When Building a Vibrant City Each Thread Counts

Editor’s Note: Please keep a close watch on Hurricane Irma. Be vigilant and be prepared.

“There’s an energy New York pulls out of people. Nowhere else has this kind of energy. It always feels like there is something going on that you want to be a part of.” Gregory Zamfotis, founder Gregory’s Coffee.

When it comes to building great cities and great places, energy and vibrancy is the holy grail.
It feels good to be in a place where something desirable is going on.
Sure there are times when we seek solitude and great places offer that as well.
But you need both. You need energy and a place to renew.

Although I haven’t traveled as widely as I once hoped, I find myself gravitating to places that offer energy and solitude.
Asheville has a vibrant downtown  but in minutes you can be in the mountains.
Portland, Maine feels like a big little city but in minutes you can find peace along the beautiful Coast.
Boulder, Colorado offers an amazing downtown ringed by golden mountains.

Delray Beach is similarly blessed.
We have energy. It seems like a fun and vibrant place. There’s a lot going on.
But if you want to hide,  there are spots on the beach and in Lake Ida Park and out west at the Morikami or the Wakadohatchee where you can disappear and find a quiet place to walk, read and think.
We are truly blessed.

But it takes vision and effort and planning and investment to create an energetic city. And once created you have to tend to your city, like a garden.
You need the right scale, the right mix of businesses to make it work. You also need art and music and culture and great parks too.
It needs to be walkable, safe, clean and authentic.

You need festivals and restaurants and sidewalk cafes and you need the intangibles too.  The intangibles make all the difference.
Strong local leadership, a shared community vision, creative problem-solving, and ideally an inclusive economy. You also need cross sector collaboration and a set of civic values.
Sound hokey? Well, try building a great place without those things.

You simply can’t.

The Greening of Delray

Community Greening has a simple but important mission.

We went to a fundraiser earlier this week at the new farm to table bar Death or Glory to raise funds and awareness for Community Greening, a Delray Beach non-profit that is beginning to make its mark in Delray Beach.


Community Greening provides eligible groups and neighborhoods free native trees. They do it all: from delivery and site selection to permits and tools for planting. The organization also invests in the environment by creating or maintaining sustainable green spaces, supplying the project management, native plants, art, volunteers, and maintenance needed to create great public spaces. They are also committed to educating kids on trees and plants.

That last piece is extremely important in our high-tech society. Community Greening believes it’s important to connect children to the natural environment. You don’t take care of things you don’t relate too and with our planet in a fragile state we need to seed the future with people who care.

The group has planted hundreds of trees and has quickly gained a strong reputation in the community.

Co-founders Mark Cassini and Matt Shipley have recruited an all-star board that includes Vice Mayor Jim Chard and emerging leaders like Emanuel Dupree Jackson Jr., Jason McCobb, owner of Farmer Jay Pure Organics and noted landscape architect Carolyn Pendleton-Parker among others.

Board member Sgt. Daniela Quinn of the Delray Beach Police Department likes the community building aspects of the organization.

“CG is important because it brings the community together to learn about our Delray Beach ecosystem and how to take more of a proactive stance in helping sustain it. CG seeks to clean up and bring life back to neglected spaces and it gives everyone a chance to plant a tree, leaving their legacy for generations to come. In an area where new development seems to be at the forefront, CG allows us to be reminded of the history of our natural habitat and bring back some native plants to our community to keep it green and beautiful.”

That sums it up, doesn’t it?

Personally, I was moved by the humble passion of those involved in the organization that I had a chance to meet this week.

In a follow-up conversation with Mr. Cassini, I learned about an effort to “green” and plant trees at Catherine Strong Park in the southwest section of Delray. That park has a special meaning for me. The voters approved a bond issue when I was on the commission that funded the splash park, which was the first park in that neighborhood’s history. It’s also named after the first female mayor in Delray history who was known for her big heart and her desire to improve race relations.

A celebration of Community Greening’s efforts will be held from 4-6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16 at Catherine Strong Park.

I hope you visit and most of all, we hope you get involved and support CG in its important mission.

To learn more visit http://communitygreening.org/. Next month, there will be a fundraiser at Pizza Rustica and then a Delivery Dudes fundraising effort.

Meanwhile, Death or Glory is just great. Don’t miss the fried chickpeas (and the Tommy Margarita is pretty good too!). We wish them well and salute their community involvement.




10 Things We Loved in August

Tequila & Tacos was a highlight of the summer craft cocktail series at Old School Square.

Editor’s note: Our hearts are heavy this morning thinking of those suffering from the impact of Hurricane Harvey.

We in South Florida and in Delray Beach and Boca Raton can relate to the disruption that hurricanes cause. Please consider donating what you can to relief organizations that are on the scene in the Houston area. And please be vigilant with your hurricane preparations. We are entering the height of the hurricane season.


“I can’t believe the news today..

