Events and Things to Do in Delray Beach and Boca Raton

Boca Raton and Delray Beach are among the most vibrant communities you’ll ever find.

Both cities feature a vast array of events year-round that are sure to interest people of all ages and interests. From arts festivals and music events to a vibrant food scene and cultural landscape Boca-Delray has it all.

At YourDelrayBoca.com we strive to curate the best events and give you insider’s tips to make your experience the best it can be.

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.

 

Peace, Love & Understanding

Delray’s Pride Intersection was vandalized in June.

Back in my newspaper days, we were trained to look for trends.

The first time something happened it was news.
The second time something happened we were told keep a close eye.
The third time something happened my editor called it a trend and we were tasked with trying to explain what was happening.
Well, by that definition we may want to pay attention to a troubling series of recent events. Let’s hope it doesn’t portend a trend.
In recent weeks, we saw the Pride  intersection in downtown Delray vandalized. The perpetrator is looking at a hate crime charge. In June, a group of teenage boys were said to be wreaking havoc in downtown Delray Beach, destroying property and harassing people.

There have been reports of the kids, some on bikes, some in ski masks, vandalizing storefronts, and screaming vulgar expletives at folks walking downtown in the middle of the day.

Ugh.

Then last week, a few yards away from the Pride Intersection,  the owner of the Ramen Noodle factory, was accosted by foul-mouthed idiots after being told politely that the restaurant was closing and they would have to eat their pizza—bought elsewhere—somewhere else.
I first saw a video of the incident when a friend sent me a link to Tik Tok. It nauseated me.
I then saw some newspaper coverage and was told the restaurant owner who videotaped the encounter on his phone had posted it on the restaurant’s Instagram page.
The post elicited hundreds and hundreds of messages of support , which was heartening to see. There are still many more good people than hate filled clowns. Thank goodness.
But still, such incidents leave a mark.
Seeing hatred up close is never easy. And seeing it unfold in your own community rattles you to your core.
The thugs in this particular video seemed to be middle aged and one appeared to be grossly inebriated slurring his speech. The other was coolly nasty, which was even more disturbing in my view.
The restaurant manager stood his ground and kept his cool. He remained polite despite a vicious barrage of stupid insults.
I found myself growing anxious watching the video because these seem to be the type of confrontations that can  spiral into senseless violence. Luckily, this time, it didn’t. But words sting and leave marks as well.
Let’s hope this isn’t a trend. But it does feel like something is wrong in our society these days.
There’s an awful lot of anger, hatred and violence in our world.
It’s scary and it’s alarming.
These “things” tend to build and accelerate.
Only love can drive out hate.
It’s time we summon our better angels before the haters in our midst ruin our community and our world.
We have the power, on the local level, to make our communities kinder and therefore better places.
The time is now and the tools are there for us to use.

The Spark Of Inspiration

Lin-Manuel Miranda is one of the special people featured on the Apple Plus series.

Have you seen the TV series “Dear…” on Apple Plus?

