Editor’s note: The sadness in South Florida is palpable. We watched coverage of funeral services in Boca Raton and Parkland filled with the tears of parents, students, teachers and friends left grief stricken. We are all touched and connected in more ways than we know. On our social media feeds we saw people we knew whose children were friends with those lost in the mass shooting. A man I used to coach in Little League many, many years ago, shared his grief over losing a friend of his son that he once coached. The circle. Connections. Humanity. We hope we find ways to act and to connect. I hope this is the tipping point. The students left behind at Douglas High are resolved to make lasting and positive change. I wouldn’t bet against them.

When my daughter told us she wanted to be a teacher we were proud and delighted.

We are a family that cherishes education—especially public education.

Our daughter Sam went to public elementary schools, a private middle school in Delray that we felt would help her with a learning disability and graduated from Atlantic High School. She went to Palm Beach State College and earned an associate’s degree before heading off to the University of South Florida to study Exceptional Student Education.

USF has a great program because Sam spent a whole lot of time in the classroom working with ESE students before she was hired to teach in Hillsborough County. She started her career with a fair amount of experience and exposure as a result of internships and student teaching. She knew what she was signing up for. And as a student who overcame a learning disability, she had the heart for students who are exceptional.

I’m not sure that our family knew as much as she did despite our long term involvement in education as volunteers and parents.

I never thought that teaching was a dangerous profession. I knew it was a difficult and stressful job, but I never felt that my daughter would be in danger working in a public school.

How naïve, I was.

Although it shouldn’t be considered dangerous and I don’t think she’s unsafe, we are now well aware that there are dangers.

School shootings—mass shootings—massacres have been a part of our national conversation since Columbine in 1999.

“How Many Times”, blared the headline in the New York Post just above a picture of a crying mother and her daughter outside of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in picturesque and upscale Parkland where 17 people were murdered by a deranged former student carrying an AR-15 assault rifle.

Since Sandy Hook in December 2012 (still the worse mass school shooting in U.S. history with 20 dead) there have been 273 school shootings in America. Twelve of those shootings are considered “mass” events. Overall, 473 people have been shot and 112 people have been killed.

According to the New York Times there are 7 school shooting incidents on average every month in America.

So yes, I now think my daughter has a dangerous job as well as a difficult job.

When I was a kid, we used to drill for a nuclear war by hiding under our desks. We didn’t really know what we were doing and I don’t remember a lot of worries about being bombed. Maybe my teachers were scared but I didn’t pick up on it.

A few years back, teachers would prep for tornados in areas prone to those, but that has morphed into active shooter drills all over the country.

By all accounts, the students and teachers at Douglas High were aware of and prepared for a shooting. They had drilled. They had talked about being vigilant and paying attention to students making threats. But it’s hard to prepare for someone coming at you with a lot of ammunition and a weapon that is lethal.


Jim Cavanaugh — a former ATF agent who is an MSNBC law-enforcement expert — points out that if someone can walk across your parking lot with a long gun and enter your school or business, “You don’t have security.” I get that. But how many places in America are prepared for that scenario and what would we be giving up if somehow we were?

Being a parent these days is a nerve wracking endeavor.

I remember talking to my daughter about roofies (date rape drugs), drinking and driving, peer pressure, inappropriate behavior and a whole host of other things awaiting her out there.

For years, we slept with one eye open, waiting for our children to come home at curfew.

But I thought she would be safe teaching young children in a cute little elementary school in Tampa.

When you talk to teachers—you hear stories. Stories about community and family dysfunction—violence, abuse, drugs, alcohol, financial stress, neglect.

When I was involved with Dare 2 Be Great, a charitable organization that gave scholarships to Delray children we heard a litany of stories during our interviews. We kept tissues close by because what our children go through breaks your heart. Right down the street from $30 hamburgers and expensive real estate are countless stories of neglect and violence.

And we know that society doesn’t stop at the doors of our schools. We also know that teachers and support staff provide love, attention, social services, an ear, nutrition and even clothing to the children they work with every day.

I don’t see answers coming from Washington. Forget gun control. It has been made an all or nothing argument. If you favor restrictions on assault weapons and background checks on sales you are against the Second Amendment.

I tell some of my friends who lean more conservative than I ever will, that I support the right to bear arms, I just don’t think there is any need to have military grade weapons with more firepower than our Police Department possesses or that people with histories of mental illness or violence should have them.

Most of my conservative friends get that. Most of them agree, but Congress can’t act.

Did they address “bump stocks” after Las Vegas? Did anything meaningful happen nationally after Sandy Hook?

Congress is a joke. The Founding Fathers would be ashamed. They can’t solve a problem or seize an opportunity and that’s on us. We stand for what we tolerate. And we tolerate a ridiculously partisan system awash in special interest cash. I think partisanship that values victories over the opposition is unpatriotic. It’s a disgusting disgrace.

I think most people agree since Congress has approval ratings in the single digits. I’d like to know who the 9 percent of Americans that think they are doing a good job are.

I know a few members of Congress and they don’t think the House or Senate works.

But we stand for it.

So I think the answers can be found locally. On the city and county level.

We can prepare and we can drill and we should. We can add metal detectors and security guards and we should. We can take a look at our mental health services and rush to bring more social services to those who need it. And we should.