Oh, I can’t close my eyes
And make it go away”– U2 Sunday Bloody Sunday
No we can’t make it go away. 
But we can inject a little positivity into our lives can’t we?
And so we will. 
Here’s 10 things we liked this month. 
1. Kudos to Old School Square for its social media tsunami and uplifting videos designed to remind one and all how special Delray’s cultural arts center is and how important it is to the life of our community. 
2. Festival Management Group, the producers of the Garlic Festival and Delray Affair among other signature everts, spent more than a year being bullied by short sighted politicians. But it didn’t dissuade the team. They re-tooled and reinvented and came up with a terrific series of summer events at The Fieldhouse at Old School Square. We attended a few and loved them all. Great events, great cocktails and robust ticket sales brightened our summer. We loved the integration with local restaurants and discovered a few new places as a result. Kudos Nancy, John and Sarah.  
3. Louie Bossi is a welcome addition to downtown Boca. Brilliant concept, big menu and wonderful food equals a great time. 
4. We had a chance to meet with Campbell Creative, a new addition to our entrepreneurial scene. We predict you will be hearing more about this innovative agency. 
5. We are thrilled to hear about the continued success of Modernizing Medicine which raised a whopping $231 million in investment and continues to hire and blaze new trails. CEO Dan Cane is a brilliant business visionary and a nice guy too. Kudos to the FAU Research Park for nurturing scores of great businesses.
6. We had a chance to hang with Boca Mayor Susan Haynie and former Councilwoman Constance Scott at a recent Palm Beach County League of Cities meeting and it was fun. Mayor Haynie recently completed a stint as president of the Florida League, a great honor. Cities are under siege in this state by some short sighted state leaders. Good to see our local officials stand up for home rule. 
7. We were thrilled to see Pame Williams receive recognition (and celebrate in her own way) her 30 years of service to the taxpayers of Delray Beach. We just adore her. 
8. Also good to see the late Lamar Shuler’s legacy celebrated at the S.D. Spady Museum. 
9. Nice to see dirt moving at the iPic Theatre four years after the CRA chose the project after an RFP process. 
10. We were thrilled to see Creative Mornings Palm Beach visit the Arts Garage.
All in all, August was a very fine month.

Those Great Good Places

She’s a beauty, a great good, place.

I moved to Florida 30 years ago this summer.
Time flies when you’re having fun.
Back then, there weren’t too many places to dine in Delray.

Nope, we weren’t a foodie destination unless of course you thought Burger Chin or Jawoppy at the old Delray Mall were fine dining. (Confession: I did).
We did have the Arcade Tap Room, the Annex, Las Hadas and of course Boston’s on the Beach but we were far from a happening spot.

I spent a lot of time in those days at Tom Sawyer’s in Boca, Dirty Moe’s, Rosie’s Raw Bar and the wonderful Ken and Hazel’s.
We shot pool at the Phoenix on A1A (where Burger Fi now resides) and on rare occasions visited Marie Callender’s in Boynton Beach. Morrison’s cafeteria was a  treat and we all loved a place called Coasters in Atlantic Plaza.

There was a place below Linton Towers–the name escapes me–but I remember paying big bucks to watch Mike Tyson knock out Michael Spinks in mere seconds during a pay per view fight. The people in the buffet line weren’t pleased. We blinked and we missed the fight.
Delray was sure different in those days.

I thought about these old time places when I read that 32 East may be exiting the scene after a long and glorious run so that Louie Bossi can take its place.
If it comes to pass, I will miss 32 East; one of the first truly great restaurants on Atlantic Avenue.

Owner Butch Johnson has done a great job since opening in 1996  and I will miss seeing my fellow Oswego alumni John Fitzpatrick behind the bar where he is the consummate spiritual advisor, with the emphasis on the spirits.
32 East earned its place in the firmament of great local places alongside Dakotah, Damiano’s, Bennardo’s, Splendid Blendeds, Louie Louie Too, the Twilight Cafe, Gleason Street Cafe, Pineapple Grille, The Patio Delray, D & B Seafood, Busch’s, Atlantic Station, Luna’s and Vittorios. So many more I’m sure.
Thinking about them all gives me a warm and nostalgic feeling.

It’s not just the places we miss, but the people associated with them. I remember watching the All Star Game at Louie Louie’s with Diane and the late Lamar Shuler one year and taking my parents to the Gleason Street Café when they visited Delray to see the grandkids. I remember election night 1990 at the Arcade Tap Room and seeing the town’s fathers at their old table at the Green Owl.

Ray Oldenburg, a University of West Florida Professor wrote a great book some years ago called “The Great Good Place.”
The book talked about those “third” places beyond home and the office that become a part of the community fabric.
We miss them all. We cherish the memories. But inevitably we move on to discover new places too.
And so it goes.
I miss happy hours at Dirty Moe’s, I miss seeing Officer Vinny Mintus at The Annex for lunch and I wish I could have one more breakfast with Mr. and Mrs. Pompey at the old IHOP on North Federal.

The Genius of Creative Mornings

Creative Mornings Palm Beach is attracting big crowds to their monthly events.

Editor’s note: I had the opportunity to speak last Friday at the Arts Garage to Creative Mornings Palm Beach. It was a thrilling experience. I have been asked by a few attendees to post my remarks, which are mostly accurate, but I did veer off on a few tangents. The talks are videotaped and live streamed so the actual talk should be posted on the Internet soon. In the live event, I thanked my dad, for being an inspiration and guiding star. He was in attendance, which was very special. Special thanks to Yulia, Amber, Nichole, the Arts Garage, Marjorie Waldo and the Creative Mornings team for giving me the opportunity.

Good morning…

I’m going to start with a confession….I am not a genius.

That’s probably not a surprise or a revelation to those of you who know me.

But I believe in genius.

I have seen genius and I appreciate genius—and I’ve learned that while genius is important to success, it’s not essential… there are ways we can tap into genius without actually having to be one.

There are ways we can leverage genius by using the work of great artists, great leaders, great entrepreneurs, great musicians—to inspire us and help us improve our world.

