Cultural Attractions in Delray Beach and Boca Raton

Boca Raton and Delray Beach punch well above their weight class when it comes to culture. Both cities are home to museums, world class libraries, art exhibits, concerts, dance, theater and more.

Most of the time you won’t have to leave home, but if you do the greater South Florida area features some of the best cultural venues and opportunities in the world.

A Love Story Begins

Today is a very special day for me and my family.

We are welcoming a new member to our pack. Her name is Gracie and she’s a four month old golden retriever.
Of course, we are already deeply, hopelessly and completely in love with her.  Being a golden, we know she will love us back.
Diane and I are dog people.
Our home feels empty without a dog in it. We talk about dogs. We watch dog videos on social media. We admire dogs we see when we’re out and about.
Yes, we love dogs.
And other pets too.
These days we have a cute little cockatiel named Bailey and a wonderful old dog named Randy.
Randy is almost 19 years old. He’s a chihuahua mix and we adopted him from the Animal Rescue Force at the Delray Affair in the early days of our marriage. Frankly, I don’t remember a time when he wasn’t part of the family. He’s been there to watch the kids grow up and he’s been with us through so much of life.
In his day, he was full of sass. In his mind, he’s a lion.
These days, the lion is blind, deaf and very quiet.
But he’s still got an appetite, still loves us to rub his neck and from a distance he still looks like that little lion I fell I love with almost 20 years ago.
Randy has always had another dog to pal around with. There was Casey, a golden we rescued. Casey was sweet and loving. She loved going to Kilwin’s on the avenue but after her ice cream cone she was ready to go home and tried to get in every car parked along Atlantic. We really felt her loss when she passed. It hit hard.
After Casey,  there was Sophie, another chihuahua mix we rescued. She was a tough girl who once wandered the streets of Miami.
She loved us and we loved her. But she only had eyes for us. She died after being attacked by an unleashed dog while we were out for an early morning walk.
I think about it every time I walk down that street. Every time.
I don’t like writing about it, but it does allow me to urge others to leash their dogs. For their safety and ours…
I miss that little girl.
They all take a piece of you with them when they go.
I lost a big piece of my heart to our next golden who died way too young  after a battle with cancer.
Teddy was remarkable. He touched so many hearts and he and Randy were great buddies. He also bonded with Sunny, our snowbird yellow lab who visited us from Pittsburgh for a few glorious South Florida winters.
Teddy came from Golden Retrievals, a wonderful non-profit.
I can write a book about that beautiful soul. He was…well he was everything.
Losing him took a chunk out of us.
His loss was coupled with the loss of a dear family member, Covid and other heavy stuff and things have not been the same since.
Coming off my battle with Covid, I asked my incredible wife if we could let one more golden into our hearts. She said yes…as she always does to the things that really matter. I am a lucky man.
So here comes Gracie. This time, we are going the puppy route.
Its a brave move. Not sure how Randy will handle this. Not to mention the ducks, squirrels and  gallinules that like to hang out in our backyard.
I’m an optimist, I believe things will work out. I think the puppy will keep us active, make us laugh and give us years of love and joy.  We are following our hearts.
We love dogs.
They warm our cold world.
Here’s to the adventures to come Gracie.
One thing is certain, you will be loved.

Not Your Average Joe…

Joe Gillie was invaluable to Delray’s three All America City wins.

I’d never thought I’d have to write about Joe Gillie in 2021, five plus years after he retired after a terrific 23 year run as the president of Old School Square.

I thought I might want to write about him, because he’s a great guy and one of the biggest contributors to Delray’s modern day success.
But I never thought I’d be in a position of feeling compelled to defend him and his contributions.

For the record, Joe doesn’t need my help and didn’t request that I defend him.

We are good friends.

I care about him and he’s been good to my family.

But Joe is more than capable of defending himself. He doesn’t need me.

Yet I feel compelled to share with readers how special I think Joe is and how remarkable I and many others think his contributions have been.
He’s given an awful lot to this city. An awful lot.

Let me share just a few highlights.
He ran our community’s cultural arts center for 23 years—providing stable leadership and deftly spinning lots of plates in a busy and complex town. That’s no small feat.

Over that time, he oversaw the creation of an arts school, managed a rental facility, programmed a theater, launched a pavilion and threw his heart into the creation of a museum. He was deeply involved in managing the grounds of the campus, welcoming festivals, markets, an annual holiday celebration and played a lead role in producing First Night, a New Year’s Eve celebration that welcomed thousands of families every year.

He was the driving force behind three All America City Awards and in his “retirement” remained involved in education efforts such as the award winning and hugely important Campaign for Grade Level Reading.
He was Delray’s ambassador, traveling to and fro. singing Delray’s praises and welcoming thousand and thousands of people to the OSS campus over his many years of service. He even went to Tanzania to represent Delray during an official visit to our sister city Moshi.
He did it all with humor, intelligence, civility, style and a southern gentility that charmed everyone who crossed his path.

Along the way, he interacted with the business community, local schools, artists, musicians, philanthropists, politicians, visiting dignitaries and other non-profits. He did it all with grace, humor and style. He loved this community and this community loved him back.

Joe is a good man.
A very, very good man.
Of course, nobody is above accountability but for 23 years he survived the scrutiny of the public, the press, auditors, funders and City Hall. He served many masters—very well. His performance and value to our city has been indispensable.

He’s responsible for millions of smiles and he’s deserving of our respect.

But today, years after the last of his many retirement parties (he was so popular he had many) my friend finds that he’s being questioned over his stewardship of OSS and a modest retirement stipend he earned that was provided by donors.

I find it sad and more than a little distressing. But I am not surprised.

We are doing a good job of devouring our legends and civil servants in Delray these days.

Here are a few examples. There are others.

