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.

Restoring The Trust

The Sun-Sentinel ran an interesting editorial last week on the lack of affordable housing in Florida.

Affordable housing is an interesting and sometimes loaded term.

But the Sentinel offered a practical definition: if you spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing (rent or mortgage) your home is not affordable.

The editorial went on to lament that the state legislature is raiding a fund designed to create more affordable housing to pay for other things including pet projects, staff salaries and tax cuts.

The William Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund has about $322 million socked away for its intended purpose. But Gov. Scott’s 2018-19 budget plan recommends taking $154 million out of the fund for other state expenses. Mind you, these are good times. Imagine what could happen if/when the state falls into a recession.

Ultimately, Scott’s budget is a proposal. It’s now time for the State Legislature to weigh in.

It has been more than a decade since I traversed the hallways of Tallahassee meeting with State Senators and State Representatives and sometimes state department heads. Many of our local elected officials are in Tallahassee this week making the rounds.

Local mayors and city commissioners make the always difficult trek to Tallahassee (conveniently located in a place that’s a long drive for many Floridians with expensive and often ridiculous plane routes that included a stop in Atlanta). I used to wonder if the powers that be wanted to be remotely located so as to avoid the public they were trying to serve. But that’s a cynical view— I’m sure there are plenty of dedicated public servants doing their best to serve the Sunshine State. The proof– as they say– will be determined by the results they produce at the end of the legislative session.

While some of the specific issues we went to lobby for have faded from memory (an ability to design our own stretch of A1A, canker, help with some of our parks, reclaimed water etc. are some issues I remember) two themes seemed to be perennials.

  • Home rule—which is an elegant way of saying: please leave local government alone because we believe that the government closest to the people best serve our communities. Please no unfunded mandates and stop choking off our revenues so you can look good by cutting taxes. Cities and counties have needs, obligations and aspirations that have to be funded—and a partnership with the state would be ideal. And if we can’t partner…well then… don’t hurt us.
  • The Sadowski Fund—Don’t raid it, so you can look good; use it for its intended purpose.


The fund was established in 1992 and uses doc stamp taxes (generated through real estate documents such as titles) to help create affordable housing.

It seemed to work fairly well for about a decade, but than in 2003, the legislature decided to make it a piggy bank to pay for its own budget. Those raids increased during the historic recession that hit Florida a little earlier than most states.

It seems that the practice has become a habit, even during boom times.

Last year, the doc stamp tax generated over $290 million for the affordable housing trust fund. But the legislature grabbed $130 million of those funds to help balance the budget.

For the past 14 years—and if the Governor has his way 15 years—that raid has occurred—even as the legislature has passed tax cut after cut.

While nobody loves paying taxes—they are necessary if we are to have a functioning government. And while tax cuts feel good—the reality is they are often a bait and switch with the onus being placed on local governments to pick up the slack.

Local governments have nobody below them to stick with the bill—other than taxpayers.

That said, we all know there is colossal waste in government operations—at every level federal, state, county and city.

So it is impossible and disingenuous to argue that every dollar raised is needed or spent wisely. It isn’t.


That doesn’t mean that a trust fund set up to provide affordable housing should be raided for other purposes. And it doesn’t mean that the issue/problem doesn’t exist because it does.

Florida has an affordable housing challenge/crisis.

Some might say—“well just wait for the next recession and poof the problem goes away”—but it’s not that simple.

People and families of all ages are having a hard time getting traction in Florida and especially in our communities Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

While long time homeowners are thrilled with the price appreciation they have experienced (often a home is our most significant asset) we must be cognizant that others would like to access our cities because of the quality of life/opportunities we offer.

An “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder” mentality is not only selfish, it’s short-sighted.

To maintain our quality of life and to be economically sustainable—we need to provide housing options that are attainable for working people and families.

Companies will not be able to locate or grow here if their workers cannot find housing that they can afford. And our children will not be able to live here either.

Economic sustainability is a complicated equation that also requires good schools, excellent health care, recreational options, culture, open space, job opportunities, safe streets, mobility, a clean environment and reasonable taxation.

P.S. that list goes on.

All the more reason why we need quality elected officials and talented staff at all levels of government who see the big picture, know how to create sustainable economies and craft policies that aren’t just politically expedient but also address long term needs.

Raiding the Sadowski fund so you can send out a mail piece that says you cut taxes misses the mark on a slew of levels. It puts off the need to create efficiencies in the state’s operations or grow revenue in other ways and it leaves families struggling to pay their bills and keep a roof over their heads.

Call your legislator and tell them to stop raiding the trust and start solving the problem.

As for local governments, they play a role too.

Nimbyism—(not in my backyard) that prevents the creation of housing opportunities restrains supply.  And if you took an economics course you know what happens next—prices rise.

We are certainly not advocating out of control growth (or unsustainable traffic choking sprawl either) but we are advocating smart growth and new urbanism. Google “Strong Towns” or the Congress for New Urbanism—there are solutions that offer compelling math for taxpayers that back up these philosophies.



A Man For All Seasons

A painting of Churchill by his granddaughter.

