Photographs & Memories: Spring Cleaning Edition

Back before Frances Bourque had a vision of what could be.

We are deep in the midst of a massive Spring Cleaning at my house.

The task: cleaning out a garage that contains 50 plus years of memories.

The reward: I’m making room for a long coveted “mancave,” you know a place where I can disappear with my music, my books and my two four-legged companions, Emmitt and Gracie.

The prospect of getting a space of my own has finally prompted me to go through box after box of things I have saved since childhood.

Class pictures—I still got them.

Old Sports Illustrated magazines—there they are.

Letters from friends—I have a collection.

There are baseball cards, greeting cards from my late mom (I’m keeping those), yearbooks, stray photos from back when used film and old work evaluations where I would advocate for a 35-cent raise (I kid you not, journalism was not a lucrative field, especially when I was in the biz.)

I also have a slew of plaques, newspaper clips—those that have my byline and stories that covered my brief foray into local politics and some business ventures I’ve had over the years.

It’s a lot.

My much better half has been after me for years to throw stuff out. Saying no to Diane takes effort, but that’s a request I’ve managed to dodge since 2003. Until now.

I’m not saying it’s easy to toss memorabilia away, but I’ve come to the realization that nobody is going to want my…what’s a nice word for….oh I got it… detritus.

And besides there’s a reward coming—that mancave which I imagine will include a comfy recliner, great speakers and a mini-fridge stocked with cold craft beer. If some of that beer includes the words grapefruit it will be even better because nobody will be around to poke fun at my taste. For the record, the beer I like does not come with a little umbrella in the mug.

Now, rest assured I’m not throwing away everything. I am keeping the meaningful stuff…Yankee and Met autographs from Spring Trainings gone by, ticket stubs to E Street Band shows and a letter I got from Libby Wesley, one of my civic heroines.

The rest is going to the recycle bin—I wonder if the good people at the Solid Waste Authority are puzzled as to why newspapers from the 1980s are suddenly showing up at their facility. P.S. Those old Monday-Thursday Papers were so good. I worked with talented people. (We were making $8 an hour, but we did good work and had lots of fun.)

Anyway, every box I open is a trip back in time.

For instance, my friends wrote me letters in college. Can you imagine that!? These were 18 and19-year-old guys and gals putting pen to paper, finding a stamp and an address and putting their thoughts in the mail because it was cheaper than a long distance call.

I miss those days.

The boxes mark distinct parts of my life: childhood, the teenage years, college, first real job, first marriage, kids, newspaper writing, my first business, my adventure in local politics, a new start with Diane, more kids, trips, Atlantic Ave magazine, my time at Celsius, my life now at CDS International Holdings and more. Every box I open comes with a heavy dose of memory, a sense of place and time, people who have come and gone from my life and lessons learned—often the hard way through the years.

Yes, it’s just stuff. But it’s also something more. It’s the reminders of a life, a story told in chapters still being written.
It has been fun to visit, and I’ve learned a lot about who I used to be and where I’ve been.

Recently, I had a wonderful lunch and conversation with my friend Pastor Bill Mitchell of Boca Community Church. Bill is the creator of City Lead and now World Lead and he has become a touchstone, someone I enjoy learning from.

We met just after he took a recent trip to Africa and I hung on every word that he shared about his experience, especially the stories about Zimbabwe and his amazing efforts to work with emerging leaders in places like Malawi and Zambia.

I, of course, shared my saga of cleaning the garage.

(I said we were friends, not equals).

Anyway, I shared that every box I open seems to contain a gift aimed at making sense of my life, where I am as I approach age 60.

This upcoming birthday is a poignant one for me and many of my friends who are also turning the big 6-0.

One on hand, we are better than we’ve ever been, able to access decades of experience as we navigate life’s challenges. But on the other hand, we are getting older. I feel it when I get up from my desk and I need a few steps to loosen up and I see it when I’m on Zoom calls and I’m looking at guys I grew up with who have lost their hair if not their youthful sense of humor. When I see myself in the mirror, I often cringe and wonder who that old guy is staring back at me. Resting Jeff face is a thing.

Yet, I’m thankful for it all. Every line, every gray hair.

And I’m grateful  because my spring cleaning is helping me figure things out. One week, I found a letter—unsigned—from someone I met with at The Village Academy who predicted a bright future for me.

“Someday you’ll do important things,” the author wrote. For the life of me, I can’t remember who wrote this beautiful letter, but I thought enough to save it.  I rediscovered the letter at a time when I have contemplated whether I should slow down and retire or continue a path that is leading me toward important philanthropic work.

I saw the letter as a sign and Pastor Mitchell agreed. And he shared with me how you can both slow down and smell the roses and do the most important work of your life.

At this age, we have knowledge, he explained. We will give that knowledge away—and our choice is to give it to the wind or to share it with others doing meaningful work.