But there’s something fundamental happening here.

In our society.

In our homes.

In our neighborhoods.

On social media. On cable TV and on the Internet.

There’s something that our humanity has to address.

Until then, our sons and daughters, our teachers, administrators, support staff and everyone in between—including concert goers at a Country Music Festival are at risk.

We are not safe.

And dammit, we should be.

A Delray Valentine

We are less than a month out from the Delray Beach Municipal Election and the mud is flying. (Mostly, in one direction but I digress).

If you didn’t know better and you lived exclusively on Facebook, you’d think we were living in war torn Somalia. But you read this blog so you do know better.

That said, we think Delray deserves a little love this Valentine’s Day.

So here’s a list of things to appreciate about Delray Beach.

The Arts Garage—where else in South Florida can you count on seeing world class live music on a regular basis in an intimate venue in a convenient location? This gem of a place regularly features amazing musicians and you can even bring your own wine. We saw Grammy nominated Negroni’s Trio last week and left there smiling from ear to ear. This weekend, we will check out Max Weinberg’s Jukebox and revel in the company of a rock and roll hall of famer, E Street Band mainstay and a guy who might have the best backbeat in the business. Only in Delray.


The Arts Warehouse—is opening and she’s a beauty, with affordable studios, community space and local artists milling about. A great vision—courtesy of our beleaguered but invaluable CRA. P.S. You can’t spell Delray Beach without the C, the R and the A.


Seagate Hotel—on a Thursday night. Check it out. It’s a scene. Music, drinks, dancing and some really interesting outfits. And to think, this was controversial when it was first proposed.


Beer Trade Company—if you like craft beers and ciders, you have to check out Beer Trade on Fourth Avenue. A great locals scene, friendly staff, a serve yourself system which is simple and risotto balls that probably ought to be illegal because they are that good.


Harvest Restaurant—we’ve lived here so long we can remember when there was no place to dine, even on Atlantic Avenue. Now we are seeing the foodie scene migrate to other parts of the city and that is good news. Harvest serves healthy food, is beautifully designed, has a great indoor /outdoor bar and even has a fireplace for when the temperatures dip into the 70s. While you are off the beaten path make sure to check out Sushi Thai Fusion, the new Sardinia in the same South Federal Plaza and in a shameless plug 5th Avenue Grill and La Cigale. Also don’t forget wine dinners at Caffe Luna Rosa—a Delray staple. (See if you can find my picture on the wall and if you do, try not to laugh).

But the point is you don’t have to be on the avenue anymore to enjoy good food.


The Delray Open—we love going to the Delray Open, where you can see some of the best tennis players on the planet under the stars and around the block from where you live. What small city can make that claim? The event starts this week with a senior event featuring Hall of Famer John McEnroe who seems to love Delray too.


Lake Ida Park—winter afternoons in Lake Ida Park provides a perfect setting for a long walk with your dog or just a lawn chair and a good book.


The Downtowner—they are just fun to watch and to see the creativity of the local advertisers.

DDA Videos—simply amazing. Check them out and see how good the town looks.


Delray Historical Society—we plan to check out the new exhibit this week. It’s nice to see the Cason Cottage come to life.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!





A North Star Is Essential

As a close observer–and one time participant in city government– the biggest lesson I have learned is that cities get in trouble when they don’t have a ‘North Star’ to chase.

A North Star is another term for vision—an overarching set of goals that is compelling enough to include and excite just about everyone.

The vision should be citizen -driven, i.e. it must originate from a cross section of people in your city and it must be big enough to inspire as many stakeholders as possible.

The North Star must appeal to young and old, black and white, retiree and young professional.

Again, it can’t come from on high (elected officials or senior staff) it must come from the grass roots.

But it’s up to the grass tops (elected officials and senior staff) to deliver results. Elected leaders can lead the effort, they just can’t dominate it. If it’s going to last, it can’t be about them. It has to be about the community.

Having a compelling vision is your best economic development incentive and the best marketing possible for your city. If you sell the vision and that vision makes sense, it will attract investment, draw residents to your city and spark civic involvement.

How do I know this?
Because I saw it happen in Delray Beach.

There are several Delray examples of North Stars and if we value history and we should, now is a good time to take a look back so that we can find a way forward past division, dysfunction and inertia.

The Mayor’s 1984 Atlantic Avenue Task Force focused Delray on the potential of its historic downtown and on the threat of a DOT plan to convert the avenue into a high speed hurricane evacuation route.

The Mayor and Commission at the time wisely knew that a high speed road would ruin any chance of redeveloping the avenue into a pedestrian friendly warm and inviting place.  As a result, it was a hugely valuable effort—that warded off the state’s plans and gave our downtown a chance to succeed.

But, it was Visions 2000 that would prove transformational.

A cross section of citizens came together in the late 1980s to envision a better future for all of Delray Beach.

At roughly the same time, a citizen driven movement—launched by a home builder/developer but quickly joined by a large coalition of the willing—focused the city on the need to upgrade local schools.  The North Star spoke to the need and the potential: Delray schools needed help if we were ever going to attract families and businesses and if we worked together and partnered with the School Board we could make things happen.