My friend Michael Coleman was a fine police officer. He embraced community policing and rose through the ranks to captain before being reassigned to city hall as director of community improvement.
Today, he’s suing the city after losing his job under dubious circumstances. He was kicked to the curb unceremoniously after repeatedly being singled out for good performance.

Same thing happened to my friends Jennifer Costello and Donna Quinlan, who worked for the city for a combined 70 plus years.
Both were amazing city employees; dedicated, loyal, competent and proud of the city they served.
In the end, they were put out to the curb like so many others. Like too many others.
It’s shameful and depressing.

There was a time when kindness ruled this town; when working or volunteering here was a joy not a risky endeavor.
Which brings me back to my friend Joe.
I’ve known Joe for close to 30 years. I believe in his vision, his character, his essential goodness and his talent. We were blessed that he devoted a large chunk of his career to this town. He had options, talented and kind people always do.
I’m glad he found Delray and stayed here.
I know he gave a lot to this place and that he loved working here.

I hope he still feels that way. As someone once said: “G-d have mercy on the man, who doubts what he’s sure of.”
I hope that Joe doesn’t harbor any doubts.

I know a few people who are consumed by doubts.

In their sadder moments they have confided in me that they have “wasted” their time here. I get it. But it’s not true.
This too shall pass. We will regain our footing and we will thrive again.
We will surely thrive again.

We simply must.

All You Need Is Love

Love changes places.
Unfortunately, so does hate.
I would argue that those emotions are the only two things that leave a lasting impact.
The rest is ephemeral.

Love inspires and motivates.
Hate tears down and destroys.

Love fixes a lot of things but sometimes even love can’t fix what hate destroys. Sometimes the damage is permanent.

That thought keeps flashing through my mind as I watch the slow motion destruction of Old School Square and its 32 year history.
I believe the 3-2 vote to evict the non-profit —-without a conversation, without public input and without regard to the human toll of the decision —-was driven by personality conflicts between the powers that be and some of the citizens who created and operated Old School Square.

The conflict is telling because if you were to look at a list of board members, volunteers, donors and staff past and present, you would be looking at a who’s who of Delray civic leaders. These are the people who have done so much for Delray. Why? Because they love this city.

That they can be evicted without a conversation or a plan shared with the community is a shocking and deeply disturbing development.
We ought to be better than this.

We need to be be better than this.

And I believe we are better than this, as evidenced by over 10,000 signatures on a petition protesting the eviction and the continuing anger we are seeing in the community over this decision.
People are deeply unhappy with the turn of events and the complete lack of process and input from the community before the vote.

They are also deeply disturbed by the human toll of this decision—events cancelled, private parties cancelled, jobs lost and the utter disrespect shown to donors, volunteers and founder Frances Bourque who deserves so much better.

If allowed to stand, this decision will be remembered for two reasons: none of them good.

First, the destruction of a beloved community institution and second the lack of humanity shown to people who have earned our respect and consideration.

If we are to be a community that values people and contributions, this kind of decision and the way it was made cannot stand.

But before we dive in further, there are a few misconceptions surrounding this decision that need to be cleared up.

First is that Old School Square has refused to meet with the city. That is categorically false. OSS has been pleading for a meeting.

The second misconception is that the performance of the organization deserved the death penalty and that a new management company is urgently needed.
OSS is a non profit with operational responsibilities. It is not a management company.
There’s a difference.

The non profit is the secret sauce allowing the community to connect to the institution. Donors give to community based non- profits run by people they know, love and trust. There’s that word again—love.

Over the years, donors have supported OSS because they know the people associated with the non- profit were dedicated to the mission which was serving Delray Beach.

There have been operational deficiencies–OSS has never denied that. But instead of working with the organization, a majority of the city commission has decided to work over the organization. That’s a mistake, with consequences far beyond the loss of a beloved community institution.

And while we are discussing operational deficiencies let’s not forget that City Hall has been a mess for a while now with a steady parade of City Managers, department heads and rank and file staff leaving or being shown the door, often for dubious reasons. The city is plagued by water issues, the golf course, once a jewel has become a cow pasture, and we have gone from a community that once prized unity to a place that has made an art out of division and dysfunction.

OSS is not above accountability, no organization is, but this city is in no position to lecture anyone at this point in time. The difference is OSS stands ready to listen to constructive criticism while City Hall continues to fiddle while Rome burns.

Over the course of this mess, OSS has been hit with a raft of accusations and loaded words such as “corrupt”, “incompetent” and “non-compliant.”
The organization has acknowledged its shortcomings but it has also pushed back against the false accusations.

And if there is evidence of malfeasance bring it. Let’s charge those who broke the law. But innuendo is not good enough. Produce the evidence if you have it.

 

Old School Square’s  defense of its record has led to more recriminations as if the only proper response to the beating is the Animal House hazing scene in which the pledge is paddled and says “thank you sir, may I have another.”

Sorry, but in the real world, when you are bullied you get to push back.

I believe that the OSS eviction is a politically motivated hit. I’m not alone in that thought.
It’s part of a campaign to erase and cancel the past.

We are developing a bad habit in our country and in our city. If we repeat a lie over and over again we hope it eventually becomes the truth.

OSS is not corrupt or incompetent. It was never designed to be a profit center. It was tasked with lowering costs so it could be accessible to the community. It met that mission and more.

Its retired director Joe Gillie did not receive a “golden parachute”, he received a modest four year gift paid for by private donors because after 23 years or dedicated service to our city he had no retirement plan. The organization didn’t offer one. It should have and he was deserving because Mr. Gillie did a fine job and helped to create millions of dollars worth of value over the years. He is THE reason the city won three All America City Awards which helped Delray achieve a national profile while building civic pride. Pride: remember that quaint notion?