Put that way, it’s a no-brainer to stay engaged but to focus on the signal and cut out the noise.

Similarly, I shared with my friend that on what would have been my mother’s 85th birthday, I happened to pick out a box that contained a whole lot of mom—photos, letters, cards, all of which reminded me of this remarkable person that I was lucky to have in my life for 34 years.

I think of my mother all the time. Every single day, multiple times a day.

But I thought it interesting that of all the boxes remaining to be sorted through, it was her box that I found by happenstance on her birthday.

I thought the “find” was pure poetry.  I look for serendipity and it’s gratifying when I find it.

My lunch companion, so wise and so wonderful, enjoyed the story but quoted T.S. Eliot to remind me of the real meaning of what may be at work in this instance.

Everyone cleans out boxes from their garage at one point or another, but not everyone may be present enough to appreciate what they discover.

As Eliot put it: “We had the experience but missed the meaning.”

I think it’s important to have both, to be present in our day to day because if we are—if we pay attention– we will find meaning each day.

So, clean your garage and travel back in time. Experience the meaning. Eat lunch with those who can quote Eliot and tell you about their amazing work all over the world.

And please never stop making more memories. Let’s find the meaning in our experience.

Trying to Make Sense of Density

Worthing Place

Note: I’ve been involved with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) for close to 20 years now. It’s a wonderful organization with chapters throughout the world dedicated to real estate and land use. Over the years, I’ve been asked to work with ULI panels to help cities navigate issues and seize opportunities. I’ve had a chance to work in places like Winter Park, Tamarac, West Palm Beach, and Fort Lauderdale. Recently, the City of Deerfield Beach engaged ULI in a community wide discussion about density. I thought I’d share my talk since it focused on our experience with the “D” word in Delray Beach.

 

The story of density in my hometown Delray Beach can be told through the saga of one project: Worthing Place which is located on Atlantic Avenue in the heart of our downtown. My hope tonight is that the Delray story—what worked and what didn’t– can offer you some insights that might help your city as you move forward.

Worthing Place is a 6- story, 60-foot tall apartment building with some restaurants and shops on the ground floor. It is set back from the street and sits behind a small pocket park which has become a lively space to watch the hustle and bustle of a very busy downtown.

It features 217 units on about 2.4 acres, which works out to roughly 90 units per acre, or three times the current density allowed in our downtown.

The Delray Beach CRA assembled the property in the mid-90s with a goal of creating a mixed-use project that would replace blight with vibrancy. We believed that housing was an essential component to jumpstarting a downtown that had shown some signs of life after a very rough decade in which we experienced 40 percent vacancy and virtually no nightlife. You could have gone bowling on Atlantic Avenue in the 80s and not hit anything.

 

The RFP was awarded to a team of experienced local developers who agreed to build a public parking garage before breaking ground on the apartments and retail. That offer, to build a garage benefiting the public before building apartments, was seen as a key to the winning bid.

But the size of the project—it’s height and density—split the town into two warring factions.

The project was approved and the city was immediately hit with lawsuits that prevented the project from moving forward. The developers built the garage—as promised, but litigation meant that they could not build the actual project.

When I was elected in 2000, the commission I served on inherited the lawsuits—I believe there were six or seven of them—but we also inherited the division over growth and development that this project ignited in our city.

Delray Beach is a very special place—we guard our charm and strive to maintain the brand of being a village by the sea.

We don’t allow tall buildings, but we do fight over 3 and 4 story buildings and density is a very, very touchy subject.

Mindful of these dynamics and wanting to unify the community after the tough fight over Worthing Place, we decided as a city commission to bring the community together and create a downtown master plan.

We did a massive public awareness campaign to get as many stakeholders to the table for a series of charettes or public meetings where we could brainstorm, draw, share and learn together. Our goal was to plan for a sustainable downtown that managed to be vibrant while being respectful of property rights as well as the look and feel our town.

Our tagline for the effort was “Keeping the Charm” and that was the goal.

Mind you, that’s not an easy task for a city…my idea of charm or of a village by the sea may be very different from my neighbors. Some may want a vibrant, bustling village and others may want a sleepy village. But we tried to work together as a community to come up with a consensus vision and policies to preserve, protect and enhance our downtown.

We produced a large document…but if I had to boil it down to a single theme it would be this: “Design matters more than a random density number.” In cities, we often get hung up on dwelling units per acre. We should be thinking about how projects fit in to the fabric of our communities.

In the master plan process, we learned that density was needed to provide housing opportunities for people who wanted to live downtown, we learned that if we wanted mom and pop businesses to survive, we needed a certain amount of density to support those businesses and we learned that density was better than sprawl in terms of the environment.

But the key message was the importance of design and scale…new development needed to be attractive and ideally enhance the charm and character of our downtown.

What I’m describing is a great aspiration.  But it can be hard to achieve because design is subjective.

