A Trip Around The Sun

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

How do you measure? Measure a year?

In daylights,

In sunsets,

In midnights,

In cups of coffee,

In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife

In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

How do you measure a year in a life?

“Seasons of Love” from the Broadway show Rent.

2020…oh my goodness.

We sure have been through a whole lot together.

Covid.

Social unrest.

Division.

So much division.

Before we say goodbye to a year I think we all yearn to see in the rear view, let’s pause for a few moments and reflect on what we’ve experienced.

This is the deadliest year in US history with deaths expected to top 3 million for the first time due mainly to the coronavirus pandemic.

Final mortality data for this year will not be available for months but preliminary numbers suggest that the United States is on track to see more than 3.2 million deaths this year or at least 400,000 more than 2019.

That’s a staggering number.

It’s almost too much to comprehend.

But we need to try because we end the year with so many families in pain, hungry and lost. Friends, our world needs a lot more empathy if we are to create a better world for our children.

U.S. deaths increase most years so some increase in fatalities is to be expected but the 2020 numbers amount to a jump of about 15 percent and could go higher. That would mark the largest single year percentage leap since 1918 when tens of thousands of US soldiers died in World War I and hundreds of thousands of Americans died in the flu pandemic.

Yes, this has been a helluva year.

We won’t ever forget 2020 but while we are anxious to turn the page and resume our lives, I’m hoping we don’t blindly rush forward. I’m hoping we drive slow and consciously think about how we can make this world a better place. I know that’s kind of a sappy sentiment, but sometimes the world can use a little sappiness.

We are at a crossroads. Down one path is more fighting, down another is a chance at healing and progress. We can’t have both. It’s one or the other.

I happen to think that we are very weary of fighting each other. So many people I talk to are tired of the callousness, the meanness and the insensitivity of our discourse.

I sense that we long for kindness, community, purpose, meaning, love and empathy.

We need to carve out a space for gentle hearts to thrive in this world.

How do we do that?

By standing up to bullies.

By rewarding kindness.

By extending a hand to those who need a lift up.

By setting the record straight– if we can.

By doing what we can to help others.

Simple things make a big difference.

While 2020 was brutal, it did force us to slow down. That’s a good and valuable thing.

If we were lucky enough to take the time to reflect, we realize that life is both fragile and precious.

Last holiday season, nobody knew the word Covid and yet the virus upended our lives and almost took mine; proof that we are vulnerable and tomorrow is not guaranteed.

While we know that intellectually, it’s easy to lose sight of our mortality and fail to prioritize what’s truly important. In 2020, gliding through life became harder and for many of us impossible.

So as we close in on another trip around the sun for some reason the words to a Jimmy Buffett song are swimming around my head.

“Yes I’ll make a resolution, that I’ll never make another one.

Just enjoy this ride on my trip around the sun. Just enjoy this ride.”

To my friends, I hope you enjoy the ride. Please stay safe and let’s do what we can to make 2021 a better year for everyone. That’s my prayer for the New Year.

Honoring The Covenant

I don’t like misinformation.

I don’t like bullies.

And I really do not like those who traffic in disrespect; which makes social media a minefield for me.

One of the worst things about platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is the ease by which we can easily step on the mines that are lies, bullying and disrespect.

Sigh….

The lies and negativity run rampant in our news feed, often spread, sadly by those we know. By those who ought to know better.

Last week, I saw a thread that really bothered me. By that I mean get under your skin and make you scream kind of bother.

Oh, I’ve gotten used to the garden variety poop we see these days: the insensitivity, the lack of empathy, the political drivel that for some reason people feel compelled to share.

But my skin crawls when people make sweeping pronouncements that discount, write off and outright lie about our recent  history here in Delray Beach.

I get irked when particular misinformation finds its way into the digital realm because I fear that the old adage is true: a lie will travel halfway around the world before the truth puts its pants on.

I used to think that the truth would prevail. I believed that the truth was a stubborn thing and it would refuse to go away.

Not anymore.

