First Day of Spring: Odds & Ends

Odds and ends.
When you work the phones for candidates, you hear some very interesting things.
Especially when you ask voters why they prefer a candidate. Here’s a sampling:
1. A certain candidate will immediately close all sober homes on day one.

Me: “How could 30 years of commissioners have missed this?”

Voter:  “Gee, I don’t know. But it’s pretty simple really. Just issue an executive order.”
2. No dogs on beach. No vote.
Me: “Well, what about some other issues?”

Voter: “What other issues?”
3. We are both from the same state.

Me: “But what about the issues and experience?”

Voter: “Who has the time to figure that out.”
4. Jim Chard wants 54 story buildings.

Me: “umm…..you mean 54 feet in height as in our height limit?

Voter:  “No. That’s Not a big deal. But he wants 54 stories and that’s too much.”
5. I like Shirley Johnson.

Me:  “So do I. She worked at IBM for”…interrupted..

Voter: “Laverne & Shirley was my favorite show when I was a child. And I’ve never met an unfriendly Shirley.”

Me: “Good point.”

As you can see from the small sampling above, voters can be interesting and unpredictable.

For instance, Seat 2 candidate Richard Alteus –who never showed up for a debate or filled out a questionnaire– received more votes than Anneze Barthelemy-506 to 488. My guess: his name was first on the ballot.

My daughter the teacher came home from Tampa last week for Spring Break. It’s fun to see the area through her eyes.
Some takeaways:
1. Habit Burger is great.
2. Compared to Tampa there’s no traffic.
3. Rents are really expensive here
4. The new apartments across from Avenue Pilates on North Federal are ideally located. Why? “It’s a cheap Uber ride to downtown and the beach.” Millennials aren’t car centric. They like the apps.
5. The east coast beaches are really amazing.

Today is the first day of spring, a relative term in South Florida. Here are 10 great spots to enjoy early spring.
1. The back deck at Che
2. Deck 84
3. Beer Trade. Now with a new Boca location.
4. The outdoor deck at Waterstone off A1A in Boca.
5. The A1A promenade in Delray. Thanks to the sea grape trim, you can see the beach. And it’s good for the dunes too.
6. The beautiful newly renovated bar and dining area at the Delray Sands, which is actually located in Highland Beach.
7. 50 South Ocean for lunch.
8. Caffe Luna Rosa for breakfast.
9. Outside at Deli on Rye. Best Black and White cookies between here and Juniors at Mizner Park. Seinfeld was right. It’s the perfect cookie. “Oh look Elaine, the black and white cookie. I love the black and white. Two races of flavor living side by side in harmony. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it?”
10. Lake Ida Park for nice views, big birds and really big iguanas.

Sometimes I think we take living in Florida for granted.
We have been enjoying amazing weather, there is a vast array of interesting things to do and if you can get out on the water you quickly realize how amazing this place is.
This blog is big on gratitude and so we are grateful for being in this magnificent place at this special time.
While I try not to harbor regrets–what’s the point–I do have one thing that irks me.
It seems like another Spring Training is sliding past me. Ugh. I last attended a game six years ago today–Mets vs. Marlins with my son who was heading to college at UF.
There was a time when I was part of a “guys” group that enjoyed Spring Training weekend trips. Three or four games in different locales over a three day weekend.
Those road trips gave way to single games squeezed in at the last minute thanks to crazy schedules, kids etc. As Bob Seger once sang “deadlines and commitments what to leave in, what to leave out.”
Sadly, many times what we leave out is what truly matters; such as good times with good friends.
It’s a near certainty that we won’t remember what we missed the spring training game for, but we will remember the time we spent with friends.
So as another season slips away– without me slipping away– for some meaningless games in the Florida sun, I’m promising myself more time with friends.
If this resonates with you, let’s hold each other accountable. Or better yet let’s catch a game.

Raising the Level of Debate

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I delayed this post until after the election, because I didn’t want to be accused of pushing one candidate over another (at least in this space).

(In the interest of full disclosure, while I did not endorse a mayoral candidate, I did endorse commission candidate Bruce Bastian).

You may recall that we blogged about the “silly season” right before the mail and robocalls began in earnest a few weeks back. We predicted pandering and boy were we right.

This does not make us proud or particularly prescient. In fact it depresses us because we deserve a more intelligent debate than what we just endured (and the operative word here is endured).

Now we’re sure that there are voters out there who really believe that all developers are evil and greedy and that candidates for Delray Beach elected office are magically raising test scores and have some magical elixir to relieve traffic congestion. To those who believe that, we ask that you be careful out there—please do not purchase any bridges without consulting an attorney.

You are not a hero if you bid a contract, you’re following the law. So promising to bid local contracts doesn’t make you Abe Lincoln and it doesn’t make you a candidate for a profile in courage.  All it means is that you are compliant with a city ordinance.  That said, you deserve a ton of credit for doing so. It has not been easy. It also means that you have paid attention to the mistakes of past elected officials.