We came away from the Downtown Master Plan process unified—at least among the few hundred who showed up to participate. But when you have 65,000 people, a few hundred, while good, is not enough to sustain an effort to shape your downtown. So, we worked hard to promote the plan, to educate the public on why density– done well– was important for our community.

And for a while we succeeded.

The city won all the lawsuits relating to Worthing Place and the project got built. It was supposed to be the first mixed-use housing project downtown, but the litigation delayed things and it ended up being among the last to be built.

Many other projects— not nearly as tall and certainly not as dense— were built. There has been a massive amount of public and private investment. And it has paid off.

Downtown Delray has become a regional attraction, with over 100 restaurants, tens of thousands of weekly visitors and a very low vacancy rate.

But success comes with challenges.

Rents have increased from $5-$7 a square foot when I moved here in 1987 to as high as $165 a square foot for prime restaurant space. It’s difficult for mom-and-pop businesses to pay the rent.

When you experience success, it’s not uncommon to want to try and ratchet things back.

So, after I was termed out, a subsequent commission lowered the height limit to 54 feet, 35 feet on the avenue itself, and capped density at 30 units to the acre in most of downtown Delray. There are a few places in town where you can exceed that amount, but by and large density has been capped.

You don’t tend to cap things that you view as virtuous. If density was popular, it would be encouraged not capped. Besides, our language has changed—instead of encouraging density in strategic places to achieve civic goals, we are warning developers about density.

After spending a lot of time, money and effort trying to sell the virtues of density and great design—we stopped engaging residents on these topics and now every election cycle is about the evils of growth and development. We no longer talk about smart growth or good development; we only seem to talk about traffic and whether we have lost our charm.

Density has become a dirty word in a town that used it as a tool to become a national model for how to revitalize a downtown.

Now, I understand the sensitivities…I understand the frustration caused by congestion, even though we experience more traffic driving on multi-lane suburban streets than when we drive downtown where we can use our grid system to get around efficiently.

I am immensely proud of my city and what we were able to accomplish. But I also understand it is not everyone’s cup of tea. And I understand that change cuts both ways: it can be good, it can be not so good. But all in all, I think Delray did a nice job.

We don’t allow big buildings, especially when compared to our coastal neighbors, which allow heights more than twice as tall as we do.

Efforts have been made to limit massing and maintain the human scale that is our calling card. We narrowed US 1 in our downtown to make it more of a neighborhood and less of a highway. We improved pedestrian safety and we have created a year-round economy in what had once been a seasonal town.

 

But in many ways, even though others think we have done a good job, we are losing the argument.

City planners and new urbanists are often fans of Delray. I’m here, 17 years after being term limited, because ULI views Delray as a positive example.

But as the kids say when talking about relationships—it’s complicated.

When politicians look at our city and see their best chance of being elected as running against what has been achieved downtown because density was used wisely— something has gone awry.

So as Deerfield weighs its next move relative to density, growth and change…I would offer up Delray as a good comp. We are both a success story and a cautionary tale.

We succeeded because we revitalized what had been a declining downtown. The revitalization has stood the test of time—we survived the financial crisis, Covid, competition from other cities and changing tastes. I would argue that density done right—done gently as my friend Juan (Urban designer Juan Mullerat) would say–helps you build wonderful and memorable places.

I commend you for engaging with ULI and inviting the public into this process, much like we did when we crafted our Downtown Master Plan in 2001.

But I would urge you—from experience—to never stop engaging, educating, and learning together as a community. We stopped doing those things somewhere along the way…because after all politicians come and go. But the need to keep dreaming and implementing never goes away. That’s the beauty of cities. You are never done, especially if you get some kind of success. You can’t be complacent. Complacency is a killer.

As a former elected official, I know you can never please everyone. And you can really set your community back by trying. But you can and should take a long-term view and try and move the big rocks.

The best piece of advice I ever got was that elected office is a job to do, not to have.

You need to take some risks to move the needle and make things happen in your city. But you have to bring the community along with you…they have to buy-in and say yes. And they have to keep saying yes. That means a never-ending conversation about the future of your community. That’s the fun part.

I’m a fan of Deerfield Beach, I’m in the Cove for dinner, I love your beach and I used to have an office in town. So, I am rooting for you.

I’ll conclude by telling you what happened with Worthing Place.

It succeeded. It never became the blighted tenement that opponents feared would forever scar our downtown. Instead, it became a catalyst for activity and additional investment.

The restaurants downstairs have become popular spots…the apartments are coveted, and the garage is well-used and a money maker for the city. A few months ago, the company I work for, a family office, bought the building from BlackRock for over $100mm. So, you can see that the project that divided our town has a whole lot of value.

It’s a full circle moment for me and a major investment in our downtown for my company. I’d like to think that density —done well—created an ecosystem that remains an attractive place for people to live, work and play. Thank you for this opportunity and good luck with your wonderful city.

