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I Dream Of Community

I woke up this morning and watched Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis.

He was assassinated the next day. He never got to the Promised Land. He knew he wouldn’t.

But MLK saw the Mountain Top. He saw America’s problems, but he also saw its potential. He had hope for the nation to become the Promised Land.

So do I.

I also have hope for our community.

Last week, I wrote about finding an old video from Delray Beach’s first All America City Award win in 1993.

The footage reminded me of a productive and happy time in our community.  In the 90s and beyond, Delray was brimming with aspiration and there was widespread civic engagement and a whole lot of unity.

After the hotly contested 1990 election, we would go ten years before the next contested election. That’s astonishing when you think about that through the lens of today’s toxic politics.

But it didn’t seem so strange back then because people were largely happy with the city’s direction at the time. It’s hard to imagine an uncontested seat these days.

While competitive elections are healthy, it’s hard to remember a time when the electorate wasn’t polarized. It’s also hard to remember a time when elections were about ideas not about personalities and whose “camp” you’re in.

Sadly, we are not alone.

We live in a polarized nation—a dangerously divided country in which both sides believe the other side poses an existential threat to their survival.

The division and vitriol that accompanies that division consumes a lot of the time of many people that I know.

And we wrestle with its many manifestations.

Locally, we see the division play out with bickering on social media, nasty elections and political decisions based on personalities not sound public policy.

Nationally, we all know how toxic Washington has become.

But the division has even affected families and friendships.

I know people who don’t speak to once beloved relatives because they voted for Trump or Biden.

And I’m really wrestling with my feelings for a longtime friend who is an ardent anti-vaxxer who supports a U.S. Senate candidate who believes the vaccine is “Luciferian.” When I saw a video of the candidate, it literally made me nauseous. I wanted to buy the guy a one-way ticket on Elon Musk’s spaceship.

Of course, my friend would rather have people send the candidate money so he can protect Americans from a vaccine that I consider a lifesaver. The candidate calls the jab the mark of the beast. Sigh.

I know I tipped my personal politics with that story, so I guess I can count on a few of you dropping off here. Go ahead, I’ll miss you.

Let’s just say that as a Covid survivor, I am grateful for the vaccine. If it keeps me and my loved ones out of the hospital and alive, I’m good with that. I don’t fear 5G or being controlled by Bill Gates and I don’t believe Democrats are molesting children on the second floor of a pizza shop that didn’t have a second floor.

I think the feds have done a bad job with messaging on the virus and that our government has been a day late and a dollar short on testing. But I’m grateful for the scientists hard at work to protect us and to companies like Moderna who I believe have saved millions of lives. And if you think that makes me a socialist, well I’m also glad I bought Moderna stock. 😊

When I was hospitalized with Covid in the summer of 2020, they had nothing to throw at me except some anti-virals, experimental convalescent plasma, powerful steroids, and Vitamin D. The threat of a ventilator loomed over me for 39 long and painful days. So, when a vaccine was approved, I couldn’t wait to get it.

I honestly don’t believe I have the mark of the beast running through my veins (some may disagree). I do thank the good lord for granting all of us some measure of protection.

But enough about what ails us.

How about some solutions?

Nationally, there’s an organization called No Labels (www.nolabels.org) that is trying mightily to bring Democrats and Republicans together through what is called the “Problem Solvers Caucus.”

A few months back, thanks to the generosity of a friend in Delray, a few of my buddies and I had a chance to interact via phone with the organization’s top leadership. I liked a lot of what I heard, but honestly, I’ve been turned off by some other things and I’ve shared that with the organization’s top brass who have been kind enough to debate me via email.

My biggest beef with No Labels is that they seem to push a few favorite politicians and I think that’s risky in this environment. I think they should be concentrating on the basics: bipartisanship, the need for compromise and the importance of having peaceful transfers of power after elections.

They won’t get my money to support some overstuffed overrated Senator. Not that my money matters anyway.

No Labels has promise, but it’s not enough and it’s missing the mark in a few fundamental ways. Are they a solution? I hope so, but I’m not convinced. (Sorry, Randy, it’s not personal, just business).

I do think volunteering is a potential answer to bridging divides. But there’s some headwinds to overcome–namely people aren’t volunteering.

There was some bad news for Florida released to little fanfare last week.

The Corporation for National and Community Service ranks Florida as the lowest volunteer state in the nation, with 22.8% of residents volunteering statewide. The Miami/Fort Lauderdale/West Palm Beach area ranks even lower: 18.7% of residents volunteer, ranking us the lowest among studied metropolitan areas.
Yikes!

Here’s how our community/region fared on some other metrics:

  • 97.4% of residents regularly talk or spend time with friends and family
  • 39.2% of residents do favors for neighbors
  • 24.6% of residents do something positive for the neighborhood
  • 14.0% of residents participate in local groups or organizations
  • 36.7% of residents donate $25 or more to charity

We lag the rest of the state with those numbers. Here are Florida’s numbers:

  • 95.4% of residents regularly talk or spend time with friends and family
  • 50.9% of residents do favors for neighbors
  • 23.6% of residents do something positive for the neighborhood
  • 19.2% of residents participate in local groups or organizations
  • 43.2% of residents donate $25 or more to charity

Utah, with a 51 percent volunteer rate is number one, followed by Minnesota at 45.1 percent and Oregon at 43.2 percent.

