run of stability and progress.

But there was a difference back then—citizens as a whole stood up and said “no more.” No more infighting. No more intrigue. No more factions. No more nonsense.

Today, we seem to tolerate division. It’s not healthy or productive—citizens get lost in the muck.

Back in the 90s, our leaders heard the call and they stepped up and made things happen.

A series of solid candidates took a risk and entered the arena. They promised and delivered on a wide range of policy proposals that surfaced during visioning exercises held in the 80s and again in the early 2000s.

The benefits of those community driven efforts gave us today’s Delray Beach.

We are far from perfect and far from a finished product (city building is never done) but we have a lot to be proud of: a rocking downtown, historic districts, cultural facilities, parking infrastructure, a tennis stadium, public art, a land trust, a healthy beach and other amenities. These accomplishments and more are a direct result of local leadership that enabled city staff to execute on the community’s dreams and aspirations.

It’s not a difficult formula.

Ask the community to share their aspirations, prioritize and budget for those ideas so they can come to life, task the staff with getting it done, hold them accountable and get out of the way. This isn’t exactly nuclear fusion my friends.

But yet, from my vantage point, we begin 2021 with a lot of challenges to address.

Our politics have grown ever more toxic and vastly more personal over the years.

This poisonous “culture” doesn’t serve our community. Problems go unsolved, opportunities vanish and over time the sense of community we treasure gets eroded.

As a longtime observer and one time participant in all things Delray, I can state with certainty that culture is the killer app. If you have a great culture there are no limits to what you can achieve and no problem that you cannot solve or at least improve greatly. But if you lack a healthy culture—well let’s just say you’ll experience symptoms like lawsuits, investigations, rampant turnover and an inability to figure what do to with your sea grapes. (Sea grapes, for goodness sakes!)

There is so much for us to do in Delray—a partial list includes:

-Congress Avenue

-North Federal Highway

-The Old School Square Park

-Infrastructure

-Getting to work on the issues raised by The Set Implementation Plan

–Creating opportunities for our children

–Helping businesses and families recover from the Covid pandemic.

And the list goes on and on.

We have so much to build on—thanks to the hard work of generations of stakeholders— but whether we thrive or slide depends a lot on the men and women who bravely step into the arena and run for public office.

I have a long list of traits that I look for in candidates but ultimately my choice is limited to those who decide to run and qualify for the ballot. There’s an old political saying—don’t judge me against the almighty, judge me against the alternative and that is true.

So what am I looking for in the March 2021 election?

Initiative—does the candidate have ideas? Are they viable and interesting?

Kindness—can they get along well with others or will they polarize and divide?

Work ethic—will they show up and do their homework? P.S. Someone can be a hard worker but if they work hard at undermining people and good ideas they’ve lost me. I want to see candidates who will roll up their sleeves, get out in the community and make something good happen.

An open mind—do they automatically vote no or yes? Are they glued to the hip to one group or another elected official or are they independent and able to make decisions for the long term good of the city?

Consequently, I will not support candidates who are civic bullies or who are backed by civic bullies. I won’t support people who consider only the impacts not the benefits of projects, events, ideas or the like. It’s easy to say no to everything but yes opens the door to possibility.

I’m also looking for courage.

It’s easy to bend to the noisy mob but I want someone willing to risk it all to do what’s right for our town.

Sometimes the loud voices are right and sometimes they’re wrong. Also, sometimes the noisiest citizens aren’t representative of the will of the community. It’s not about counting heads at a commission meeting—there are plenty of people who can’t come to meetings and sit for hours waiting for an item.

Those folks—and they are the overwhelming majority–rely on their elected representatives to do the right thing—not just count noses at a meeting held during working hours which might exclude many who would love to be there but have to work or have child obligations.

 

After the last few years of lawsuits, dizzying turnover, longtime employees dragged through the mud and of being the punchline to jokes, I’m looking for kindness, empathy and an entrepreneurial spirit.

The stakes are huge my friends. We have a lot or repair work to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Poignant Covid Memorial

Rituals matter.
Love and empathy matters too.

We’ve lost 400,000 Americans to Covid-19, 100,000 since December.

It’s a staggering and brutal number.  And it will get worse before it gets better.

I was overcome with emotion as I watched our national Covid Memorial yesterday—seeing those beautiful lights and knowing that they represent the departed souls of our brothers and sisters.