This morning, I want to share a little of my story with you and how I’ve found the motivation to take risks, overcome fear, try new things and hopefully find a way to make my little corner of the universe just a little bit better.

First, let me say that I’m inspired by genius every day…

The Beatles.

Bruce Springsteen.

Abraham Lincoln.

Winston Churchill.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Nelson Mandela.

Maya Angelou, Joni Mitchell, Frank Lloyd Wright..

Geniuses….whose body of work motivates us to dream, strive and aspire.

But even the geniuses can’t do it alone…and that’s my message this morning.

If you are a genius, you still need a team….—Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak, Johnny Ive and thousands of employees…some of whom work at the local Genius bar. Mark Zuckerberg connected 2 billion people on Facebook but he needed Sheryl Sandberg to scale his platform…

Lincoln put together a team of rivals—to win the Civil War and preserve the union.

Even Bruce Springsteen has the E Street Band….or as he describes them—and I quote: “the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making -Le-gen-dary E – Street – Band!” ….Which includes Delray resident Max Weinberg…who has become a friend of the Arts Garage and this city.

No man or woman is an Island. Genius or no genius, nobody can do it alone.

The best way we can move forward as a culture is to harness the power of people to build community.

There’s genius ready to be tapped, created and deployed —anywhere –at any time– for anything—if we take the time to build community….

There’s no problem we can’t solve…no challenge we can’t overcome –if we build community.

I believe, that if we cultivate genius, nurture talent and encourage aspiration we can move mountains…we did it in Delray, I’ve seen it done elsewhere, it happens in business and it happens in organizations too….to capture genius is to embrace the magic of the crowd….to be open to ideas and imagination….

And consequently, there is a price to pay if we don’t engage and make connections…

If we tell people to go elsewhere to pursue their dreams—we will lose not only our present —but we will squander our future too….

Genius unites….it brings people together around ideas and visions of a better future.

Genius incites…the ideas that you have to fight the hardest for are often the ones you will be remembered for. (Let me say that again)….Everything that people now love about Delray Beach faced initial and often strong resistance…but if you believe in your vision, if you persevere—over time, you will make real and lasting change.

Genius also excites….it makes you feel alive with possibility and hope, but genius can’t take root and spread if it’s isolated and alone.

I attended my first Creative Morning….last month in Boca. And frankly, I was blown away.

I walked into that meeting not knowing what to expect…and in need of community and inspiration…

We live in a very challenging world…the news can be heartbreaking and overwhelming, the personalities we confront on a daily basis can deflate even the most optimistic among us.

And so I walked into Creative Mornings… feeling a little lost …as if I was at sea without any navigation—I felt a little lonely and exhausted that day…which I think all of us feel from time to time.

We are living in significant times…our anchors are being ripped from the ground…our world is moving so fast and I’m not sure if we are always aware of what’s happening.. It can leave us feeling unsure and unsettled…..

And then I met you …and the sense of community I felt in the room awakened something inside of me…it awakened my belief in community

and in leadership…

and in entrepreneurship—the three pillars of my life outside of  family and friends.

There is power and beauty in what you are building here with Creative Mornings….

your inclusiveness, your openness, your energy and your warmth not only impressed me but it moved me…

there is genius in what you have tapped into and it shows leadership, it builds community and it nurtures creative entrepreneurs. And our world needs what you are creating—now more than ever.

So I feel at home here with you….And this morning I want to share a little of my story and some thoughts on genius and how it relates to your work and our world.

One of my favorite quotes about genius is the following by moral philosopher Bernard Williams: “Talent is a flame. Genius is a fire.”

I’m impressed by talent…but I am awed by genius.

I am also inspired by genius…as I think most of us are….genius is what moves us….it stops us cold and it makes us pay attention. And when you are exposed to genius—it starts a fire and it changes the world.

For me, genius is a step or two beyond excellence….it’s something you feel. It hits you…stops you cold, and makes you reach for the railings because once you see it…you can’t go back….It looks like this…(cue Bruce Springsteen video).

As I mentioned, I am not a genius. But I think we all have the ability to tap into genius and in some ways we have a responsibility to do so.…

I showed you that clip of Springsteen at age 25…because there’s something about him that spoke to me on a visceral level…moments in his songs that hit me deep in my soul and listening to him made me want to go out and do…(pause)… something….to do something of significance with my life.

I wish I could write like Steinbeck, or think like Seth Godin, or scale like Mark Zuckerberg or write songs like Bruce Springsteen….but I can’t….Still, I’m here to say that accomplishment and achievement are possible if we dare to try…if we allow ourselves to experience life. If we don’t play it safe and succumb to fear.

I use the geniuses that move me as fuel…a great song gives me faith in the future and great writing makes me want to write—so that maybe I could taste— if just for a moment— something magical.

So we should seek genius—that magic….in our businesses and in our communities…., it’s there to be discovered and awakened.

It’s waiting there for us to be leveraged and turned into something positive and special. And that’s what we did in this city by reaching out to the stakeholders of this community and asking them what they wanted to see their city become. When we did that—through visioning and civic engagement—we tapped into the genius of this city. And we were able to move mountains as a result. This kind of magic is available to us as entrepreneurs and artists…if we reach out to our audience…if we devote ourselves to making their lives better.

So how did I get involved in this kind of work? I have no idea…

This is a picture of me…on my first day of college.

I’m 18 or 19…I’m away from home for the first time in a place called Oswego, NY, a world away from my Long Island roots.

This young man….who I barely recognize as me….has no idea what’s in store for him.