Florida ranks dead last— one percentage point below Mississippi.

Minneapolis-St. Paul tops the nation’s cities at 46.3 percent, followed by Rochester, N.Y. at 45.6 percent and Salt Lake City at 45 percent. Our community ranks dead last among major metros with an 18.7 percent volunteer rate just below Las Vegas.

I think civic participation and volunteerism are solutions to polarization. It’s easy to demonize someone you don’t know, and harder to ignore the humanity of someone you work beside.

When Delray won its first All America City Award in ’93 and became the first city in Florida to win twice in 2001, we had over 1,000 people volunteering for our Police Department. We had several hundred trained for the Fire Department’s Community Emergency Response Team (which came in handy after hurricanes) and programs such as a Youth Council, Citizen Police Academies, Neighborhood Potluck Dinners, Study Circles (part of a race relations initiative), youth summits, neighborhood summits, a Neighborhood Advisory Council, Neighborhood Task Teams, Town Hall meetings, Resident Academies, Haitian Citizen Police Academies and a slew of citizen driven visioning exercises to guide our elected officials. We may have a few of these programs left, but a lot of these efforts have been gutted, discarded, and or forgotten about.

We even had a Citizen’s Tool Kit given to new residents to help them get connected. You were given a kit when you registered to get your water meter turned on.

When we look for answers I would start with beefing up volunteerism, civic engagement, and citizen input. The efforts must be real and authentic, not check the box window dressing.

It’s not easy with Covid, but it’s doable.

It will take a lot of time and resources, but if successful, we can reknit the social fabric.

People who work together toward a common goal tend not to hate each other. In fact, just the opposite occurs. Respect builds, relationships form, and community gets built.

And my friends, we need community now more than ever. We need it before it’s too late.

 

 

 

For Randy….

Randy 2003-2021

“And in the end

The love you take

Is equal to the love you make”—John Lennon/Paul McCartney

 

Happy New Year!

Can you believe it’s 2022?

So where did we leave off?

Who knows, let’s start fresh shall we?

But first, I have something I need to share. It helps me to write, so thanks for the indulgence.

Just before Christmas, we lost our little dog Randy.

He was almost 19 years old. He was ready, even if we weren’t.

Are we ever ready to say goodbye to someone we love?

But before I tell you a little more about my friend, I want to share this insight about having dogs—mostly rescues—for the past 50 years. They have their priorities straight: sleep, play, eat, love. Repeat.

Throw in the magic of car rides with the wind blowing your hair, sniffing everything, and curling up on a blanket and you have the makings of a great life.

Those of us who love dogs,  think that they don’t live long enough, and they don’t. We should have them much longer. But if we are on this Earth to learn a lesson, it sort of makes sense that dogs don’t have to stay as long because they already know how to live and how to love.

They know that life is about love. They know that love is all you need.

We got Randy when he was about two years old in 2005 at the Delray Affair.

Diane knew about the Animal Rescue Force (ARF), a wonderful non-profit that rescues dogs and cats.

She and my daughter decided to check out the ARF booth at the Delray Affair and they were drawn to Randy, a skinny little Chihuahua mix with huge eyes and a fiery disposition. Randy weighed about 10 pounds at the time, but he carried himself as if he were a lion. He had a presence about him. He was adorable.

When they brought him home, his first two welcoming moves were to bite me and pee all over the house.

We figured it would be all uphill from that auspicious beginning.

Our golden retriever rescue, Casey, was an easy sell. They became instant friends. Casey would even “walk” Randy on the leash. Neighbors couldn’t believe their eyes. Randy was in on the joke. He was a leader, but he knew the best leaders empower their buddies.

As for Randy, he was only warming up in terms of “redecorating” our home.

Carpeting, rugs, and blinds were immediately targeted for destruction. He spent a lot of his time patrolling the back door looking out at the lake and protecting us from squirrels, iguanas, ducks, and birds. When wildlife appeared (or sometimes he would just pretend to see something that wasn’t there) he would slam his little body against the glass, grab hold of a blind or a rug and shake them furiously. He was ferocious and more than a little crazy. The golden would look at us as if to say: “you’re taking him back, right?”

She was kidding, of course. He wouldn’t be going anywhere for a long, long, long time.

In time, Randy mellowed a little bit and channeled his energy into more productive pursuits. My brother-in-law Paul called him “Mr. Cardio” because when you walked him, he would triple his steps walking out front—all the way to the right and all the way to the left—his little legs moving like powerful pistons always on patrol for adventure.

His outings to the dog park were challenging because he was there for—-how do we say this politely? He was there for the action.

So, we took him other places—car rides where he would hang his head out of the window and urge us to drive through puddles because he loved the splashing water. Our daughter, Sam, took him to Starbucks regularly and he enjoyed pup cups at Boardwalk ice cream in Boynton Beach and Kilwin’s on the Avenue.

A Delray dog through and through, he attended the Easter Bonnet Parade, Chihuahua races at the Cinco De Mayo Festival and loved Lake Ida Park and walking by the Delray Playhouse where he marveled at the wave runners. And he made tons of friends, two-legged and four legged too. There was the postman who would come every day and invite Randy onto his truck for a treat and a scratch. There were Kim and Rebecca who were extra nice to him and Bella Liguori, a big black lab who would knock on the back door every night come in, eat Randy’s food and leave.

