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.

Riding The Storm Out

I have lived in South Florida for 30 years.

I have experience with hurricanes large and small. Irma felt different.

There was more anxiety attached to this storm than any I’ve  experienced.

Maybe it was the length of time we spent waiting for the storm to arrive or social media or the TV coverage; it all seemed to add up to a whole lot of fear. I know people who fled to Tampa only to double back to South Florida when Irma’s track shifted west. And I know others who fled the state altogether.

We are fed tons of information when hurricanes approach and this one was scary and doled out a severe beating to those in its path. At last count, 55 people lost their lives in the storm.

Boca and Delray took a beating. We will recover. But for people in the Keys, the west coast and the islands, Irma’s path of destruction will leave indelible scars. And yet…

I do know this and it’s a cliche. But crisis and emergencies focus us as people.

We come together. We work collaboratively, we seek to help others and be helped ourselves — -as it should be.

If only it would last and this approach toward life could be a way of life.

Not the anxiety part, but the collaborative spirit that lives inside most of us. (Not the guy who flew through a four way stop this morning at Linton and Federal)

Wishing you all a speedy recovery….and may we all serve as shelters in the storm for each other.

Pride of the Yankees

Aaron Judge. Where have you gone Mr. O’Connor, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you. 

I have a problem with bullies.
I suspect most of us do.
Bullies are detestable. They hurt people in ways that leave deep and lasting scars.
I don’t know why I have such an aversion to bullies. It’s not like I was bullied as a child outside of a few incidents which usually ended in a bloody nose (either me or the offender). I was taught to stand up to bullies and sometimes that may cost you a bloody nose or a lost tooth, but it usually remedies the situation.
I learned that bullies  will take your lunch money every day until you say no and endure the consequences which are usually less painful than the daily humiliation and stress of having your dignity compromised.
In politics, you run into bullies on a regular basis.
The typical rule is to never feed a troll. It demeans you and gives the troll status.
But there are exceptions…
If the troll/bully gets traction and begins to move public opinion you have a responsibility to stand up for the truth or at least tell the other side of the story.
And if the bully is picking on your staff, community and teammates or those who are suffering you should take a stand and stick up for people. Indifference never  benefits the afflicted.
Frankly, I’m seeing a lot of bullying in Delray these days.
A lot of it occurs on social media where in between posts about dogs, graduations and entertaining memes featuring cats or Chris Christie in a beach chair, a fair amount of hating occurs.
Two recent examples –out of hundreds –are comments relating to Delray’s recovery industry and the proposal to redevelop the Sundy House and related properties.
I get that issues relating to recovery, heroin and sober homes are immensely complex and highly emotional. There are bad operators, scammers, relapses, overdoses, concerns about PTSD among first responders, fraudulent business practices and the list goes on. All are fair game for discussion and worry. These are scary issues and this is a frightening time.
But there are people who recover. There are people who contribute. There are good people who wake up everyday and try to save others.
But if you see some of the comments on social media you’ll be stunned at the lack of empathy. Or maybe you won’t. Maybe we’ve become immune. Maybe we’ve grown so callous and judgmental that we are ok with painting with a broad brush.
Or wishing that addicts would “just die.” Or questioning whether addiction is real or a sign of weakness or bad character.
Friends, we are all weak at times and none of us are getting through life unscathed. A little compassion goes a long way.
I have close friends in recovery. People I respect and adore. I see how they hurt when they read or hear some of the more judgmental and I believe discriminatory comments.
And I think that’s a shame. Because when you paint with a broad brush you smear a lot of good people.
To wit:
I think the Crossroads Club has been a blessing to our city and to thousands of people. I’ve heard wonderful things about Wayside House and Beachcomber and as a young reporter I spent a ton of time “embedded” at the Drug Abuse Foundation and got to know some dedicated counselors.
Civic leaders such as former Mayor Leon Weekes spent years serving on the board of DAF. I really liked Mayor Weekes and admired his dedication to the community.
Speaking of dedication, I have attended meetings of our Drug Task Force and I’m impressed by the passion, commitment and yes love in the room.
All of these responsible operators would love to go away; if it meant the scourge of addiction was solved.
But addiction is a disease and it’s real and it’s here and everywhere across our nation and world.
We can bash. We can label. We can blame. But all that does is polarize. All that does is drive us further apart. It does not solve a thing.
As for Swinton Commons. I don’t know enough about the site plan to render an opinion. Haven’t seen it other than the renderings floating around the internet.
And contrary to some rumors, we’re not involved in the project. I like Rick Gonzalez, the architect. We hired Rick when I was mayor to help us tighten and improve our historic district guidelines. He’s a dedicated preservationist. The real deal.
Still, I don’t know if the project as constituted works or not.
I do know that the Sundy House properties will be redeveloped at some point. The historic homes on the site are in danger and the South Swinton Neighborhood needs a shot in the arm.
Regardless, the trashing on social media of those who support the project and other proposed projects is ridiculous.
I get it. I get the concerns. Too big, too much, too ugly etc. But what about an understanding of  other views? The need for jobs, the need for tax base to fund services, the need for attainable housing and property rights.
There is opportunity in the concerns. It resides in our willingness and our ability to convene all sides and air the concerns, acknowledge them, mitigate or eliminate them.
But too often we choose the opposite. We choose to pick sides and divide.
People have been labeled corrupt, profit motivated (shocking) and my favorite “Yankees.” As in the Yankees ruined our town.
Not the Derek Jeter, Babe Ruth and Aaron Judge (isn’t he amazing) Yankees –but I suppose those of us from the northeast.
Sigh.
For the record, I’m a proud New Yorker. I’ve lived here 30 years but I guess in some eyes, we will always be Yankees.
That’s ok. We’re proud of where we come from and proud of where we live now. We are also proud of our contributions to South Florida. Some of us are actually pretty nice people.
As my old English teacher Mr. O’Connor once said: “ignorance is its own refutation.”
But is it?
In the age of social media, where every Tom, Expert Maven and Self Anointed Avenger has a bullhorn– will facts, context, rule of law, truth and authenticity still carry the day? Is my old English teacher, who looked like Les Nessman from WKRP in Cincinnati (dating myself) but was the coolest teacher at Ward Melville, wrong?
I hope not. But I have some doubts for the first time. I’ve always believed that the truth was a stubborn thing and over time it prevails. I want to hold onto that.
But I do think that we are missing opportunity after opportunity to connect, collaborate and figure out a way to co-exist productively.
I read a blog this morning called “collaboration is the new leadership.”
I hope so, because I don’t see a lot of collaboration. I do see the opposite. And it doesn’t leave us happy. It doesn’t build community.
We can do better. We must.

