‘Tis The Season For Politics

Editor’s Note: We will be taking a few days off for the holidays but will be back with a year end blog on Dec. 30. Have a safe season and thanks for reading!

While most of us are immersed in the hustle of the holidays, others are busy gearing up for the local election season.

They are holding kick-off parties, gathering signatures to qualify for the ballot, raising money and plotting strategy—which typically means carpet bombing those who run against them.

Two commission seats are up for grabs in Delray Beach in March and after a year’s respite we can expect the fur to fly in the New Year.

Sigh.

Heavy sigh.

Call me jaded because I am.

But I don’t expect we will see the local version of the Lincoln-Douglas debates play out over the next few months. And that’s too bad because there is a lot to discuss.

I do expect that we will see a lot of nastiness, division and empty platitudes. When the dust settles we will probably see in excess of $300,000 spent on mail pieces, Facebook ads, signs and robocalls.

Most of it will be ignored.

Some of us will vote—probably more than a typical year (thanks to the presidential primary)—and life will go on.

We will hear lots about traffic, over-development, corruption and how the village by the sea has either been ruined or is about to be—unless of course you vote for so and so.

Sigh.

Candidates will promise to “fight” for us, they will accuse their opponents of being in the pockets of “greedy” developers (developers are always greedy and always corrupting) and they will talk about how they will tame traffic, cut taxes and stand up to “special interests” on behalf of the resident/taxpayer.

Even the candidates who raise money from developers will run anti-development campaigns. They think it’s their path to victory. I’ve always found it interesting and ironic that developers actually fund campaigns that rail against their industry and that calls them damaging and corrupt influences.

Can you imagine doctors funding mail pieces that say they will harm you?

The “principled” (“I can’t be bought!”) candidates will shun developer money and run a grassroots campaign. Some will actually do just that by knocking on doors and golf carting around town meeting voters. Others will ‘talk the talk’ but secretly accept developer money and squirrel it away in some political action committee or third party entity with a Tallahassee address and often no disclosure of donors.

Surrogates will battle it out on social media, essentially talking to each other in echo chambers too often devoid of facts, civility, context or reality. And I’ll say to myself: “self, that’s not what living in a village or a community is supposed to be about.”

We are not alone in our struggles.

America seems hopelessly divided as we head toward 2020—as if we are Democrats or Republicans, progressives or conservatives before we are Americans.

We are not.

Or at least we shouldn’t be.

There was a time—now long ago I’m afraid—where our hometown was a port in the storm. We were a community that worked together, identified problems and then got about the business of solving them. Imagine that radical concept.

 

Not every issue was resolved—maybe none were. And maybe that’s the point.

Maybe building a community is something you constantly have to chisel away at. We are never quite done are we? And isn’t that the fun and purpose of it all—to grow (responsibly), to evolve and to learn— hopefully together.

It sure feels like we have taken a wrong turn.

We’ve become more distant, nastier, more divided, less like neighbors and more like combatants.

It’s reflected in the tone of our politics. And there are consequences. Grave, expensive and lasting consequences.

I’ve seen friends who have proudly worked for the City of Delray Beach thrown out with the trash this year. I’ve seen others who left their jobs earlier than they planned for brighter pastures literally shaking their heads about current conditions.

We can deny it. Or we can own it.

But when you experience the level of turnover we’ve seen, I can assure you it’s not because things are great.

Public employees are not all about the money otherwise they wouldn’t be public employees. Nobody goes to work in local government to get rich and those that do will probably be arrested. Instead, they seek to serve and to be part of something bigger than themselves. Sure, there are clunkers out there but there are so many more talented, smart and dedicated public servants who work or have worked for Delray.

I sure hope this new manager we’ve hired is up to the task because he has a big one ahead of him.

For the record, I’m not blameless.

I’ve written checks that turned into mail that I wouldn’t line my bird’s cage with. But I don’t blame the political consultants, their job is to win. They have diagnosed that if you want to win in Delray Beach you need to go negative.