We went to see a magnificent exhibit at the Society of the Four Arts last weekend.
“A Man for All Seasons; The Art of Winston Churchill” features paintings and notebooks from the legendary British leader.
Churchill took up painting in his 40s and it quickly became a passion. It lifted his dark moods and he became quite prolific.
As you meander through the exhibit (and you should catch it before it closes Jan. 14) you can see Churchill’s growth as an artist. He just gets better and better.
And you marvel..
At his art.
At his sculpture.
At his writing.
Not to mention his speaking and his amazing mind.
It makes you wonder—do people like him still exist?
Where are the giants? Where are the leaders?
As we walked to the car– having spent the past two days or so being bombarded with what sadly has become a steady drumbeat of political claptrap in our society– we briefly discussed why many (maybe most) of our best and brightest shun political office.
And we are not just talking about president or prime minister, senator or governor. Lots of good people are avoiding running for local office too.
Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t superstars who run or serve—there are.
But not enough.
And if we’re honest, we know why.
While politics has never been genteel, civil, nice or easy it just feels particularly nasty, unusually small and extra frustrating these days.
It’s the inability to compromise, the competing sets of “facts”, the ridiculous trolls running their mouths on social media (often devoid of facts, empathy, context, respect or personal experience). It’s overwhelming.
Winston Churchill would have related to today’s ennui.
He once said about politics: “In war, you can only be killed once. But in politics many times.”
And yet..we need the Winston Churchill’s to do what they do.
Lead us. Inspire us. Save us from despots and fascists. And yes..paint.  So that we can marvel at their genius.
So that we can remember that having adults in our midst makes all the difference…

Things We Love: December Edition

Things we loved in December

December was a blur for many of us. But we didn’t want to let the month pass without pointing out some gems.

We enjoyed a great dinner with close friends at Fries to Caviar in Boca. The intimate spot which features a nice bar, great outdoor space and a varied menu has a sister restaurant in Delray, the excellent Jimmy’s Bistro. We highly recommend both places.

Speaking of great meals, we had a terrific “wine” dinner at Caffe Luna Rosa in December with special guest Max Weinberg of the legendary E Street Band. For me, that’s like having dinner with a Beatle.
I mention this because Max is playing a benefit show at the Arts Garage February 17.
Max Weinberg’s Jukebox has been playing several venues to big crowds and rave reviews. If you love great music from the 60s, 70s and 80s, don’t miss this show. And it benefits a great cause —our Arts Garage.

If you haven’t been to Beer Trade Company you really should give it a try.
This cool little spot on 4th Avenue is a nice locals spot with a vast array of craft beers and cider and the world’s best risotto balls.
There’s a companion location in Boca as well.

December is typically a philanthropic month with successful toy drives, food drives, and last minute charitable donations.
Those who organize and contribute to these efforts deserve our thanks.
Still, let’s try and remember that the immense needs of our community don’t disappear in January. If you are in a position to help, you are needed. It feels good to pay our civic rent.

Finally, we truly enjoyed December and it was gratifying to see Delray and Boca abuzz with people.
We shouldn’t take it for granted. Yes, finding a parking space is a little challenging, but you know what the alternative is; empty streets, vacant stores and not much to do.
We are truly blessed.

We didn’t have a chance to do a year end list but this was the year I put down the phone long enough to start reading books (actual physical books again) and it was great.
I’ve been a lifelong voracious reader: books, magazines, newspapers and later blogs.
But somewhere along the way, books fell by the wayside. This despite having written my own book. I was embarrassed. And I made a conscious effort to get back to reading books.
The effort was worth it. First, I figured out that I had the attention span to finish a book, something that I had begun to doubt.

I really believe that the barrage of media and content coming at us has compromised our ability to focus—at least it has impacted my attention span. But I’m happy to report that with a concentrated effort it’s possible to overcome.
So here’s a list of my 10 favorite books of 2017. In no particular order.
1. Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris. Ferris is a best selling author, successful blogger and popular podcaster. Tools is a huge compilation of his podcast interviews and he has talked to a who’s who from every conceivable walk of life. The book is a collection of valuable advice from world class performers.
2. Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferris. Tribe is a great companion piece to Tools of Titans featuring more interviews with amazing people who answer questions about their favorite books (Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is a favorite of many), failures and best practices. The big reveal: it seems like nearly everyone who performs at a peak level is meditating.
3. What I found in a Thousand Towns by Dar Williams. We blogged about this book a few months ago. Williams is a folk singer who has travelled the country and has managed to get out of her hotel room to study the cities she plays in. Her insights are spot on and her writing is sublime. She knows what makes towns work. A great primer for those who love cities.
4. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. The Boss’ autobiography is a delight. Beautifully written, bravely revealing and always entertaining this fan came away with even more love and respect for this musical legend.
5. The New Brooklyn by Kay Hymowitz. I’m not from Brooklyn nor have I been lucky enough to live there. But my grandparents, aunt and cousin lived there and I spent a lot of time in the borough in the 70s and 80s. So I have been curious about Brooklyn’s history and how it became synonymous with cool. This book answered those questions. A great read.
6. Within Walking Distance by Philip Langdon. This charming book focuses on several neighborhoods in places as varied as Philadelphia and small town Vermont. It focuses on walkability and community building and the towns that get it right. It made me want to visit Brattleboro, Vt. But not in the wintertime.
7. The Content Trap by Bharat Anand. May be the most insightful business book I’ve read in recent memory. A blurb can’t do it justice but let’s just say the book provides answers for businesses that care about not being disrupted into oblivion.
8. Hooked by Nir Eyal. A sobering look at how technology hooks us.
9. Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday. A terrific book that examines what it takes to create work and art that lasts.
10. The Amazing City by James Hunt. I bought this book after seeing Mr. Hunt speak at a League of Cities luncheon. A former president of the National League of Cities and former City Councilman in a small West Virginia town, Hunt’s book explores the elements that cities need to succeed. It’s a good list. We will share in a future blog.
Tied  for #10. Principles by Ray Dalio. This book (more like a tome) outlines the principles that Dalio used to build Bridgewater Associates into the world’s largest hedge fund. He believes in radical transparency and it worked for Bridgewater—spectacularly. An interesting book that also addresses life.

The Power of Friendship

Let’s start the new year off on a positive note by talking about friendship.
As we made the rounds of holiday parties this season, we felt blessed by the people in our lives; enriched by the friendships that make life worth living.