If you haven’t, I highly recommend it.
But even if you don’t have Apple +, the premise is worth discussing.
“Dear…”  is inspired by the “Dear Apple” advertising campaign, where customers share stories about how Apple products have changed their lives. In the same vein, this docuseries features celebrities reading letters by people “whose lives have been changed through their work.” Each episode focuses on one celebrity.
So far, I’ve seen episodes featuring film director Spike Lee and Broadway impresario Lin-Manuel Miranda, Stevie Wonder, Gloria Steinem, gymnast Aly Raisman and Oprah Winfrey.
The premise is at once simple and beautiful:  Our life’s’ work creates ripples. 
Sometimes we see those ripples. Often times we don’t. 
But the important part is to recognize that we all matter and what we put out into the world may impact  people in profound ways. 
If we are lucky, we hear from those we affect.
Those messages sustain us.
Those messages inspire us.
Those messages encourage more art and more creation. As a result, we have a chance to be better and do better and move forward. Those ripples we create matter. They matter a lot. They can and do create waves. 
Exactly a year ago, I got Covid. I don’t know where I got the virus, but for me it was almost a lethal dose. 
The virus that almost took my life, changed my life. As it has changed lives across the globe. 
We are fragile beings; here today, gone tomorrow. 
So today really matters. Our work matters. Our art matters and that art should be broadly defined. 
Your art can be music, writing, teaching, running a business, volunteering or being the consummate friend, father, brother, mother, wife, leader. 
There are opportunities every single day to make a difference. We can inspire or we can deflate, we can encourage or bully, we can love or hate. 
Years ago, I chose to love. There are times where I have been able to do so and there are times when I have fallen woefully short. 
But Covid, that dreaded virus ended up giving me a wonderful gift.
Let me explain. 
From an early age, I was attracted to public service. My first expression of that art was journalism. I enjoyed telling the stories of the people in my community which was and still is Delray Beach. 
I wrote about police officers and firefighters. I wrote about musicians and entrepreneurs. I wrote about community organizers and about people who dreamed about building a better community. 
That work changed me.
Telling stories made me want to make my own stories and apply some of the ideas I had seen from a vast array of special people. 
So I went into local politics with a few simple goals: leave the town better than I found it and support the people in my town doing good work. 
I would judge my success or lack thereof by a single metric: at the end of my term in office– knowing I couldn’t please everyone–if I could look in the mirror and feel I had earned and kept the support of those doing good work in the community I would feel that I achieved my goal. If I lost the support of those investing, volunteering, building, connecting, protecting and educating I would have considered my term a failure.
  
The Dear…series celebrates people doing what I tried to do on a scale I can’t begin to fathom. The series celebrates inspiration. 
Isn’t that wonderful? 
Inspiration and aspiration is the oxygen of the world. If we aspire and inspire we can progress. 
We need progress.
Progress is more than an app. It’s more than a viral Tik Tok video or a social media post that gets scores of likes. 
All those things are fine but progress is writing a Broadway show that inspires young people to learn about our founding fathers.
Progress is a young Black director making movies that depict the Black experience in America and prompts us to ask questions and think about our beliefs. Progress is an Olympic gymnast whose courage in the face of abuse inspires others to speak out and raise awareness. 
Each story in Dear honors those who inspire, but just as important the docuseries shines a light on those who found inspiration and made their own mark on the world. 
Maya Angelou once said our legacy is what we do to inspire others. People will forget what we did, but they won’t forget how we made them feel. We can choose to make them feel good and we certainly have the power to damage them as well. 
We all have the power to create a legacy, to inspire, motivate and empower others. It’s a choice. One we can make every day. 

Surfside And The Power Of Empathy

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava is meeting the moment with professionalism and heart.

I got choked up last week watching Miami- Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine  Cava  do a masterful job at a press conference in the wake of the tragic condo collapse in Surfside.

Daniella is a friend of mine and I can only imagine the stress and pressure she is feeling as she leads her community in the wake of an unfathomable disaster.

Mayor Levine Cava was my Leadership Florida classmate many years ago. I was the mayor of Delray Beach at the time navigating a series of hurricanes that disrupted our class schedule.

Just when we bonded as a class, we were knocked back by a series of major hurricanes that knocked us off our schedule and off our games. The  storms were ferocious and scary.

But we made it through, and in some ways the challenge of that year made us stronger and closer as a group.

Leadership Florida is a statewide program that seeks to bring a diverse set of leaders together for training and education. The goal is to build better leaders, create a statewide network and to get members to care passionately about Florida. It’s a life changing program. And if you engage it will make you a better leader.

Daniella was an earnest student. She was deeply engaged.

I remember her constantly typing away on a laptop taking notes at every one of our sessions with a series of experts who came to teach.

At the time, Daniella was involved in social services. But when the class ended, she reached out and asked to meet.

Daniella was considering entering local politics and she wanted a primer.

