9/11 We Will Never Forget

9/11 will always be a somber day for our country.

It’s hard to imagine that 18 years have passed since that fateful day when terrorists killed  nearly 3,000 Americans with strikes on the Twin Towers, The Pentagon and United Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA.
I think all Americans who were alive that day have personal memories of 9/11.

As a native New Yorker it stung badly to see the Twin Towers fall. We had gone there on a school field trip, visited the Windows on the World restaurant and I had known some people who worked in the iconic buildings.

I would later learn that a childhood friend, Mike Boyle, an off duty New York City firefighter would perish in the towers. He sped to the scene when he saw what was happening. I would later find his name at the memorial and I think of him often as I am sure others do. He was a special guy.

We lost lots of special people that horrible day.

I watched the Towers get hit while in the newsroom at the old Boca News. I had sold my publication to the News two years before and they kept me on board.
September 11 fell on a Tuesday. I was on the City Commission for a little over a year at the time. At first, we did not grasp the enormity of the day and I remember we held a meeting or a workshop—as if life could go on as normal. We had no conception of how much life would change.

As the days and weeks unfolded so much had changed.
We discovered that many of the terrorist plotters had lived in our community. At the Hamlet and Laver’s…working out at World Gym, going to Huber Drugs, conducting research at the old city library.
I had friends who had encounters with what they now realized were strange men, murderers. We had police officers who stopped them for traffic violations and one who responded to calls of a dog bite where they saw the men who were plotting. Nobody knew  that  they brushed up against pure evil. These were the days before national databases so there was no way to cross check or to know.

When it was revealed that the plotters lived In Delray the media swarmed. Our mayor Dave Schmidt appeared on national morning shows. The rest of us were contacted by national media as well.
The theory was that South Florida and Delray were chosen because the terrorists felt they could blend in here with our diversity.

At the office, we watched with fear when one of our neighboring buildings which housed AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer was sealed off when anthrax was sent through the mail killing a photographer.
Suddenly, our mail room became a source of concern. It was surreal.

It was as if the world was tilted off its axis.

When catastrophe strikes, you strive for normalcy but it’s elusive.

Back in those days, our Fire Chief Kerry Koen had started a wonderful tradition at Halloween.
Commissioners were assigned to fire trucks and we drove through neighborhoods giving treats to children who swarmed the big red trucks with excitement and joy. It was tremendous fun and a wildly popular activity.
On the Halloween after 9/11, we were on trucks that began to respond to calls from parents who feared that their children had brought anthrax back in their candy carriers.
The powder that they suspected turned out to be sugar. And in one case, a frightened man thought he was a victim when he found what turned out to be sand in his apartment.
Things had changed.

We sent firefighters to Ground Zero and I wonder and worry about their health as a result. Experts estimate that more people will end up dying from exposure to toxins after the attack than died that day.
I met someone recently vacationing in Delray who was battling cancer caused by the exposure. That’s why it was so important for Congress to fully fund health benefits for victims.

If you visit our fire headquarters on West Atlantic Avenue you will see a piece of artwork dedicated to the memory of the 343 firefighters who perished that day.
It’s worth a visit.

When I remember those days, I recall how we gathered to meet and pray at Old School Square and the Community Center and how on subsequent anniversaries we lit candles and remembered those lost that day on the front lawn of Old School Square.

I think of how we as a community and we as a nation were united by tragedy. How we grew closer, at least for awhile.
And I wonder if we will ever feel that way again and why it takes a tragedy of indescribable horror to bring us together.
And I remember my childhood friend Mike Boyle who was the fastest kid in our class and how he raced up the stairs into the fire when everyone else was fleeing.




“We will not be defined by a hateful shooter. We will be defined by how we love each other.” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. ‪#‎PrayersforOrlando

Prayers for Paris


Paris is on our minds today.

As it should be.
We ache for the shocking loss of life and we agonize over what’s happening in our world: violence, hatred, terror, extremism.
Paris is known as a city of villages and despite its distance from our shores we relate and connect.
Paris is a city of art, culture, freedom, beauty and romance. It’s an idea and an ideal.
And so we grieve when that’s attacked.
Saturday morning the board and staff of Old School Square met for a strategic planning retreat and Paris was on our minds. And we discussed–albeit briefly–concerns about security in our own hometown.
The terrorists targeted art and music and sports venues. They targeted vibrant restaurants and bars–where people gather to savor and enjoy life with friends. We built our own city around that vision. Boca Raton too.
And so this attack–sadly only the latest in a series of disgusting, despicable and ultimately cowardly acts–seemed to penetrate very deeply.
I read a lot of opinion pieces over the weekend suggesting what might be next and how we might combat the ISIS scourge.
The best piece I found was in The Atlantic because it delves deep into the ideology. We must understand it if we are to defeat it and we must defeat it. Here’s a link. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/what-isis-really-wants/384980/
We went to see “Spotlight” at the Cinemark Boca.
It’s a must see film, expertly written with terrific performances by a stellar cast.
Why is it must see?
For two reasons:
1. The story of the Boston Globe’s investigation of priests molesting children and the cover-up by church hierarchy is an important story to tell and understand because the abuse proved to be systemic and worldwide.
2. The movie is also a primer on the importance of great journalism and the power of newspapers. Spotlight refers to the name of the Globe’s investigative team, three reporters and an editor who concentrate on big stories– the kind that take months to unearth.
As we move with blinding speed to the digital age, we seem to be losing this kind of journalism which is critically important to Democracy and societal accountability.
As much as we enjoy social media and the wonders of the Internet, we do lose something when there is no community water cooler.
Having spent 15 years in newsrooms, the movie touched a chord in me and reminded me why I fell head over heels for newspapers as a young man. There is no better job than to write and report and affect change as a result.
Sadly, the business model has changed and journalism–community journalism has taken a beating.
Technology can’t be blamed for it all, newspapers were complicit in their decline by failing to invest in writers and all but eliminating enterprise reporting the very thing that the Internet cannot do. It’s a real head scratcher because there is still an audience who wants and needs to know whats really happening at city hall and in their neighborhoods and schools.
An investment in relevancy may prove to be profitable but newspapers seem loathe to spend on the newsroom and so the decline continues.
The community loses when this happens, because important stories go unreported and innocent people are often victimized as a result.
Spotlight shows the power of old-school shoe leather reporting.
What a movie. Superb.