 

 

 

The Four Freedoms Reminds Us of a Gentler Way

The Norman Rockwell Four Freedoms paintings ran in the Saturday Evening Post in February 1943.

Bob Greene is one of my favorite writers.

When I was young, just starting out in newspapers, I devoured his books which were mostly compilations of his columns in the Chicago Tribune.

One time, on a lark, I called the Trib newsroom and asked for Mr. Greene. When they patched me through and I heard his voice, I panicked and hung up. I never thought it could be that easy to speak to someone I thought was famous. It turns out he was a working reporter—just like me—only far more experienced, vastly more talented and certainly way better known.

I thought Mr. Greene had the best job in the world. He wrote about topics and people that interested him and went wherever his curiosity took him. Fortunately, he took his readers with him before a personal scandal took away his Tribune byline.

A week ago, I read a column in the Wall Street Journal on civility, freedom of speech and Norman Rockwell. It touched me deeply and I clipped it out, a rare occurrence these days, when it’s so easy to find online and share. I did that as well, sending the digital version to friends and family. But for some reason, I wanted the print version for myself. I’m not ready to recycle it just yet, if ever.

I was surprised to see Bob Greene’s name on the piece and it was as well written and heartfelt as the columns I remembered at the beginning of my career.

Mr. Greene never totally abandoned newspapers—as I did–for a while at least– before buying a share of the Delray and Boca Newspaper a little over a year ago. There’s something about print that still speaks to me. I’m not sure what and why that is—but while I read extensively online, my best experiences as a reader is still holding a newspaper or a printed book.

The column in the Journal talked about the “Four Freedoms”—a series of paintings by Norman Rockwell 75 years ago that were done to lift the spirits of the nation during World War II.

Rockwell offered the paintings to the government and was rejected—until the Saturday Evening Post ran the paintings on its cover and Americans responded with excitement and appreciation. The “Four Freedoms” which outline what makes America great: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear were cornerstones of FDR’s governing philosophy. The U.S. government sold over $130 million worth of war bonds by using the Rockwell paintings to rally Americans.

The column focused on Freedom of Speech and the painting depicts a man, dressed in work clothes rising up to speak at what appears to be a Town Hall meeting. He stands among men in suits and ties who appear older and wealthier than the man speaking. What Bob Greene focuses on is the eyes of the speaker—unsure, maybe a little nervous about speaking but resolute in his right to do so. And look at the eyes of the men around him, they are making eye contact, they are listening.

We don’t know the subject matter or whether the speaker and his listeners agree or disagree—but Rockwell captures the magic of being able to speak freely and the power of listening to our neighbors in a civil and respectful manner.

We are embarking on the closing weeks of campaigns in Delray Beach and Boca Raton, barely four months after a brutal presidential election.