 

 

 

 

 

The Long Term Players

Bill Murray’s Hall of Fame photo. Class of 2024.

This column is about excellence.

Long-term, nose to the grindstone excellence.

I’ve been thinking about excellence ever since learning that Coach Bill Murray—a Delray Beach legend—was inducted into the Black Tennis Hall of Fame.

Coach Murray has been a fixture on the Delray tennis scene since 1972. He came to Delray after playing tennis at Kentucky State University and then serving in Vietnam.

Lucky for Delray, he found a home on the tennis courts of Pompey Park where he continues to teach.

That’s 52 years and three Grand Slam Champions later for those keeping score at home.

Mr. Murray worked with Venus and Serena Williams when they trained at the Rick Macci Academy in Delray. Richard Williams would take his talented daughters to Pompey to soak up some Murray magic.

Later, Corey Gauff was coached by Mr. Murray before leaving town to play Division 1 Basketball. When he came home and started a family, he brought his daughter Coco to Pompey for a few lessons with Bill. You may have heard of Coco; she was just on the cover of Time and Vogue magazines.

I got to know Mr. Murray a little bit over the years. He’s a quiet and unassuming man.

I’ve found that a lot of great people are quiet and unassuming. They let their work speak for them. And often that work gets lost, because they are not self-promoting. They are dedicated to the task at hand.

There are dozens of examples in our community if we stop and think about it.

At a recent City Commission meeting, Shawn Beckowitz and Tommy Osborn were given proclamations upon reaching the 30-year service mark with our Fire Department.

Their list of accolades—read into the record by Mayor Carney—goes on and on. They have had remarkable careers. Shawn has done just about everything there is to do in the fire service. He’s a good man too.

Tommy is a local legend with a national reputation in the fire service for his fitness and athletic achievements. He’s 59 and looks 29. He was recently honored by Delray Medical Center for excellence.

These guys are tough acts to follow.

Higher profile positions and more energetic personalities snag the headlines, but it’s the people who quietly serve with distinction day after day, year after year that make a community tick.

Bill Murray is a prime example.

Over his half century of service, he has enriched not only Delray Beach but the larger tennis world. The announcement of his enshrinement mentioned his work teaching tennis in Kenya and his stewardship of landmark tennis tournaments in South Florida. He also found ways for promising players to come to Florida to train.

Here’s what Mr. Murray had to say upon being elected to the Hall of Fame.

“I am honored to be selected into the Black Tennis Hall of Fame and very appreciative; thank you.

I started my tennis career in Delray Beach, Florida, the same park where I learned how to play tennis in 1961, our class walked over from school to participate in tennis and swimming classes.

The Black community petitioned the city to build two tennis courts and a pool in the Black community, in this famous park in 1956.

The name of this famous park is Pompey Park. One month after graduating from Kentucky State, in 1970, I was in the army, then Vietnam, after my two years, they offered me $25,000 to reenlist, I turned that offer down.

I was so anxious to go home, to get back into tennis, signing all these papers, which was taking so long, until I accidentally signed myself back into the army, for a year, the reserves, which became the main army, I ended up staying in the reserve for a long time. I started an intercity tennis program in 1972 at the same park where I learned to play tennis, Pompey Park.

Those courts were abandoned for 10 years, so I had to be the one to shape it back up, by sweeping the glass and rocks off the court. I went to my Black city commissioner, told him what I was trying to do, so he had both the courts redone. Fifty-two years later and the rest was history. Venus and Serena came to Pompey Park when they were 9 and 10, Corey Gauff came to Pompey Park when he played at 10, he brought his daughter Coco there when she was 4. I put her in her first ATA tournament when she was 7, she won the 10’S.”

She won that and a whole lot more.

Bill Murray is a local legend. The genuine article. We celebrate his many, many contributions.

 

Another local legend, Marie Speed, officially retired from her post as group editor-in-chief at JES Publishing.

JES publishes Boca and Delray Beach magazines, outstanding publications that are must reads for those of us who love Boca and Delray.

Marie and I have been friends for a long time. She was good enough to give me some freelance work a few times over the years and I can say from personal experience that she is a superior editor.

Great editors make copy sing and bring out the best in their writers. Marie has done that—for a very long time in a business that is brutal. Between deadlines, fact-checking, a difficult business model and temperamental talent—editing a magazine is not easy. It may seem glamorous—and there are glamorous aspects for sure—but most of the work is painstaking and detailed.

Marie Speed is an editor’s editor.

What makes her special is her passion and knowledge of this community. She is not someone passing through—she has roots here and roots give you perspective, context and depth. When you apply those attributes to a magazine your readers are getting a gift; a rare gift in a field in which so many come and go without leaving a mark.

Marie Speed built a legacy, issue by issue, month by month, page by page, word by word. She will be dearly missed.

 

Continuing with our theme of sustained excellence, consider the amazing example set by Greg Malfitano of Lynn University.