I had never heard of Delray Beach…had never dreamed of being mayor of a city….and I had never met a person from Pittsburgh PA….

And yet those three things—Delray, serving as mayor and marrying a woman from Pittsburgh would completely shape my life in magical ways that I could not have fathomed way back when….

I moved to Florida after experiencing several Oswego winters…which by the way last 11 months a year.

I came here to be a newspaper reporter….and trade endless winters for endless summers. My best friend lived here and I thought it would be nice to be in the sunshine.

And then I fell in love with this little city…because I saw its potential and its possibilities and I was attracted by the leadership that was here and by the vision that was just starting to take shape….First I wrote about it for a newspaper and then I decided to help make it happen.

And we did….

We got a lot done…

It was a team effort, it was fun. It was thrilling. It was also exhausting and at times stressful.

But a group of people worked together over a period of years because they believed in this place, they believed in each other and they believed in the value of creating a better future for ourselves and our children. What a concept….why can’t we embrace that philosophy for our country?…find a unifying vision and work together to bring it to life….

If I were a genius…I probably would have had a solid plan for my life based on that genius….John Lennon knew he wanted to be a musician from the time he was a young boy.

Scientists and engineers are fueled by their interests…Me…. I was trying to figure it out on the fly…

I always enjoyed writing….but I also knew that I was never go to be a Hemingway or a Pulitzer Prize Winner…But I discovered that I enjoyed people, that I loved to connect and that I had a passion for cities and an entrepreneurial streak…and so Delray resonated with me….

I saw in this city a chance to be a civic entrepreneur and inspired by local leadership I decided to run for office, about a year after I lost my mother to cancer.

She died at a young age…and I saw how life was fragile and that tomorrow was not guaranteed and so I made a conscious decision to say yes to things….even though I was afraid, way outside my comfort zone and not really sure I had leadership skills.

But Delray’s formula…its secret sauce of involving people— spoke to me. I also saw that it got results and that in small cities you can make big strides pretty quickly if you want too…if you harness the genius and talent in your community.

It’s a simple concept—there’s nothing in that success formula that is complicated or requires an Albert Einstein like brain. But there was genius in the simplicity of engaging the community’s stakeholders, forging a vision for a sustainable future and having the courage and the fortitude to stick with it—despite the roadblocks, despite the naysayers, despite the people who tell you that what you want to do is impossible.

We heard all the excuses– the instant you announce an idea you can count on the critics to whack you over the head.

. So what do you do when you encounter resistance…

My advice—listen.

Listen to the critics—and then defy them. Dig deep and make it happen. Or as Steve Martin advises…Be so good they can’t ignore you…

And I realize in preparing for this creative morning…that while I am not a genius, I was surrounded by a few…

talented leaders, incredible entrepreneurs, amazing public servants—and together we captured genius and we built a place and a vibe that made us fall in love, encouraged us to take risks on businesses and projects and compelled us to keep going when the going got rough…and we all know —it always gets rough.

I kept going…through the loss of my mother—who was my biggest champion, the end of a marriage, a terrible accident that almost took my father, through hurricanes that exhausted me, controversies nearly every week, protests and the shooting of a 15 year old that challenged all of us—-we kept going.

And because we created community….because we harnessed the genius of our citizens, we survived it all—whatever was thrown at us– and we thrived.

My adventures in local politics….opened up my world.

I went from a journalist—a noble profession to an elected official—-which should be a noble profession—to business and entrepreneurship….where I have been able to apply the lessons that I learned over the past 30 years….

And that’s how those of us who aren’t geniuses can succeed…by finding good people, understanding that you are never the smartest person in the room and by committing yourself to lifelong learning and experimentation.

I am as curious and as aspirational today….as I have ever been. Probably more so. Because in 8 days I will be 53…and while I still feel that is young, I can see old age for the first time…it’s out there…still hazy…but I see it…it’s coming. If I’m lucky…So I have a renewed sense of urgency…

And I wish that I had five lives to live….because there is so much that I want to do and experience. So many people I want to learn from…so many people I’d like to help.

I think it’s important to share actionable lessons…so I will conclude with a few from the geniuses I have encountered and studied….in the three important areas of my life…leadership, entrepreneurship and community..

First leadership…

From Churchill and Lincoln….I learned about the power of belief….Churchill’s belief that England would never be defeated and Lincoln’s belief in our better angels…these leadership lessons that we can all use regardless of where we are in life.

Failure was not an option to Churchill, because he knew failure to beat the Nazi’s meant certain death for his country and the values that shaped western civilization. Lincoln understood his weaknesses and sought to build a team that bolstered his blind spots—He was a strong enough leader and a secure enough person to surround himself with people who held different views.

I’m no Lincoln or Churchill…but I believe that leaders at all levels of life can learn from their example….I did not fight a World or Civil War when I served as mayor…but I was challenged– as we all are– by events that are out of our control….my biggest challenge was trying to keep our city together in the wake of a tragic shooting that took the life of a 15 year-old boy named Jerrod Miller.

Jerrod was shot and killed by a rookie police officer outside of a school dance in the southwest section of Delray… there is no playbook when these tragedies happen…and so you have to rely on your team and your own inner reserves in order to keep the community from spiraling out of control.

Jerrod was shot exactly 5 years before Trayvon Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida and we all saw what happened in Ferguson and Baltimore after Freddie Gray…

My best advice to any of you who might face a similar challenge is to channel Lincoln and Churchill…to reach deep and lead with your heart.

I had a 15 year old daughter at the time…so Jerrod’s death was something that struck me very deeply. Because I could not imagine losing my child in such a way…or in any way for that matter.