We now live in an age where there are no objective facts. That’s a helluva thing. Orwellian, dangerous and deadly.

Have mercy on us, because this kind of magical thinking is not only hurtful its potentially ruinous.

We have enabled this kind of culture. And if left alone, this destructive paradigm will bite us. It will bite us hard. It already has.

From masks to vaccines. From climate change to the integrity of our elections, we are seeing how divisive it can be when each of us is entitled to “alternative facts”—whatever that is.

But what chafed me recently was not the tired debate over something important like whether Covid is deadly but rather an inane argument over whether prior mayors, CRA staff and city staff were committed to helping our neediest neighborhoods and people.

As a former mayor married to a former CRA Director with close friends who were city staffers, mayors, Commissioners  and CRA staff, the assertion that nothing was done until the city commission took over the CRA is not only wrong, it’s insulting.

It’s dismissive and disrespectful to generations of staff, elected leaders and volunteers who devoted years of their lives to public service and rightly take pride in that service.

So I won’t let it pass.

I can’t let it pass.

It is not about claiming credit.

It’s about telling the truth.

And the truth is this.

For a generation, there has been a sincere effort to direct public and private investment to neglected neighborhoods.

Has it been enough?

No.

Nobody ever said it was. More investment is needed. Much more.

We need better schools, more opportunities and more thinking about how we can all work together to lift up everyone who lives in our city.

But to say that nothing has been done is wrong.

It’s a lie.

And it disrespects years of work by scores of community leaders, including a slew of “Elders” who worked closely with elected leaders and dedicated staff—or at least those who were smart enough to listen. And many were.

Truth is, we’ve seen a fraying of these efforts in recent years.

In Delray, we once talked about a “covenant.”

We once asked/hoped and expected that leaders would honor that covenant.

My understanding of the covenant is that when you sought a leadership position in Delray Beach, you were expected to listen, collaborate, learn, respect and do whatever you could to help those in our community who needed it most.

As an elected official, you did not get to claim that you honored the covenant; that was an honor given to you by the people. But only if you earned it. Only if you delivered real results not election year spin.

As a reporter, elected official and citizen I stood in awe of people like Libby Wesley, Vera Farrington, the Pompey’s, David Randolph, the Gholston’s, the Ramirez’s, Zack Straghn, legendary pastors and public employees who devoted their lives to the neighborhood we now call The Set.

Some won’t call the Northwest and Southwest neighborhoods  that name.

Why not?

As we approach the holiday season, the end of a brutal year, we ought to take stock.

As we lay one of our community heroes Alfred “Zack” Straghn to rest this weekend we ought to take a deep breath and assess where we are–as people and as a community.

Mr. Zack wasn’t satisfied nor should he have been with the state of our city. That’s not a criticism, but an acknowledgement that when you love and care about a community your work is never done. You are not allowed to rest on your laurels and you are not allowed let problems go unaddressed–they must be met with answers and careful attention. No Zack was not satisfied, nor was Mr. and Mrs. Pompey or the wonderful Miss Libby. But they also would have told you that they were proud of the progress that had been made and appreciative of all those rowing in the right direction.

Why can’t we respect the hard work done in the past, knowing the task is incomplete and that the promise of Delray is unfulfilled?

Why is it so easy to dismiss the work done by people who have devoted their lives and careers to this town?

Successful cities build brick by brick, inch by inch, year after year. Real leaders look forward, they don’t seek to rewrite history they seek to make history.

Try A Little Tenderness

The Delray Chamber gave the community a hug last week. We needed it.

Sometimes a simple act of kindness can make all the difference.
Last week, the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce gave the community a big hug and it felt amazing.

The hug was needed.

The hug was appreciated.

The hug showed us the immense power of kindness and community.

I hope it triggers more goodwill because we can all use an explosion of kindness as we end 2020 and look forward to a new year.

Ahh, yes a new year.
2020 has been brutal; we need to turn the page. We need a reason to believe.

2021 sits there–just over the horizon– an oasis after a long slog through a desert of despair.