Commission’s get in trouble when things become personal; when it ceases to be about the community and the future; when it becomes about personalities.
Cities risk it all when decisions are driven by personal vendettas not sound analysis. They also risk a ton when empathy and humanity exit the building.

When this ugliness happens–when love gives way to anger— we risk a spiral. There are punches and counterpunches and pretty soon cuts begin to open, blood begins to flow.
We are either there now, or dangerously close. We need the adults in the community to reel us back in.

We need to stop.

But it can only stop when both sides resolve to refrain from hostilities long enough to sort through the issues. And there are many.
Leaders know how to do this. Failures don’t.

Waste Deep In the Mud

Every year, the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce hosts a “Mayor’s Lunch” inviting all the living mayors to the Golf Club to meet the latest class of Leadership Delray.

Not everyone shows up, but this year five former mayors and the current mayor came to share stories of their terms in office.

It’s a nice tradition and a real privilege to be able to meet up and coming members of the community who are in the class. In fact, at least two of the former mayors are former Leadership Delray graduates (Dave Schmidt and me) and we highly recommend the course to those who want to gain some insight into the community.

This year, we were joined by Tom Lynch, Jay Alperin, Dave Schmidt, Tom Carney and Shelly Petrolia.

Together, the gathering of mayors spanned 30 plus years of local history. In a city, that will be 110 years old on Oct. 9, that’s a fair amount of local lore shared over Asian chopped salad.

Some of our more senior mayors have lived here for 50 years or more. I clock in at 34 years.

We have seen a whole lot of change.

And these are the people who made so much of that change happen.

I’m a big believer in the possibilities of local government—in the right hands anyway.

I’ve seen magic happen on the local level. Sadly, I’ve seen tragic happen too.

Elections have consequences.

But local government holds so much promise especially if you get the right group in office and team them up with a talented and empowered staff.

It is the only level of government where if you have an idea and two of your colleagues on the commission agree with you, change can start to happen right away. That’s not true in Tallahassee or Washington D.C. which has become a dumpster of dysfunction.

But innovation can happen on the city level and Delray is a case study.

From transforming a tired downtown into a regional hot spot and converting an old school on the corner of Swinton and Atlantic into a cultural beacon to creating a land trust to give first time homebuyers a shot at a dream—Delray has a long and proud history of innovation and accomplishment.

All along the way, mayors, commissioners, city staff, citizens, business leaders, non-profits and other stakeholders worked together to make things happen. And all along the way every one of these groups were told that their dreams were unrealistic, unachievable, or stupid.

The naysayers have always been wrong—and that’s the Reader’s Digest story of most successful places.

Step 1: Someone dreams and aspires.

 Step 2: Those dreams are announced, and they are immediately assailed. (Usually by armchair quarterbacks).

Step 3: After much gnashing of teeth, the dreams are realized.

Step 4: The sky doesn’t fall.

Step 5: Everyone forgets, and the cycle continues.

And on the occasion when mistakes do get made, in a healthy city, you fix the problem, learn from it and move on.

You always move on.

That’s one of the messages that Mayor Lynch and I passed onto the Leadership Delray members at our table. We also talked about the need to recruit good people to run for office and how important it is to allow your professional staff to do their jobs without micromanaging their every move. A scared bureaucracy seizes up like an engine without oil—that’s never healthy.

You want your planners, engineers, police officers, firefighters and rank and file employees to feel like they have a say and a stake in the outcome. Progress requires collaboration. But it also requires leaders to show us the way by modeling that they can work together despite differences.

 

The first Delray mayor I covered as a newspaper reporter was Doak Campbell who served in the 80s.

I thought Mayor Campbell did a good job in a tough environment. The 80s were interesting in Delray—lots of crime, drugs, turnover at City Hall and infighting on the commission. Sound familiar?

But a legacy of accomplishment also came from that era. Among the achievements: the creation of the first historic districts, the founding of the CRA, the beginnings of Old School Square, early visioning efforts which led to the Decade of Excellence and a task force designed to help the downtown.

Things began to take off in the 90s with Mayor Lynch and Mayor Alperin leading the way. The Decade of Excellence began to implement the projects outlined in the Visions 2000 effort. Perhaps, just as important the culture in Delray began to change. The infighting was gone and with it the instability at City Hall. It was an era of civility and progress. The politics were calm too. Mayor Lynch ran once and served two additional terms without opposition. Mayor Alperin won his commission race in 1990 and served until 2000 without having to run again—an almost unimaginable scenario these days.

With a new City Manager (David Harden), new Police Chief (Rick Overman), new Chamber President (Bill Wood) and a maverick CRA Director (Chris Brown) there was a team in place that would enable a ton of good things to happen.

When Dave Schmidt became mayor in 2000 after winning a three-way race, the Decade of Excellence was largely completed. We had a blank slate and we wanted to start planning and visioning again.

I was on that Commission along with Pat Archer, Bill Schwartz and Alberta McCarthy. Mr. Schwartz would retire in 2001 and we were joined in 2001 by Jon Levinson.

We got along as a group despite being very different people. Mayor Schmidt was a quietly self-assured leader who did not have any problems with members of the commission taking the lead on important community issues. I was passionate about the downtown, so I co-chaired the Downtown Master Plan effort with Chuck Ridley. Pat led a task force on drugs and sober homes. Jon spearheaded housing issues and was part of the founding team at the Community Land Trust. Alberta and I took on race relations and Dave was there to lead us through the post 9/11 era, the controversial relocation of Atlantic High School and much, much more. He was great to work with.

When Dave was term limited in 2003, I ran for mayor. I had the great privilege to work with Commissioners Fred Fetzer and Brenda Montague and my successor Rita Ellis. We were a collegial group, and I was very grateful to serve alongside these special people. I considered them my teammates. We didn’t put candidates up against each other and we rooted for each other because we knew our success and more importantly our city’s success were inextricably linked.