Mr. Malfitano serves as Lynn University’s senior major gift officer. He was one of the university’s earliest graduates from what was then Marymount College. He began his career as an administrator for Lynn’s President Emeritus Donald Ross and quickly rose in ranks from director of student services in 1977 to vice president for administration and student services in 1982.

 

Greg has overseen the development of the campus master plan and has supervised major construction projects, including Bobby Campbell Stadium, Count and Countess de Hoernle Sports and Cultural Center, Eugene M. and Christine E. Lynn Library, Keith C. and Elaine Johnson Wold Performing Arts Center, Mohammed Indimi International Business Center, Snyder Sanctuary, Mary and Harold Perper Residence Hall, Lynn Residence Center, Christine E. Lynn University Center and the Snyder Center for Health and Wellness. In 2012, Malfitano became co-chair for the Presidential Debate, where he spearheaded on-campus planning and administration.

 

From 1987 to 2015, Greg served as athletics administrator and oversaw the recruitment of every athletic director and head coach. Under his leadership, the Fighting Knights won 23 of their 25 National Championships and advanced from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II. Greg guided the university’s recreational and intramural sports teams into one of the region’s most competitive athletics programs. To honor his athletic accomplishments, he was voted into the class of 2024 Athletic Hall of Fame.

 

For 50 years, Greg has called Lynn his “home away from home.” He’s a devoted steward of the university, working with leadership to fulfill institutional needs. Outside the university, he builds connections with those who share his belief in Lynn’s mission of providing an innovative, global, and personalized education.

 

Today, this living legend focuses his efforts on fundraising and serves as a trusted advisor to President Kevin Ross. He’s a champion for progress, and a steward for positive change.

As a Lynn trustee, I’ve come to truly value Greg’s amazing achievements. He’s been a catalyst for great things for half a century. All we can say is wow and thank you.

 

Those Summer Nights…

Challenge issued, challenge met.

I have a friend, let’s call him Randy,  who has spent the past few years learning to play  guitar.

Randy is a generous and brave guy. He regularly shares his guitar journey with his friends via video risking criticism and snark that only guys who love each other can deliver.

I think he’s generous because he shares what brings him joy. The bravery comes from showing us the ugly parts of his learning process…you know the cringe inducing early days when every song was an adventure.

But over time, Randy has gotten better and better. He’s a hard worker. He’s also passionate about learning.

I’ve learned a lot by watching him over the years. Randy doesn’t do anything at half-speed. He’s an all-in kind of guy and those are the people who succeed. Most of us in Randy’s orbit live vicariously through him.

He lives life at full throttle, but he’s deliberate and intentional. He’s got a plan.

To increase his odds of success, Randy gives himself every advantage possible. As a result, the guitar’s difficulties are no match for our guy.

He hired a great guitar teacher, bought a few top-notch instruments, and carved out the time in his busy life to ensure that he would become a good guitarist.  That rock solid commitment and passion for learning took him from beginner to darn good in about a year’s time.

The guy can play.

Now he’s learning to sing too. And he’s sharing those videos as well.

His most recent recording was a cover of Journey’s “Stone in Love.”

It was…. really good. So good in fact that it hit triggered something in my brain. I can’t let it go.

You remember the song.

“Those crazy nights, I do remember in my youth

I do recall, those were the best times, most of all

In the heat with a blue jean girl

Burnin’ love comes once in a lifetime

She found me singing by the rail road track

Took me home, we danced by moonlight

 Those summer nights are callin’,

Stone in love

Can’t help myself I’m fallin’

Stone in love”

 

Those lyrics!

The soaring Steve Perry vocals (Randy’s brave to go there!).

Summer. Blue jeans. Falling in love.

That’s the power of music. A song can instantly transport you. In this case, “Stone in Love” took me to my youth, a time of endless summers and infinite possibilities.

Yes, I know that in some circles, Journey isn’t a “cool” band.

Truth be told, I’m not really a Journey fan, but I love that song and a few others too.

“Lights” reminds me of my college years in Oswego N.Y.

Summer nights walking with my best friend and roommate Scott through the streets of that old harbor town. I remember the walks and the talks. Endless summers and infinite possibilities.

“Don’t Stop Believing” the song that was playing in the last scene of  “The Sopranos” may have been my prom theme. It’s been 42 years, I barely remember. We wore bad tuxedos (I looked like Mr. Roark from Fantasy Island). We borrowed my mom’s Chrysler LeBaron because it had brakes and a bench seat. We were optimists in those days, we did not stop believing.

Anyway, I like my share of cool bands too: Talking Heads, My Morning Jacket, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit etc., but my tastes have always included what some critics (namely my wife and my oldest friend Dave) might call bubble gum or schlock rock.

But with all due deference, the critics are mistaken. There is plenty of gold to mine listening to Neil Diamond, Boston, vintage Toto and yes Journey. The more schmaltz, the better.