As cool and as handsome as Randy was….well he too, had his issues with women. It made him even more endearing in my eyes.

When Casey passed, he welcomed Sophie into our home. A fellow Chihuahua rescue from the streets of Miami, Sophie was a tough little girl. Randy loved her.

When Sophie passed, we welcomed another golden, a rescue named Teddy into our home. This was a match made in heaven. Those two were so good together. Randy the feisty veteran, Teddy the sweet innocent big lug with a giant heart. When “things” happened in the house, Teddy would be ashamed. Randy would walk past the mess as if to say: “this is on you guys, you shouldn’t have trusted us.”

When Teddy passed, Randy mourned.

And he got old.

For the longest time, he seemed to defy the calendar. He never really got gray, but his once bright mischievous eyes got terribly cloudy and there was nothing doctors could do.

For me, that was the saddest part of all. I loved Randy’s big expressive eyes. Suddenly, the light that was in his eyes went away. And that created an ache in my heart.

Being the resilient dog that he was, Randy learned to navigate the house without his eyesight. He avoided the angles of the kitchen but otherwise got along very well. Another lesson we can learn from dogs: they adjust, they adapt, they don’t complain they keep going on until they can’t no more.

For Randy, that day came on December 22.

We knew it was coming.

When we decided to get Gracie, our new golden puppy, we never thought Randy would be around to meet her. But he was. And he took one last Christmas picture dressed up next to a willful puppy who knew enough to be gentle around her senior brother.

All of the kids, except for Viktor, were home for the holidays and to say goodbye.

Jim Grubb, the world’s best and kindest vet, was here to ease Randy into the next world. I sure hope the Rainbow Bridge is a real thing. I think we all do.

Over the holiday break, I often found myself staring off into the corners of the house to Randy’s favorite spots. I would look to the spot where Randy would catch the sun, glance at where he would patrol and tear up a little when I looked at where he would curl up and sleep so peacefully. I looked at old photos of his big dark eyes and found myself aching for that little ball of energy.

He was the constant in our house—even the kids grew up and went away as they should. But there was always Randy; hopping  into our laps, sitting at the table when nobody was looking and always alert —hanging on our every word.

Diane and I, the kids and so many others loved him, I think that’s why he stayed around for almost 19 years. Our love sustained him, and his love sustained us.

That’s how it’s supposed to be. As it’s meant to be….

Until we meet again Randy.

I know, if it’s at all possible, you will be there waiting for us.

 

8 Mayors: We Can Do Better

The recently renovated Cornell Museum features a new exhibit that celebrates OSS’ contributions to Delray Beach.

Last week, eight former mayors signed a letter in support of Old School Square.It was an extraordinary gesture. I don’t think we’ve ever seen this level of solidarity among every living former elected mayor.The eight mayors—Doak Campbell, Tom Lynch, Jay Alperin, David Schmidt, me, Rita Ellis, Woodie McDuffie and Cary Glickstein represent 33 years of service. Some have lived in Delray for 50,  60 and 70 plus years. I may be the newcomer with almost 35 years in town.We’ve seen a lot.We’ve all worked with Old School Square which has been serving Delray for 32 years.Our call to action is simple: we’d like to see the public have input into the future of Old School Square and we’d like to see a discussion/process on how to heal some of the divisions and hurts caused by our current political environment, a culture that we all feel threatens our present and our future.Old School Square is a casualty of this environment. It’s lease was terminated without notice, cause, public input or even an agenda item that may have notified it’s many supporters.Given no choice, the non-profit was forced to litigate the very city it has served. It was either sue or walk away from three decades of service and millions of dollars in assets.What’s next is costly litigation for the organization and taxpayers. There’s a better way.Here’s the letter.  It calls for our better angels to prevail. In this holiday season, it may be the best gift we can give our community.

An open letter to the citizens and stakeholders of Delray Beach:
We are a group of former mayors whose service to Delray dates to 1984.
Some of us have lived here for 60 plus years.
We love our city, but we are worried about the direction the current administration is taking.
We find our community is divided, unable or unwilling to talk and we fear that the progress we have made as a community is in danger as a result.
The most recent issue is the impulsive termination of the lease with Old School Square Center for the Arts, Inc., the non-profit organization who created and has successfully managed Old School Square for the past 32 years, without a conversation with the organization or input from the City’s diverse stakeholders who deserve a say in its future. All of us have worked closely with the dedicated volunteers at Old School Square during our terms. We believe that they are willing to work hard to improve their partnership with the city. As with any long-term relationship, we believe that any problems can be solved with open communication.
This decision to terminate Old School Square’s lease has proven to be highly controversial, but we are just as alarmed at the lack of transparency and due process when making such a monumental decision.
We must do better.
Delray has a rich history of citizen involvement. That involvement has been a key factor in our success.
But while the Old School Square termination is what’s on everyone’s mind, we see a similar pattern in the general culture of division and polarization in our city politics that has led to costly turnover and litigation.
We don’t believe this is the “Delray Way,” and while we may not ever see eye to eye on the issues, we risk losing what’s been built if we don’t call a time out and endeavor to do better as a community.
As former mayors, we understand the difficulty in leading a city as active and complex as Delray Beach.
We stand ready to assist and suggest the following:
• A charrette to gain public input on the future of Old School Square.
• A process to discuss the culture in Delray Beach so that we can find a better way forward for everyone.
We need to reverse the damage and hurt that has occurred in our town before it is too late.
Sincerely,
Mayor Doak S. Campbell III (1984-1990)
Mayor Thomas E. Lynch (1990-1996)
Mayor Dr. Jay Alperin (1996-2000)
Mayor David W. Schmidt (2000-2003)
Mayor Jeff Perlman (2003-2007)
Mayor Rita Ellis (2007-2009)
Mayor Nelson “Woodie” McDuffie (2009-2013)
Mayor Cary Glickstein (2013-2017)