“Sharing for Excellence”—spearheaded by Tom Fleming but embraced by citizens and the city’s leadership–gave us magnet programs such as the Montessori at Spady, a new Carver Middle School and a range of other upgrades. It positioned Delray as an active participant in local schools and we became the first city to hire an Education Coordinator and form an Education Advisory Board. I still remember a fateful lunch at the old Annex in Pineapple Grove when Janet Meeks, then a planner, presented her ideas to be our first ever Education Coordinator. We made the move and Janet has delivered remarkable results, including a third All America City thanks to the success of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading that she has led.

We had the confidence to experiment because of Sharing for Excellence’s vison and the momentum and culture it created.

The spirit of the times and the excitement of the possibilities spurred the Chamber of Commerce to raise money for schools through an Education Foundation and created inspiration for building a new high school with career academies, including a Criminal Justice Academy staffed by local police officers. And the list goes on; including a vocational charter school created by our two employees of our Police Department (first ever in the state to do so I believe) and programs such as Eagle’s Nest, in which students in Atlantic’s High School Construction Career Academy built affordable homes on lots donated by the city and financed by the CRA. That’s cool stuff. And it changes lives—students found careers and productive lives as a result of these programs.

Creating a citizen driven North Star provides a clarion call for involvement and also inspires people to get off the sidelines and get involved in the community.

Visions 2000 had an even more profound impact leading to the Decade of Excellence bond—a huge investment that taxpayers overwhelmingly approved. Imagine that: taxpayers voting to go into debt and raise their taxes so that they can improve their city. Those types of votes go down in flames if they are driven by elected leaders and staff without public involvement and buy-in.

While the investment was huge–$21.5 million for infrastructure and beautification, the equivalent of $42.7 million in today’s dollars—the city successfully implemented the list of projects giving citizens’ confidence in their local government’s ability to deliver. That’s invaluable, because it allowed future commission’s to make other big bets and it’s the big bets that distinguished Delray as a great place to live, work, play and invest.

The successful implementation of the Decade of Excellence bond allowed a commission that I served on to move forward with an ambitious Downtown Master Plan, Cultural Plan, Southwest Plan, Congress Avenue Plan etc. Every one of those efforts included and were driven by grassroots involvement and passion, especially the Downtown Master Plan and Southwest Plan—the grassroots telling the grasstops what to do.

As a policymaker, it’s wonderful to have a North Star—a vision plan that you can follow.

First, it helps you prioritize spending/investment and it helps you make hard decisions. For example, when faced with a tough vote— on say a development project —it helps if you can tie the decision to the vision. It also helps you say no to things that just don’t fit.

Elected officials get in trouble when they fly without a net—and often times you see them lean on personal preferences, their own pet peeves, personal agendas etc. in the absence of an agreed upon vision. You also see them begin to squabble, because it’s hard to be a “team” if you don’t have a playbook. Commission tension leads to dysfunction, inefficiencies, wasteful spending and a dispirited staff. When scared, bureaucracies freeze. It’s safer to do nothing than to make a decision that may upset a faction on the commission. This type of culture is not a recipe for progress or problem solving.

The worst officials use their positions to exert retribution—which leads to all sorts of issues including a form of ‘pay to play’ in which individuals and business owners feel they have to spread money around at election time or risk seeing their projects killed as payback for failing to pony up. Cities without an adopted vision or North Star create vacuums that are often filled by political bosses who lurk in the shadows to reward friends and punish enemies. Serious investors shun these types of cities because the risk is just too large and the price of playing ball is too high—both financially and ethically.


Still, even if you are in service to a vision there is ample room for personal judgment and discretion if you are a mayor or council member. And it doesn’t mean you can’t pursue some of your own ideas if you are talented enough to convince your colleagues and lead the public to a new understanding on issues. That’s called leadership.

It’s also important to note that North Stars and vision plans –even when created by lots of people –are not immune to political opposition.

The Downtown Master Plan is a case in point. We had hundreds of participants involved in the plan from all parts of the city but when it came time to vote on projects that supported the plan, we still had vocal opposition, typically from people who didn’t bother to show up at the variety of charrettes, workshops and presentations held throughout the community.

That’s OK. But it’s also a test of leadership.

Do you abandon the plan at the first sign of opposition?
Or do you use the occasion as a “teachable moment” to defend the plan, explain why it works and vote accordingly?
Delray was known as the city that stuck to its plans and didn’t let them gather dust on some shelf in the back corner of the Planning Department.

That’s why we came from where we were in the 80s—blighted and desolate—to where we are today.

I know that modern day Delray is not everyone’s idea of a good place. But what we see is largely what was planned (by citizens and implemented by staff and elected officials over a long period of time).

Sure not everything turned out the way we thought it would—and that is inevitable too. Economic conditions, changing trends, private property rights and the free market play a major role too. For example, I don’t think anyone anticipated rents on the avenue that in some cases exceed $100 per square foot or commercial properties selling for over $1,300 a foot. In the 80s, we had a high vacancy rate and rents were $6-$8 a foot.

Still, by and large, we envisioned, planned and worked to create a vibrant small city—and we got one.

I happen to love it. So do many, many others.

But all cities are works in progress and visions and North Stars need to be renewed.

My friends Chris Brown and Kim Briesemeister wrote a book about just that called “Reinventing Your City”. Their theory is that cities have to be reinvented every 20-25 years.