My buddy Randy reminded me of that when he sent his video. Stone in Love, what a title! And when he played and sang, I got to visit my youth again for a few precious but unforgettable moments.

Stone washed jeans, Adidas t shirts, my old Mustang, meet ups with my friends in Port Jeff where we sat in a bar designed like an old ship and listened to a jukebox that played Van Halen and The Cars.

I miss those days of infinite possibilities. In time, we learn that summer ends. We also learn that “burnin” love can come more than once in a lifetime. Thank goodness.

We grow up, we move away, we take on “deadlines and commitments” as Bob Seger sang. We decide ‘what to leave in, what to leave out’.

But then a friend sends you a song. And for a few moments we are transported. What a gift.

“Burnin’ love comes once in a lifetime

Oh the memories never fade away

Golden girl, I’ll keep you forever.

 

Those summer nights are callin’,

Stone in love

Can’t help myself I’m fallin’

Stone in love.”

A Helping Hand

An army of volunteers helping others.

The first thing you notice when you enter the doors of Boca Helping Hands is the hustle and bustle.

Everywhere you look there are volunteers rushing about. It’s a Thursday and Boca Helping Hands is getting ready to serve hot meals to a growing line of people idling in their cars waiting for their dinner and a shopping bag full of carefully curated foods.

It’s a stunning sight to see—at once heartening and sobering. These are working people—our friends, neighbors, maybe even our co-workers who struggle to make ends meet in 2024 South Florida.

There’s a new term—at least to my ears—to describe these people: ALICE which stands for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed. Many have several jobs to make ends meet. They struggle with housing, food costs, bills, and insurance. An unexpected expense can upend their world.

So, while it is encouraging to see the community respond, it is also heartbreaking to see the struggle. We have become a very expensive place to live.

Boca Helping Hands is on the front lines of this daily slog. While the name says Boca, the organization’s reach extends to central Palm Beach County including cities such as Delray Beach, Lantana and Lake Worth Beach.

Boca Helping Hands is a 25-year-old nonprofit that has become one of the largest service providers in South Florida serving almost 35,000 people a year. There are 23 staff members and more than 300 volunteers. The board is an impressive list of local business leaders led by Chairman Gary Peters, a retired securities executive whose family foundation has given generously to the nonprofit for years.

We’re proud to announce that the Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation has decided to help the cause with a $75,000 grant to expand an existing job training program.

The program speaks loudly to our philosophy of providing a “hand up, not a handout.” Our founder Carl Desantis believed in helping people find a sustainable path in life. Mr. D believed in education and training that could lift people to a better station in life.

The Boca Helping Hands Job Training Program (JTP) works with community partners to provide adult workforce training for unemployed and underemployed adults.

The program takes a holistic approach to their clientele identifying barriers to employment and providing mentoring, training, certifications and needed support to find and secure employment.

The program is run in three phrases starting with an assessment of individual needs followed by vocational training in one of 11 “in demand careers” and culminating in on-site or virtual mentoring to make sure clients stay employed.

Boca Helping Hands works closely with local workforce development programs, colleges, universities, and social service providers to make sure that programs are current and lead to employment. Clients receive help with food security issues, housing, and general well-being issues.

Boca Helping Hands invests in people and all that goes with that investment: care goes into making sure that issues like childcare, transportation and the ‘hiccups’ of life don’t derail the opportunity for a better life.

Careers include: commercial driver’s (starting salaries $60K), electrician, plumbers, HVAC repair, medical billing, and certified nursing assistants.

Since 2020, the program has helped 213 clients gain the skills they need to escape poverty.

The program is supported by others local partners including the Jim Moran Foundation, United Way of Palm Beach, and individual donors. There is a broad base of support.

During our visit, we met with Executive Director Greg Hazle, Director of Development Steve King and Director of Career Development Trina Chin Cheong. We also met with board member Dr. Sarah Lochner, a physician. We were impressed with their commitment and the smart design behind their training program.

The program is designed to make sure students succeed. They provide a lot of handholding and counseling to ensure success. The numbers back it up. And while the handholding may sound like a lot of work, it’s needed to ensure success. Life happens and there needs to be a plan to help people navigate the issues they encounter on the path to a better future.

If you can trade $15 an hour into a job paying $55K plus a year it makes a difference. It’s not an answer to all problems, but it’s a step in the right direction. Investments in programs that change lives is always worthwhile.

 

 

 

Passings…

Michael Singer, a legendary sculptor and landscape architect, died last month at his home in Delray Beach.

Mr. Singer was so prominent that he earned a lengthy obituary in the New York Times, a rare honor.

I got to know Mr. Singer a little bit while serving on the City Commission from 2000-07. Michael would send me frequent emails, usually to weigh in on design and historic preservation.