Hundreds of thousands of families have lost loved ones.
Hundreds of thousands of people are struggling to overcome the lingering affects of a virus that has upended our lives and our world.

Businesses are really hurting.

Our social lives have been upended and community life has been interrupted. The best parts of our lives—human contact and interaction– have been put on hold.
There is fear and division throughout the country and right here at home. We sure need something to lift our spirits.

The Chamber of Commerce dove into that breach with a socially distant awards ceremony recognizing hometown heroes.
Teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters, business owners and non-profit executives were honored for going above and beyond to get us through this crazy and tragic year. And it felt great.

It was needed. It was appreciated and it reminds us of the possibilities that exist in Delray Beach if we just can find a way to be kind and work together. It’s not rocket science folks, but yet that simple concept of being kind and having empathy seems elusive these days.

The Chamber showed remarkable leadership at a critical time—the tail end of a year in which we have all suffered perhaps more than we can fully comprehend in the moment.

It reminded me and others of the “old days” when we made it a point to celebrate success and to come together during hard times.

But as much as it reminded us of happier times, the Hometown Heroes event showed us a path forward. We can do this again. And again.
There is much to be grateful for in America and in Delray Beach.
The winners and nominees are examples of our strength and resilience. We become a happier place when we stop and think about how much we have to be thankful for.

Emanuel “Dupree” Jackson, Marcus Darrisaw and the EJS Project were honored for the non-profit’s stellar work with young people. They are developing our future leaders while exhibiting grace in these trying times.
The Chamber honored the nursing staffs at Bethesda Hospital and Delray Medical Center who are busy saving lives and giving comfort to those battling a deadly virus. There are 900 nurses at Delray Medical alone, 900 heroes staying strong during the worst medical crisis of our lives.

We saw several educators honored as well: the principal of Village Academy, the founder of Space of Mind and a young teacher at Plumosa Elementary School finding creative ways to connect with students during the pandemic. Bless you La Toya Dixon, Ali Kaufman and Cassidee Boylston.

First responders were honored as well. Can you imagine an already stressful and dangerous job that has gotten even more dangerous? What does it take to suit up every day and risk it all to protect and serve? Thank goodness for our police officers and firefighter/paramedics.

The Chamber honored small business owners all of whom have had to dig deep to try and survive a crisis nobody saw coming or had any experience with.

The immensely talented Amanda Perna of The House of Perna, was recognized for donating thousands of masks to first responders and for giving jobs to seamstresses who were furloughed. They worked days and nights to help protect the community. Isn’t that beautiful?

A plaque doesn’t pay the bills or heal someone infected with Covid, but it’s important nonetheless.
It’s important to recognize, honor and appreciate each other. That simple act is healing.

So the Chamber  performed a very valuable service.

The organization itself has been tested by the pandemic. Largely event driven, the Chamber has had to re-invent itself on the fly.
In the capable hands of President Stephanie Immelman and Chair Noreen Payne– two extraordinarily gifted leaders–the chamber has stayed relevant, visible and has showed us once again why we need a strong chamber.

It’s important for business to have a voice but when the Delray Chamber is hitting on all cylinders it is much more than an advocate for commerce. It is an advocate for the entire community.
Through virtual events, webinars and round tables, the Chamber has made it through a brutal year.

They have reached out to members in need and urged us to stay connected and informed. That’s leadership . And a template for a bright future.

I am excited to see where the Chamber will go as my former commission colleague Dave Schmidt takes the chairman’s role.
Mayor Dave is a proven leader. We are in great hands.

So here’s to 2021.
Thank you Delray Chamber for shining the light of positivity at the end of a dark year.

Life Lessons

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned this year is that good and bad can co-exist. When something’s bad, it’s not all bad, and vice versa.