We arranged to meet “halfway” at the Bass Pro Shops in Hollywood.

She peppered me with questions and if I remember, she took more notes.

I left telling her that I hoped that someday she would run.

That someday came a few years later when she won a seat on the Dade County Commission. In 2020, she ran an amazing campaign and got elected to a really big job—Mayor of Miami- Dade County.

I have one word to describe how her Leadership Florida classmates felt when she won and that was “wow”!

Personally, I thought  that Daniella would be a great mayor because she has all the smarts, toughness and intellectual curiosity that the great ones possess. But she also has something else that is absolutely necessary to succeed, to be more than just another elected official who comes and goes and barely leaves a mark. That something is empathy.

Empathy is the fuel for success. You have to love the people you serve. You can’t be a real leader if you lack love and empathy.

I saw Mayor Levine-Cava’s empathy shining through during her many press conferences last week. Her facility in two languages, the care and concern in her words, the warmth of her personality just burst through the screen.

A friend from Utah texted me in the wake of the tragedy saying that he knew these kind of events affected people like me because we were “city people” who feel these things.

Truth is, we all do. We all feel the fragility of people and communities.

But maybe mayors, police officers, firefighters and other city people feel it a little deeper.

Because when tragedies strike: murders, violent crimes, hurricanes, fires, accidents etc. we are (or were) tasked with picking up the pieces. It’s a leader’s responsibility to provide information, context and perspective when the world goes berserk as it does with some regularity these days.

My former classmate voiced all of these essentials and more during her interactions with the press.

She made a point to describe the remarkable dedication and bravery of the rescue personnel on site. How they wanted to keep working and how their dedication was breathtaking. They worked at risk of their lives, with debris falling, high winds that made that debris even more dangerous, rain, heat and fire. They worked in a structurally unsound building focused on their task: to save lives. For these brave men and women, it’s more than a job, it’s a mission. Great leaders like Daniella shine in these circumstances because their humanity becomes paramount to that mission and to the eventual healing that will be needed.

Watching her on TV I thought of that word again: Wow.

We often give short shrift to the soft skills but they make all the difference.  Empathy is everything. So is love for people and community.

We often see criticism of local government fed by cynicism and snark.

But we need local government. We need good, local government.

And we need great leaders at all levels of government.

Tragedy reveals character.

Last week, we saw the character of local rescue workers and the character of a local mayor.

Our hearts break, but we can take comfort that there are still some special public servants who meet the moment with love, dedication and empathy.

 

Father’s Day Vibes

I’m not ready to leave Father’s Day just yet.

So indulge me, if you will.

It’s an important day and deserves more than 24 hours.

Close readers of this blog know of my deep regard for my father.

Simply said, he’s my hero; has been, always will be.

As an avid reader of biography, I’m keenly aware of how lucky I am to have a good father. So many people either don’t have a father or the one that they do have is deeply flawed or in the worst cases abusive or absent.

I may be lacking in lots of areas, but in the dad department I won the lottery.

My dad checks every box:

Good provider, always there for us, good husband to my mother, attentive father, solid, reliable, loving, honest and generous. The list of his positive attributes goes on forever and at age 83 I’m still discovering new traits to admire about my father.

I’m so lucky have him around playing a prominent role in my life and the lives of my children.

As for me, I’m 56, with 35 years of professional experience and at this point a whole lot of life experience too.

So you would think I could go it alone. And the truth is I can.

But why go it alone when you have a dad who is so smart and so pure in his intentions.  He just wants the best for his son and everyone in our family. There’s still not a big decision I would make without his input.  And not because I need his advice but because I want it and because it’s always so good.

Yes, I am a lucky man.

So many of my friends have lost their dads by now. I knew these men and they were good people, so those losses loom large. I think you always need your parents and if they do a good job and impart the right stuff you’ll always be able to summon those lessons even when they’re gone.