Get Back Is A Joy

The iconic rooftop concert caps the documentary Get Back.

For me, and I suspect millions of others, it was a Beatles themed Thanksgiving weekend.

We watched the Peter Jackson film “Get Back” on Disney Plus and were swept away by hours of footage of John, Paul, George and Ringo (and the great Billy Preston) working to craft the album that would become “Let it Be.”

As a lifelong Beatles fan, the documentary was a total joy— although I’m not sure the casual fan can brave the 8- hour length— but if you manage to hang in, the rewards are plentiful.

The Beatles have become so iconic that we sometimes forget that they were once a working band, consisting of real people doing real things—acting goofy, cursing, arguing, laughing—and oh yes making sublime music that still sounds amazing more than 50 years later.

Last week, also marked the 20th anniversary of the death of George Harrison and I found myself mourning his loss again while watching the documentary. George was blossoming in 1969…brimming with song ideas and chafing at the constraints of being a songwriter forced to compete with the juggernaut of Lennon and McCartney.

Watching the documentary, you see the depth of the friendships between the four Beatles—the easy camaraderie, the sheer joy they found playing together. It’s really a beautiful thing to watch and does change the conventional wisdom about their break-up.

The documentary exonerates Yoko, but also hints that the lads are growing apart and life will take them in separate directions.

Are there signs of friction and impending doom?
Sure, in hindsight.

In part 1, George quits the band briefly but is talked out of it when the other three visit with him.

When he returns, you see how quickly they fall back into old patterns of warmth, humor and amazing performances whenever the light turns red and the tape is rolling.

The best part of “Get Back” is to watch the creative process unfold and to see how collaborative the recording process is— at least for The Beatles. All four contribute ideas and you get to see how the classics came to be: “Let it Be”, “The Long and Winding Road”, “Two of Us” and a whole lot of songs that ended up on Abbey Road and George’s amazing solo album “All Things Must Pass.”

You also get to see how extraordinary the Beatles were: Paul is scary gifted, John is a remarkable singer with a sharp wit, George is an emerging songwriting talent and Ringo is the glue that keeps it all together. He’s as steady as his beat.

Local resident Max Weinberg, of E Street Band fame, has helped me appreciate Ringo as a drummer. Ringo is often given short shrift, but he had the best back beat in the business and his style served the songs. He was averse to drum solos but if you listen to his fills in song after song, you begin to realize just how important Ringo was to the band. The Beatles themselves acknowledged this saying that when Ringo joined the band “everything just clicked.” He is criminally underrated.

Of course, the best part of the film is the music. But another takeaway is the magic of real partnerships.

Even toward the end of their unprecedented run, the Beatles exhibited the best of what a true partnership can be: everyone working together in a spirit of mutual love, respect and admiration. Ideas are listened to and debated. It’s a creative environment in which good ideas become better with the input of others. It’s a reminder that when we sacrifice our egos and commit to a team dynamic, wonderful things happen. It’s a lesson for all of us.

The film leaves you with so many “ifs.”

What if they just committed to giving George more songs on future albums?

What if John had lived, would they have found their way back together?

But then again, you must be appreciative that we have what we have; hundreds of great songs, decades of memories and now this film—a document that fans of great music will return to again and again to see the masters at work.

 

Thanksgiving, Values & Love For A Place

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

I am so thankful for every one of you. I’m grateful that you read my weekly ramblings and especially grateful when you provide feedback and ideas for future blogs.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it celebrates gratitude which I believe is the key to happiness.

If you are grateful for what you have, you’ll find happiness. If you are constantly fixated on what you don’t have, well that’s a recipe for sadness and frustration. I hope you choose gratitude. And I hope you live in the moment, because each one is precious.

Thanksgiving consists of two words, thanks and giving.  We are called to give thanks and we are called to give to others.

So, as we sit down with friends and family this week, I’m thinking of the community leaders who have teamed up to provide Thanksgiving meals to the needy. I think of our first responders responding to emergency calls while we relax and watch football and I think of our amazing health care workers who save lives every day or ease the pain of those they can’t. They saved me…I am trying to make my second chance count.

And I’m grateful for the community that rallied to my side and comforted my family as I struggled with a virus that has claimed over 5 million lives worldwide.

While we have come a long way, we must remain vigilant. Covid-19 has claimed more lives in 2021 than in 2020. Prayers and the wonders of medical science saved me. I’m forever thankful.