It’s been six months since I was infected during the summer wave which pales next to our current Covid surge. I made it and am grateful for that daily and cognizant that so many have been lost.

We are living through a nightmare; a human nightmare that’s ending lives, upending families and threatening economies worldwide.

As I write this, I have friends with sick parents, friends who have lost relatives and friends who are dealing with long hauler health issues. It has been a nightmare.

While I am feeling so much better, I still wake up and go to sleep with headaches and have arm and leg pain. I looked at the 400 columns of lights and felt immense gratitude for the doctors, nurses and the prayers of friends that somehow for some reason saved me.

Others weren’t as fortunate.

And a nation aches for them. We also feel for those whose health has been compromised perhaps for the rest of their lives.

Much has been written about the politics of Covid, but not as much focus has been placed on the human toll of this virus.
That’s why it was so gratifying to see our beautiful nation’s Capitol illuminated with lights remembering those we’ve lost.

So many people of all ages and from all walks of life no longer with us. So many empty seats at the family table.
It’s important to grieve and to acknowledge the loss we have suffered.

These national rituals are reminders that we are one country—indivisible but only if we choose to be. It’s a choice.

Regardless, there is power in empathy.

Leaders look for opportunities to connect and educate.
They look for teachable moments that can move hearts and minds.

Yesterday’s Covid memorial was pitch perfect.
We needed to mourn, honor and remember—together. The together part is most important. Especially now.

MLK: Creating The Beloved Community

MLK

 

I find this an especially poignant and an especially important Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

My guess is that I am not alone.

MLK has been a lifelong hero of mine—if you are a leadership junkie like I am, you can’t help but be fascinated by Dr. King’s immense leadership skills.

If you’ve ever spoken publicly, you marvel at MLK’s off the charts oratorical skills and if you’ve been involved in any kind of community work you stand in awe of his vision, relevance and achievements.

We throw around the word giant too easily in this strange age we live in—but if you are looking for a true example of an icon, look no further than Dr. King.

I was honored to be asked to share some thoughts on one of my heroes with young student/leaders from our community last week on a streaming TV show called “Community Conversations.” The program is produced by the Boca Raton Tribune and streams on Facebook and Youtube. Here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYtp-hjvURY

 

It is a unique privilege to talk to young people these days, particularly because of the moment we are in.

America feels fragile today, our Democracy vulnerable. I just cannot shake the searing images of our Capitol being defiled by insurrectionists.

So the show was an opportunity to connect to tomorrow’s leaders–the people who will work toward a more perfect union if we are able to keep our Democracy.

Because it is only in a Democracy that we can have an advancement of civil rights. It is only in a Democracy that we can address poverty, inequality, division and racism—the life work of Dr. King.

Before I came on the program, the student hosts heard from my friend Bill Nix, a Delray resident and student of history. Mr. Nix shared a series of slides and gave a wonderful talk on MLK’s life—how he met Coretta Scott who would become his wife and how there was a divine plan for Dr. King to lead the civil rights movement.

It was a beautiful oral history given by a man who went to the same school as Dr. King—Morehouse College—and has clearly studied his history.

Watching his talk, I was reminded how important it is to share history and the stories that shape our world with the next generation. History not only repeats itself, it informs and guides us. Bill Nix is a great guide.

When it was my turn to appear on the show, the hosts —Darrel Creary and Dina Bazou (remember those names they are amazing) –asked me about why Dr. King was either loved or hated during his era, whether he was more important today or during his lifetime and about where we might go from here.

The show is wonderful and I’d like to give a shout out to another friend C. Ron Allen and his Knights of Pythagoras Mentoring Network for his role in helping to produce the show. Mr. C. Ron empowers our young people and I am endlessly impressed with the quality of our youth in this community.

I thought it was important to tell the students listening on the show that they were doing a good job and that they are well equipped to lead us into a better future.

We would be wise to follow the principles employed by MLK.

Dr. King talked about the  “Urgency of Creating the Beloved Community.”

And in 2021, there is no better nor more important mission.

The Beloved Community, as described by Dr. King, is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it.

Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.

In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.

As I watched the violence engulf our Capitol and I see troops deployed in Washington as we get ready to inaugurate a new president and vice president it is plain that we are far from achieving Dr. King’s vision of beloved community.