In this Covid era, I can’t help but think of all the children who have lost parents to the virus in 2020-21. And obviously it’s not just Covid, but the usual culprits too and the not so usual reasons such as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is too much violence in our world today.

I ache for those experiencing a painful Father’s Day.

So while obvious, it’s important to say it: savor the moments.

The special moments. The ordinary moments. The great conversations and the pedestrian ones as well.

Take long walks.

Meet for lunch and dinner.

Share books and articles and jokes and greeting cards and weekend trips if you are able.

Hit some golf balls. Watch a ball game. And for goodness sakes tell them how you feel.

Don’t leave things unsaid.

Today is a blessing. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

 

Note: Delray Beach lost a wonderful community leader last week. Shirley Israel passed away in Los Angeles where she was living after moving from Delray a few years ago.

She was a long time leader at the Pines of Delray back when western condo presidents wielded a lot of political power in our town.

Shirley was a key advisor to a slew of mayors and commissioners who valued her support, advice and friendship. It was always given generously with the best of intentions for Delray Beach at its heart.

Back in the days when Shirley was out front leading,  the western communities were very active  raising money for charity, supporting police and fire and volunteering for worthy causes and projects.

I miss those days. Those lions and lionesses were never replaced and we are a poorer community as a result.

Once upon a time, we had a whole lot of heartfelt civic engagement. It went beyond complaining on social media and included volunteering for the Citizen Roving Patrols, Community Emergency Response Teams to help out during disasters, fundraising for police and fire and reading to children in our schools.

Shirley was one of those people and she was passionate about Delray and her community at the Pines.

Two quick stories that I will always remember.

The Pines is located across from our wastewater treatment plant. And back in the day, when the wind blew in a certain direction, you could smell that plant from miles away. The odor was especially strong in the Pines of Delray. As city commissioners we had the honor of serving on the board of the plant along with city commissioners from Boynton Beach.

Shirley lobbied us to do something about the odor. Eventually, we did. But to make sure we understood what was at stake she organized a big group to greet us at a board meeting. A few of the people got heated at the meeting and went after the supervisor of the plant who was a wonderful guy but he didn’t like to be pushed. I remember walking into the meeting, wading through the crowd of angry people and catching Shirley’s eye. She smiled, shrugged and winked as if to say “we like you commissioners, but we mean business. Will you help us?”

Of course we will.  And we did.

Later, when Shirley was sworn into another term as president of the Pines she invited me and my colleague Vice Mayor Jon Levinson to the swearing in festivities at Benvenuto restaurant. We went, thinking we would be there for the ceremony, say a quick hello to our friends in the Pines and go back to our busy lives. Well…we spent the whole day dancing, schmoozing and celebrating with a banquet hall full of people who were thrilled to be a part of Delray. How could we leave?

Shirley and her husband Herman kept in touch when we left office with Hanukkah cards and occasional emails. Over time, the cards stopped and my emails to the Israel’s were sent without receiving a reply. I read a few of the emails early this morning. Shirley’s funeral is later today. They were a mix of inquiries about my children and observations about Delray. They were filled with warm sentiment and genuine love for this community.

I don’t how many people are still around who will remember Shirley Israel and the many other leaders who made a big difference in this town.

They supported bond issues to improve older neighborhoods, attended visioning conferences and goal setting sessions, backed good candidates, wore uniforms and patrolled our shopping centers and helped us after so many hurricanes.

I will remember them. Always. Shirley was very, very special.

 

 

 

Making A Dent In The Universe

Coco at the Delray Beach Tennis Stadium.

The New York Times ran a fascinating interview with Martina Navratilova recently.

The tennis hall of famer is 64 now, living in Fort Lauderdale and enjoying life.

Martina was a landmark athlete—she changed both the men’s and women’s games, but she’s also an influential cultural figure paving the way for female athletes while being outspoken on a range of topics ranging from LGBTQ rights to animal welfare and a lot in between.

Martina matters.

Like Billie Jean King, Jim Brown, LeBron James and Muhammad Ali, Martina is an athlete who transcended sport to leave a large mark on the world.