Take for example my recent battle with Covid-19; I don’t have much good to say about the virus but the experience taught me several important lessons. Among them:
 
Nurses are remarkable people. Just remarkable. 
Doctors are incredible too. 
We are blessed to have a hospital as good as Bethesda serving our community. 
I have lots and lots of wonderful friends. 
My family is amazing. 
My wife is next level great. And I love her more than I can ever express. 
Prayer is powerful. Very powerful. 
Those are all good lessons to learn or —in my case— relearn. 
 By now, most of us have written off 2020 as a terrible year. 
The virus has robbed us of so much. We are a dangerously divided nation—angry and distrustful of one another. 
It’s sad and depressing. 
And yet..
Some have used the pandemic to reconnect and reinvent. We are talking about important issues and while painful, it’s good that we are having these conversations. 
We have managed to reorder our lives and in some cases our businesses and careers. 
Yes, small businesses are hurting. And it’s tragic and painful to see people’s dreams disintegrate. Yet, amidst the mess, we are reminded  of the importance of small business; not only to our economy but the very character of our communities…we will deeply mourn those who close their doors. And I hope we will appreciate and support local businesses forevermore.

Yes,  we have lost a staggering amount of people to this virulent virus. It pains me to see their loss minimized as we argue over statistics. Death should not be partisan. We need to figure out how to be a more empathetic nation. It starts on the local level.
Kindness matters.
As a recipient of a huge outpouring of love and prayers, I can personally attest to how important love can be. It saved me. And I often thought of people who suffer alone—without family and friends or community. How lonely that must be…
Yes, our children’s education and social lives have been disrupted but we have also seen many families grow closer. I’m hopeful our children will learn from this experience. They will overcome. 
So yes, life is a mixed bag. 
Good and bad can and do co-exist. 
And yes, it’s true that it is always darkest before the dawn which is why I’m confident better days are on the way. 
 
Update: After 39 days at Bethesda Hospital battling Covid-19, I’m extremely happy to be home. It has been almost three weeks since my homecoming and I’m spending my time in physical and occupational therapy. I have five sessions a week learning to breathe, walk, climb stairs while rebuilding my strength which was completely zapped by the disease and a violent case of double pneumonia. 
I’m still on oxygen but I’ve graduated from a walker and can now walk unassisted around the house. 
My breathing feels labored at times, as if there’s an obstruction somewhere deep. 
I’ve been reading a lot about COVID and the experiences of people who develop conditions such as glaucoma, depression or  lupus after battling the virus. 
To be honest, it’s scary. 
It turns out Covid is a vascular disease and one has to wonder what it does to your system. 
I’m doing my best to focus on the positive and taking it a day at a time. I’m drawing strength and resolve from the many kind people who are in my corner. I remain in awe of them and am deeply grateful for the abundance of love in my life. I’m a lucky man. 

We Need Beacons Not Demagogues

Representative John Lewis on the bridge where he was tear gassed. He never took his eyes off the prize. 

Congressman John Lewis is an American hero.