The last time I saw him was a few years ago when we met for lunch with his partner Jason Bregman to discuss a project on Congress Avenue. Michael and Jason shared their work across the country, all of it remarkable. The firm had commissions in NYC, Denver International Airport, and a recycling center in Phoenix. Although we never had a chance to formally work together, I sure wish we had.

From his NYT obit: “Mr. Singer was often characterized as a landscape architect, and an accomplished one at that…But in fact he was an artist, one who saw his medium, and his ambition, in expansive yet humble terms, with work that attempted to remediate humanity’s disruption of the natural world.”

I highly recommend you take a look at the full obituary. Here’s a link: https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/04/arts/design/michael-singer-dead.html

The piece includes photos of Michael’s work. What a talent. May he rest in peace.

Father and Son

Close readers of this blog know I cherish old friends.

One of those friends lost his dad last week. Ron Willemstyn was a great guy and I have a ton of fond memories of spending hours and hours hanging out with his son Ben at his house in the “S” section in Stony Brook, N.Y.

Mr. Willemstyn worked for Grolsch beer, a premium brand known for their “swing top” bottles.

In his garage, he had a large collection of Grolsch and I wouldn’t be honest if I said we didn’t sample from the cache a time or two. The sophisticated taste was lost on our underage taste buds. We also spent our fair share of time trying to flick the “swing top” bottles open with one smooth move.

Ben could do it. I never could.

Those same bottles now sell for between $12 and $60 on ebay. They were cool and unique.

Mr. Willemstyn was much sharper than we were. He knew when we went astray. He had a humorous way of paying Ben back for any indiscretions—beer or otherwise. He would sneak into Ben’s room before daybreak after an especially rough night and wake Ben for some early morning physical chores. We got away with nothing, which is a good lesson. You pay when you play.

Later in life, Mr. Willemstyn lived in Port St. Lucie. He made frequent sojourns to Delray to sample the restaurants.

Mr. W was a great guy. He will be missed.

 

Bob Graham…

We lost Bob Graham last week at the age of 87.

The former Senator and Florida governor was someone I deeply admired.

I had two “encounters” with Senator Graham.

A number of years ago, we were on the same commuter plane from Tallahassee to Fort Lauderdale.

I saw the Senator when I boarded and said hello. Although we had met briefly a few times, I doubt remembered me, but he acted as if we were old friends.

When we got to Fort Lauderdale, we were greeted by police and K-9’s and asked to stand on the tarmac while the dogs sniffed our bags. Nothing was found. I don’t know what it was about, but I have a picture somewhere of one Florida’s greatest governors being given the once over by a large German Shepherd.

The second memory is a more positive one.

A few years back, I had a chance to see Governor Graham and former Miami Herald Publisher Dave Lawrence in conversation on stage at a Leadership Florida event. Seeing these two civic giants share stories, talk about the past, present and future was something I will never forget.

These are men of substance. Last week, we talked about long term players and I got to share my thoughts about Mayor David Schmidt and so I was in that mode of thinking about the difference people with gravitas can make in our world when I heard the news.

Bob Graham was one of those special people who brought intellect, class, dignity and intellectual rigor to the public square. In a world where the lightweights and haters often steal the spotlight, I remain thankful for those who transcend and transform.

 

Speaking of someone who transformed…

On April 28, the public is invited to attend a monument unveiling honoring Alfred “Zack” Straghn at 4 p.m. at the Delray Beach Pavilion on A1A near Atlantic Avenue.

If you want to join a processional to the event, please go to the Libby Wesley Amphitheater on West Atlantic Avenue at 3 p.m. for a walk to the beach.

The walk is symbolic because the late Mr. Straghn was a key figure who opened our beach to Black citizens.

A committee, led by retired fire chief Kerry Koen, raised the funds for the monument. I was privileged to be on the committee. It was a labor of love for all of us, but Kerry was the driving force.

The two men shared a unique and valuable friendship when Kerry led our Fire Department and Zack was running a local funeral home.

Mr. Straghn was a lifelong mentor to countless community leaders, a wonderful man, and a great contributor to our city. It is fitting that his contributions will be memorialized.

When Mr. Straghn passed in 2020, I wrote this. Check it out if you want to learn more about this civic treasure. https://yourdelrayboca.com/?s=Straghn

50 Years Deep

Leadership Delray visits Delray Beach Fire Rescue last week.

Every year, the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce hosts a “Mayor’s Lunch”as part of its Leadership Delray program.

Last week, newly elected Mayor Tom Carney, former mayor Dave Schmidt and I met with an enthusiastic group of emerging leaders who are enrolled in a comprehensive program designed to introduce them to how the community works.

I like these kind of programs. I think they’re important. We have a fine chamber.

Usually there are more mayors at this event, but scheduling conflicts and the passage of time conspired to constrain attendance this year. But the small group made the most of the opportunity to share bits of local history and meet new friends.