These are the people who make the stresses of daily life melt away and renew your faith in humanity.
I’ve mentioned before that I have  several groups of friends who meet for breakfast, lunch and the occasional happy hour and dinner.
Some know each other. Some don’t.
But all of them have something in common: they tend to care about the world, they tend to be involved in the community and they tend to be smart with sharp senses of humor.
In short, good people.
Really good people.
The older I get, I find myself valuing my friends more and more.
I also find I have less tolerance for toxic people.
Over the holiday break, I listened to a  TED Talk by the director of a Harvard study on male happiness.
The study has tracked a group of men from childhood into their 90s. The cohort includes people from all walks of life, including a U.S. president (whom the speaker did not name).
The happiest and healthiest people were those who made and kept good friends and those who felt connected to a community.
Not only were they happier and healthier, but they handled adversity better including tolerance of physical pain.
It’s an interesting study and very validating.
As we launch into yet another election cycle with candidates slinging shots at each other, each other’s supporters and even the cities they seek to lead (Delray is too this, Boca is too that) it would be nice if we added some gratitude to the mix.
No, we are not perfect. But we sure have a lot to be proud of and a lot to be thankful for.

I plan to support the candidates who get this very fundamental idea. And those who seek to unite: not incite and divide.
I do look at who is supporting who because I tend to support the judgment of my friends—especially in a non partisan election. And thank goodness local government is non partisan. We’ve seen what hyper partisanship has done to our country. Let’s make sure that does not happen here.
Because not much gets done when it does. And whatever gets done gets undone when the other side takes over and in time they always do.

There’s a term we will hear more and more in the New Year. It’s called hyper localism. It refers to the notion that the action is devolving to the local level where collaboration is possible and where solutions are often achieved.

So give me candidates who want to grow the tent, not shut people off. Give me candidates who listen to their neighbors and work side by side with those who roll up their sleeves.
Give me people who understand that community is about relationships and friendship. Those who understand that a key role of a leader is to grow those relationships and that sense of community.

That’s what makes a happy community. And friends, a happy community is a productive community. An unhappy community gets stuck, defensive and lost.

As I made my way around the holiday parties I ran into contributors who served this town and gave so much of themselves to this place we call home.
The architect who has served on countless boards and saved historic homes. The former mayors who never went away and went on to lead non profits and community groups. The retired city staff who still care and formed a team that created a very vibrant place. The business leaders and young entrepreneurs who invest, build, create and dream. Really good people.
Special people.
The people who make us happy.

I’ll end with a tribute to old friends too. Those from childhood that I was also able to connect with over the break.
One visited from Wisconsin. We’ve known each other since we were five. It’s amazing. We connect instantly despite the distance. Despite the years. Despite the separate lives.
I also spoke to two old friends: one from Virginia and one who lives in California. We all grew up together, spent our summers chasing tennis balls and girls, listening to music and exploring New York City.
I miss these guys but the years melt away and the friendship renews with each call. It’s like we are meant to be lifelong friends, these connections made as kids follow us into middle age.
I hope you have friends and find friends in 2018. We will live longer, happier and healthier lives if we do. We will also create a happier, kinder and safer world.


Catching Up On Ideas

Five years ago, we published a blog post outlining 25 ideas for Delray.

We stumbled upon the post this week and thought we’d take a look to see whether any of these ideas came to life.

25 Ideas …

1.Brand Delray Beach as a mecca for entrepreneurs—Progress: Delray has attracted a fair amount of interesting entrepreneurs including The Downtowner, Delivery Dudes, House of Perna and Rooster among others. There also several social entrepreneurial efforts including WiseTribe, Space of Mind, One Million Cups, Creative Mornings Palm Beach (not Delray based per se, but active in the city).

2.To accomplish the above, create a business incubator downtown and invite entrepreneurs to grow in Delray. Progress:  Not yet. There are a few co-working efforts—the Kitchn etc., but a true incubator has yet to be established. Perhaps, overlooking the Old School Square Park? Great opportunity.

3.Create a business accelerator in Delray so that once companies are incubated they have someplace to go for the extra needed help. Progress: Not yet.

4.Help existing businesses grow by offering classes and low or no-cost business advice at our own Old School Square. Progress: Not yet.

5.Speaking of Old School Square, offer executive education, certificate and graduate programs in the classrooms. Revenue for Old School Square and another tool for economic development. Progress: Not on the drawing board.

6.Program the Old School Square Park—add shade, music and a few tasteful vendors. Progress: Work has been done to forge a vision for the park, but not yet accomplished. Bond issue establishing the park was passed almost 13 years ago. Lots of discussion around what to fund.

7.At holiday time, create a holiday village at the Old School Square park and allow kiosks and “pop-up” stores to capture crowds heading to the 100 foot tree. Give local retailers a free or reduced stall and charge others for the month—use funds to offset holiday costs. Progress: A new tree, no pop-ups.

8.Creatively partner with the Elev 8 Sports Institute and bring “fantasy camps” to Delray. With the school’s extensive MLB contacts, tourists would come to Delray to play with their childhood heroes and enjoy the downtown after the game is over. Progress: Didn’t happen.

9.Install LED lighting in parking lots and parking garages. It’s green and it saves money. Progress: Several entrepreneurs interested in making it happen.

10.Create a leadership academy to train the next generation of local leaders. Teach the Delray success story. Progress: In 2016, Chamber ran a civics academy. It was well attended. But a follow-up has not yet occurred.

11.Create a local Business Development Corporation enabling local residents to buy “shares” in local businesses and invest in growing our own economy. Progress: Not on the radar.

12.Reinvigorate the Southwest Plan by borrowing a page from Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Empowerment Zone playbook. Seek foundation monies to move beyond infrastructure to developing Delray’s vast human capital. Progress: WARC working on a transformation plan, efforts to rebrand the area as The Set underway.

13.Arm the economic development director with a reasonable budget to market Delray. We have to get in the game and that takes marketing and… Progress: Nope.