So the question is did the politics change us or did we change?

Do our politics reflect what we have become?

Again, I’m not blameless.

I’m a critic.

I am jaded.

If you ask me a question I will answer it and if the answer is I think things stink then I’m going to say it or write it and hit publish. And I guess that bothers some people.

I don’t mess with local politics on social media, it’s a waste of time.

But I am happy to engage one on one if asked. I am anxious to listen and learn. I am not willing to spend a lot of time with people who are so entrenched in their views that they are not willing to listen and learn.

My goal on this blog and on the editorial pages of the newspapers we own is to shine a light on the good, the bad and the ugly in our community and we have all three conditions—every place does.

We/I love to write about the people who do good in the neighborhood but we won’t gloss over the bad actors and outcomes either. We love to cheer lead when appropriate, but we also feel we have an obligation to speak up when we see things that don’t sit right.

I’ve been bothered by the turnover at City Hall and the lack of civic engagement and vision in our community for years and I will continue to speak out about it.

As for development, I believe in smart growth and that we ought to do our best to keep the charm and not build ugly buildings all over town.

I don’t believe in sprawl—it creates traffic and is bad for the environment. I think density is necessary to create affordability and is also better for the environment.

I think downtown housing helps our local mom and pops survive and makes for a vibrant and safe atmosphere. I think design and uses are more important than a random density per acre number. I can show you ugly low density buildings and attractive high density projects. We spent a lot of time in the community process that led to our Downtown Master Plan explaining that density was desirable if projects were designed well.

I’m proud of my city. And I criticize it because I love it and I want to see it thrive and succeed.

I don’t see that happening if we lack vision, if city hall is a revolving door of staff and if those who remain are afraid to talk or are prevented from making recommendations.

I don’t think the commission should have taken over the CRA.

I think some developers absolutely stink—especially those who divide the community with controversial projects and then never build or those who seek variances and waivers that make no sense.

I also think we have had some really good developers in town. Entrepreneurs who have taken big risks and built very nice projects that have enhanced our city and created jobs, opportunities and activities that have made Delray—well— Delray.

Some developers have acted like strip miners extracting money from our city and not giving anything back.

Others have become among our most dedicated and generous citizens serving on non-profit boards, city advisory boards and donating to good causes. To label them all as greedy and corrupting is foolish and just plain wrong and guess what? It doesn’t change anything.

It doesn’t advance the narrative, bring us any further understanding or solve any of the issues and concerns people have about development.

But it’s not just the developers and city staff who take it on the chin in this town, it’s the elected officials and candidates who also have to deal with the vitriol.

I have respect for almost anyone willing to enter the arena. I make exceptions for the bullies, narcissists, and puppets—they can pound sand. I also don’t really like it when people want to start out as commissioners without having paid their civic dues. I think it’s important to know the city you seek to lead and for us to know you. If you haven’t volunteered there’s no way that’s possible.

But for those who wish to serve, it isn’t easy. I speak from experience.

You become a target and so does your family, your friends and often your business.

No wonder why it is so hard to find qualified candidates—those that have a deep knowledge of the city they hope to lead, a track record of involvement and accomplishment and a demonstrated ability to work well with others.

Maybe if we had a less toxic atmosphere we’d find ourselves with a plethora of talented people—they are here living in the village but unwilling to deal with the crap you have to deal with and really who can blame them except…..except we need them to engage and to serve.

So as we enter election season, I plan to look for candidates who can articulate a vision for our city, who recognize the importance and role of city staff (let them make recommendations for Pete’s sake, otherwise why have a professional staff?) and who exhibit some emotional intelligence that is required to be a successful leader at any level. Empathy is not optional folks.

I hope we find them. If we do, we ought to support and protect them. Sadly, they are going to need it.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Nancy Stewart says:

    So well written. You can provide the written expression that many of us have in our head but unable to describe

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.