We can expect social media hits, nasty mail, robocalls and even TV ads that denigrate candidates and their positions and motives.

Locally, we see the same garbage every cycle—campaign consultants are always “slick”, developers are always “greedy”, business interests are “self-serving”, lobbyists are “slimy” and politicians are “corrupt.”

Candidates promise to lower taxes, slay traffic, stop overdevelopment, fight crime, help schools, close sober homes and make government work better. We hardly, if ever, see the details; candidates rarely share how they will do these things but they all have a plan. And the cycle continues.

So much of it seems empty and vacuous.

The elections have winners, but we the people never seem to win. Promises go unfulfilled, voters get disappointed and some stop caring and voting altogether.

The quality of candidates also seems to be affected by the toxic nature of the game. Many qualified community leaders refuse to run for office—at least in Delray. They may serve on boards, volunteer for non-profits and care very deeply but they refuse to run and we all pay the price for that refusal, which I understand but oh how I wish it were different. The smartest and most sensitive people I know–the ones who really get it and care–wouldn’t think of running and subjecting themselves and their families to the toxicity that too often is tolerated and overwhelms politics at all levels. It used to be that local politics was a respite from the swamp–but that’s not the case anymore. And that’s a shame.

While I do believe that if you “can’t stand the heat” you don’t belong in the kitchen, I also believe that as a civil society there ought to be limits and an engaged citizenry that stands up when boundaries are crossed; when debate and differences cross over into cruelty and bullying. Admittedly, there’s no definitive definition of when that occurs, but most reasonable people would agree when it does and that’s when the community should stand up and say “knock it off.” If we had that, we’d have better candidates, better outcomes, better processes and more efficient government at all levels.

It takes courage to step into the arena. It’s not easy to raise money, gather signatures, knock on doors, coordinate volunteers, give speeches, go to forums and see your record and character smeared by faceless people many of whom have never contributed anything to building a better community. It’s also a very hard job–at least if you care about really making a difference; if you see elected office as a job to do not to have. Many are simply unwilling to risk their seats–and so they play small ball, kick the can on serious issues or give themselves over to puppet masters who are all too eager to use you and dump you overboard when you’re no longer useful.

This brings me back to Rockwell’s painting: a world where citizens make eye contact, listen and practice civility even if they disagree. Especially if they disagree.

Many of us long for that world. We long for community, connection, empathy and dialogue. That’s the motivation behind “Better Delray” a new movement modeled on similar groups across the country. It’s not about dollars as some conspiracy theorists opine from behind the safety of a computer screen and it’s not a “lobby” in the traditional sense anyway, but an advocate for better schools, better government, better conversations and a sustainable future. We may disagree on how to get there or what that might look like, but there has to be a better way to have those discussions than what we’ve seen in recent years.

I recently read another story about the revitalization of Des Moines, Iowa from dull city  into a creative hub. The key to the resurgence, which has created jobs, attracted artists and improved quality of life, is what locals refer to as “radical collaboration”: Democrats and Republicans working together, large company CEO’s, artists and start-up founders collaborating because all of them realize that they need each other to succeed.

What a concept.

I have seen this type of collaboration happen in my city. It is the reason why Delray achieved its success. And it’s fading fast.

I fear we will forget the formula and that our civic muscles will atrophy if we don’t begin to practice community building again.

Lately, the narrative seems to be that everything that came before was somehow wrong, broken, incompetent, corrupt or all of the above. And truth be told, some of it was. Some of it—not all of it. Not by a long shot.

It’s OK to question. It’s healthy even. But many of those who are or were involved don’t remember being asked any questions. They do remember being condemned. And it bothers them. In a big and very personal way.

Some of those who condemn and judge should  know better because they personally benefited from a past they are busy disparaging. And others who haven’t been here long enough to know better would benefit from exhibiting even a dollop of respect and curiosity before judging people. If they took the time and just asked why…why we have a CRA, festivals, a fire contract with Highland Beach, our own fire department, a Chamber, Old School Square, a gateway feature, density, conditional use, a park near Old School Square, pensions for cops and firefighters or a need for better race relations they may just learn something.

None of these things are sacrosanct or above accountability or change, but all of them have a purpose and have done some incredible things for our community. The conversations that would occur (in lieu of condemnations) would grow relationships and that’s what builds communities and makes them special.

Unfortunately, sometimes our nature is to tilt too far before we right the ship. Sometimes we go off the cliff, crash and burn before we make the long climb out of the crevasse. But I’d caution, that recovery and healing is not guaranteed, so it’s always best to avoid the plunge.

But I’m hopeful and worried at the same time if that makes sense.

I see a new age of civility nationally and locally emerging as a result of where we are. A return to “Rockwellian” America  may be too much to ask—and maybe that was just an ideal anyway. But we need to make eye contact again. We need to learn to work together—again. We need to stop bullying, labeling and hating each other. We just do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Task Force Exhibits Passion & Leadership

heroin

Our country is suffering from a deadly crisis.