14.Public Relations. Delray needs a publicity strategy outside the local papers to attract investment and build awareness of our assets and opportunities. After all, we are the jewel of Palm Beach County. Progress: Downtown Marketing Cooperative, Chamber and Downtown Development Authority do a great job.

15.Tie the new Arts Warehouse to a broader strategy to create an artists and artisans “village within a village” in the Third Avenue area. Progress: Five years later, we just attended the grand opening of the long-awaited warehouse. Better late than never, and it’s fabulous.

16.Help Delray’s Prep and Sports develop a national reputation for elite football training and make the 7 on 7 event one of the premier tournaments in the USA. Progress: Prep and Sports’ founder T.J. Jackson was hired to coach Atlantic High. He took them to the state finals this year.

17.Convene an economic development charrette to discuss our fiscal future and job creation—let the community decide the priorities and tie our spending to those priorities. Progress: Economic development will be a part of the comp plan. Yay!

18.Team up with our neighbors Boca Raton and Boynton wherever possible:  economic development, marketing to save money and leverage our strengths. Progress: An alliance has been discussed around government affairs on regional issues with area chambers.

19.Get serious about jumpstarting investment on Congress Avenue. The vision and zoning is in place, what’s needed is execution and beautification. Progress: Years after handing in a report, the Task Force plan has been largely shelved by the commission. Vice Mayor Chard has kept the flame burning with meetings among property owners and investors. Kaufman Lynn located to Congress, transforming a derelict property into a great new headquarters. Investor interest remains high on the corridor. The city could help by implementing the plan and amending the LDR’s as promised.

20.Add a Middle School of the Arts at Carver Middle School and tie it into all of our arts activities from Old School Square to the Creative City Collaborative to the new Plumosa School of the Arts. Progress: Hasn’t happened.

21.Bring a branch of a university downtown and one to Congress Avenue. Progress: Lynn University has partnered with the Delray chamber. Stay tuned.

22.Revisit the North Federal Highway Plan and come up with a new vision for the 21st Century. Progress: Hasn’t happened.

23.Host a competition and have our local techies develop some interesting local apps. Progress: Hasn’t happened. The city of Tallahassee and the Florida League of Cities has had success with this approach.

24.Develop a formal, aggressive and powerful Shop Local Campaign. Progress: Small Business Saturday has become a big deal in recent years.

25.Add entrepreneurship academies to Atlantic High and Village Academy. Progress: Hasn’t happened yet.

The Marble Room

Departing Alabama Sen. Luther Strange.

It’s a steady drum beat.

Day after day.

Headline after headline.

Tweet after tweet.

An endless gaggle of TV talking heads and partisan hacks that make you want to gag.

But despite all the efforts to disparage, destroy, discredit and dismiss—not much changes.

Problems remain unsolved. Opportunities go unclaimed.

There’s a reason why the electorate is mad and it’s because very few politicians seem to get it.

Americans want results—not feuds. Americans want solutions not talking points, fundraising pitches and legislation that’s so arcane that only the lobbyists understand what’s really in a bill—or at least the parts they paid for.

Senator Luther Strange of Alabama is stepping down in the New Year. He lost a primary battle to Roy Moore—you may have seen a story or a thousand about Roy in the past few weeks. Last night he lost in a special election.

But before Strange left, he went to the floor of the Senate and gave a speech. I heard about his speech from a friend who lives in Alabama and so I sought it out online. It’s a good one. His message will probably get lost, but it shouldn’t. Because he diagnoses what’s wrong and gives us a path back to a time when people on both sides of the political aisle realized that ultimately they were there to serve the American people, not their party or their base but their country.

I thought I’d share Sen. Strange’s comments. In their entirety. I hope you read his remarks. Because the lessons we can draw from them—if we choose to listen—can apply to all levels of government. We need those marble rooms—that I hope you’ll read about below– in our cities, towns, states and counties. So put aside your partisanship for a few minutes, pack away your disdain for a few of the names he praises and try and concentrate on the message. We can sure use some marble rooms around here.

“Mr. President, I rise today to address my colleagues for the last time. After nearly a year in this chamber, I am both its newest member and the next to depart. As such, I have both the optimism of a young student and the battle scars of a man in the arena. Today, I’d like to offer my colleagues some observations from the perspective of my unique circumstances.


My fellow Senators and I come from different places. We were raised differently, and we have lived differently. In coming to serve in the world’s greatest deliberative body, we have carried and tested different notions of America.


There is, however, one reality that transcends our individual experiences. In this room, we are each humbled by history. The Senate has been a forum for some of the great debates of our Republic. It has shaped, and been shaped by, citizen legislators from every state of the Union. We are awed by the strength of an institution that has weathered great challenges, and the wisdom of those who first envisioned it.


As I rise today in that spirit, I’d like to shed light on a page of Senate history that bears great significance in our current political climate.


Mr. President, across the hall behind you is a space known as the Marble Room. In a building that is home to so many breathtaking historic sights, this alcove has a singular beauty, and a story worth telling.


As part of the 1850s expansion of the Senate’s chambers, the Marble Room began as a public gathering place, and has been frequented over the decades by politicians and protesters alike. When the Union army camped on the grounds of the Capitol during the Civil War, soldiers even used its fireplaces for cooking.


For over sixty years, the Marble Room was steeped in the life of the American citizen. It hosted meetings with advocates, constituents, and the free press. It became a very tangible example of our nation’s experiment in representative government.


In March, 1921, it took on a new, equally important purpose. The space was reserved by the Rules Committee as an escape for Senators from the crowded halls of the Capitol, and the windowless, smoke-filled rooms where they often gathered off the floor.


It became the place where Senators of all stripes would come to catch their breath and take their armor off. Some would nap, some would eat lunch, and all would end up forming bonds that rose above politics.