Those of us who live in Delray Beach and love tennis have been following Coco Gauff’s burgeoning career and wondering whether she will follow in those large footsteps.

There is no doubt that she is a special talent.

Her results as a teenager have been astonishing. Like other greats, she shows no fear on the court and actually seems to thrive on pressure.

But there’s something else about her that shines through—at least to me anyway. She seems to understand that she has power off the court, and she seems intent on using that power to make a difference.

We saw it when she spoke out at a local Black Lives Matter protest in Delray Beach shortly after the murder of George Floyd. And we saw it last week when she made a generous donation to the Achievement Centers for Children and Families in Delray Beach.

Teaming up with Microsoft, Coco is helping to refresh the main computer lab and build two additional labs at the Achievement Center, a wonderful non-profit that has served this community’s most vulnerable children for over 50 years.

Here’s what the Achievement Center had to say in making the announcement:

“As a professional tennis player and full-time remote student, Coco Gauff saw firsthand the ways that technology could benefit education. While completing classes alongside her rigorous training schedule, she was inspired to provide some of the same tools to students in Delray Beach, where she and her parents grew up.

“This community has given me a lot, so it’s definitely important to give back,” she said

Coco thrilled the kids at the center recently with a virtual appearance and coaching session.

Due to COVID-19 limitations, Coco used Microsoft Teams to surprise the kids. During the event, Coco helped students complete a coding workshop, where they learned about game design. The kids were also able to ask Coco questions  including how she became a professional tennis player and what her favorite subject is in school.

 

“Maybe this can give a kid the opportunity to find their own passions,” Coco said before offering advice to the students. “Make your dreams as big as possible, because you never know how far they will go.”

 

It’s hard to quantify how important it is for our children to see someone from their community succeed on a worldwide stage. Children need to be encouraged to dream big and they need to be given the tools necessary to achieve those dreams.

The Achievement Centers for Children and Families is a model non-profit that has done just that for half a century and in process the organization has done a lot to break the cycle of poverty.

To see Coco giving back is not a surprise to me.

While I don’t know Coco, I do know her family.

Her grandmother, Yvonne Odom, is one of my heroes, her grandfather Red is a wonderful man who has coached generations of local kids and her parents Candi and Corey are really special and caring people. The Gauff/Odom family are committed to Delray Beach, especially our children.

Coco had a big week professionally reaching the quarterfinals at the French Open, one of the the cathedrals of the sport. She’s still only 17 years old. She has a game as big as any prospect since the Williams sisters, who also have ties to Delray Beach.

But beyond sports, she seems to be a young woman of compassion and substance. She has a platform, and she appears willing and able to use it—like Martina, Billie Jean, Venus and Serena before her.

Coco’s grandmother Yvonne was a groundbreaker in her day too. Fifty years ago this September she became the first Black to attend Seacrest High which later  became Atlantic High. Three years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 7 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, Yvonne Lee Odom integrated Delray’s high school. To this day, she remains brave, outspoken and respected. She’s a treasure.

I have a feeling her granddaughter is going to leave a mark far, far beyond tennis. She sure has had some great role models.

 

Big Dreams & Big Bets

The Delray Beach Market

The Delray Beach Market is the talk of the town.

As well it should be.

At 150,000 square feet, the market is said to be the largest food hall in Florida.

It’s big, bold and brave.

It also represents a colossal investment in the future of Delray Beach so it’s audacious too. I like the audacious part. We cheer big, bold and brave bets on this blog. Small bets too. We like people who try. It’s the risk takers who leave a legacy.

Basically, the market is a food incubator enabling chef/entrepreneurs to pioneer concepts at what’s probably a reasonable cost of entry.