An icon of the civil rights movement who marched and bled with MLK.
Rep.  Lewis is 80 now and ailing from cancer.
But his voice, tinged with passion, experience and wisdom, remains compelling.
Amidst all of the noise and the endless punditry, John Lewis remains a beacon.
Let’s listen to what he has to say: “I see you and I hear you. I know your pain, your rage, your sense of despair and hopelessness. Justice has, indeed been denied for far too long. Rioting, looting and burning is not the way. Organize. Demonstrate. Sit in. Stand up. Vote. Be constructive, not destructive. History has proven time and again that nonviolent, peaceful protest is the way to achieve the justice and equality that we all deserve.”
America is at a crossroads.
We are being forced to confront issues that have festered for far too long.
Systemic racism, inequality, a lack of opportunity, homelessness, health care disparities, political dysfunction, division and a general coarseness that permeates our day to day existence.
This is not what we are supposed to be. This is not the promise of America. This is some dystopian version and if we don’t wake up we risk the great experiment that is America.
This is not to say that everything is broken.
Last week’s Space-X launch is a reminder of our technical and entrepreneurial prowess. That the founder of the company is a citizen of three countries  is an important reminder that we are a nation of immigrants and that most who come here do so to contribute and build the Dream that benefits us all.
I capitalize the word Dream because it deserves more attention. America means something. The Dream means something.
MLK’s Dream. The American Dream.
It’s worth fighting for. It’s worth dying for.
But the Dream is not automatic is it?
It’s not a birthright. It’s something we have to fight for and work to achieve.
I take issue with both the left and the right on this.
I don’t want to redistribute the nation’s wealth. I don’t want to punish those who succeed.
I think we ought to grow the pie. The beauty of America is the pie doesn’t have to be finite. We can grow it, we can include more people and we can root for them to succeed.
But we have the resources to provide a social safety net too. And if you succeed you should pay your fair share.
And that’s my problem with the right.
You don’t like Obamacare? Great where is your plan?
Can’t we all agree that everyone will need health care and that in a great nation that cares for its people that we ought to design a world class system and give people access to the very best care possible?
I don’t want to hear that climate change is a hoax, because it isn’t.
Sea level rise is real, super storms are menacing us and we are experiencing more severe weather events.
Isn’t it time we did something to protect the world we live in and the one we will leave our children and grandchildren?
We can go on heaping  blame on one another. We can continue to divide, bully and label.  But it’s a waste of time; blame and fault finding doesn’t get us anywhere.
The endless division doesn’t create opportunity, doesn’t solve racism and doesn’t ensure that we won’t all be consumed by rising tides.
Time and time again, this blog argues that we can think globally but act locally. Here’s how.
We can create more housing here for families and young people but we will need to stand up to the NIMBY mentality. And we can design that housing so that it enhances our community and doesn’t ruin it.
We can listen to each other instead of troll each other.
We can break down racial barriers —if we want to.
Delray is diverse but segregated. Why?
We can agree that having a strong local government can be a great advantage. We all want and need governmental services.
It has been a rocky several years marked by scandal and turnover. But there are a number of super public servants working in our city and we are blessed with outstanding police and fire departments—-and right about now we should be exceptionally grateful for that.
But so few us vote. So few of us participate. It’s important that we do.
Rep. John Lewis, who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge only to be met with violence and hatred shows us the way.
It’s not looting. It’s not apathy.
That’s the wrong way.
It’s being an active citizen. It’s using our voices.
It’s about working toward a more perfect union.
One of my friends said something changed when Americans saw that knee on George Floyd’s neck.
Something fundamental.
I agree.
It’s up to each of us as to what that change will mean.
We are at the crossroads.
Do we choose hate and division? Or love and collaboration?
Sounds like an easy choice doesn’t it ?
But too often we choose hate and division. It’s why we are at the crossroads.
Isn’t it time to try something else?

Master Class in Leadership

The coronavirus crisis gives us all an opportunity to take a master class in leadership.

The governors and mayors receiving high grades for handling the crisis exhibit a similar  set of traits.
—A reliance on facts, data and science over politics.
— An ability to communicate effectively.
— Genuine empathy for the plight of their communities.
— A willingness to work and advocate tirelessly on behalf of their cities and states.

They also take responsibility for mistakes and are quick to credit others.
They are clear in their thoughts and actions and willing to take the heat for decisions that aren’t always popular.
Sadly, those leaders who are laying an egg (you know who they are) are doing the opposite.
Refusing to take responsibility. Waffling on decisions. Undermining their own policies. Denying reality. Ignoring —or in some cases— punishing scientists.
Social distancing has done its job. But it was never meant to rid us of the virus. It was meant to buy us time so that our medical infrastructure could ramp up to deal with the crisis.
We need four things to beat the virus and sadly Washington has failed miserably on the two things they should be taking the lead on.
(I’m not counting the stimulus which has also been shaky with exhausted funds, big companies scarfing up money meant for small business, hospitals not getting relief because the idiot running the Department of Health and Human Services can’t seem to get anything right and a host of other issues).
The two things the Feds should be doing are testing and contact tracing. The Feds should also be coordinating purchasing of medical equipment but because they refused, states and cities were forced to take the lead and compete with one another. That ship has sailed.
But testing and tracing is still not  happening to the levels we are going to need to re-open our economy.
Why is this important?
Because if  we don’t know who has the virus, we can’t stop it from spreading without resorting to stringent social distancing measures.
We still don’t have enough swans and other materials necessary for testing and no way to coordinate between labs that have excess testing capacity and communities struggling to meet testing demand.
Where is the national strategy?