So yes, we debated and yes, we disagreed but when the roll was called, we cast our votes and moved on. It was never personal. It was always on to the next issue and the next vote. As it should be.

I’m often asked what has changed in Delray and my answer is always the same: the culture.

Instead of building on the achievements of the past and working toward a better future we seem fixated on looking backwards and tearing things down instead of making them better.

We went from collaborative to toxic.

Toxic isn’t productive.

Toxic is also a choice.

It’s going to take remarkable leadership to get us back on track. Because we are lost my friends. Deep in the weeds, waste deep in the big muddy as they say.

We are going to need the kind of leadership that created so much good for so long. The kind that I saw walk into that room at the golf course for Leadership Delray.

Let’s hope it comes soon– before even more is lost.

 

 

 

 

 

Eleven Signs Your City Will Succeed

The city won a second All America City Award in 2001. So much has changed since, with many of the values that made Delray special abandoned.

Five years ago, award winning journalist James Fallows wrote a groundbreaking article in The Atlantic entitled “Eleven Signs a City Will Succeed.”
The article was a summation of James and Deb Fallows’s 54,000-mile journey around America in a single engine plane. The trip became a best-selling book “Our Towns” and a compelling series on HBO. I highly recommend both.

Considering the tumult in Delray Beach, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the article to see how many signs of success we can check off.

Sadly, even if we grade with a curve, we are not scoring too high these days. But sometimes a poor grade will force you to buck up and do better. We’re still a great town. We just have lousy politics and that can be corrected by electing better leaders. Take the test yourself and let me know what you find.

Here’s a list of Fallows’ 11 traits of successful towns:

  1. Divisive national politics seem a distant concern.

Grade: The City Commission in Delray Beach is a non-partisan body. Partisan politics has no place in city government. But the last two election cycles were highly partisan affairs, and I would argue that the results turned on party affiliation and  not on ideas about how to make Delray a better place. This is not a healthy development. For the record, my party happens to have a majority of voters in Delray, and I still don’t like partisanship on the city level or anywhere frankly. The divisiveness is endangering our Republic and it has hurt Delray too.

 

  1. You can pick out the local patriots. A standard question the Fallows would ask when they landed in a town was “Who makes this town go?” The answers varied widely. Sometimes it was a mayor or a city-council member. Sometimes it was a local business leader or influential real-estate developer. Sometimes a university president or a civic activist, an artist, a historian, or a radio personality. So, who makes our town go?

Grade: As noted in a recent blog, I would suggest that the volunteer and donor class in Delray have been told to pack their bags. Example: Old School Square eviction. When you lose the patriots, the people who roll up their sleeves and get it done, you risk shredding the civic fabric.

 

  1. “Public-private partnerships” are real.

In successful towns, people can point to something specific and say, “this is what a partnership means.”

Grade: In our town, that project was Old School Square. But after 32 years, OSS was treated as a tenant not a partner and shown the door. Other opportunities to partner are being ignored or bitterly rejected. Example: The Set Transformation Plan has languished because the city refuses to engage the residents in the northwest and southwest neighborhoods. This is in stark contrast to the Southwest Plan, which was done with city commissioners and the CRA at the table with the community.

What resulted was a citizen driven plan that the city and CRA helped to fund with millions of dollars in improvements ranging from a gateway feature and a new streetscape on Northwest/Southwest 5th Avenue to the new Catherine Strong Park and an expansion of the Village Academy.

Today, we don’t see these types of efforts. As noted earlier, the Set Transformation Plan and Congress Avenue plan sit on a shelf gathering dust despite the best efforts of citizens.

  1. People know the civic story. America has a “story,” which everyone understands even if some challenge it. A few states have their guiding stories—California is either the ever-promising or the sadly spoiled frontier, Vermont is known as its own separate Eden.

 

Successful cities have their stories too. New York is the Big Apple, always resilient and always at the center of the national conversation, Chicago is the Windy City, the capital of the Midwest and a place where bold visions come true.

Grade: Who is sharing and teaching our civic story? The local press corps has been deeply affected by changes to the industry and new methods of delivering and consuming the news and many of our past civic heroes have been sidelined by personalities who don’t want to hear from the old timers. That’s a big mistake. There’s a place for elders in every community and if they are silenced or ignored or in some cases disparaged it’s not healthy. That’s what happening in Delray.

 

  1. They have a downtown.

Grade: We have a downtown and it’s robust. However, I would argue that we need to diversify beyond food and beverage and add offices, creative spaces and other uses that will sustain us as a regional activities center. Who is having this conversation?

 

  1. They are near a research university.

Grade: Our proximity to FAU is a plus, so is our closeness to Lynn University and Palm Beach State College. But the question is are we taking advantage of that proximity and are there programs and initiatives that involve the local universities?

 

  1. They have, and care about, a community college. See above.

 

  1. They have unusual schools.

 

Grade:  Village Academy and Spady are “unusual” in that the former is a deregulated public school that has the authority to innovate, and the latter offers a Montessori program. Atlantic’s International Baccalaureate Program has always been impressive and important to Delray Beach.

 

 

  1. They make themselves open. Trying to attract and include new people.

Grade: Here’s where I see our biggest deficit. There was a time when the entirety of city government was designed around the notion of civic engagement, involvement and education. We had charrettes, visioning conferences, neighborhood dinners, town hall meetings, citizen goal setting sessions, citizen academies, police academies, a robust volunteer effort (1,200 police volunteers at the height of the program) and a Youth Council. We sent neighborhood leaders to school so they could become better leaders, we held training sessions for neighborhood associations, supported a race relations initiative and held regular mayoral roundtables. It worked. And then a lot of it, maybe even most of it, was abandoned (and well before Covid). This has been a crippling development. When your involvement is limited to social media, you don’t get good outcomes.