This space is often dedicated to my take on our local slice of the world. Many times, that take can be critical. But as Moliere said: “the proof of true love is to be unsparing in criticism.” I agree, Monsieur, but I don’t want to be unsparing which is just another word for merciless. We need more mercy and forgiveness in this world, not less.

I write from a place of love, affection, belief, and encouragement.

I care about my community. And I believe we can do better. I hope my words encourage good people to get off the sidelines and get involved.

From my earliest memories, I have always abhorred bullies. I was not a victim of bullying as a child—I guess everyone has had an experience or two—but I witnessed bullying and it bothered me to my core.  I’ve always felt compelled to call it out. When you do, your nose gets bloodied from time to time. But something else also happens—many times when bullying is called out, it wanes.

Recently, I have witnessed a major case of bullying regarding Old School Square. OSS has responded to that bullying with a lawsuit. Sadly, the organization was given no choice. It was either fight for their reputation and their future or walk away from decades of devotion to Delray Beach.

As you know, the City Commission voted 3-2 to terminate the non-profit’s lease after 32 years of service to the community. The vote wasn’t on any agenda, there was no call from the public for action, there was no opportunity for the organization or public to weigh in on the decision and pleas for a workshop and dialogue were ignored. More than 10,000 people signed a petition in opposition to the decision and they were dismissed. There’s something fundamentally wrong with that.

It was the worst decision I’ve seen in nearly 35 years of following local politics and trust me that’s saying a lot. I believe the decision was personal, short-sighted and lacking in basic empathy. Those are the types of subjects I feel compelled to write about.

But I still love my town.

Let me repeat, I still love my town.

Even if I hate its politics.

Even if I abhor its bullies and the behind-the-scenes puppeteers who wreak a whole lot of havoc and offer nothing productive in return.

There’s a human cost to these machinations—people lose jobs and their families suffer as a result, nearby businesses lose revenue, volunteers feel disrespected, artists lose an important venue (for the time being anyway) and taxpayers pay for it all.

I write because I want to see a better town.

I believe in the power of words, narratives, and stories to change the world or at least our slice of it.

I also write to give thanks to my civic heroes and heroines…. the people who transformed this community and improved lives along the way.

I think it’s important to say thank you to those who give their time and their hearts to our hometown.

I feel if we don’t say thank you, or if we hurt these people, we will lose our sense of community.

That does not mean that we don’t have accountability or that we ignore problems. In fact, just the opposite. When problems arise, we need to double down on dialogue and work collectively to fix issues and seize opportunities. That is the call of leadership. As a leader, you are not responsible for the answers, but you are responsible for creating an environment in which you can find a way forward—together. Always, together.

I believe that gratitude should be a community value and ingratitude should be strongly opposed.

As we speak, I’m part of a small team that is forming a private foundation. You’ll learn more in the new year about our efforts.

The foundation we are creating will celebrate generosity, kindness, warmth, and empathy. It will give back to a community we love, and it will invest in great causes.

In building this new endeavor, we have reached out to foundation leaders throughout Florida.

One foundation executive talked about creating what he called the “city generous.”

It’s a big idea, one he acknowledges will be difficult to achieve. But it’s the big ideas that change our world. It’s the big ideas that animate us as human beings and inspire us to build community.

The revitalization of Delray was a big idea too.

It gave birth to a method of doing business some affectionately called the “Delray Way.” Others, especially in our African American community, called it the “covenant.” The covenant and the Delray Way were shorthand for what we value as a community: inclusiveness, civic engagement, community building, dialogue, civility, vision, execution, a fair and open process, and a willingness to confront our issues head on and work and learn together to improve our community.

I’m not saying it was ever achieved or that things were ever perfect, but there were lots of moments where those ideals were realized and that led to every significant achievement you can think of when you think about the things we love about our town.

Those ideals gave birth to Old School Square. The abandonment of those values threatens its future and ours as well.

I would argue that the way Old School Square has been treated is a rejection of the ideals that built this town. The way that decision was made poses an existential threat to what it means to live in a caring, generous, loving, respectful and empathetic community.

Yes, that’s a big statement. But I stand by it. I feel it with every fiber of my being.

So, if you love this town, we need you to suit up and pay attention. We need you to get involved, speak up and vote.

Because once it becomes personal; once decision making becomes about payback, the slope gets very slippery.

Municipal math is an unfair master. It can take 30 years to build something of value, but only a few months to undo it all, and there’s no guarantee you will ever get it back.

This Thanksgiving, I wish you peace, love, health and happiness. And I wish for us to get back to a place of looking forward not back, of healing not hurt, of love not malice. I’m hoping that next Thanksgiving we will be able to give thanks for a restoration of our civic  values and spirit.

 

 

In My Life…

StoryWorth is a wonderful gift.

Last Father’s Day, my kids teamed up and got me a truly great gift.

It’s called StoryWorth.

StoryWorth sends you a question every Monday morning that is designed to provoke thought and get you to write a short essay that is then emailed to your kids (or others) so they can learn more about your life.

It’s a great way to learn more about your mom, dad, grandparents etc.

The stories are saved to a website and then after a year you can create a keepsake book that contains all of the essays you’ve written. It’s ideal for me because I love to write. It’s also an easy way to write a book—one bite at a time.

I’ve been at this for a few months now and I find myself looking forward to Monday’s question. It’s a good way to get your brain started for the week.