And yes, they all make mistakes. In the interest of more disclosure, the commission I was on did bid the garbage contract but did not bid other contracts. We should have.

Bidding wasn’t a hot button issue in those days and we were hard at work on other things, but municipal contracts should be bid.  Period.

Still, I was overwhelmed by the vitriol and utter lack of ideas in this past campaign. So were many others who contacted us. As we predicted, everyone is fighting development, every developer refuses “to play by the rules” and every candidate is “going to fight congestion and overdevelopment”.

But I didn’t read about a single solution or idea. I visited websites, read every piece of mail and listened to every robocall (I even made one)—but ideas were rarer than snow in Florida.

Here’s a few of my favorites:

  • “Tougher rules and regulations for sober homes”—this is a new one.  I guess nobody else has ever tried.
  • “Congress Avenue is the answer”—The vision for revitalizing Congress Avenue is about 10 years old. Very little has been done since to advance the vision for a corporate mixed use corridor. We hope that changes.  But candidates talked about Congress as if they had discovered the Holy Grail. Congress does have potential, but I suspect that it was used as a pressure relief valve to guard against charges that candidates were anti-business. This way, you can rail against development downtown but pivot with your “vision” for a bustling Congress Avenue.  Smart growth is not a zero sum game. We need office space downtown and we need to redevelop Congress Avenue. You can and you should pay attention to both corridors, as well as Federal Highway, West Atlantic Avenue, south of the avenue and the four corners of Atlantic and Military. And all of those corridors need to be thought of as “complete streets” otherwise all you’ve done is create more sprawl, which is a huge cause of traffic.
  • Special Interest Groups: Everybody seems to hate them, but nobody seems to name them other than of course, developers, who are invariably “greedy” “irresponsible”, “not listening” “violating rules” and corrupting everyone in their relentless pursuit to ruin the village, city, community, neighborhood etc.

I can go on. And on. But you get the picture.

Social media was no better and seemed to reflect the nearly $300,000 spent in a concentrated period to say how awful Delray Beach has become. Really?!

If you were sent campaign mailers and didn’t know anything about the city you would have thought the town was ruined. To some it has been, but to many others it’s been improved. Me: I kind of like Delray.

There I said it. I like the vibrancy, the restaurants, most of the downtown housing projects (not all), the cultural amenities, the historic districts and some of the newer homes sprouting up (not all).

With success comes challenges—traffic, noise, etc.—but on balance I like my town. Check that: I love it.

 

Boca’s level of debate wasn’t any better. But it was heartening to see Jeremy Rodgers succeed with a simple message: Boca should be the best place to start a business and raise a family.

 

We don’t live in Nirvana, but we live in extremely desirable place. But if you read some of the vitriol on out there, you can’t help but scratch your head and wonder. And worry; especially when you see the posts knocking New Yorkers and northerners. It makes you wonder.

We spend a whole lot of time talking about the “village” and we seem to define it by how tall our buildings are, but perhaps we should spend some time thinking about how we debate issues of concern and how we treat each other.

Now that the silly season has concluded and hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent spouting exactly nothing hopefully we can raise the level of debate.

Why?

Because there are real issues and opportunities that deserve a serious discussion; but you can’t make progress until you stop  blaming, start listening and start dealing in facts, not vitriol or platitudes.

The election dovetailed with college Spring Break and many of the kids we mentor at a foundation called Dare 2 Be Great were home to witness the adults at play.

The students I heard from were shocked by the lack of substance this election cycle.

One young man wrote: “Back home two days and can’t believe what I’m seeing and hearing. So disappointing!  Integrity has left the building. We need to do better.” Out of the mouths of babes; we need to do better. Yes we do.

One final note on the issue of dark money or funds raised by ECO’s: Personally, I have always donated directly to campaigns. But companies I have been involved with or worked for have been solicited to donate to ECO’s and have done so.  After this cycle, I think the practice, while legal, is ultimately detrimental to raising the level of debate and ends up actually backfiring on candidates the PAC’s are supposed to be helping. I suppose there are exceptions, but often funds are commingled and donors have no control over the messages they are financing. Ironically, many of the messages run counter to the donors interests. For example, developers contributing to ECO’s that send out mail pieces slamming development.  It makes no sense. Hopefully, it stops.

I do however believe that business has a strong interest in good government and a right to participate in the political process. It’s not wrong to have a commercial interest in a community. All strong towns need to have strong neighborhoods, strong schools and a thriving business community.

One positive takeaway from this election is that in a world of PAC’s, ECO’s etc. grassroots campaigning still works. There’s just no better substitute for knocking on doors. Commissioner elect Mitch Katz proved that.

Passionate candidates and passionate supporters still win local elections. And that’s the silver lining in the last cycle.