Right here at home, I see division in our city. People feel estranged from their neighbors, not heard by their leaders and put on a shelf by the powers that be. It is unsustainable and should not be ignored.

Dr. King gives us all a roadmap for effective leadership.

Non-violence is a way of life for courageous people.

We should seek to win friendship and understanding. Division does not work.

Love and empathy does work.

The end result is reconciliation. That reconciliation redeems us all.

Dr. King’s enduring lesson is to choose love instead of hate.

In 2021, we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

This Cannot Be America

This is not America….

A little piece of you,

the little peace in me,

will die. For this is not America.

Snowman melting from the inside

Falcon spirals to,

the ground

(this could be the biggest sky)

So bloody red, tomorrow’s clouds—David Bowie

 

In my heart, America has always represented a glorious destination.

America was the land of milk and honey. The place/ideal where my grandparents risked it all to come so that my parents and their children and grandchildren could have an limitless future—free from violence and hatred.

Free….that was the operative word.

Free to be safe.

Free to pursue dreams.

But not free of obligations.

In my heart, Americans are called to build community.

We have an obligation to take care of our own.

We have to pay our civic rent.

It cannot be all about us and our needs and beliefs or we will cease to exist.

Last week, we saw visual evidence of what many of us have long suspected. The Promised Land is breaking. The dream that is America is slipping through our hands.

We need to wake up because we are coming apart at the seams.

Here’s the state of our union.

–The pandemic is raging.

Real people are dying and our health care system is buckling under the weight of cases.

—We are struggling to distribute a vaccine—and people are suffering and dying as a result.

–We couldn’t secure our own seat of government.

—It took us half a year to pass a stimulus bill (that both sides wanted) while people suffered, businesses closed, families were evicted etc.

The bill our feckless Congress finally passed is deeply flawed. I know people who got $600 who don’t need it and I know people who need more help. You would think we’d be able to figure out how to target aid so that ‘we the people’ get the most for our buck. Or in this case–$900 billion.

–We can’t agree on election results—the very table stakes of Democracy.

We can’t even have an orderly or peaceful transfer of power after an election that wasn’t particularly close as Mitch McConnell noted on the Senate floor.

A significant number of us deny climate change even as we see the seas rise, wildfires rage and 100 hundred year storms batter us multiple times every year.

Nearly 400,000 people have died from Covid and yet when I scroll through my Facebook feed people I know are calling it a hoax, a bad flu, a government conspiracy and a plot to take our freedoms away.

This lunacy takes a toll on those of us who respect scientists, respect election officials (my goodness Wendy Sartory Link did a great job in Palm Beach County), feel deeply for families who have lost loved ones to a deadly virus and revere those front line health care workers who are true heroes.

Our beautiful country is in peril.

Russian hackers looted our computer systems, put bounties on the heads of our soldiers and have bullied our allies.

China is run by an autocratic dictator who is brutalizing Hong Kong, stealing our intellectual property, locking up dissidents and loaning money to needy countries in an effort to make them beholden to Beijing.

Iran and North Korea are threats to Americans and our allies. And the list goes on.

Here at home, Florida is a Covid tinderbox.

Small businesses have been ravaged—each empty store front comes with a story of a dream dashed, livelihoods lost and a part of the fabric of our community lost.

It takes a toll. The death and division weighs heavy on us all.

Crises—whether they affect families, businesses, communities or nations– can either bind you together or drive you apart.

In the wake of the assault on the Capitol, a friend reminded me that on 9/12—a day after we were attacked by terrorists— we were all Patriots united in our resolve to love and protect each other. Sadly, over time that feeling dissipated.

The events of January 6 could have a similar galvanizing impact or the moment could be lost. But so far, we have retreated to our respective “sides.” It’s shameful.

The real challenge will be maintaining these United States. The real challenge will be finding a way to live together and serve our nation’s needs of which there are many.

To date, a productive way forward is eluding us and if we don’t figure this out, we will pay the heaviest of prices—we already are.

It’s time to wake up America.

We don’t have to agree. Let’s face it, we will never agree. But we do have to agree to live together peacefully and mind the guardrails or we will lose it all.

Disagreement over philosophy is one thing, but what is most worrisome is we are walking around with our own set of facts. I don’t see how that works.

As Daniel Moynihan once said: “you are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

Somehow we have to find our way through this fog.

We have to get to work on rebuilding the broken Promised Land.