Today, the Marble Room is nearly always empty. This emptiness symbolizes something that worries me about today’s politics. It is likely both a symptom and a cause of the partisan gridlock that often dominates this chamber.


But the story of that room – the interplay between citizen and institution; between pragmatism and principle – is the story of the Senate, and in some ways the story of republican government in America.


Mr. President, what was once an incubator for collegiality and bipartisanship has become a glaring reminder of the divisions that we have allowed to distract us from the business of the American people.


We each remain humbled by the history of the Marble Room. We stand in awe of the traditions of this hallowed body. But too often we fail to let this history be our guide through today’s political challenges.


Mr. President, my time in the Senate has reinforced for me what it means to balance principle and pragmatism, to serve the people of my state honorably, and it has taught me how to navigate the turbulent waters of Washington.


I imagine that our predecessors who spent time together in the Marble Room wrestled with similar questions. After all, the issues we face today are not all that different. This body has been strained before – it has bent, but not broken.


Finding lasting solutions to our nation’s problems does not require reinventing the wheel. Our forefathers have done it before, and they’ve done it right across the hall.



Mr. President, I spent my early years growing up in Sylacauga, Alabama, about 40 miles outside of Birmingham. My first hometown is known as “the Marble City” for the swath of high-quality stone it sits on, 32 miles long and as much as 600 feet deep.


Sylacauga marble is widely recognized for its pure white color and fine texture, and here in Washington, we are surrounded by it. It is set into the ceiling of the Lincoln Memorial, the halls of the Supreme Court, and was used by renowned sculptor Gutzon Borglum to create the bust of Abraham Lincoln on display in the crypt downstairs.


Sylacauga marble is used in places infused with tradition and deep history. It is used to enshrine important landmarks. It ensures that memories of the past will stand the test of time to inform the decisions of the future.


In a small house in the Marble City, I was raised by a family that instilled in me a deep and abiding reverence for history and tradition.


My father was a Navy veteran and my only uncle, a West Point graduate killed in service during World War II, was actually born on the 4th of July.


As you can imagine, Mr. President, I didn’t need fireworks or parades to understand the significance of our Independence Day – the look in my mother’s eyes as she remembered her brother’s birthday was enough.


Forged in service and sacrifice, my family understood the blessing of living in America, and the price of passing its freedoms on to the next generation.


Thanks to this generation before me – the greatest generation – I grew up strong in Alabama. At a young age, I was introduced to the Boy Scouts of America. From volunteer troop leaders to the older scouts I would look to as examples, the Boy Scouts created an environment of selfless service. As a Scout, I learned to appreciate the institutions of American society, and my role as a citizen.


By age thirteen, I was an Eagle Scout traveling to Washington on a school trip to see this great experiment in representative government up close. As I tell every young person who has visited my office this year, that experience gave me an appreciation of the value of public service.


Mr. President, I often wonder, if we all approached our duties here with the unblemished optimism of a young student on a field trip, whether we couldn’t accomplish more in Congress.


Of course, the strength of this body and the remarkable foresight of our Founders run deeper than an elementary school civics class. For me, the next pivotal moment came as an undergraduate at Tulane University in the spring and summer of 1973.


Some of you may be surprised to learn that I played basketball in college. In between practice and part-time jobs, I found time to watch the newly-formed Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities begin its investigation of the Watergate scandal.


In that moment, our nation stepped into uncharted territory. The strength of our Constitution was tested like never before. Would the pursuit of justice overcome politics? Would the institution of the Presidency be forever changed? What are the responsibilities of citizens of a republic, when the republic’s institutions are tested?


It was during that spring semester of 1973 that I began to understand the tremendous power of the rule of law. It is guarded by representatives who swear to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.


When my basketball playing years ran out, it was this realization that led me to go to law school. My new game would be learning the ins and outs of this system that ensured the rights our Founders envisioned. My new team would be my fellow students, who would go on to practice law and serve our nation at all levels of government.


Mr. President, as so many of our colleagues know, the path from practicing law to writing it is well-traveled. I was fortunate to travel it with the help of some of Alabama’s finest public servants.


As a young attorney, I first met one of them for breakfast in the cafeteria of the Department of Justice. When I realized I had forgotten my wallet, he paid for my meal. Jeff Sessions has continued to pay it forward to this day as a dear friend and mentor of mine.


Mr. President, Jeff Sessions is both a gracious statesman and a man of principle. It is not far-fetched to say that some of this temperament rubbed off on him from our state’s senior Senator, Richard Shelby.


Over thirty years ago, I was introduced to then-Congressman Shelby by my friend, former Secretary of the Senate Joe Stewart. As a young lawyer, I learned from a man fast-becoming a legendary legislator. He would become one of my most treasured friends, sharing many days hunting together in the fields of Alabama and elsewhere, and many more stories shared here in the halls of the Capitol.


Together, Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby represent the finest Alabama has to offer to our nation. Following in their footsteps here in the Senate is an honor I will forever treasure.


The example of these men inspired me to get involved in public service. As the Attorney General of Alabama, and Senators, they approached elected office with an unparalleled reverence for the rule of law.


I spoke earlier about the balance of pragmatism and principle, and in doing so I had my friends in mind. When I was elected Attorney General of Alabama in 2010, I drew heavily on their examples of principled conservative leadership.


Mr. President, in this body we are too often convinced that standing for deeply-held principles is incompatible with pragmatism. In the six years I served as Attorney General, I learned that this could not be further from the truth.


Serving my state in that capacity required balance above all else. I had an obligation to the people of Alabama who elected me to fight for the conservative victories they were counting on. I also had a solemn duty to rise above politics and follow the law and the truth wherever they led.


Make no mistake – during my two terms as Attorney General, I took every opportunity to defend the Constitution, the rule of law, and the people of Alabama against federal government overreach.