If you reinvent and find a North Star to strive for, you’ll thrive. If you fail to do so, you’ll drift…dangerously I venture to say.

We are overdo. We need a North Star, a unifying vision that can bring a divided community together.

We also need citizens to participate and leadership to defend the people’s vision. That’s the formula for a happy and successful community. Easy to articulate, hard to attain. But it has been done and we can do it again.

Making Never Again A Reality

CBS 4 Anchor Rick Folbaum interviews Ben Ferencz at Boca West.

Benjamin Ferencz is barely 5 feet tall, but he is a giant of a man.

At age 98, the Delray Beach resident, remains a passionate crusader for human rights, international law and a living testament to the horrors of genocide.

He is the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg trials and captivated a room full of people at Boca West last week with his experiences and life lessons– which remain relevant to our world today.

Mr. Ferencz was the keynote speaker at a dinner that raises funds and awareness for the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.

Mr. Ferencz was born in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania in 1920. When he was ten months old his family moved to America. His earliest memories are of his small basement apartment in a neighborhood known as “Hell’s Kitchen.” Even at an early age, he felt a deep yearning for universal friendship and world peace. He also found an early love for the law, having witnessed crime, he told the audience he wanted to be on the side of the law—and the good guys.

After he graduated from Harvard Law School in 1943, he joined an anti-aircraft artillery battalion preparing for the invasion of France. As an enlisted man under General Patton, he fought in every campaign in Europe. As Nazi atrocities were uncovered, he was transferred to a newly created War Crimes Branch of the Army to gather evidence of Nazi brutality and apprehend the criminals.

“Indelibly seared into my memory are the scenes I witnessed while liberating these centers of death and destruction. Camps like Buchenwald, Mauthausen, and Dachau are vividly imprinted in my mind’s eye. Even today, when I close my eyes, I witness a deadly vision I can never forget-the crematoria aglow with the fire of burning flesh, the mounds of emaciated corpses stacked like cordwood waiting to be burned…. I had peered into hell,” he said in a 1988 interview.


On the day after Christmas 1945, Ferencz was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army with the rank of Sergeant of Infantry. He returned to New York and prepared to practice law. Shortly thereafter, he was recruited for the Nuremberg war crimes trials. The International Military Tribunal prosecution against German Field Marshal, Herman Goering and other leading Nazis was already in progress under the leadership the American Prosecutor, Robert M. Jackson on leave from the U.S. Supreme Court.


The U.S. had decided to prosecute a broad cross section of Nazi criminals once the trial against Goering and his henchmen was over. General Telford Taylor was assigned as Chief of Counsel for 12 subsequent trials.

Mr. Ferencz was sent with about fifty researchers to Berlin to scour Nazi offices and archives. In their hands lay overwhelming evidence of Nazi genocide by German doctors, lawyers, judges, generals, industrialists, and others who played leading roles in organizing or perpetrating Nazi brutalities. Without pity or remorse, the SS murder squads killed every Jewish man, woman, and child they could lay their hands on. Gypsies, communist functionaries, and Soviet intellectuals suffered the same fate. It was tabulated that over a million persons were deliberately murdered by these special “action groups.

Mr. Ferencz became Chief Prosecutor for the United States in The Einsatzgruppen Case, which the Associated Press called “the biggest murder trial in history.” Twenty-two defendants were charged with murdering over a million people. He was only 27. It was his first case.

All of the defendants were convicted and 13 were sentenced to death.

Mr. Ferencz emphasized that the men he prosecuted were generals and PhD’s; evidence he said that war can warp the hearts and minds of educated and accomplished people.

The verdict was hailed as a great success for the prosecution. Mr. Ferencz’s primary objective had been to establish a legal precedent that would encourage a more humane and secure world in the future.

His lifelong motto became “law not war” and he told the crowd in Boca Raton last week that his work is not done; the mission remains elusive as we experience genocide in places like Rwanda, Syria, Myanmar etc.

Even at this advanced age—though he does 120 pushups every morning—he continues to work for the cause. He travels extensively to speak and advocate and was recently featured on 60 Minutes.

“Nuremberg taught me that creating a world of tolerance and compassion would be a long and arduous task. And I also learned that if we did not devote ourselves to developing effective world law, the same cruel mentality that made the Holocaust possible might one day destroy the entire human race.”

We felt honored and lucky to see and hear him speak. As guests of Shelly and Billy Himmelrich—two longtime supporters of the museum (Shelly was recently honored with a national award for her work with the museum) we were motivated to support the mission.

Eli Wiesel said the best museums pose questions, not answers and he is correct.

As a young journalist I had the opportunity to travel to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The experience was indelible and motivated me to get involved with Steven Spielberg’s “Survivors of the Shoah” program which was launched after he made the movie “Schindler’s List.”

That experience allowed to meet survivors and to research their experiences.

It’s important for current and future generations to study history, because what happened in the past informs our present and our future.

While it is a rare occurrence to be in a room with a living legend like Ben Ferencz, if we open our eyes there’s a lot of history we can access in our communities.

If we talk to our parents and grandparents and ask them about their lives and experiences we are sure to learn great lessons.

I have been truly blessed in my life to have a father still alive and vibrant, grandparents who were wonderful storytellers and who lived rich lives and friends who have seen and experienced a lot of history.