 

  1. They have big plans.

Grade:  I will argue that no city of any size had bigger aspirations than Delray did. We dared to dream, and we executed as well. Yes, we have a state mandated Comprehensive Plan, but I would argue that it’s not a vision and the process— which included citizens— was not citizen driven. There’s a difference. A big difference. The magic happens when the community is involved.

 

Another lesson I learned along the way is that the journey needs to be as fun or more so than achieving the destination. Today, there’s little fun and a lot of division.

 

  1. They have craft breweries

Grade: One final marker, perhaps the most reliable, according to Fallows: A city on the way back will have one or more craft breweries, and probably some small distilleries too, according to Fallows.

“A town that has craft breweries also has a certain kind of entrepreneur, and a critical mass of mainly young (except for me) customers,” Fallows wrote.  “You may think I’m joking, but just try to find an exception.”

This one I struggle with. I love craft breweries and I can see where they are important and send a message but I’m not sure they are an essential trait of a thriving city. Anyway, I love Saltwater Brewery and wish we had more.

 

Conclusion…we have some serious storm clouds to deal with.

And if you think we’re invulnerable because Atlantic Avenue is busy, well there’s no such thing.

 

 

 

Shining A Light On Old School Square

Don’t ever overestimate the power of love to change a place. In fact, it may be the only thing that ever does.

I’m surrounded by angels.

If my old city editor Tom Sawyer (yes, that was his real name) saw that sentence I would have been sent home for the day to think about my future in journalism.

But what if that sentence is true? What if we have people in our lives who appear at just the right time with just the right message?

I will argue that they are heaven sent. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. It’s working for me.

I’ve been upset lately about the fate of Old School Square.

The organization and the place it birthed holds a special place in my heart. I’m not alone. Many of us love Old School Square.

Along with a slew of people (10,000 plus petitioners) I’m dismayed by the 3-2 City Commission vote to evict Old School Square from the home they created 32 years ago when the site was surrounded by a rusted chain link fence.

The non-profit is far more than a “management company” as some have labeled it—the people involved in the organization are the heart and soul of the place and I would argue are also the heart and soul of modern-day Delray Beach.

When they hurt, many of us hurt.

The people involved in this organization over the years are a ‘who’s who’ of Delray Beach.

But they are not self-appointed keyboard patriots, they are the people who roll up their sleeves and get to work. They are the people who give their time, talent and treasure to the community. They are the best people I know and the type of people who make a city go. They give us the gift of community. They are the secret sauce.

Elected officials come and go—and they certainly matter. Good ones can help you move mountains, bad ones can set you back decades. But successful cities cultivate, treasure and nurture their volunteers.

We removed their hearts with this decision.

When you remove the heart of something you better know what you’re doing. You better know what you’ve done.

Flaws in an organization can be cured, especially if you create a collaborative environment, which we currently don’t have.

But lost among the blizzard of accusations and misinformation is the human side of this decision. That’s where the magic lies. And the hurt too.

Ignore the people equation and that will surely bite you, sometimes in ways that aren’t immediately clear.

Maybe you can get a management company to come in and make sure the place is operationally sound. But where are you going to get a donor like Margaret Blume who just saw her generous multimillion dollar gift not only ignored but lambasted? Where are you going to find another Elise Johnson who gave OSS her all during a pandemic? And where do you find a Joe Gillie who ran the place so well and in his “spare” time helped the city win three All America City Awards?

The truth is you don’t find people like this on a shelf.

We were blessed in this town when special people showed up and decided to devote their lives and careers to this town. There was a time when they were appreciated, respected and adored. They didn’t do what they did for adoration, they gave and gave and gave some more out of an old-fashioned sense of civic duty and love. Don’t ever overestimate the power of love to change a place. In fact, it may be the only thing that ever does.

That’s why this decision hurts and why the hurt lingers. Because the people we should be thankful for have been tossed out on their rear ends for no good reason, without a real conversation and without an attempt to fix this situation.

Until that hurt is addressed, until it is acknowledged and fixed, we won’t really move forward.

Those buildings will go dark— for the time being. And that’s not a good thing. But some group will turn the lights on again. The property will not be developed. But the hurt and the stain of this harsh decision will linger.

Our hearts ache for Frances Bourque, the founder of Old School Square. She is a remarkable woman.

When Frances envisioned Old School Square, Delray Beach’s downtown was a far cry from the bustling place it is today.

One businessman that I know put it succinctly and graphically: “this town was circling the bowl.”

He was right.

But that’s been forgotten.

In the “new” Delray, history began yesterday and everything that was accomplished in the past has been discarded, disrespected and dumped on by critics and Monday Morning quarterbacks who wouldn’t know Frances Bourque from Robert Bork.

So Old School Square was labeled a failing organization—despite finding a way to operate in a pandemic.

Despite presenting a slew of national acts in recent months and landing its biggest ever private donation.

Despite a rich history of achievement and a long legacy of enriching lives through the arts.

Thirty years of hard work dismissed…without a conversation and without giving the community a chance to talk.

Wow.

But political spin is really something.

If you listen to the city’s party line, the non-profit didn’t earn grants—it required “subsidies” — there’s a loaded word used by the brand- new City Manager who really ought to sign up for a history lesson before putting pen to paper. But he better hurry, because the local historians are fading fast and when they are gone nobody will be able to tell the story of how this town came back from a very rough patch. Lose your history and you lose your soul.

 

I was told by a sitting commissioner to cut the guy a break, after all, he’s been here 20 minutes and he’s the ninth manager we’ve had in just a few years’ time. And I will. So will others. There are still compassionate people in this town.

I sincerely hope the new City Manager succeeds. We need him to succeed. But I can tell you how he might fail—be seen as a partisan in a sharply divided town. Because when the worm turns— and it always does—your toast.

 

So Mr. CM you’ve got your mulligan.