Downtown Delray Beach has become a foodie haven but with that success, the barrier to entry has gotten very expensive. Rents of $100 a square foot are common, build out costs can be exorbitant and competition is fierce. Atlantic Avenue has become its own ecosystem with eye popping statistics accompanying the buzz. Hand’s Stationers just sold for a whopping $1,100 a foot. That’s an astonishing number especially considering the limitations of what you can and can’t do with a building in the downtown. Let’s just say you’d have to sell an awful lot of number two pencils to make those numbers work.

Meanwhile, the new food hall allows entrepreneurs to get into business for much less than the cost of opening a full-service restaurant. It also enables them to gain exposure to the hordes of people flocking downtown these days without having to consult the Forbes Billionaires List to find investors.

I’m sure the model hopes for the vendor’s to succeed so that they can launch traditional restaurants and allow for other fresh concepts to come into the market.

We went to the grand opening party a few weeks back and couldn’t find anyone who wasn’t floored by the sheer scale of the ambition behind this project. It’s a big bet.

Subsequently, I’ve heard a range of opinions (mostly positive) but a few who are questioning how or whether this $60 million investment will work. Speculating on a business model is above my pay grade. I’ve been involved with can’t miss deals that fizzled and have also been involved with impossible dreams that turned into wild success stories including one multibillion dollar brand (Celsius) that was left for dead on several occasions and now has a market cap of $5 billion plus. Go figure.

Personally, I wouldn’t bet against Craig Menin—the developer behind the market and several other huge bets in Delray Beach including the Ray Hotel and The Linton. There’s a strategy unfolding here and it’s going to be fascinating to watch.

I’ve had the pleasure of spending a little time with Mr. Menin and he’s a fascinating man. A visionary with a lot of courage.

My advice is to never bet against the innovators. Not every bet lands you in the winner’s circle and you have to have the cash to play, but the big winners in business are those who find the courage to roll the dice and think big.

What I’m seeing is a company that believes in distinctive architecture, luxury amenities and the power of food and beverage to drive value and community.

Anyway, we sure have seen a lot in Delray over the years.

Leaving the party that Friday night, I found myself experiencing a bunch of different emotions.

I thought about how much we have changed since I came to Delray in the summer of ’87.

I thought about how when we did the Downtown Master Plan in 2001, we were dreaming big. Those dreams matched or maybe even exceeded the ambitions that were attached to Visions 2000, the landmark charrette process that led to the Decade of Excellence in the 1990s. Yes, my friends, we were swinging for the fences.

Back then, we were trying to get on the map and build something sustainable—something of value.

We can and we do argue over whether what’s happened here has been good or bad. And I can argue and empathize with both sides of the growth/change divide.

But…here’s one thing I think is immutable. Change is a constant. It’s inevitable.

We can and have sought to “shape” the growth with height limits and other tools designed to maintain our scale.

Despite the rhetoric of the last election cycle, we will never be another Fort Lauderdale. We won’t even be another Boynton Beach. Both cities —and Boca too— allow much taller buildings. We will always be a three and four story town.

But I can see why some people lament the congestion and activity and what they see as the loss of the laid back “village by the sea” aesthetic, although I would argue that you can still find quiet places to enjoy.

I can also see why others are cheering what’s happening.

They like the activity.

They appreciation the vibrancy and they benefit from the value being created.

If you own a home in east Delray, your property values—often a family’s largest asset—have appreciated substantially since the days when downtown Delray was rife with vacancies. If we lived adjacent to a dead and decaying downtown, it’s doubtful we would be seeing the real estate prices we are seeing.

I get it, it doesn’t matter unless you’re selling and it stinks if you want to buy in at this high level, but I think increasing values sure beats the alternative.

Choices.

Change.

The march of time….

Cities evolve.

We can and should do our best to shape that change—incentivize behaviors we want to see, restrict those we don’t wish to experience.

But market and societal forces are strong and it might be better to recognize that and adjust accordingly. It makes for a happier village and it also enables us to exert more control.

Change is going to happen. We are going to like some things and not like others.

You can’t shape what you don’t understand. You have a shot if you meet the world where it’s heading.