On occasion—when invited—I will eat breakfast at Donnie’s Place with a group of Elders who never fail to educate me on local history, race relations and what Delray Beach was like “back in the day.”

I also have another close friend who reads widely on history and is generous to share what he learns over monthly lunches.

The opportunities are there. It is important that we never forget and it is also important that we share what we have learned.



12 Things We Liked About January

A dozen things we liked in January

  1. The Delray Chamber’s installation of Rob Posillico as the new chair. Rob is a dedicated chamber volunteer and a talented young business leader who understands the importance of an effective business community to a city’s well-being.
  2. The private dining section at the Seagate Hotel is simply terrific. If you have a small group gathering and want to show some class book a room, you won’t forget it.
  3. The chicken francese at La Cigale is magnificent. It just defies description.
  4. We enjoyed an excellent cybersecurity seminar with Brad Deflin of Total Digital Security in Delray this month courtesy of JP Morgan. Great information, albeit scary. There are a lot of threats out there. Be careful.
  5. Lunch on the deck at Prime Catch overlooking the Intracoastal on a nice day is simply hard to beat.
  6. Sometimes you have to get out of Boca/Delray and try a new experience. We did with gourmet Mexican at the wonderful Eduardo De San Angel in Fort Lauderdale. It was sublime and we saw a few Delray folks dining there as well.
  7. Boca makes Livability’s 2018 Top 100 Places to Live list. Boca beat out 2,100 US cities. Very cool.
  8. It was good to see the non-profit Connected Warriors open their doors at Boca’s Innovation Campus.
  9. Kudos to the City of Boca’s Office of Economic Development on the launch of its new quarterly newsletter. Lots happening in Boca and this publication captures a lot of it (so does The Boca Newspaper).
  10. Seeing Vince Canning recognized by the DelrayCity Commission. He’s a good man and highly deserving of recognition.
  11. Congratulations to the Delray chamber for a great kickoff to 2018. The sold out “installation” luncheon at the Delray Beach Golf Club didn’t hide the fact that the chamber had a tough year in 2017. But the event boldly highlighted the importance, relevance and need for a strong chamber. Newly installed chair Mr. Posillico set out a vision for an innovative chamber that would match an innovative community. We wish the chamber well.
  12. Words can’t describe the feeling of being in a room with a true living legend. Delray’s own Benjamin Ferencz, the last living Nuremberg trials prosecutor, charmed an immense crowd at Boca West gathered to support and celebrate the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Mr. Ferencz, 98, shared his experiences at Nuremberg and his lifelong work to prevent genocide and encourage “law not war.” We’ll have more in a follow-up blog post. Special thanks to Shelly and Billy Himmelrich for including us what was an unforgettable evening.

Lifetimes of Achievements

Old School Square founder Frances Bourque gave a moving speech praising Bill Branning’s love for the cultural arts center.

This blog is primarily about leadership, entrepreneurship and community building.

Sometimes you come across people who represent all three of those special traits in a magical way.

Last week, two local heroes were honored for their service to the community—the legendary Vince Canning and a legend in the making—Bill Branning.

Mere words cannot do justice to the special people who decide to get involved and make their corner of the world a better place. These are the people who make things happen. These are the people who make the places we live special.

They are the reason we are passionate about Delray Beach.

They teach us through their deeds, inspire us with their character and set an example through their commitment.

The extra special heroes do this over a long period of time.

They create a body of work that enriches all of us. Their good work and influence tends to last.

The best communities celebrate these people, encourage others to follow their lead and hold fast to their examples. They don’t forget, disrespect, ignore, neglect or disparage these good folks—they appreciate them and that creates a virtuous cycle.

Vincent Valentine Canning was born in born in Indianapolis in 1928. After earning a business degree from the University of Missouri, he enlisted in the US Marines for two years and achieved the rank of Sergeant. After his service in the Marines, he worked for Brown Shoe Company in St. Louis and met his wife Patricia Lyng Canning.

The young couple would soon move to Delray Beach to operate his father’s shoe store at 335 E. Atlantic Avenue. He later expanded his store to Pompano Beach, Boynton Beach and Boca Raton.

Vince believes strongly in service. He is a past President of the Delray Beach Chamber, Kiwanis Noontime Club, and the Atlantic Avenue Association. He also did stints on the boards of the Delray Library, Delray Beach Playhouse, the Boca Raton Chamber, the Boynton Beach Chamber, the Achievement Center, Old School Square, CROS Ministries and the Migrant Association.

A spiritual man, Vince has also been deeply involved at St. Vincent Ferrer Church and the St. Vincent DePaul Society where he was a founding member in 1967.

To generations of Delray children (including my own), Mr. Canning was perhaps best known as the leader of the Delray Beach Halloween Parade, which brings a little Norman Rockwell to the downtown area with hundreds of children able to  trick or treat safely on their town’s main street.

But in addition to his decades of service and an impressive list of awards including an official proclamation at the City Commission last week, Vince Canning mentored and influenced generations of Delray Beach leaders; a literal who’s who in government, public safety, business, non-profits etc.

I’ve known many of these people and all of them absolutely adore Vince Canning. He’s just a great guy who cares, gets involved, makes things happen and helps those who are doing ‘good in the neighborhood’ as they say.