Here’s hoping you get both sides of every story from here on out, because rest assured there’s another side to every story in this town.

I also understand that a CM must carry out the will of the majority of their bosses, but sometimes the majority will need some coaching when they stray off the reservation. We are counting on you to speak truth to power.

But let’s go back to Old School Square for a second. They deserve a better epitaph than the current narrative.

We are told to ignore that public funds are only 20-25 percent of the Old School Square budget with the rest earned through donations, sponsorships and ticket sales to things like a Jimmy Buffett concert, which was labeled a failure because not everyone who wanted a ticket got one.

Shame on the organization, we are told.

And shame on Jimmy too for thinking that Old School Square’s “pod” seating was an innovative way to keep people healthy during a pandemic. He could have made his concert return anywhere—but he chose the OSS Pavilion. In most rational places that would elicit civic pride. But not here. You have to ask, why?

Old School Square owned its mistakes and pleaded for a conversation. Their magnanimous behavior got them nowhere. And when the organization pushed back, they were blamed by some for failing to fall on the sword by meekly accepting their fate. I suppose they should have just said thank you to a commission majority that ended the organization’s life without a plan. As a result, brides have no clue whether they can get married in the Fieldhouse this winter.

But I digress.

I have faith that the truth still matters.

And as I said, I am surrounded by angels.

Unfortunately, I fall far short of that description myself; I take it hard when people I love and respect are treated like garbage. I have the urge to put pen to paper when I see things I don’t like.

These little essays make a few of my long-time critics uncomfortable. They wish people like me would go away.

Well, I’ll stop writing when I stop caring. I hope that doesn’t happen for a long time.

I have angels to serve. That’s how I feel about so many of the contributors in this town.

These  angels sometimes call me with messages that urge me to think differently and deeper.

I got such a call last week after spending a night wrestling with some of the emotions resulting from the Old School Square decision.

I was told to look at the lyrics to “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, particularly the opening line. I wasn’t sure what to think about that request, but I read the lyrics and they spoke to me.

“O little town of Bethlehem,

 

How still we see thee lie.

 

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

 

The silent stars go by;

 

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

 

The everlasting Light.

 

The hopes and fears of all the years

 

Are met in thee tonight.”

Old School Square was the light that lit up a dark town back before it became South Florida’s hot spot.

It may go dark again…but one day that light will shine once more. But it won’t shine as brightly unless it is accompanied by a renewed focus on collaboration, community and yes… love.

That’s what I want to see, collaboration, community and love. I don’t think I’m alone.

If you love something—- you respect, nurture and protect it.

This was an organization made up of people who earned our respect, who deserved to be nurtured (not coddled) and earned the right to be protected.

We did not protect Old School Square.

I’m hoping against hope that it is not too late to do so.

I know I am not alone.

9/11 Twenty Years Onward

Delray firefighters run the stairs at the Old School Square garage in honor of those lost in 9/11.

The terrorists lived here.

Out of all the places on Earth, they were here in Delray Beach visiting our library, picking up prescriptions at the local pharmacy, lifting weights at the local gym and living in communities we know and love—The Hamlet, Laver’s.

Twenty years later, the fact that at least  7 and possibly 9 of the 9/11 terrorists lived in Delray Beach still feels astonishing. Another three lived in Boynton Beach.

It’s also proof that “it” can happen anywhere.

No place is immune from the dangers and hatred that plague our world.

So much has changed since Sept. 11, 2001.

So much blood and treasure has been spilled in the war against terror. Our lives are forever altered.

For a generation of Americans, 9/11 was a defining moment. Like the JFK assassination, we remember where we were.

I was working at the BRN Media Group at the time. The company was the publisher of the Boca News and we were in the newsroom when we saw footage of planes striking the Twin Towers.

We had no idea of the scope of what we were witnessing.

I was a year into my term on the Delray Beach City Commission and we were so thrown by the events that we didn’t even cancel a workshop meeting that night.

What were we thinking?

It was shock, not insensitivity that led us to keep the meeting.  It would take a little time to digest what had happened.

When we did, things changed fast.

Our Police Department became plugged into national intelligence briefings and formed a Homefront Security force consisting of dedicated volunteers who patrolled public sites and vulnerable infrastructure in an effort to keep us safe.

This was back in the days when the message from Washington was to “say something if you see something” suspicious.

Many of the volunteers were members of the Greatest Generation, men and women who served our nation during World War II. They wore berets and sharp uniforms. When I became Mayor, I was always so happy when they visited my office at City Hall to say they were watching out for all of us.

These were special people and an example of how a community can come together after tragedy.

We had firefighters volunteer to work on the pile at Ground Zero in New York and the department also displayed a touching piece of public art that honored the 343 NYC firefighters who perished that fateful day.

When we went after the Taliban who housed Osama Bin Laden a few of our police officers who were in the reserves were called to active duty.

In due course, we got involved in a program called Forgotten Soldiers and held community “packing” events sending socks, toiletries, DVD’s and other items to soldiers.

It was a unifying experience. And while we were living in a scary new world, we were in it together and we were supported by friends from all over the world. We never doubted that NYC and America itself would bounce back.

And we did.

Lower Manhattan became vibrant once more and we celebrated when the Freedom Tower, standing 1,776 feet tall was built where the World Trade Center once stood.

But for me and so many of my neighbors the lasting memories of that surreal time was the revelation that the terrorists lived amongst us.

Pretty soon the stories poured out. There were brief encounters with police officers but due to a lack of databases there was no way to learn who these men were. The hijackers were in our library using computers and neighbors recalled encounters that were weird at the time but chilling once we learned what these men were about.

It was all so hard to believe. All so impossible to comprehend.

I remember a sadness in the air

But also a sense of unity and resolve.