The issues loom large.

Racism remains a sickening and very real problem.

You may not think Covid is real, great have at it.

But if there was some kind of conspiracy nobody told me about it as I was confined to a hospital bed for 39 days so sick that I was unable to lift my head. And I’m doubtful that 370K Americans agreed to die to make a hoax look real. Come on.

As kids, when we played sports, occasionally we thought the refs blew a call and we lost the game. Our parents told us to question the refs and protest respectfully. But if the referee stood by the call we were also taught to shake our opponents hands, congratulate them and wish them well. We’ll compete in the next contest. “We’ll get you next time” sure beats burning down the stadium.

As for the election…Mitch was right it wasn’t all that close. In our system, the states call the shots and if you don’t like the verdict you can go to court. But you better have evidence—allegations aren’t enough.  If you fail in court, that’s it.

We don’t want Congress overturning elections. We don’t want to insurrectionists storming the seat of government. This is not America, because if it is, we’re done.

Two thoughts went through my mind as I watched through tears the scenes from Washington D.C. last week.

I thought of 9/11 and I thought of when Jerrod Miller was shot and killed in Delray.

As many of you know, many of the 9/11 terrorists were living and training in Delray. It was a stunning revelation that added to the shock of the tragedy.

I was a City Commissioner at the time and I remember hearing from neighbors who were stunned and hurt that these monsters lived among us. I remember how we gathered as a community at Old School Square and the Community Center to pray, grieve and console one another. We were unified.

When Jerrod Miller, a 15 year-old, was killed in February 2005, we experienced anger and a level of sadness I could never adequately describe. But we came together, we tried to heal. We consciously fought our emotions to save what was good about our community and resolve to work on what was broken.

The truth is we were hard at work on race relations before the shooting—people were engaged and involved. After the shooting, we doubled down on those efforts. We went to church—together. We met in living rooms and held each other’s hands. That’s impossible in a pandemic, but we should be able to figure out how to draw each other closer—especially now.

We must find a way at every level of our society to re-engage, re-connect and remember who we are.

We remain a glorious destination. Now we have to find a way to get there together.

A Prayer For The New Year: May ’21 Be A Year Of Reconciliation

Happy New Year!

I’m so happy to be turning the page on 2020 that I may be saying that for a while. I hope you indulge me.

As we’ve just learned, years can have “personalities”—themes that can define the 12 months.

2020 was chaotic, scary, divisive and harsh. It was a hard year.

I’m hoping that the dynamics of 2020 will spur a backlash and unleash a strong desire to right the ship so to speak. Wouldn’t be nice if 2021 was a year of healing? Healing from the virus, healing the economy and healing from divisive politics that has divided our nation and our city. Yes, we need to get well again.

The word that keeps entering my mind is reconciliation; the restoration of friendly relations.

So let’s dream a bit.

What does reconciliation look like? What would it feel like to heal?

At some point, we will probably have to fix the cesspool that is Washington or at least make it nominally functional. But we are a hyper local blog so we will leave the national politics to someone else for now and concentrate on the hot mess that is Delray.

Yes, it’s a hot mess my friends. It doesn’t give me joy to diagnose this but if we love Delray—and we do—we owe ourselves an accurate diagnosis so that we may get about the urgent business of fixing things.

Right now, we are a divided town.

There are “teams” in town that absolutely despise and mistrust each other.

This is a horrible development because we are also neighbors and even in a pandemic we can’t avoid bumping into each other try as we might to pretend that the others don’t exist.

Now to be sure, most people are living blissfully happy lives in the village by the sea, enjoying wonderful weather and dreaming of a post-pandemic Delray when we will be able to move about without worries.

But for those involved in the politics of this town, the tension is palatable.

Reconciliation would simply mean we could hold different views without burning each other’s houses down. We have to learn how to disagree with each other and still remember that we live in the same country and town and that we still have common goals, dreams and wishes. I have a feeling that would feel pretty good. I have a belief that such a culture would lead to progress and solutions.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one (thanks John Lennon).

The New Year means that we are about to hit warp speed on another election cycle.

This one is important with three seats on the commission up for grabs.

In a dream world, the political process should be exciting because we get to debate the future of a town we love.  Instead our politics have become brutal.

It’s not about problem solving or building community; instead it’s become about tearing people down.