Here’s a sampling of some of the questions I’ve answered:

Are you still friends with any of your classmates from grade school? (Yes, see last week’s blog)

Did you consider other careers?

Which fads did you embrace growing up?

What is one of the strangest things that has ever happened to you?

If you don’t like a question, you can simply ask for another one and StoryWorth delivers.

Last week’s question was one of my favorites: What have been some of your life’s greatest surprises?

The question resonated with me because I immediately thought of a line from the John Lennon song “Beautiful Boy” —“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

How true.

And I started to think about how much of life is a surprise.

I never dreamt of living in Florida—surprise! I’ve been here since 1987.

I never thought I’d be mayor of a city—but surprise I was.

I never thought I’d with work with a world class entrepreneur, ring the bell at NASDAQ, work for a beverage company, own a newspaper (after leaving newspapers), be involved with real estate, work for a foundation, start a non-profit or survive a pandemic.

Life is a surprise. A wonderful, miraculous surprise.

I did plan a few things—marriage, children, a career in journalism, writing a book and someday owning a vacation home in New England. So, keep planning is my advice, but also be open to the twists and turns of life. That’s where the gold is often found.

I’m in the midst of writing a play (also a surprise) and in the play the song “Moon River” from the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” plays a small but pivotal role.

Moon River is quite a  song.

It’s only about two minutes long but it’s about the river of life and the twists and turns you don’t see coming. It’s a poignant song. It’s also achingly beautiful.

Moon River helps you realize that life is unpredictable and that it would be wonderful if you could live multiple lives because each road you go down would be a different experience. When I went home to Stony Brook recently to visit with old friends, I thought about how different my life would have been if I had stayed or returned to live in my hometown.

But we are only given one life at a time, and we need to make choices.

A friend recently asked me if I had any regrets, and the truth is I just don’t think that way. I’ve made a boat load of mistakes, we all do, but I’ve learned from every one of them. I don’t regret those mistakes, I try not to repeat the same ones, but I appreciate the lessons they taught me. The stumbles, bumbles, bumps and bruises brought me to the place I am today and that’s a pretty good place. I’m thankful for it all.

I’m often asked by young people in politics and business for advice and while I enjoy sharing my experience, I’d rather talk about their aspirations. They are the future. I am the past. The past is important (and never really past as the saying goes), but the todays and tomorrows are more important.

I’ve come to realize that we are all on an individual path—a unique journey. I urge those I meet with to be conscious, intentional and appreciative of each step of the journey because life goes fast and these experiences—even the remarkable moments– are fleeting.

Young love grows into a mature relationship—if you’re lucky. The excitement of a new career dulls over time but also becomes richer in other ways once you learn the ropes.

I’ve been surprised by it all—in so many ways. In hindsight, I’ve loved every era— even the years of struggle because they made me a better, stronger person.

I feel for those who are not self-aware and those who cannot connect to others including their own selves. They are missing the best part of life—the surprises (and the planned stuff too).

Some dreams do come true. Yes, they do. And some stuff just happens and that’s wonderful too.

 

In memoriam

I woke up Thursday morning and learned that we had lost artist Peter Pereira.

Peter died unexpectedly at his Delray Beach home. We were texting recently when I was in New York and had planned to get together after Thanksgiving. I had been trying to help Peter find work.

He was a gifted artist and cartoonist who did a lot of work for the Delray Newspaper, of which I was an owner. He also served on the Public Art Advisory Board, an entity we created when I was on the City Commission. Peter was interested in the early days of the board, and we recently met in Boca to discuss his career and future aspirations.

He was a sweet man, a talented person and very supportive of others. He will be missed by everyone. His cartoons depicting life in Delray were truly unique.

We also mourn the loss of Jerry Hildebrand, a giant in the social entrepreneurship space who spent the past four years changing the lives of students at Lynn University where he ran the Social Impact Lab. I had the privilege of serving on his board. He taught me and others so much.

 

Lynn University President Kevin Ross reflected that Jerry “created a new generation of hands-on, solution-minded pragmatists that pioneered practical, inventive and sustainable approaches to addressing the world’s most pressing social issues. We will miss Jerry’s tenacity, ability to see the possible, and his will to make the world a better place.”

That sums it up. Jerry was a force of nature. I will treasure the times we spent together, especially our long lunches and breakfasts where he spoke passionately about the need to heal the world. By creating young ambassadors and dispatching them all over the globe, he left a legacy of service, caring and love. He was quite a guy and universally beloved.

 

 

Sometimes you miss…

About 10 years ago, a colleague Greg Horn, former CEO of GNC and a product creator with an early role in Celsius, took me to the Space Coast of Florida to meet a young, visionary entrepreneur named RJ Scaringe.

RJ was running a start-up called Avera Motors and was looking for investors. He had a doctorate from MIT and was passionate about disrupting the auto industry. I was very impressed and thought it might make sense to offer an investment and lure the company to Palm Beach County to create a new industry and high paying jobs.

I couldn’t make it happen.

Ugh.

Last week, RJ was back in the news when his company—now named Rivian—went public at a valuation of $91 billion. That’s billion with a B. It ended the week at well over $100 billion in value.

Investors included Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Ford Motor Company, who out maneuvered GM to gain a piece of the company worth probably $7-10 billion. Not bad.