People like Vince Canning are essential to communities. We have been blessed to have Vince and others like him.

Which leads me to my friend Bill Branning, who was also honored last week after stepping down as chair of the board of Old School Square.

What you can say about Bill Branning—a man whose passion and commitment to Delray knows no bounds.

Somehow, while running his successful contracting firm (BSA Corporation) he has managed to create a major impact with a decade of service on the CRA, a big commitment to the Chamber of Commerce, service on other city advisory boards and a dedication to Old School Square that started at the center’s inception 30 years ago when he worked closely with Frances Bourque as young man starting his career in construction.

He fell in love with Old School Square and like many of us fell under the spell of Frances. Warning: it’s a spell you won’t be able to break—but you’ll be happier for the experience.

I literally got chills listening to Frances celebrate Bill’s accomplishments at Old School Square during last week’s annual meeting of what I still think is Delray’s signature civic achievement/project.

Bill has chaired the board before—during peace time. His most recent stint was a little more challenging to put it diplomatically.

The organization wrestled with the city over a lease, over events, over funding and over a parks plan. None of these issues were easy. But they brought us closer together and Bill’s leadership was stellar even if our collective patience was tested. He’s smart, passionate, prepared, experienced and mature. And we are thankful for those qualities and more.

During his most recent tenure, we said goodbye to longtime President and CEO Joe Gillie (record holder for most goodbye celebrations) and hello to new President and CEO Rob Steele. Bill bridged the transition beautifully and for that any many other things we are thankful.

Whenever you get tested in life, I recommend that you look for a sign—they are always there if you look hard enough.

For me, Frances and Bill were those beacons in the night. Just when you thought all was lost and you wanted to walk away, I’d heard Frances speak and I’d get energized again or I’d get a message from Bill that gave me hope that the best was yet to come and together all of us could continue to build a proud legacy at Old School Square and beyond.

Vince Canning has been that beacon for many people too. And I spoke to a few this week who felt blessed that he was in their lives looking after them, inspiring them and encouraging them to put service over self.

Bill Branning and Vince Canning—the names rhyme.

Their collective service will stand the test of time.


In Zero We Trust….

Trust is the foundation of pretty much everything.

Without trust, it’s hard to have either a personal or business relationship.

It’s also hard to build a civil society, because lack of trust undermines the willingness of citizens to engage and get involved.

This week, the Edelman Trust Survey was released and while the results were not surprising, the findings were pretty dismal.

The public’s trust in key societal organizations—government, business and the media, has taken a nosedive from already low levels.

The decline in trust in government was greatest, falling 14 percentage points, while trust in business fell 10 points, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) 9 points, and media 5 points. The survey was taken before this week’s brief government shutdown and can kicking to early February.  The last time this stunt was pulled the U.S. economy lost an estimated $20 billion…that’s billion with a b.

The survey was conducted in 28 nations and none experienced the decline in trust that the U.S. has endured.

“The United States is enduring an unprecedented crisis of trust,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of the communications firm that conducts the survey. “This is the first time that a massive drop in trust has not been linked to a pressing economic issue or catastrophe like the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In fact, it’s the ultimate irony that it’s happening at a time of prosperity, with the stock market and employment rates in the U.S. at record highs.”

The root cause of the fall, says Edelman: lack of objective facts and rational discourse in the U.S.

To see the full report visit this link:

No country saw steeper declines than the United States, with a 37-point aggregate drop in trust across all institutions. At the opposite end of the spectrum, China experienced a 27-point gain, more than any other country. I find that odd, but I guess all the Communist Party has to do is demand trust in order to get it.

The collapse of trust in the U.S. is driven by a staggering lack of faith in government, which fell 14 points to 33 percent among the general population, and 30 points to 33 percent among the informed public. The remaining institutions of business, media and NGOs also experienced declines of 10 to 20 points. Why does this matter?

Because it’s hard to rally a nation if ‘we the people’ don’t have trust, are divided politically and walk around touting our own facts.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once admonished a colleague that while it was Ok to have his own opinions, he certainly was not entitled to his own facts. That old saw seems to have been abandoned.

So what do we do?
I think an answer is what is being called “new localism”—which essentially believes that if we can’t fix the nitwits in Washington maybe we can solve problems and build trust in our communities.


While Washington has struggled with its most basic functions (passing a budget, keeping the government’s lights on etc.) there are cities of all sizes throughout America that have created vibrant economies, fixed distressed neighborhoods, improved public safety, reformed schools and created a better quality of life for its citizens.

Local government is where the opportunities lie—but only if we can attract talented policymakers, leaders and professional staff. Because let’s face it, building great cities isn’t easy either. But it is possible.

I have long told prospective elected officials that local government provides a rich soil for achievement and innovation. But they have to do a few things in order to succeed and if they skipped those things they would surely fail or fall far short of their potential.

So what is the secret sauce?

How do you succeed locally?

We’re glad you asked…(and that’s not just an aside, I do appreciate your emails).

First, it helps to have a vision or a North Star that the community creates, develops and defends against the inevitable push back from those who fight change, don’t bother to show up or adopt a mindset of now that I have moved to town—nothing else should ever change. We call it: “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder.”

Elected officials are successful when they want to get things done; when they shape change rather than resist it.