Instead, we have been fed the lie that there is adequate testing when every doctor, hospital and scientist says there isn’t?
Who do you believe?
I read the other day that it would cost $3.6 billion to hire 100,000 people to run a national contact tracing program. Sounds like a good investment since it may get us out of this mess and put 100,000 people to work.
The other two things we need: a vaccine (sorry my old friend in California) and effective treatment falls on the scientific community who I have faith will crack this. Hopefully sooner than later.

But back to leadership for a minute.
Pay attention to those telling you the truth. Beware those who are peddling nonsense. And remember those who have disappeared during this trying time.
Leaders steer toward crisis not away from it.
I was reminded of that by my dear friend Bill Mitchell who told the story of the Unsinkable Molly Brown on the most recent edition of Boca Lead, available online.
Now is the time for all of us to lead in any way we can.
Whether it’s helping a shut-in, checking on a neighbor, shopping and dining local, calling friends to check on their welfare etc. We can all play a role in getting through this crisis.

I do know that I will value true leadership and expertise more than ever from here on out. I hope we all do.
We need real leadership now more than ever.

President’s Day Special: Time With Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest  is a History Channel special about George Washington

I absolutely adore Doris Kearns Goodwin.

And who better to talk about on President’s Day than one of our nation’s foremost presidential historians?

My admiration for Doris Kearns Goodwin goes way back, I love her books, enjoy her TV appearances and anxiously await her next work—which now includes film making (Check out “Washington” on The History Channel).

So when she came to FAU, we gobbled up tickets, got lucky and ended up in the front row in what was a sold out house. At age 77, after a Pulitzer Prize, Carnegie Medal and several best-selling books, Doris Kearns Goodwin is a rock star. That alone ought to make you optimistic about America.

Ms. Goodwin was in Boca to talk about her new book “Leadership in Turbulent Times.”
While the book is not about our current turbulent time, the great thing about history is that if we care to look, the past holds lessons for our present and our future.

“Leadership in Turbulent Times” is about Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson—presidents who Goodwin calls her “guys.”

When writing about her subjects, Goodwin “lives” with them so to speak; reading their letters, speeches and diaries and any relevant document that has to do with their lives and times. It does make one wonder how future historians will navigate our digital times. Goodwin muses that perhaps they will comb through emails (if they are kept) and tweets. It is an interesting question.

Regardless, in writing about FDR, TR, LBJ and Lincoln we as Americans can learn what it takes to be an effective leader. Not a perfect leader or a mistake free leader—they simply don’t exist, but a leader who makes an impact.

What makes Goodwin’s writing and speaking so interesting is she shares the “warts” (as she calls them) that all leaders have.

Lincoln lost several elections. He was almost comfortable with failure, but never gave up on winning.

FDR dealt with a Great Depression, a World War and a debilitating bout with polio. He built his upper body strength by crawling around for hours on the floor dragging his body.

LBJ’s legacy includes Medicare, Medicaid, civil rights and voting rights but also Vietnam. He told great tales, had boundless energy, won countless political fights but was broken by Vietnam, which inflicted untold damage on countless people.

Yes, all great leaders have warts. But they also have strengths that enable them to handle difficult times and leave a mark on the world.

Goodwin outlines six traits of great leaders. It’s a great list and very important to review as we vote in a few weeks for national and local candidates.

Here they are:

Empathy-–a feel for other people and an ability to identify with other points of view. Empathy is an essential trait of any successful leader and any successful human being, she added.