Apparently, Amazon is going to buy a slew of Rivian’s electric truck fleet for deliveries. The company will make its trucks in Illinois.

RJ pivoted from a diesel hybrid power train to electric, showing that the great entrepreneurs are open to new ideas.
While I thought RJ’s original business plan was awesome, I was totally sold on his passion, vision, energy and smarts.

What a big miss…..but keep an eye on that company because it’s going places. And keep an eye out for the next disrupter too.

 

Old Friends Are Good For The Soul

Celebrating decades of friendship at Avalon nature trail in Stony Brook, NY.

Forty years ago, in September of 1981, my friends and I hopped on the Long Island railroad and went to see Simon & Garfunkel perform in Central Park.

It was a legendary evening immortalized in a hit live album and film. For us, it was an adventure; an experience… another chapter in a deep bank of memories.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were already sort of an oldies act when they took the stage and sang their timeless classics.

“Old friends, old friends
Sat on their park bench like bookends”

The song is about childhood friends who sit together on a park bench a lifetime of memories between them.

In the song, the characters are 70 and they find that fact to be strange.

Can you imagine us years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy

Where did life go, they wonder. And so do we all.

Back in ‘81, we were 16 and 17, we had just gotten our driver’s licenses and our first cars.

A green ‘67 Mustang for Ben, a ‘69 Karmann Ghia for Dewey and oddly, a 76 AMC Pacer for Scott who insisted that the car was really a squat version of a Porsche. Nice try…Scott.

Life for us, was just beginning. We were loving high school, chasing young women with mixed success, going to parties on weekends and watching something called a music video on a new station called MTV.

College, marriage, careers, children, homes, travel and all the other stuff was all ahead for us.

It was a special time. Our parents and grandparents and beloved aunts and uncles were alive and very much in our lives. The mysteries of life were still there to be experienced for the first time.

They were truly the “wonder years” and we were experiencing them together. We spent our time talking about the future into the wee hours of the morning on deserted beach roads on the east end of Long Island.

Last weekend, several of us left our lives behind to meet back home in Stony Brook for a quick mini-reunion. We visited old haunts, fell into old taunts and drank wine and bourbon way past our normal bedtimes.

We are 57 now. Still young and spry enough to kick up a little trouble but old enough to see that 70 year old man on the park bench and realize we are fast approaching that part of our lives if we are fortunate enough to get there.  We know there are no guarantees.

A few of us have had scares and were left scarred by what life throws at all of us. A serious bout of melanoma, Covid, divorce, financial crises, business ups and downs and the loss of people we knew to cancer, heart attacks, strokes and crashes both plane and car.

Nobody gets out unscathed. It seems to be the law.

But it’s the “in betweens” that matter too. The joys which are so abundant.

We have all found love, we all have kids we are proud of, we have all done well in our careers. We have also experienced the joys of friendship. The flat out miracle of enduring bonds that formed when we were 5,6 and 8 years old that have lasted a half century.

From Nixon to Biden, from rotary dial phones to smart phones and from MTV to Netflix. The one constant for me and for the others has been each other.

We have been there for one another  at every step of the journey and at this stage it’s a reasonable assumption that will always be true.

Together and collectively, we’ve travelled a million miles and gone a million places. I am so proud of these guys. They are good men in a world where that is not a given.

During the height of the pandemic, my oldest friend Dave, organized a regular Zoom call for all of us to gather and share wine, spirits and conversation. The zoom happy hours helped us all get through the isolation of lockdowns.

Those calls were a lifeline and a joy. Old stories that make us laugh, gaps in our memories filled, new stories and plenty of debates about the day’s news. I loved every call and they are ongoing.

When I got a bad case of Covid, I couldn’t participate for two months or so. But as I lay on my back too weak to sit up and too sick to walk across the room, I could count on a steady stream of texts from my brothers. Funny messages. Encouraging words. Hopeful questions. I felt the care and concern. And I thought “my goodness, I may never see these guys again.”

If Covid takes me out, I won’t be on that park bench when I’m 70 telling the story of that time in the parking lot of Mario’s… But, miraculously I made it home and back to the calls and my friends.

We resolved that when vaccines were out and it was safer to meet that we would get together.

We used to get together every few years as a group but life got in the way. We got busy. We all get busy.

But this time we met—back home where we came of age— together.

The details of the weekend are private but suffice it to say that we did a lot more worrisome things when we were teenage boy’s roaming those winding roads of the Three Villages in unsafe muscle cars with questionable brakes.

I do want to say that if you are lucky enough to have an old friend or two or 10, make sure to see them while you can. Zoom is great. So are texts. But live and in person beats Facebook, FaceTime and WhatsApp.

The park bench looms large these days. I can see it in a dozen years of so.

I hope to make it.  I trust these guys will meet me there.

The New Wave Is Here…

A weekly dose of goodness.

The Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce is an oasis of warmth and community in what can sometimes feel like an endless sea of negativity.

Like many locals, I’ve been moping about the short-sighted decision to kick Old School Square to the curb after 32 years of service to the community.
But just when you feel like chucking it all and moving to Maine, here comes the Chamber of Commerce to the rescue.