This act of horror will not go unanswered. These people will not break us. We are all Americans and we are rooting for each other and the world is rooting for us because we are the beacon for that world. We are the opposite of the hatred and cowardice these terrorists represent. We are America.

One nation. Indivisible. A beacon for the world.

 

On a personal note: Like many Americans, I lost a childhood friend on 9/11. NYC Firefighter Michael Boyle wasn’t working on that fateful day. But when he heard what was happening he went to Ground Zero to help his brothers and sisters. He was never seen again. He was 37 years old.

Mike was a great kid. He befriended me, the new kid in school, back in 6th grade. He was kind, a great athlete and just a good guy. His father, Jimmy Boyle was a legendary NYC Firefighter and union president and Mike was following in his footsteps. He was going places. I think of him often and found his name at the 9/11 Museum in NYC.

As for Jimmy Boyle, he died two years ago at the age of 80. His family said he died from cancer he contracted from the rubble and dust on 9/11. He searched Ground Zero for his son for weeks and each year on 9/11 he would retrace Michael’s steps in tribute by visiting the site of the towers.

I urge everyone to visit the 9/11 Memorial and take their children. We must never forget.

 

Visiting the Memory Motel With Charlie

Charlie Watts in all his sartorial splendor.

The death of drummer Charlie Watts hit hard last week.
Yes, he was 80.
Yes, we knew something was up when The Rolling Stones announced that he would not be joining them on their upcoming North American tour.
But Charlie was an icon and the Stones are timeless. How can this happen?

Of course, we know why. Our heroes are mortal. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

Growing up in the 70s and early 80s, I was raised on what is now called ‘classic rock’.
We listened to WNEW and WPLJ in New York and Long Island’s very own rock station WBAB in Babylon.

It was an amazing era for music and I never had enough money to buy all of the albums I wanted to own. We went to Sam Goody’s and Korvettes for our record fix and on occasion we drifted into the city where— magically— my friend David knew where we could get European imports and bootlegs in Soho and the village.
Hey wait a minute…how did he know where to go?  We were only 11 or 12?

We went to see our favorite acts at Madison Square Garden , Jones Beach, Westbury Music  Fair and the Nassau Coliseum. The Kinks, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Foreigner, Billy Joel, The Doobie Brothers, Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Beach Boys, The Cars, The Police and more.

It was a golden era and I spent hours listening to Bruce Springsteen, Simon & Garfunkel, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Elton John and scores of other amazing artists.
But at the top of the pantheon were the Big Four: The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who.

One of the radio stations, I can’t remember which, would have Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Who days—when the entire programming was devoted to those four bands. I listened all day and all of the night. (Kinks reference for you amateurs).

Those classic bands and so many others meant so much to me and my friends. So much to my generation and others too.
For my money, the 60s, 70s and 80s produced the best music ever made. Music that moved us, raised us, made us move and shaped how we viewed the world.

Is there a better love song than “Something?”

Is there a better guitar solo than the one in “Stairway to Heaven.”

Is there a better album than “Who’s Next” released 50 years ago this month.

Is there better rock music or more catchy riffs than the songs recorded by the Rolling Stones?

And now Charlie Watts is gone.

The steady beat driving the worlds greatest rock band has joined John and George, John Entwistle, Keith Moon and John Bonham in the hereafter. We’ve lost so many great ones. In recent weeks, we’ve lost Nanci Griffith, Poco’s Paul Cotton and Tom T. Hall, one of the truly great story songwriters (Harper Valley PTA). If you want to feel something just listen to Nanci Griffith sing about love on a late night in a grand hotel or take another listen to Poco’s “In the Heart of the Night.”
All will be missed.

Still, Charlie’s loss hit hard.
Delray’s Max Weinberg, a hall of fame drummer, called Mr. Watts a personal hero. He said he was devastated by the news.

When you love music, the players who create these magical sounds assume on an outsize influence on your life.
They are magical in so many ways because they  play notes that make you feel fully alive.
So when you lose someone who can do that…well, it stings. It really, really stings.

On This Train; Faith Will Be Rewarded

Historic and picturesque Newport, Rhode Island.

Happiness is found in life’s most ordinary moments. 
 
This week, I will be celebrating my 57th birthday.
And being in a reflective mood, I’m finding that as I get older I’m finally able to derive bliss from the simple things in life.
It has taken me awhile to get to this place.
But these days, these wonderful days, a beautiful sky, my wife’s laugh, a text from my sister, a call from a friend, a quick trip to  New England, watching my old dog sleep in his cozy bed, time with friends, a great book and the list goes on makes me happy to my very core.
 

Brené Brown once said, “We chase extraordinary moments instead of being grateful for ordinary moments until hard 💩happens. And then in the face of really hard stuff — illness, death, loss — the only thing we’re begging for is a normal moment.”