Resilience—an ability to learn and persevere when difficulties arise. In public life, in any leadership role, you are bound to get hit with a hay maker punch or two (maybe even more) but great leaders get up, dust themselves off and find a way forward. They are resilient and they get better as a result.

Communication—a leader’s ability to communicate can make all the difference. Leaders frame issues, raise important questions and are able to articulate controversial positions and why they must make some difficult decisions to benefit the greater good.

Openness to growth—an ability to evolve as you learn and as you gain experience. If you already think you know it all or are the smartest guy or gal in the room, you are off track. And you will fail as a leader. Leadership is a growth experience, but only if you are open to learning.

Impulse control- Sometimes knowing what not to say is as important as what a leader does say. Strong leaders know when to bite their tongue—and are better for it.

Relaxation—Our most iconic presidents knew that getting away from The White House could help them become better leaders. We need to balance our lives and find time to renew.

Pretty solid advice.

To these amazing traits,  I would add integrity, which is the basis for all leadership. Vision doesn’t hurt either.

What to watch for?
Narcissism, egomania, bullying, meanness and a need to win every argument. Leaders need to be able to let go—you win some, you lose some that’s the nature of life.

We can do worse than listen to our historians when we choose our present day leaders; that goes for the White House to City Hall.

I’ll stick with Doris Kearns Goodwin’s wisdom any day.

 

Legacy Leadership

Editor’s note: We have a busy week over here at the blog, so we are posting today instead of tomorrow. See you next week, thanks for reading and take time to enjoy the festivities.

I wanted to wait a few days before posting something on the passing of President George H.W. Bush.
So much has been said already so it’s hard to be original.

President Bush had ties to Delray.

A street named after him.

A friend who lived in Gulfstream.

Appearances at the Chris Evert Pro Celebrity Tennis Classic.

I met him once– for about 30 seconds– as part of a brief meet and greet when he visited the Delray Beach Tennis Stadium.
But you never forget seeing a President up close.

As a spectator at our tennis stadium, I saw his sense of humor and how he was self deprecating when an errant shot struck him in the rear. The crowed gasped, but President Bush smiled, made a joke and the crowd roared.

Moments….leaders are defined by moments.

Moments when they show their humanity. Moments when they rise to the occasion. Moments when they are vulnerable and when they summon strength.

President Bush called for a “kinder, gentler nation” and that exhortation is more relevant today than ever. We need to be kinder. We need to be gentler. Right now, we’re neither.

His passing was hailed as the end of an era. The last World War II generation president.

The word civility was used a lot to describe President Bush. So were the words classy, gentleman and statesman.
But the word that grabbed me  the most was prepared.

President Bush was perhaps the best prepared President ever elected with experience as a combat veteran, Congressman, party chair, ambassador, CIA Director and Vice President.
He knew how government worked. He knew the players and was experienced in world affairs.
His expertise was respected and valued.

Today it feels as if experience is an anchor that weighs down candidates. Politicians are often skewered for spending time in office and while I am a late believer in term limits and don’t feel people should spend decades in the same office,  I don’t like how experience is used against people, how expertise is minimized or even ridiculed.

We are demeaning public service then scratching our heads when our best and brightest sit on the sidelines.

Yes, I get it. People don’t see politics as public service and that’s sad. But guess what? The best elected officials are servant leaders. They care about people and about making a difference. The worst serve themselves and or special interests. They grandstand and they preen. They care about “optics” and play to their base. They end up dividing not uniting. Leadership is not about division–it adds and doesn’t subtract.

I never voted for George H.W. Bush but I admired and respected him. He served well. Very well.

As former Senator Alan Simpson said after President Bush’s passing: “Those that travel the high road of humility in Washington are not bothered by heavy traffic.”

How true and also how sad.

The lack of humility ought to give us pause and be a cause for national reflection.

Because therein lies the problem. Stop electing narcissists, egomaniacs, bullies and jerks. On all sides of the divide because no party is immune.

Instead seek out and support problem solving patriots who exhibit empathy, an ability to learn and evolve and put country and community first.