They get in trouble when they see themselves as “goalies” there to block any and all ideas—or any and all ideas that aren’t theirs.

Now that doesn’t mean that good elected officials don’t have a role to play in defending their cities from change that would be harmful, hurtful or out of character. The best ones know the difference between the former –which is needed in order to grow and survive–and the latter which can ruin a community.

The best elected officials build trust by being inclusive, open-minded and fair. They serve more than their base. They know that once elected they have to shift from campaigning to governing which demands decisions and those decisions should respect the rule of law, support community visions and take in the long term interests of the community not their short term political needs.

They understand that they will be called on to make and defend tough decisions but once those decisions are made they need to move on. In politics and in life, you win some and lose some.

The best leaders listen. And while almost every politician claims to be a listener, you can easily tell who is truly listening and learning and who is merely paying lip service.

But if you do truly listen, you will reap the rewards. Listening builds trust.

But listening doesn’t mean obedience—it just means you respect people enough to hear their concerns. When the roll call vote is called, you have to vote your conscience which sometimes will aggravate your friends and neighbors. So it helps if you acknowledge their concerns and where possible try and find a way to compromise so that decisions can be win-win, not a zero sum game.

My test for local success is whether you are supported by the doers in your community—the volunteers, the business owners, rank and file employees, senior level staff, key organizations and important community groups. If you can earn and keep their support you know you’re doing a good job. Again, that doesn’t mean blind loyalty—it just means that you have made enough decisions that they support so that they respect your work, trust your judgment and go to sleep at night knowing that on most issues you will do the right thing.


The First Rough Draft of History

The first time I dreamt about being a reporter was after seeing the movie “All The President’s Men.”
I was 12 when the movie hit the screens in 1976 and it all seemed so romantic to me: clandestine meetings with anonymous sources in dark and scary parking garages, Robert Redford clanking away on an old typewriter and the amazing Jason Robards just crushing the role of the charismatic, wise and fearless editor Ben Bradlee.
I could see myself doing this, I thought.

But as cool as it all seemed, my aspirations to write for a newspaper ranked fourth in my boyhood mind: right after pitching for the Yankees, playing centerfield for the Mets and winning Wimbledon.
Ahhh…youth. The endless possibilities of possibilities.

Needless to say, I never did pitch in the majors  and the closest I came to winning Wimbledon was finishing runner up in a junior tournament at the Stony Brook Swim & Racquet Club –losing the match after a foot fault was called at the worst possible moment —but that’s a story for another day.
Today my mind is on journalism and the nobility of that profession.

We went to see The Post which has lots of Oscar buzz and star power with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks anchoring a stellar cast.
“It’s a must see for journalists,” to quote my friend Marisa Herman, herself an excellent young reporter.
It’s also a must see for all those who value the important role the press plays in a Democracy.
Quite simply, there is no Democracy without a free press.

A press free to report, opine, investigate and publish without fear of government censor or seizure.

Far from being the enemy of the people, a free press is a guarantor of our American ideals. As Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee says in the movie: who else will hold em accountable if we don’t?

The Post is a fascinating look at the decision by Katharine Graham to publish The Pentagon Papers despite threats from the Nixon administration.
Among the myriad of issues is whether the sanctity of the First Amendment trumps the power of the presidency to keep certain sensitive and potentially embarrassing items a secret.
The Supreme Court said it does and so the Washington Post and the New York Times prevailed in their court battle over the Pentagon Papers.

Thank goodness, they did.

It’s a feel good movie that chronicles an era and has some eerie relevance to our current times.
The Graham family were powerful Washington players and were said to play strong behind the scene roles in D.C. politics. The legendary Bradlee was close friends with JFK and Jackie and Katherine Graham was close with Vietnam era Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara. It didn’t stop her from giving the go ahead to publish the Pentagon Papers which would lay bare the deception promulgated by several administrations regarding the Vietnam War.

As someone who has worked as a reporter, editor and publisher I can relate –on a small level– to having to report on people you know and like.
More than once during my career as a reporter I was asked to pull punches, hold off on stories and look the other way.
As Bradlee notes in the movie, people can be friends or sources but not both.
The Post is a great primer for any young person considering a career in journalism. It’s also a stirring reminder of how important a role the press plays in keeping citizens of a Democracy informed.

I’ve been in the unique position of having covered elected officials as a reporter and being covered as an elected official. One of my greatest frustrations of being on the other side of the notebook was I felt many local reporters were missing the larger stories happening in the community. I wanted more coverage, not less because I felt so much was being missed. Covering government meetings often devolves into “he said, she said” stories. Where journalists can shine is to provide the information or objective facts that can tell you whether he or she is telling the truth. Sadly, that’s often missed. But great local journalism does exist and its immensely important. I often wonder if our dismal turnout for local elections is in part caused by citizens not knowing what’s really going on and therefore missing out on how important it is to know and to cast a ballot.

If citizens saw a movie like The Post, they may be inspired to read, get involved and engage in the issues.
The Post is great storytelling. Essential history. A movie that reminds you of why a free press keeps us free.



Dr. King: Lessons in Leadership

On Monday we celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

At the blog, we’re not quite ready to leave that day behind just yet. This year, it seems important to stick with Dr. King a little while longer.