Ain’t that the truth!
Therein lies  the great irony of life — we are constantly pursuing the extraordinary yet when we lose someone, we’re willing to give anything to hear the sound of their voice even if it’s singing off-key in the shower just one more time. One more time.
In my case, Covid reminded me that each moment we’re alive is impossibly fragile.
I first learned that lesson when I lost my mother far too young to cancer. But I had forgotten that lesson.
 I was 34 and in a hurry in those days, consumed by ambition and anxious to make a mark. I lost sight of the beauty of the mundane. I was restless and impatient.
But the gift of some hard knocks and the passage of time is that we discover that simplicity has true meaning. 
When I came home from a 39 day stay at Bethesda Hospital this time  last year, my friend Connor Lynch called me. 
“Doesn’t the grass seem greener?” he asked. 
How did he know?
Yes, the grass seemed greener and the sky seemed bluer. I told Connor that during my trip home from the hospital, I never enjoyed seeing Lake Ida Road more.  Connor knew from experience so he wasn’t surprised. 
A road that I travel every day every day rushing around suddenly seemed grand, like a picturesque boulevard. 
I don’t want to lose that feeling. 
So when life gets me down, and of course it still does from time to time (that Old School Square lease termination really stinks my friends) I still get angry. But my pique is tempered by my appreciation for the good things in life. The simple pleasures. 
We went to New England last week for a long awaited vacation that happened to dovetail with my year anniversary of getting and ultimately surviving Covid and a wicked case of double pneumonia that still robs me of my wind. 
Through Facebook memories I was able to revisit the experience  through the kind comments of so many nice people. It was painful and interesting and touching to hear from so many people. And I felt blessed. Extraordinarily blessed. 
A kind word carries so much power and influence.
Kind words heal.
The opposite is true as well.
Harsh words wound. They leave marks. 
On my vacation, I soaked in the beauty of New England which is extraordinary. Everywhere you look is a postcard. 
My wife and I enjoyed the water views, we sailed, looked for puffins, explored charming villages and marveled at the history we found in every town. 
I’m drawn to New England for a lot of reasons, some mysterious to me. It does remind me of  my hometown Stony Brook, New York, so maybe that’s part of it. But there’s something intangible too that just calls to me. 
Of course, I love Florida too. My wife and I have given a lot of time and passion to Delray Beach and so have our friends who were hurting last week over the aforementioned decision regarding Old School Square.  
I felt compelled to listen to their hurt last week, to make calls I wouldn’t ordinarily make while  on vacation. 
I was calling and texting from various points in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island all of which felt like warm, inviting and friendly places even for this Yankee fan tooling around town with Florida plates on the rental car. 
My friends needed to be reminded that they mattered, that they did good things because they have been told the opposite.
 
I happen to believe that the truth matters.
And that even in a world filled with misinformation, propaganda and nastiness, the truth will eventually win out. 
It’s painful to wait, but you have to keep believing. 
In the past year, so many of my wishes have come true and so many of my prayers and the prayers of others have been answered. 
Amid the challenges, my faith has been cemented. 
I’m finally learning to be patient,  to be happy and to open my eyes to the beauty that surrounds us. Despite the noise, despite the nastiness, there is clarity, kindness and hope.
Always hope. Even in the darkest days. 

 

Wake Up Everybody

 

 

 

 

What’s happening at Old School Square is a microcosm of what’s been happening in Delray Beach for years now.

So I wasn’t shocked when the City Commission terminated Old School Square’s lease on a 3-2 vote ending a memorable three decade run by the non-profit. The decision was made without allowing OSS or the public to speak on the issue. OSS was not able to defend itself. The item was not on the agenda and the commission and city staff did not consider the ramifications of the decision.
Ready, fire, aim is not a good way to run anything. But it’s a really bad way to run a city.
But I wasn’t surprised. Disappointed for sure. But not surprised. The commission took over the CRA in similar fashion without discussion, public input or even an item on the agenda. It just happened —like that. And we’re supposed to believe there’s no coordination…hmmmm. See me about a bridge I have one for sale.
There’s been a full-press assault on the volunteer class in this city by certain political elements for years now.
It’s bad. It’s personal and it’s getting worse.
The people who give their time, money and loyalty to Delray Beach are being singled out, disparaged and disrespected. The institutions they support are also under fire. First they took over the CRA and now it’s Old School Square’s turn. But groups as disparate as the Beach Property Owners Association and the Northwest Southwest Alliance have also gotten tangled up in the mess. And a vast number of city employees have seem their careers and lives upended and ruined too. Record turnover doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens for a reason.
The problem is the division on the  City Commission and in the community itself. We are locked in a never ending battle that has made a once happy village a very unhappy place for those who want to be involved.
I can go chapter and verse on this subject. But it’s old and it’s tiring.
Let’s just say the nonsense is having real consequences.
We may have just lost the magic that made Old School Square. That magic was a volunteer/donor base that has given millions of dollars and countless hours to the arts for thirty years until they were called corrupt failures and asked to vacate the place they built.
This isn’t merely a management contract we are talking about. These people birthed the idea of Old School Square, they nurtured it, grew it and raised private money to preserve and enhance city buildings.
For decades, they were respected and acknowledged for their contributions and Old School Square was credited for launching the downtown’s renaissance.
When you have such a relationship and such a resource you treasure it. If there’s a problem, a question or a performance issue you sit down with your partners and you work it out.
You don’t take the organization and throw it in the garbage which is what has been done.
Sure, you can find a group or an entity to manage the facility. But it won’t be the same. It’s like when your favorite restaurant gets bought by a chain—it will look the same, but it won’t feel the same. The soul will be gone. And once it’s gone, good luck getting it back.
Friends, you can’t just find people like founder Frances Bourque and a who’s who of civic leaders by doing an RFP. These people loved the place, the mission and the city itself.
That’s what’s being lost here. That’s what’s not understood or respected.
My strong belief is that the issues being used to terminate OSS the entity are being manufactured in an effort to justify a personality conflict by two sides locked in a damaging Cold War.
Many of the issues being alleged are simply not true and were easily proven false by Old School Square’s board. Too bad they weren’t allowed to talk before they were terminated but when you are being set up it doesn’t make sense to let the target speak does it?
Sadly, brand new City Manager Terrance Moore allowed himself to be used to further a political agenda. That taints him in the eyes of many devoted citizens. He made a big mistake and that’s too bad because after 9 managers in a few years time we need him to succeed.
He will need to learn this community because he badly misfired on this important issue.
As an aside, with a pandemic still raging, a budget that needs adoption, positions that need to be filled, a police contract and a hurricane season upon us, it seems like a curious time to pick a fight with OSS. Especially when the organization just produced its biggest concert and landed its biggest ever private donation.
But here we are.
Oh yes, here we are.
We best wake up people. Delray is at stake. This is way bigger than even Old School Square.