Together with other state Attorneys General, I worked to protect farmers and ranchers from an EPA rule that would turn puddles in their fields into federally-regulated ecosystems. We stood up against threats to religious liberty and the Second Amendment, and took the fight over an illegal executive amnesty program all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. On these, and many other issues, we stood for the rule of law and we won.


So, Mr. President, I don’t have to prove my commitment to conservative principles.


At the same time, I have a record of upholding the rule of law even when my own party goes astray. I have the scars to show for it. Over my six years in the state capitol of Montgomery, I assembled a nationally-renowned team of prosecutors behind a common goal: to root out public corruption.


This pursuit led to the convictions of several corrupt public officials in the state of Alabama, including a county sheriff complicit in human trafficking – the first successful prosecution of its kind in decades.


My team took on Alabama’s Republican Speaker of the House for ethics violations, leading to his removal from office and a prison sentence. As you might imagine, we didn’t make many friends in the political establishment by doing so, but we shored up public trust in our representative government.


For their commitment to fighting public corruption, my team has been recognized by the National Association of Attorneys General as a gold standard. I’ve personally had the opportunity to address my former colleagues from both sides of aisle who are focusing on the same goal in their own states. More than any fleeting partisan achievement, it is work like this of which I am the most proud.


When faced with crises, we rose to a calling higher than politics. After the tragic Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 decimated communities and ecosystems along the Gulf Coast, I was appointed by the Court as coordinating counsel for the Gulf Coast states in the historic litigation. My team won the trial and negotiated a $2.3 billion dollar settlement for the state of Alabama.


Our work on the spill case built consensus and found common ground. It brought together the interests of fiscal conservatives and environmental advocates, and we delivered results because it was the right thing to do. While victims of the Alaska spill in 1989 waited 22 years for settlement, the Attorney General’s office delivered justice and set a gold standard for responding quickly and effectively to the needs of Gulf Coast communities.


After all, Mr. President, the institutions our founders laid out in the Constitution are only as strong as the people’s belief in their strength. When America no longer trusts that its representatives are remaining true to their oaths, the entire system loses its value.


As the most recent Senator to take the oath, I remember the feeling of the Bible under my left hand. I remember reflecting on a verse it contains that has brought me peace in times of challenge. Proverbs 19:21 says “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”


I remember raising my right hand, here in the well where so many others have gone before – many of whom likely found it difficult to discern what exactly the Lord’s purpose was in that moment.


Each of them came to this body in the face of significant national challenges. Some faced violent conflict, others an economic crisis.


Our forebears would not be surprised by the issues before this body today. But I do believe they would be surprised, and discouraged, by the emptiness of the Marble Room.



Mr. President, the policy challenges we face are not new ones. This body debates a budget resolution every single year. Many years, it also faces questions of war and conflict overseas. At least once every decade or so, it faces some tectonic crisis of the economy.


As a lifelong student of history, I am reassured by stories of the grave crises that have been addressed on this very floor. In this chamber, the post-Civil War Senate ensured that the nation stayed the course of healing and reunification. In this chamber, the Senate put politics aside to defeat the rise of fascism in Europe, and guided the creation of a new 20th century world order.


On this floor, long-overdue support for civil rights was won, vote by vote. This struggle is held vividly in the memory of my home state. In the early 1960s, my elementary school outside Birmingham was segregated. By 1971, I was taking the court with three young black men – teammates, classmates and friends – to play for the state basketball championship.


As our nation evolves, the traditions and history of the Senate demand that this institution meet each new challenge, armed with the will of the American people.


And as I watched with the rest of the country, it was on this floor that the Senate restored faith in our institutions by delivering justice after Watergate.


The idea that the chaos and upheaval that we see today are somehow unique falls flat in the face of monumental history. Pundits and politicians alike are too quick to speak in superlatives, but chaos and change are nothing new.


The Senate was designed to endure, and rooms of marble are built to last.


Studying Senate history puts the issues of today in perspective, but it also sheds light on the true challenge of our generation – a newer, more serious threat to the future of this institution and its traditions.


You see, the Senate was designed to accommodate conflict and profound disagreement. It was not, however, designed to tolerate the entrenched factionalism that dominates today’s proceedings. It was not designed for the people’s representatives to hunker down in private rooms, emerging only long enough to cast votes.


There are a hundred seats in this chamber. Each was contested and hard-earned, but they are rarely all occupied. The cameras likely don’t show it from this angle, but many of them before me today are empty.


The less time we spend in the same room, the easier it becomes to view our colleagues on the other side of the aisle as obstacles instead of opportunities.


What do I mean by opportunities?


Mr. President, our generation of leaders will be judged by history on whether we strove to heal the divisions of this body and our nation. In pursuit of that goal, every member of this body is an opportunity to grow in understanding.


And yet, compromise has become a dirty word in American politics, and it’s a serious threat to our hopes of advancing meaningful policy.


It seems that reasonable Americans understand what we are called to do better than we do. A farmer in Alabama once told me that “if my wife sends me to the store to buy a dozen eggs and there are only a half dozen left, I’ll come home with a half dozen.”


On this floor, we have the power to bring home a half dozen eggs, and even make it a dozen for the American people. We have the power to be a profound force for good.


After all, compromise was baked into the Founders’ design. At the heart of our system of checks and balances is an understanding that no one branch, and certainly no one partisan faction, will get everything it wants, all the time.


From the very beginning, compromise allowed our nation to embrace both the republicanism of Thomas Jefferson and the federalism of Alexander Hamilton. The very structure of this body is a result of the Connecticut Compromise of 1787, which accommodated proponents of both equal and proportional representation.


The authors of this pragmatic solution, Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth, are depicted on the wall outside this chamber, not far from the Marble Room, where their example of finding common ground would be practiced for years to come.


Mr. President, in the shadow of these founding debates, political voices today are arguing louder and louder about smaller and smaller things. It is easy for those outside this chamber to insist that they know what should be done. As long as we remain so deeply divided, these outside voices will always win.