And so I followed my heart…

I met with everyone who would see me and I absorbed the anger…the love…the pain…and the hurt….all of which was directed at what I symbolized at the time—the mayor of our city and all that title implies….

And I realized it really wasn’t me who was being yelled by some…and in many ways it wasn’t me who was being hugged by others…I was a receptacle for the slew of emotions we were all experiencing.

My friends, I will say it’s a strange job when in the course of a day, you are told that you are evil —and told you are loved…

We made a choice to survive during that tough time.

We made a choice not to destroy what we had built here..that choice was possible in Delray because we had made the investment in community that places like Ferguson didn’t…that was our genius…

….Some of us grew closer…a few of us grew apart…but none of us emerged from the experience unchanged….we learned to face the anger and the pain and the heartache with compassion.

Great leaders, great mayors work to make their communities more caring, inclusive and collaborative. They seek to unify, not divide. They seek to create a reservoir of good will…which makes it possible to weather any storm….

Lessons from the genius of Entrepreneurs….

This is where we can find a slew of geniuses….Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Seth Godin, Richard Branson and the list of entrepreneurial genius goes on and on…the common thread—fire…they all have a fire to see their visions come to life. They have an ability to dream and to execute…they know how to build teams, they know how to scale, how to market, how to make us long for things we never knew we wanted….

They blaze a path..they are mavericks….originals….they are geniuses….

So the longer I am in business….the more projects and entrepreneurial endeavors I am exposed to or involved with– from Hot Sauce and Beverages to restaurants and real estate— the more I realize how much I don’t know. But that’s OK.

Because we can learn from the entrepreneur…we can see the common threads: their ability to take risks, their vision, their belief in their ideas, their passion to bring those ideas into the world. And if we dig deep, we realize that there are virtually no overnight successes…there are always obstacles, always challenges, always setbacks…but the ones who win are always the ones who persevere.

Celsius our beverage…just announced a record setting quarter—an overnight success a decade in the making…there are no shortcuts…it is not a straight path…hang on is the best advice I can give you or fail fast, learn and do something else. Each of us has the ability to be resilient…grit is what succeeds, even more than genius….

In my Community work.

I was fortunate to be exposed to three geniuses in my community life…two mentored me and one married me…

My two mentors were our former Police Chief Rick Overman who I write about extensively in the book. He was the best manager/leader I’ve ever observed up close…his genius –and it was genius –was his incredible ability to inspire and empower his staff to do amazing things from bringing down drug rings and fixing neighborhoods to building a reservoir of good will in communities that were hard to reach.

When he came to Delray, the Police Department was the biggest issue in town….within a year it was arguably our biggest strength and the work of that department paved the way for remarkable success and investment. There is no Delray as we know it…without Rick Overman. He was genius…a visionary chess player always six moves ahead of where things were going…His success formula: empower others in your organization and you’ll soar.

Mayor Tom Lynch was another civic genius…he put the city on a track that enabled success and enabled guys like me to move the ball forward. Tom was an astute businessman, steeped in policy and very sure of his instincts and philosophy. I saw genius in him….he believed when others didn’t —and it made all the difference. He was the one who sat me down and encouraged me to be involved…geniuses inspire…and that conversation has fueled the last 20 years of my life. His success formula: Government can and should be entrepreneurial, take some risks…make it happen.

And finally, there’s my wife, Diane….who led our planning department and our Community Redevelopment Agency to new heights….she was a managerial genius….able to motivate staff, manage a board, navigate politics and race relations….she’s very smart—terrible taste in men– but very smart.

….I would label her a genius because she was able to see the forest through the trees and able to focus on the big picture and the details too…..Not too many people can do that…

She also is able to tolerate me…not too many people can do that either —which requires a very special level of genius. Her success formula: Never take your eye off the big picture, adopt a vision and get it done.

I want to conclude our morning of genius with a real quick diversion to music….which means the world to me.

And the two musical geniuses—among the many that I have found and enjoyed over the years—that I want to share with you are Springsteen and The Beatles….

Genius is timeless and both of these artists have created a musical canon that has stood the test of time….

Genius is also visionary…both of these artists have a vision and a message they needed to share with the world and their message was so resonant…that it is appreciated worldwide regardless of culture, age, geography, race or religion….

For Springsteen the vision was to take us on a musical journey and to focus on life, work, love, our towns, our country, our dreams, our frustrations, our triumphs and our aspirations.

His work has inspired me in my civic life, my family life and my entrepreneurial adventures….

His music is about breaking free of shackles and expectations of holding on to our dreams even when…especially when— they are challenged….

Not all of his characters make it….but all our fighters and in my darkest moments….facing cash flow issues in business, trying to keep a city from imploding after a racially charged shooting …I have found salvation, solace and hope in Springsteen’s words and music. We were both born to run….

That is genius…

As for the Beatles….their genius can be summed up in 5 words…All You Need Is Love.

And That’s a Perfect sentiment on which to end….thank you.

Prejudice Hurts

By now, you’ve probably read and watched countless stories and opinions about what happened over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Since we are a hyperlocal blog, we don’t typically comment on national news. But there is a sense that a line was crossed last weekend and that we have arrived at a cultural moment in which change may be possible. Does it wake us up? Or do we let it slide?

Positive change is never certain and if it comes it probably won’t be overnight, but positive change is possible and I hope we as a nation seize it. We’ve missed other opportunities.