Yuck.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think candidates records are fair game and frankly so is their character. So if you have been occupying a seat you should be prepared to defend your votes, leadership style and track record. Ideally, you should be proud of that record and able to share a long list of civic accomplishments.

And if you are a challenger you ought to be prepared to make a case about why you should be hired. And it’s not just about ideas and vision, it’s about your ability to work with others and get things done.

If you are a bully you ought to be held to account. If you have failed to deliver on promises, people ought to know it. Once again, it’s about getting things done.

Being an elected official is a job to do, not to have.

Which brings us back to the word reconciliation.

We live in a complex world. The craziness and complexity is dizzying and at times scary.

To cope and move forward, I find it makes sense to boil down issues and disputes to their simplest elements. And the plain truth is if we want to move forward as people, a community or a country we need to reconcile. We need to find reconciliation.

In the Bible, reconciliation is the end of estrangement—we are called to forgive.

Lincoln said a house divided cannot stand. It’s true. He was called Honest Abe for a reason.

It is important to let things go. Our ability to move forward depends on our ability to let things go.

The Roman philosopher Seneca—who is all the rage these days—once said “don’t stumble over something behind you,” which means we cannot seize the bounty of a new year if we are consumed by the past.

We begin 2021 with a raging hangover from the past year, which was horrible. It will take a while for that hangover to fade but we have 12 months to make things better. I believe we can.

Editor’s note: We begin the new year with sad news. Our friend Martin Tencer, a long time, devoted Delray Beach Police Department volunteer passed away on New Year’s Day. Marty spent 25 years as a volunteer and won an International Chiefs of Police Association Award for his work in 2008. In a word, he was wonderful. He will be remembered and missed. Marty loved the department and the city and he was loved in return.

 

A Trip Around The Sun

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

How do you measure? Measure a year?

In daylights,

In sunsets,

In midnights,

In cups of coffee,

In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife

In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

How do you measure a year in a life?

“Seasons of Love” from the Broadway show Rent.

2020…oh my goodness.

We sure have been through a whole lot together.

Covid.

Social unrest.

Division.

So much division.

Before we say goodbye to a year I think we all yearn to see in the rear view, let’s pause for a few moments and reflect on what we’ve experienced.

This is the deadliest year in US history with deaths expected to top 3 million for the first time due mainly to the coronavirus pandemic.

Final mortality data for this year will not be available for months but preliminary numbers suggest that the United States is on track to see more than 3.2 million deaths this year or at least 400,000 more than 2019.

That’s a staggering number.

It’s almost too much to comprehend.

But we need to try because we end the year with so many families in pain, hungry and lost. Friends, our world needs a lot more empathy if we are to create a better world for our children.

U.S. deaths increase most years so some increase in fatalities is to be expected but the 2020 numbers amount to a jump of about 15 percent and could go higher. That would mark the largest single year percentage leap since 1918 when tens of thousands of US soldiers died in World War I and hundreds of thousands of Americans died in the flu pandemic.

Yes, this has been a helluva year.

We won’t ever forget 2020 but while we are anxious to turn the page and resume our lives, I’m hoping we don’t blindly rush forward. I’m hoping we drive slow and consciously think about how we can make this world a better place. I know that’s kind of a sappy sentiment, but sometimes the world can use a little sappiness.

We are at a crossroads. Down one path is more fighting, down another is a chance at healing and progress. We can’t have both. It’s one or the other.

I happen to think that we are very weary of fighting each other. So many people I talk to are tired of the callousness, the meanness and the insensitivity of our discourse.

I sense that we long for kindness, community, purpose, meaning, love and empathy.

We need to carve out a space for gentle hearts to thrive in this world.

How do we do that?

By standing up to bullies.

By rewarding kindness.

By extending a hand to those who need a lift up.

By setting the record straight– if we can.

By doing what we can to help others.

Simple things make a big difference.

While 2020 was brutal, it did force us to slow down. That’s a good and valuable thing.

If we were lucky enough to take the time to reflect, we realize that life is both fragile and precious.

Last holiday season, nobody knew the word Covid and yet the virus upended our lives and almost took mine; proof that we are vulnerable and tomorrow is not guaranteed.

While we know that intellectually, it’s easy to lose sight of our mortality and fail to prioritize what’s truly important. In 2020, gliding through life became harder and for many of us impossible.

So as we close in on another trip around the sun for some reason the words to a Jimmy Buffett song are swimming around my head.