When I leave the Senate, I hope to have lived up to the words of a different voice. On April 23, 1910, in a time of change, as the United States was coming to define a new world order, President Teddy Roosevelt delivered a now-famous message, which bears repeating:


“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.


“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasm, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”


Here today, our nation faces challenges like it did during Watergate 43 years ago, and like it did in the time of Roosevelt 107 years ago. When we have each left this great body, I know we would like to be remembered as men and women in the arena – as people who spent themselves in worthy causes.


I am convinced – the worthiest cause we can join today is a return to the collegiality, the pragmatism, and yes, the compromise, of the Marble Room.



Mr. President, as I leave the Senate, I am indebted to so many – to those who have helped me become the man I am today, to the colleagues who have welcomed me as a partner in the people’s business, and to the great state of Alabama which I have had the immense honor to serve.


I thank God every day for the blessing of my wife, Melissa, my children and grandchildren. Greeting every day assured by their love and support has made my work here possible.


I thank my staff in Alabama and here in Washington, who have risen to the task of serving our great state through troubling times. Their tireless dedication reminds me that there is a bright future within reach.


I thank the staff of the Senate serving here on the floor and in the cloakrooms, the U.S. Capitol Police, and all those who preserve, protect, and defend this hallowed institution.


I thank each of my colleagues for the privilege of joining them in service. The friends and working partners I have found here in the Senate give me great hope that in the right hands, this experiment in representative government will long endure.


I thank the men of principle who have served Alabama with honor for years before me – Jeff Sessions, for his example of deep reverence for this institution, and Richard Shelby, especially for his friendship and guidance during my time in the Senate.


Finally, Mr. President, I thank the people of my state. Alabama is a beautiful place, and millions of hardworking people call it home. As I look back on my career, I am most proud of the last seven years I have spent working on their behalf, both in Montgomery and here in Washington.



Mr. President, in preparing my remarks for today, I spent a lot of time in the Marble Room. I reflected on the stone that built it, and the bedrock of my hometown.


I thought about the lawmakers who frequented it years ago. I thought about the challenges they faced – their own principled stands and pragmatic negotiations. Most importantly, I thought about the common ground they found there. Off the record and away from the cameras, this space presents us with an opportunity to once again find balance.


Balance between principle and pragmatism in the Senate would reflect the very spirit of America, which is defined by balance.


The zeal for adventure that won the West and put human footsteps on the face of the Moon is balanced by a reverence for tradition and our founding principles – individual liberty, the rule of law, and the pursuit of happiness.


The entrepreneurial drive that built great cities and today drives innovators to ask “what’s next” is balanced by a solemn remembrance of the struggle and sacrifice that have paved the way.


The Senate is the sacred place that was designed to embrace this spirit of America; to lose the art of balance and compromise in this body is to lose something essentially American.


If we cannot find shared cause – shared purpose – in the quiet corners of that space across the hall, then we may never find it here on the floor of the Senate, where the critics are so quick to point out how “the doers of deeds could have done them better.” As I prepare to leave this esteemed body, I urge my colleagues, who will face many more challenges ahead, to take these words to heart.


For the sake of our nation, I urge them to return to the Marble Room.


Mr. President, I yield the floor.”

Imagine: Art Endures

Last week marked the 37th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder.
In three years, he will be gone as long as he lived.
For me and for millions of others, the loss still stings.
I was 16 when Howard Cosell broke the tragic news on Monday Night Football.
Although my friends and I were only six when The Beatles broke up in 1970, we were devoted and devout fans. Yes we missed the band when they were active, but we didn’t miss out on their music. It was a big part of our lives.
It still is.
Thanks to The Beatles Channel on Sirius XM I get to listen to the band on my morning commute to the office. It’s great to have The Beatles and the solo music of John Lennon as a part of my daily life.
Great music and great art endures. It’s timeless.
The issues of the day come and go—worries bubble up and fade– but a great song, a great movie, a great book, a great painting– they last.
And so the music of John Lennon endures.
My friends and I joined 225,000 people in Central Park a few days after the tragedy for a vigil to honor Lennon. It’s a memory that will last a lifetime; throngs of people singing, crying and trying to make sense of a senseless act of violence.

All over the world, people mourned. In Palm Beach, fans were welcomed onto the grounds of John and Yoko’s home to pray and grieve. It was interesting to read the coverage in the Palm Beach Daily News last week chronicling John and Yoko’s ties to our area.

Years later, hundreds of fans streamed  into a tent on the grounds of Old School Square to view Lennon’s art work– a testament to his lasting impact.
That’s the power of great art and great artists. Their work resonates and lasts.
Readers of this blog know that I’m a huge admirer of Bruce Springsteen another artist whose work has endured.
William Taylor, founding editor of Fast Company magazine, recently went to see “Springsteen on Broadway” which has gotten rave reviews. It’s an evening of intimate songs and stories about Bruce’s life. The magic of great art is that it somehow becomes about all of our lives. We gain insight and clarity from music, art, drama and literature.
Here’s what Mr. Taylor shared on Facebook.
“Well, some folks have asked, and now that we are back from NYC here is my very brief reaction to Springsteen on Broadway. The show is as overwhelming as people say it is. It is a funny, joyous, unbelievably personal celebration of life. It is also an aching, painful, unbelievably personal meditation on mortality, the unbearable sadness of so much of what happens to us and how it shapes us. What’s also striking is the sound. The theater is so small, the sound system so good, it feels like you are inside the guitars, like you can feel the strings on your skin.  And when Bruce, time and again, steps away from the mic and talks or sings directly to the audience, with no amplification, you truly can hear a pin drop. I am man enough to say I reached for the Kleenex three times, which actually showed some good emotional restraint. I know tickets are impossible, but keep trying….”
That’s the power of music. That’s the power of a great artist to touch and move an audience.