Sandy Hook was a moment that many thought would forever change the debate over gun control and lead to changes–it didn’t happen.

Maybe, Charlottesville will be different. Maybe it will focus us on the dangers posed by hate groups, the evils of racism and the ugliness of anti-Semitism.

Or maybe in a few days, it will become a faint memory and we will go about our lives–until the next flashpoint. And there’s always another flashpoint.

America has been divided and subdivided into so many groups and subgroups that we are losing focus on what unifies us.

Often these groups don’t talk to each other or if they do, they talk past each other in loud voices meant to demean and diminish.

I have long felt that Washington is broken, unable to solve problems or seize opportunities. That’s not a profound conclusion.

When you think about it, it’s amazing how great a place America still is considering the dysfunction of our politics. Can you imagine how much better we could be if our government and its leaders were average instead of abysmal?

And make no mistake, they are abysmal.

Congress can’t craft a budget—which is their  responsibility. They can’t address infrastructure, immigration, education, taxes or health care. Their constant brinksmanship on the debt ceiling—which they never address—will cost taxpayers $2.5 billion this year when they finally vote to increase it, once they get done bloviating on C-Span.

And it doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican, liberal, moderate or conservative—nobody seems capable of governing which in my definition requires that you get things done and solve problems.

So this isn’t a partisan rant. I think both parties have failed this country. And I think that is what has stoked a whole lot of anger and frustration. And this week, we are reminded that for some anger and frustration turns to hatred and so they look for scapegoats. Hatred never solved anything, but it sure is dangerous and repulsive too.

So I am beginning to believe that any hope for meaningful change will start in our nation’s towns and cities.

Want better race relations? Get to work on it in your town and city.

Want to create housing and job opportunities? Elect local officials who understand how to encourage the private sector to invest, or at least those who won’t chase away jobs and development that makes sense.

Want safer streets? Invest in public safety.

And on and on it goes.

Of course, it would be great if the federal government provided some resources. After all, we do pay taxes.

So help on the opioid crisis would be nice. Check that, it’s essential.

But you get the picture.

Local is where it’s at–for most things.

Cities, counties and states can serve as laboratories for innovation, but only if ‘we the people’ get involved and stay involved and unite as Americans.

Personally, I was repulsed by the images from Charlottesville. It’s a beautiful city—the hometown of Jefferson, the architect of our Bill of Rights. I took a course many years ago at the University Of Virginia Darden School Of Business and I thought: “wow, I can live here.” You felt Jefferson in that city— so to see the images of violence and hear the stupid chants was nauseating.

Nazi’s and white supremacists walking in the streets spewing hate ought to be a wakeup call for Americans.

As Heather Heyer wrote in her final Facebook post before losing her life protesting hate: “if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

She was right…




The 8 Pillars of Trust

I recently read a book called the “The Trust Edge” which explains how you and your organization can earn trust.

Author David Horsager contends that a lack of trust is your biggest expense because it is the currency of business and life.

I agree.

Mr. Horsager defines trust as a confident belief in someone or something to do what is right, deliver what is promised, and to be the same every time in spite of circumstances.

Horsager identifies twelve barriers to trust: conflict of interest, threat of litigation, lack of loyalty, increasing examples of others untrustworthiness, threat of exposure, lack of control over technology, fear of the unknown, negative experiences, individualism, differences between people, desire for instant gratification, and a focus on the negative.

To overcome the barriers, Horsager offers eight “pillars of trust.”

The eight pillars all take time and there no quick fixes for any trust issue.

Here’s a deeper dive. We think you’ll find lots of wisdom in the list.

Clarity. Clarity starts with honesty. People trust the clear and distrust the vague. Communicate clearly and frequently.

Compassion. Think beyond yourself. There are four keys ways we show we care: listen, show appreciation, be engaged, and serve others.

Character. Have high morals and be consistent in your thoughts, words, and actions. Always ask, “Am I doing the right thing?”

Competency. Humility is the first step in learning. Create a regular plan for staying competent and capable.

Commitment. Great leadership demands sacrifice. The people who stick with you when things are tough are the ones you can really trust.

Connection. Trust is about relationships. In every interaction we increase or decrease trust. Be genuine, and be grateful.

Contribution. You must deliver results to be trusted. Give attention, resources, time, opportunity, and help.

Consistency. Probably the most important pillar of all as it gives meaning to all of the other pillars. You will never get one big chance to be trusted in your life; you will get thousands of small ones. Just one inconsistency can change people’s perspective.

We’d thought we share these pillars as a useful guide to your personal and business relationships. When elected officials, CEO’s, companies and governing bodies fall short–my guess is it’s because they are failing on one of more of the above pillars.

We believe that leaders given the public’s trust should abide by these pillars. All eight of them.

Do they?

Q: What’s A Park? A: Everything.