For students of civil rights, leadership, non-violent resistance, communication and community building, the life of Dr. King offers a cascade of lessons.


On my personal quest to be a better leader I have looked often to King’s life, writings and speeches for inspiration and learning. What makes Dr. King such an enduring figure is that regardless of how often you read his speeches, letters and famous quotes you somehow come away with a new insight every time you delve into his work. He was an incredible man. And like all the greats– Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington, Roosevelt, Churchill—his message transcends time and offers us contemporary lessons and solutions if we care to look.


This year, I’ve concentrated on the leadership lessons we can learn from Dr. King’s life.


First, great leaders do not sugar-coat reality.


Indeed, regardless of how painful… great leaders tell the truth, even if the truth is dangerous, ugly, uncomfortable and messy. Dr. King laid bare during his lifetime this nation’s ongoing struggle with race and inequality. It would have been safer to go along to get along, but we wouldn’t be celebrating his legacy if he did.


Second, great leaders engage the heart as well as the mind. Dr. King’s gifts—his soaring rhetoric, the poetry of his writing, the beauty and power of his message–weren’t bogged down in statistics or dry facts, but enhanced by his magnificent abilities to move us as people and to point out how our fates are tied together as brothers and sisters.


King also taught us that great leaders do not accept the status quo and that they create a sense of urgency for positive change.


Again, lesser leaders might have been content to shoot for incremental gains in civil rights—not Dr. King. He framed the issue as an urgent one for our nation and as a result achieved monumental progress in what has proved to be an enduring struggle.


Dr. King refused to settle or buckle after setbacks, another leadership lesson we can learn from his example. Instead, he urged his followers to keep their eyes on the prize. He had a leader’s ability to communicate a clear vision for a better future and throughout the journey he always acknowledged the sacrifices and contributions of those working alongside him. He dared us, invited us, and taught us to dream—that’s what leaders do.


As a result, the movement wasn’t about one man’s vision; it was about a movement that was bigger than any one person.


And that’s why we celebrate and why Dr. King will be remembered as long as good men and women strive for a more perfect union.


MLK Day 2018

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” ~ Dr. King.

I have always been in awe and intrigued by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In awe of his oratorical genius and intrigued by his message which is eternal and as relevant as it has ever been.
This MLK Day—which would have been Dr. King’s 89th birthday—arrives at a teachable moment. Let’s hope we learn. Because clearly we have a lot to learn.
In 2018, we are still struggling with race, still wrestling with hatred and violence.

Our discourse is often disgusting, violent, hurtful and ignorant.
We are better than this..we better be.
America is an idea, not a race Sen. Lindsey Graham noted this week.
We were built on ideals and values. But those ideals and values—freedom and equality chief among them—have always been locked in a struggle with forces that would deny both.
It was that struggle that MLK devoted and ultimately lost his life pursuing.
He was not alone.

Many others have been devoted to Dr. King’s dream, which is the promise of America. Many others lost their lives too. Or died before we can truly proclaim that we as a people are free at last.

This blog assiduously avoids national politics. But sometimes what happens in Washington touches us here in our community.
And so the President’s comments on immigration whether “tough” —as he asserts they were —or profane —as was widely reported impact us. They affect us in profound and deep ways.

I have long contended that Delray is America in 16 square miles.
We have it all here. Rich and poor. Young and old. We are a rich tapestry of ethnicities that make us a fascinating and culturally rich community.
I’ve have always felt our diversity was an immense strength. But while I think we have navigated some very hard issues better than many cities in America, I still believe that we wrestle with race in Delray Beach.

That does not make us unique. But I’ve always believed we had the potential to be a national example for how we can to work to build trust, create opportunities and solve challenges through dialogue, collaboration and commitment.
All three elements are critical.
Dialogue: because how and even if we converse is important.
Collaboration: there can be no progress unless everyone works together.
Commitment: communities have to commit to the long term, otherwise you will lose traction and often slide backwards.
So how are we doing?
You be the judge.
I think we need work in all three areas.
Our dialogue often includes talking past each other which makes it hard to collaborate. And commitment can’t come just during an election cycle. It has to be the way you roll. All the time.

My Delray experience has been blessed by relationships with a slew of civic giants who devoted themselves to equality, healthy neighborhoods, education, history, civil rights, politics and economic opportunity.
People like C. Spencer Pompey, H. Ruth Pompey, Elizabeth Wesley, David Randolph, Zack Straghn, Bill Condry, Yvonne Odom, Red Odom, Vera Farrington, Mr. and Mrs. Strainge, Beatrice Tyson, Ernestine Holliday, Frances Carter, Sam and Loretta McGee, Jimmy Weatherspoon, Tony Newbold, Rev. Thomas, Nadine Hart, Joe and Carolyn Gholston and the list of leaders goes on and on. They taught us that progress was possible through dialogue, collaboration and commitment.
Today, I see that legacy live on through initiatives like the Community Land Trust, The Knights of Pythagoras, SD Spady Museum, The Elders, the EJS Project and the promising Set Transformation Plan championed by the West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition. Of course there’s more, which is why Delray Beach is so promising. It’s why we remain a beacon.
All are in service to and in pursuit of MLK’s Dream.
It’s in all of our interests that they succeed. It’s up to all of us to ensure that they do.