If that sounds like a high bar–well it is. But we need these people at all levels of government now more than ever.

It’s Better (Or Is It The Same) In The Bahamas

Bay Street

 

A few years back, a small contingent of civic leaders from Palm Beach County were invited to Nassau, Bahamas to advise the government on how to revitalize their main drag, Bay Street.

The trip was organized by the U.S. Embassy which was manned back then by Ambassador Ned Siegel, a Boca resident who was appointed to his post by President George W. Bush.

I was invited along with former Mayor Tom Lynch, Boca Chamber President Troy McCllellan and Kelly Smallridge, the President and CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.

The trip was truly a first class adventure and Ambassador Siegel introduced us to top government ministers and prominent business leaders. We later invited many of those people to Palm Beach County where they toured West Palm Beach, Boca Raton and Delray Beach so we could show them how theory met practice when it comes to revitalizing downtowns.

I was reminded of that trip last week when I walked Bay Street with my wife as part of a cruise to The Bahamas.

Nassau is picturesque and enjoys wonderful weather. There are some great old buildings enhanced by vibrant colors and a scale that is reminiscent of Delray.

In fact, there are a lot of historical ties between Delray and The Bahamas. Some of the earliest settlers in our town were from The Bahamas. I was especially intrigued by the Pompey Museum of Slavery.

C. Spencer Pompey and his wife H. Ruth Pompey are dear old friends and local legends. I’m pretty sure there is a connection between the museum and the Pompey’s of Delray. Sadly, Mr. and Mrs. Pompey have passed so I can’t ask them but I plan to delve into the history to satisfy my curiosity.

When we were invited to share ideas and best practices with The Bahamian government about a decade or so ago, Bay Street was struggling with crime issues, vacancy in certain sections, an underutilized waterfront and stiff competition from the Atlantis resort which was sucking tourists off the cruise ships out of the downtown and into the casino and water parks.

Walking around Bay Street last week I saw the same issues—only now there is another mega resort to worry about: Bahia Mar.

Sure the streets were crowded on a warm Sunday but it didn’t appear that many people were shopping. The retail mix is heavy on t-shirts, perfume, duty free alcohol and jewelry—not surprising given the heavy influx of tourists.

Bay Street could use more food options—and while I didn’t feel unsafe (despite warnings from the cruise line about crime) the level and intensity of solicitors was a turn off. You were just assailed from the moment you get off the boat to the moment you get back on. Yuck….

Years ago we recommended that Nassau turn up the Bahamian charm—for example increase security but outfit police in traditional uniforms and activate the waterfront by incentivizing restaurants and cafes to balance the multitude of t-shirt shops. Granted these aren’t “genius” ideas and I can’t remember the rest but the exercise was fun and we made a lot of friends as a result.

That I didn’t see a whole lot of change on Bay Street is indicative of how hard transformation is to achieve.

When I think of Delray’s transformation I feel the same way. It takes a whole lot of hard work, dedication, investment and some gutsy decisions to make change—and a fair amount of good fortune too. It helps to catch a break or two along the way, but by the same token change doesn’t happen by accident. It happens via intention.

Recently, I ran into some consultants who worked on our downtown master plan way back in 2001.

The efforts our community made over the years were rewarded with awards which are nice….but not as important as the opportunity and value that were created.

Now I get that not everybody was pleased with the results. And they are entitled to their opinions and we are compelled to respect those views.

Yet, I can’t help but think that sometimes we go overboard with our angst. The consultant mentioned to me that “Delray is so hard on itself” and that statement struck me. It rang true.

Just take a cruise through social media to see for yourself—ugh… all the negativity.

Criticism that isn’t constructive isn’t valuable at all. It doesn’t feel like affection it feels like anger.

Accountability is necessary and important, but it’s best when it’s rooted in love and empathy.

As we head into the holiday season, I hope we see more love and less anger. More constructive guidance and empathy and less vitriol and blame.

Root your community in those values, observe the guardrails and be patient. The magic will happen.

 

 

 

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.