“Yes I’ll make a resolution, that I’ll never make another one.

Just enjoy this ride on my trip around the sun. Just enjoy this ride.”

To my friends, I hope you enjoy the ride. Please stay safe and let’s do what we can to make 2021 a better year for everyone. That’s my prayer for the New Year.

Delray Memories….

Over 1,000 images from Delray’s rich history adorn the grounds of the Historical Society.

If you want to give yourself a safe holiday treat, head on over to the Delray Beach Historical Society, 111 N. Swinton Avenue, and lose yourself in 100 years of history.

The “Delray Memories” exhibit is a must-see and it’s outside so it’s safe and socially distant.

We went on Friday afternoon and quickly got immersed in over 1,000 photographs on display from the Society’s archives and family submissions. In a word, it’s great.

If you’ve lived in Delray Beach for any length of time you’ll be reminded of the ties you feel to this community. If you are new to town or just visiting, the exhibit is a fascinating trip through time that will increase your understanding of this special place.

For us,  30 plus year residents, it was just wonderful to stroll the grounds of the Historical Society and lose ourselves in photos of people we’ve known and loved. It was also a chance to see a glimpse of people we’ve heard of but never had the chance to meet. You come away with a deep appreciation of community and the journey we’ve all been on.

With every step, Diane and I were transported back in time. You really felt like you were visiting with special people. There was my dear friend retired Fire Chief Kerry Koen standing outside a station looking confident and in command—as he always was. A few steps away were photos of my heroes H. Ruth and Spencer Pompey young and vibrant. There was the wonderful Ernie Simon and the lovely Lula Butler rehearsing their lines for a play celebrating Delray’s Centennial. There was a young Bob Currie and a vibrant Libby Wesley. There were photos of our beach, long ago parades and pioneers using a barge to cross the Intracoastal Waterway.

There were photos from the Delray Chamber and you are reminded that the organization has been around for more than 90 years and has played such an important role in our town.

We saw photos of a young Chamber Executive Ken Ellingsworth, football star Bobby Butler, the amazing Betty Diggans and the always friendly and kind Charlie Gwynn. Such special people. So many amazing contributors.

As a former mayor, I have a special interest in people who held that post in the past.

The exhibit has photos of Mayor Doak Campbell playing tennis, Leon Weekes riding in a parade and Tom Lynch in a top hat talking to Commissioner David Randolph, also in a tux and tails during what I think was an Easter Bonnet stroll. I had a chance to see Mr. Randolph later that evening at the viewing for the legendary Zack Straghn and you can’t help but feel that sense of connection and history. That’s community.

We are all tied together and while people come and go, their contributions live on and their work adds a distinct flavor to this place we call home.

When I see these kind of exhibits I’m always taken by the photos of Ethel Stirling Williams, a Delray pioneer whose name adorns the Society’s Learning Center and Archives. Ms. Williams, an early educator, businesswoman and community leader is radiant in every photo and I wonder what this young woman was thinking about life in Delray and where this town may go.

I have similar thoughts when I see photos of a dashing mayor named Jack Saunders.

If you’ve been to City Hall’s Commission Chambers you may have seen the walls adorned by the portraits of Delray’s mayors.

As a young reporter, I used to sit in those chambers covering mayors Campbell, Lynch and Jay Alperin and my eyes would always wander to those portraits of the past mayors. For some reason I was always drawn to the portrait of Mayor Saunders (maybe it was the hat he was wearing) and to Mayor Catherine Strong, our first female mayor.

The Delray Memories exhibit has lots of photos of a young and dapper Saunders and an always smiling Mayor Strong, who radiates confidence and kindness. I’ve always heard she was very special and I wish I had to chance to meet her and hear her stories, what she liked and what she struggled with during her time in office.

History is special. It can bind us together if we care enough to slow down long enough to look back. It can also light the way forward and it never fails to give us perspective and context.

The Delray Beach Historical Society, under the capable leadership of Winnie Edwards, has really done a great job of preserving, celebrating and sharing the history of our village.

Winnie’s love for Delray and its history is evident and shines through in these bleak times.

If you want to lift your spirits, enjoy the great outdoors and fill up on a big dose of civic pride stop by the Memories exhibit. You’ll be glad you did.

Have a wonderful Christmas everyone! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Stay safe and enjoy this special time of year.