They did the same thing last year, when in the midst of our Covid gloom, they took the time to honor hometown heroes.
That event was a Valentine to the community. A much needed, deeply appreciated Valentine.

This time, the Chamber saved the day with an event at the gorgeous new Ray Hotel that honored local business leaders in an array of categories.
My wife and I were in Maine buying that escape property so we couldn’t attend the event. And then we were off to Polk County to pick up our new puppy so I couldn’t get to the Delray Morning Live Show that celebrated the winners and nominees.

I regret missing these events because I appreciate the Chamber, was honored to be nominated for a community service award, and am a big fan of all the nominees.
These men and women represent the best of this city and serve as a reminder that we can have a bright future. A very bright future if…if we stop tearing things down and start supporting those who are hard at work building the future.

These people are exceptional and they have a passion for Delray Beach that is inspiring.

Let’s start with Jamael Stewart and Amanda Perna, the co-hosts of Delray Morning Live.
The show is simply outstanding and serves as a weekly pick me up for all who watch. The chemistry between the hosts is palpable and so is the positivity. Add in great guests, humor and tons of local information and you have a recipe for success.

Amanda and Jamael are great people. I admire Amanda’s world class design skills and her entrepreneurial chops which includes a retail store “A Little Wyld” and her design business “House of Perna.”

Jamael is a local success story who coaches football, volunteers tirelessly and is a master marketer for local attorney (and all around good guy) Lee Cohen.
Jamael was raised here. He was helped by great mentors like C. Ron Allen and Michael Coleman . He  is proud of Delray. We are proud of you too ,Jamael. And glad that you live and breathe your hometown.

I’m also impressed by Shaun Hall, who runs a company called Viral Vision Marketing.
Shaun is passionate about helping local non-profits and while he’s very humble, be assured he is someone to watch. He’s making an impact. That’s good news, because his heart is in the right place.

Another extraordinary leader is Business Person of the Year Allison Turner of BatCat Media.
Allison is kind, smart and dedicated to this city. And if you don’t follow her on social media, you are missing some great messages and some amazing photos of her long walks through town. I’m so thrilled she won.

There were other worthy winners and nominees: Lionfish, a great new spot from the people at Clique Hospitality and Menin Development, Johnny Mackey of Shamrock Restoration, Robes Law Group, Milagro Center, The Institute for Regional Conservation, Anna Hess and the visionaries behind Masterwing Creative. And let’s not forget Debra Tendrich, a talented non-profit leader with Eat Better, Live Better with a heart for public service.

These are the type of leaders who move the needle.

Entrepreneurial energy is essential to a city’s success.

Entrepreneurs by their nature are creative, passionate and energetic. They embrace risk, have vision and are fueled by a belief that tomorrow can be better than today.

These are the people who move a place forward.

They work hard. They play hard. They love—deeply and when they find a place they fall for they will take you places you never knew existed.

I’m passionate about the dreamers, the doers, the givers and those who support and light the way for these special people.

Way back when, when we dreamed of the future at a visioning event or a community goal setting session, we dreamt that our town would attract and retain people like Amanda, Shaun, Jamael, Allison and so many more.

I, for one, am glad they are here.

They make me bullish about our future.

Yes, we bought that place in Maine because it’s on my bucket list and Covid reminded me that we don’t get to live forever and the sand is flying fast through my personal hourglass.

Even casual readers of this blog (I appreciate you all) know I’ve been profoundly disappointed with some of the recent events in our town. No sense in sugar coating things.
But thanks to organizations like the chamber, I’m excited about the future. I can’t wait to see where our talented young business leaders will take this city. The sky is the limit. I’ve been a believer in Delray since the first time I laid eyes on the place back in 1987.
I still believe.
Yes I do.

Random thoughts:
I found myself deeply moved by the loss of General Colin Powell who died of Covid last week.
I had the privilege of meeting him briefly during a visit he made to Delray years ago. If I remember correctly, he went to the Boys and Girls Club and maybe the Full Service Center. My mom went to high school with him in The Bronx which I used as an icebreaker. He was a warm and friendly man and the kids he visited with that day were in awe. His America’s Promise effort touched a lot of lives thanks to Rita Thrasher and others in Boca. He will be missed.

I watched with a fair degree of nausea a slick video produced by the City of Delray Beach on how the city is saving the day by using Parks employees to staff events the non-profit is no longer equipped to do thanks to the city’s decision to cut off funding and end its lease.
It’s like an arsonist taking credit for putting out the fire they started. Not a good look for new City Manager Terrance Moore to be out front on a wildly unpopular and short sighted decision.
Taxpayers should be asking how much this is costing. I asked a commissioner that question and was told that the manager found “efficiencies”—which is bureaucratese or bs, take your pick. There’s no way these “efficiencies” can be more efficient than having a non-profit provide those services rather than government.
Mr. Moore seems like a kind man.  And I get that he has to carry out the will of a majority of his bosses.

But he would be well served to expand his circle by talking to people who made OSS go for three plus decades. It would serve us and him well if he did so.

On a positive note, one of the best lessons from the life of Colin Powell was his ability to own his mistakes which he did after falsely telling the United Nations that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
When that assertion proved false, General Powell admitted he was wrong. He gained a lot of admirers by doing so. Maybe that kind of character and integrity will return to politics at all levels.

 

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.