We’re just back from a long weekend in New York City.
We stayed in the landmark Essex House on Central Park South and found ourselves spending a great deal of time in the 840 plus acre park.
The weather was glorious and the park was alive with dogs, children and people of all ages.
It seems like every time you venture into the park you discover something different and interesting.
The park is clean and you feel safe, a marked departure from when I grew up when popular culture and the news warned you about the perils of the place. That New York, which included a seedy Times Square, dangerous subways and Guardian Angels, seems like a distant memory.
Much has changed about New York some of it good, some of it not so good.
Inequality and gentrification are front burner issues and so are the losses of landmark businesses chronicled in the great blog “Vanishing NY” which is now a book on my must read list.
But a few things remain true to the Big Apple. The city still pulses with culture, energy and art. And its parks, particularly Central Park remain extremely important to the city’s soul.
Great parks enhance cities immeasurably and Central Park in New York and Millennial Park in Chicago are perhaps the two best examples of that theory.
When I was on the City Commission in the early 2000s we endeavored to enhance Delray’s parks authorizing a parks master plan that ultimately led to a parks bond.
One of my colleagues on the commission felt that our parks lagged other cities and that we were too much about ‘swings and slides’ and not enough about creating memorable spaces that would attract people to use our open spaces.
As was the style of the time, we consulted with the community and crafted a spending plan to address what we were hearing from parents, kids, seniors and other stakeholders.
Out of those efforts came the idea to create a large “Central” park at Old School Square replacing a surface parking lot with a mixed use garage and creating more open space near the center of our downtown.
Twelve years later that vision remains an unfinished goal. We have the open space, the amphitheater and garage (and the Arts Garage), but we envisioned more. Much more. The time has come to finally seize that opportunity.
A years long visioning exercise by the public is complete and I sure hope the powers that be fund the plan. It will be an important investment and will create enormous value.
Parks are hugely important statements that cities make.
They are critical investments that yield returns both tangible and intangible.
Similarly, failure to invest in open space  also makes a statement–not a good one.
As we watched kids wandering the zoo, dogs jumping in a fountain and couples walking hand in hand through Central Park I turned to my walking partner–who also happens to be my life partner –and said: “if I lived here I’d be in this park everyday.”
And that’s the key to a great public space: places where you can enjoy peace and quiet, spots to picnic, places to write, paint and read and places to exercise and celebrate (festivals). And yes, spots where you can take your dog. Places you want to be every day.

The Mapmakers


“In politics you have to know how to read the ground, the real topography. You can’t just go by the work of past mapmakers. You have to see clearly what’s there now.” Peggy Noonan

Peggy Noonan is one of my favorite writers.
While we are on different ends of the political spectrum, I always learn something from reading Peggy Noonan and I do–every week. I never miss a column.
The above quote is just one example of her brilliance. There’s usually one or two lines in every column that just stick with you and make you think.
Noonan’s advice to politicians is smart advice. It’s important for policy makers to hit the streets and talk to a wide range of people. You can’t rely solely on gurus and handlers.
But the people with experience have their place and the smart policy maker would be wise to consult with those who have traveled the road before them as well.
But you have to be open to new ideas and realities. You have to see clearly what’s there now and lead accordingly.
Still, there are some things are foundational. Some things that don’t change. Some parts of the map that must remain unaltered.
On a national level,foundational American values include: freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the notion that America strives to be a beacon of freedom for the world.
But cities have foundational values too.
Delray Beach was built on the values of citizen engagement, citizen driven visioning, collaboration, public private partnerships, an embrace of important non-profits, a respect for history and the notion that City Hall was a friend, beacon and supporter of people and organizations that aspire.
The topography may change, but if those values are lost we lose our identity. We lose who we are.
Delray was also blessed with some amazing mapmakers –to borrow a word from Ms. Noonan.
Leaders who read the topography beautifully and navigated through some strong seas to create a city that people love–warts and all.
Some of those mapmakers worked at City Hall, some at the CRA, some at the DDA, some at the Chamber of Commerce and some served as mayor’s and commissioners. Many were volunteers serving on boards and committees. Others built amazing non profits such as the Achievement Center and Old School Square. Some ran landmark businesses and found the time to start organizations or serve existing ones.
They both created and relied on the foundational values mentioned above.
They needed to know that if they attended a visioning retreat that their time would be well spent. They needed to know that their service would be respected even if they didn’t always get their way. And they needed to know that what they were building had a shot at lasting.
Not a guarantee- a shot.
The most precious and valuable commodity is time. Once it’s spent you can’t get it back. You can blow money and make more of it. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. If you waste time it’s gone–forever.
And so volunteers need to know that when they roll up their sleeves to serve that their time is well spent.
I’m keeping a close on the city’s budget discussions.
A city’s budget should reflect its goals and values.
Several key non profits including Old School Square, the Achievement Center for Children and Families and the Delray Beach Historical Society are concerned about losing their funding.
Not every city funds non profits but Delray was different. The mapmakers saw value in preserving history, supporting a non profit that looked after our most vulnerable and at risk families and creating a cultural arts center that serves as a gathering place for the community.
We are a rare city that has its own library. Decades of leadership saw value in having our very own library and the commission I served on thought it was important to move that library to new and larger space in a part of the community that would benefit greatly from having a good library in close proximity.
The list goes on.
Great cities have values. We should know them, respect them, always embrace change but also always respect the map. It’s our true north.


Here’s To The Teachers

Geoffrey Canada

I had always wanted to see Geoffrey Canada speak.

We tried to get him to come to Delray Beach many years ago, but for some reason we were unable to pull it off.

Canada is a legendary educator and community builder who did some miraculous work running the Harlem Children’s Zone until his recent retirement. He continues to speak around the country and we caught him recently at The Breakers in Palm Beach where he spoke to the annual meeting of Leadership Florida.

He’s a riveting speaker. Riveting with a capital R.

And his message is powerful and built on a lifetime of experience. It’s also timely with our children heading back to school in a few weeks.

While there were many lessons packed into his presentation my two takeaways were this:

  • We completely disrespect the education profession in this country and;
  • Where you grow up and how you grow up matters—a lot.

Canada who grew up in the South Bronx was a bright student who went to Bowdoin College in Maine in the 1960s.