We won’t be talking about the small bore politics of the day six months from now never mind decades from now .
But we will be listening to John Lennon’s music.
Of that I’m certain.
When WPBT recently ran a special on The Beatles, we watched and smiled. The music is amazing. The chemistry still crackles.
It’s genius. Pure and simple.

The Arts Warehouse, Empty Bowls & Public Service

A display at the new Arts Warehouse in downtown Delray.

We attended the long awaited soft opening of the new Arts Warehouse Friday night.

It was worth the wait.

Kudos to the CRA for having the vision—and the fortitude—to stick with this project near Third Avenue and Third Street in the burgeoning Artist’s Alley area of Pineapple Grove.

The addition of the Arts Warehouse which has gallery space, public space and artist’s studios will enable artists to build their skills and their clientele in a low-cost environment in a high value part of town.

Those of us who remember Pineapple Grove founder Norm Radin will remember that the original vision of the district was to be an artsy complement to Atlantic Avenue.

With Old School Square, the Arts Garage and now the Arts Warehouse, Delray Beach is rapidly building an arts and cultural scene that will keep the city relevant and interesting to residents, visitors and creatives.

The CRA’s investment in the old warehouse and its imaginative design (great job Currie-Sowards-Aguila Architects) will pay dividends for years to come.

We ran into one of my favorite local artists the wonderfully talented Ralph Papa who was beaming with excitement. Mr. Papa says it’s critical for artists to have low cost space to grow their talent and that the lack of such space often stunts or even stops artists from developing their artistic vision.

It was also gratifying to see fans and patrons of the Arts Garage and key staff and board members from Old School Square at the opening. Their presence shows support and the potential for collaboration which only leverages each organization and the city as a whole.

The CRA often endures blistering criticism for their investments—much of it way off the mark although no agency is perfect. The fact is the true mark of a good investment is whether there is a return on that investment—in terms of tax base, business activity, vibrancy and quality of life.

Time and time again for three plus decades, the CRA has consistently delivered.

My bet is that the Arts Warehouse will prove to be a solid investment yielding dividends for years to come in a myriad of ways.

When you’re in the neighborhood, make sure to check it out.


Empty Bowls

I had the privilege to serve soup (delicious black bean from Cabana El Rey) Sunday afternoon at “Empty Bowls Delray Beach”.

This is the second year for this unique event at Old School Square at which we “eat simply so others can simply eat.”


When you think of Palm Beach County, we mainly think of our gorgeous weather, many activities and prosperity. But, even here in our beautiful county, more than 200,000 residents don’t know where they will get their next meal. Last year this event raised more than $100,000 for hungry Palm Beach residents served through the Palm Beach County Food Bank.

Not sure how they did this year, but the event seemed well attended. Kudos to the volunteers and especially Shelly and Billy Himmelrich—two amazing people—who helped to organize and promote the event.


The Food Bank provides food to more than 110 food pantries, soup kitchens and residential programs who serve our neighbors in need. They also provide weekend feeding packs for children (Food4OurKids), nutrition education in partnership with the University of Florida (Nutrition Driven) and connect residents with federal programs through Benefits Outreach. Each month, the Food Bank’s partner agencies serve more than 100,000 individuals across the county and annually they distribute more than 5 million pounds of food.

Those are astonishing numbers.


But despite the yeoman’s work of the Food Bank, the need remains great.

And particularly this time of year, when we are focused on family, fellowship and celebrations, it’s a perfect time to give back and to think of others less fortunate.

The need is year-round and unfortunately growing. Yes, there is hunger in our own backyard.

Here’s a list of the generous sponsors—- and to the chef who made the artichoke soup—well let’s just say words can’t describe how good it tastes.

Empty Bowls Delray Beach sponsors: Old School Square, Old School Bakery, Elmore Family Foundation, Patty & Rod Jones, Pechter Family Foundation, Under the Sun, Brenda Medore & Leanne Adair, Bethesda Hospital Foundation, Katherine and Joshua Littlefield, Jeffrey Pechter, Deborah and Michael Pucillo, Transforming Kids, American Heritage school, Michele and Randy Broda, Caffe Luna Rosa, Cheney Brothers, City Capital Group, Menin, Coco & Co, Delivery Dudes, Delray Beach plastic Surgery, Floridian Community Bank, peacelovesolve, Red Steel Property and Stuart & Shelby Development, Inc.


Our trip to the Glades….

Every year, the Palm Beach County League of Cities hosts its year-end meeting at a beautiful waterfront park in Belle Glade.

The event collects toys for needy children and also serves as a reunion for municipal leaders from throughout the county. County officials and state legislators also gravitate to the event for a fun afternoon of food, home grown vegetables and networking.

I like to go every year because it keeps me connected to city government. So while I have been termed out for a decade now (hold your applause), I still feel a kinship with local elected officials and staff. I also know quite a few from my era who are still serving (bless their souls) and it is fun to catch up and trade stories. (It was nice to see you, Chevelle).

We have such a vast county—which you realize when you make the long trek to the Glades.

It’s also a diverse county—with bigger cities such as West Palm and wealthy towns such as Palm Beach, sharing common challenges with smaller cities such as South Bay and Pahokee.

The League of Cities is an important organization because it’s a convener, a connector and a fierce advocate for the principles of Home Rule and the needs and interests of cities.

As the government closest to the people, local cities and towns have the ability to be nimble and affect positive change rapidly…if they are focused, determined and willing to stand up against the naysayers who exist in every town.

There’s not a lot of glory in local government service, but there could be immense satisfaction and opportunity if local leaders engage stakeholders, forge a vision and most important of all, execute.

You have to make decisions and get things done.

It’s that simple….if you choose to take advantage of the huge opportunity presented by public service.