People are dying from coast to coast as a result of heroin and other forms of substance abuse.

It’s not a new problem, but it’s growing, and right now heroin, flakka and fentanyl are taking a heavy toll. A very heavy toll.

Our community is really suffering. Nearly 800 drug related calls for service in the first six months of the year, according to recent stats. People are overdosing or dying with shocking regularity on our streets and in homes.

Our police officers and firefighter/paramedics –many very young– are having to cope with a humanitarian crisis, hitting people with doses of Narcan (which reverses the effects of heroin) to save lives. But Narcan is not much of a match for fentanyl, which is incredibly powerful. It’s a lot to deal with and despite incredible efforts by dedicated people the flood continues.

Recently, I have gotten to know and admire Suzanne Spencer, who for five years has been the volunteer leader of Delray’s Drug Task Force. The effort dates back to a former commission colleague of mine, the late Pat Archer, who was passionate about the issue and led early efforts to gather the community and respond to the challenges posed by substance abuse disorder.

Suzanne Spencer has taken the task force to new heights and it has taken a toll on her and others involved on the front lines of this issue. There’s not a lot of good news to share–yet. But Spencer and the people she has attracted to the task force understand that if our community is going to make a positive impact it will require collaboration, communication, information sharing and a whole lot of resources and smart problem solving. They are making a difference.

I have had the privilege of attending the past two task force meetings hosted by our Chamber of Commerce. The meetings attract a wide variety of players from our police chief (and other local law enforcement from Delray and neighboring cities) and the State Attorney’s Office to corporate citizens such as Ocean Properties, treatment providers, city officials from as far away as Pompano Beach, hospital administrators, insurers, EMS providers, Congressional staff and attorneys.

I was particularly touched to see retired Police Officer Jeff Messer at the meetings. Jeff is volunteering many hours in an effort to talk to people in the grips of addiction. It is heartening to see experienced officers stay involved— their experience and perspective is simply invaluable. Many dealt with the crack cocaine epidemic, which also took a very heavy toll on Delray Beach.

But as difficult as the crack wars were, heroin  and its tentacles may prove to be even more challenging. The issue leeches into human trafficking, patient brokering, insurance fraud and all sorts of exploitation.

Another retired police officer, my friend Marc Woods, now works for the city dealing with sober homes and related issues. Marc is a very passionate guy. He has seen a lot. What he’s seeing today overwhelms him—the emotional toll of seeing what happens to people caught up in a twisted system in which bad actors exploit and destroy lives is very evident when you talk to Marc.

It is important to note that there are good providers in our community, doing good work with people who need help to return to their families and to a productive life.

But it’s the bottom feeders that are literally soaking people for money and playing with their lives that trouble the officers and paramedics that I talk to.

Heroin abuse is a particularly vexing challenge even for good providers, because according to those in the know, the condition of patients coming into treatment is deteriorating—they are in the grips of an addiction that is very hard to shake.

It is gratifying to see the heart and minds sitting around the table at the Chamber from all walks of life and disciplines trying their best to make an impact.

We should take pride that our community is pioneering a lot of innovative tactics, but we must also realize that we haven’t made a dent yet.

Delray Beach Police Chief Jeff Goldman is deploying a three-pronged approach to the crisis: enforcement, education and lifesaving.

He has reached out to FAU’s school of clinical social work in an effort to bring more resources to the cause.

More resources will be needed because the scope of the problem is ever changing. For instance, last week law enforcement was tipped to a large shipment of flakka that arrived in the area. That drug is incredibly powerful and causes very volatile and strange behavior in users. In addition, local addicts are now carrying their own Narcan, meaning that they are self-administering or working with buddies to prevent overdose deaths. But without professional medical attention or an understanding of the drug’s half-life, the behavior is seen as extremely dangerous.

Delray police are seeking to hire a clinical social worker and that would to be a very wise hire to help our community cope better with this issue.

Meanwhile, Delray Medical Center is expanding its facilities to add 12-15 beds by year’s end to deal with behavioral health emergencies and local businesses are joining the task force so they can help employees and better understand the issue.

Thanks to efforts by people like Marc Woods and Delray police and code enforcement officers so-called “overdose houses” used to exploit addicts are being identified and shut down. But despite these proactive efforts, nobody is under the illusion that victory is near.

“We haven’t made a dent yet,” said Goldman. “But we will.”

I believe him.

I also believe in collaboration and that’s what makes what the task force is doing so important and so extraordinary. They deserve our support. Suzanne Spencer is what leadership is all about, bringing people together to solve challenges and make a difference. Over time, they will. They already have.