Back home, he saw the plague of heroin stealing young lives (sound familiar) and so out of curiosity he took two science classes his last year of school: pharmacology and physiology.

He wanted to figure out what it was about heroin that made the drug so addictive and deadly.

He aced both classes and a group of professors intervened in his career path and urged him to go to medical school.

“But I want to be a teacher,” he told them believing that education was the best way to lift a community and break the cycle of poverty.

“No you don’t,” they answered trotting out the usual reasons: you won’t make money, you won’t be able to drive a nice car and you won’t be invited to all the cool cocktail parties.

It was a full court press and his professors talked him into going to medical school which was where he was heading right up until he had to sign a commitment letter and he decided that he just “didn’t like sick people.”

So he escaped medical school and instead launched a career that has touched the lives of thousands of kids.  An astounding 97 percent of children enrolled in the Harlem Children’s Zone program go onto college—all of this in a community in which poverty, crime, drugs and despair are deeply rooted.

The Harlem Children’s Zone is changing the trajectory of that universe. That’s what great leaders do.

They change lives.

But the point was well taken. Every effort was made– by educators no less—to dissuade young Geoffrey from what would become a brilliant and important career.

Based on his 40 plus years of experience, Canada believes that education needs an infusion of talent to lift the fortunes of American students.

“When we think talent, we think Google, Facebook, Netflix,” he said. “We don’t think of the local elementary school in Fort Lauderdale.”

But we should. We need bright young minds to go into the field. Canada believes that education is beyond a full time pursuit, it requires immense dedication, talent and resources.

“We pay teachers part-time wages,” he argues. “And we entrust the future of our nation to them. In business, there is an intense struggle for talent. In education, we’re not competing for talent and we need to be.” That was not a knock on the quality of teachers, but rather a call to arms. Educators should not have to take a pledge of poverty in order to teach our children.

As the father of a young ESE (Exceptional Student Education) teacher who loves her students and goes above and beyond that argument resonates with me. I simply don’t know how teachers can live in Palm Beach County given the high cost of housing these days.

The second point is that place matters.

“The place you’re in is either going to help you succeed or be a barrier,” he said. “It’s hard for a child in the fourth grade who has to go home to parents addicted to drugs, living in chaos. He or she won’t be able to compete with a child coming home to loving parents.”


Unless we start to think deeply about how we are going to make the child successful.

The brilliance of the Harlem Children’s Zone is its holistic approach.

“We start at birth,” he told Leadership Florida. “With baby college which is for newborns to three year olds. And we stay with them through college.”

That’s a big and expensive commitment—financially and emotionally. But it works. It gets results, especially when you introduce remarkable teachers into the equation.

“The message is we are going to do whatever it takes,” he said. “This is the deep end of the pool. In the beginning, the data is going to be bad. We have to get comfortable with that. And know, that over time, we will move it..slowly.”

On August 14, our kids will be heading back to school.

When you take a look at the educational landscape in Southern Palm Beach County you see lots of bright spots and lots of areas of concern.

The state recently released school grades for 2017.

More than half of District operated schools earned A’s and B’s overall and 30 schools operated by the School District of Palm Beach County improved by at least one letter grade. A total of 63 District-operated schools earned A’s from the state and 35 schools earned B’s, which equals 61 percent of traditional schools in Palm Beach County. No District-operated school received an F in 2016-17, and only eight District-operated schools received a D.

Twelve District-operated schools improved from a B to an A, including the following schools in Boca Raton and Delray Beach:

  • Banyan Creek Elementary School
  • Boca Raton Community Middle School
  • Hammock Pointe Elementary School
  • Olympic Heights Community High School
  • Sandpiper Shores Elementary School

But we all know we have lots of work to do.

Locally, we are fortunate to have Delray Students First, the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, magnet programs, career academies, the Golden Bell Foundation, the Delray Education Foundation, the Achievement Center, the Milagro Center, Florence Fuller Center and more.

I’ve always felt that the Village Academy and a concept called “Village Center” had enormous potential to employ the Canada Harlem Children’s Zone model.

But it takes money. It takes leadership. It takes vision and it takes a long term commitment.

In other words, it takes a village.

We say we are one, but it’s not about the size of buildings or whether we get a Publix—(for the record I like our scale and I want to see a Publix on West Atlantic) it’s about the size of our collective hearts.

Some Internet trolls love to sit back and bash and pontificate about what they don’t want to see.

I get it. And that’s cool—to a point.

But I often wonder if that same energy was channeled into thinking about the future rather than fighting the latest outrage if we might actually get somewhere again—as a community and as a nation.

I see a lot of loud people who are comfortable with their lot in lives paying lip service to kids but barely lifting a finger. I see others who have placed their comfort and personal convenience over the needs of future generations. What do our kids need?

They need attainable housing. They need good jobs. And we need to nurture our entrepreneurs and have a strategy to both attract and retain talent.

Place matters and that could be our competitive edge.

We’re walkable. We’re cool. We have amenities. We have art and culture. We have great restaurants and a wonderful beach. We have great weather and recreational opportunities.

Sure, we have problems. But you don’t solve your problems by driving down your positives. You solve your problems, you meet your challenges, through collaboration, investment and a can-do mindset.

Frankly, I’m seeing the opposite from our so-called “leaders.”

We have some deep end of the pool issues in Delray these days. It’s not the first time we’ve had them.

Last time, the community said “let’s work together.” Three words=profound results.

And it sure beats “divide and conquer.”

It’s our choice. Which path do we choose?