I enjoy the event because I enjoy telling and hearing stories from a past era with newer residents who may not know where we came from.

Sharing these stories is important. Especially in an era where our attention spans have waned and there’s no long a common “water cooler” to connect us.

I also enjoy hearing from current and former mayors.

Tom Carney struck a positive tone, praising staff and promising to convene the community to create a new vision.

It’s a good idea and a good way to start a new term. Ideally, mayors and commissioners serve the community. It’s hard to do that if you don’t survey the community by inviting them to share their ideas and opinions about where they live, work and play.

Mayor Schmidt followed with some solid leadership tips for the group. He talked about the balance that needs to be struck between service and ego and warned that if ego takes over problems follow.

He talked about how leaders should give credit to others but take the blame when things go wrong.

He also noted that criticism should be given respectfully with an eye toward improvement. Too often, we live in a “gotcha” world waiting for a slip-up so we can pounce. That’s not a sustainable strategy, nor does it lead to a productive atmosphere.

Listening to David speak I was reminded about what an extraordinary leader he has been in this community. David has lived here since 1971 and for most of those years he has been a quiet, humble but highly effective leader. He’s 50 years deep in this place and that means something.

Over the years, he has run a law practice, served on city boards, helped to write a few comprehensive plans, led our Sister Cities efforts, chaired the Chamber and Morikami Museum boards, and served with distinction on our city commission.

I shared with the group that I got to sit next to Dave for my first three years on the Commission. It was a great apprenticeship for me because I saw a calm leader who listened to everyone, shared his rationale before votes and encouraged his fellow commissioners to run with their passions.

For Commissioner Pat Archer that meant leading our drug task force which wrestled with how to make sure those in recovery got they helped they needed. Commissioner Alberta McCarthy concentrated on the theme of “Community Unity”, which can sound cliched, but Alberta’s leadership ensured that voices not often heard were invited to the table. Jon Levinson had an interest in housing and that passion led to the creation of the Delray Beach Community Land Trust. David let me run with the Downtown Master plan, which I co-chaired alongside Chuck Ridley.

David noted that the commission he led praised city staff, but also tasked them with an awful lot to do. They rose to the occasion and good things happened in Delray Beach. All of it was done with a lot of community involvement and engagement.

Listening to David speak, I was reminded of his grace under pressure when we decided to move Atlantic High School. David graduated from Atlantic so I’m sure it was an emotional decision to close the old school and move it to a more central location with room for career academies. The decision was controversial, but we ended with a brand new school, the Bexley Park neighborhood and two parks. We had also hoped to get a water park and a middle school of the arts out of the deal, but all in all it worked out.

I also remember how David led after 9/11 when it was discovered that several of the terrorists, including the masterminds were living in our city. We grieved as a community, handled national press and gathered at Old School Square and the Community Center to process our emotions. In a charged time, it’s helpful to have a steady leader. But Mayor Schmidt didn’t disappear after he was termed out.

No, our David is a long term player, committed to making this place better. And he has.

It’s people like David that make places like Delray work.

He didn’t do it for the remuneration; there isn’t any. He did it because he loves this community. Still, there is satisfaction. Lots of satisfaction.

And if we are to be honest there’s pain as well. Heartache too.

But you don’t feel pain or heartache unless you love something.

There are seasons of joy and seasons of pain. Stay around long enough and you feel both.

The Mayor’s Lunch is a chance to share stories with the next generation of leaders. Both David and I are graduates of Leadership Delray. Many former elected officials are graduates as well. Some who go through the program stay around and others pass through. And that’s fine.

But strong communities look to create the next cohort of long-term players, special people who give their time, talent and treasure to their hometowns.

We should treasure these people because they are everything. Let me say that again: they are everything.

Examples abound: Mayor Schmidt is one of many. This blog was created to celebrate these people. They are civic heroes, innovators and visionaries.

That’s what moves the needle. Everything else is negotiable. Everything except the people.

Here’s to the long-term players. Those who move mountains.

 

Culture Is Everything

Management guru Peter Drucker knows his stuff.

I listened to a great podcast about “culture” recently.

I’m not talking about cinema, art, or the theater. I am talking about the culture we find in companies, organizations, and communities.

Author Daniel Coyle is someone I’ve long admired. His books are great. The latest is “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups.” It may be his best.

Coyle went inside Seal Team Six, Pixar and the San Antonio Spurs to discover how and why they are so successful. The secret sauce is that these organizations build a great culture by developing three essential ingredients: safety, vulnerability, and story.

A great culture starts with safety.  We must send clear and continuous signals: we share a future, and you have a voice. It’s safe to speak up. We want to hear from you, and we are listening.

Another key is vulnerability. Strong cultures don’t hide their mistakes. They share their weaknesses and work on getting better.

The third important element is story. You need a story– not a mission statement– a story that becomes your North Star. A good story is what gets you out of bed and raring to go. A good story inspires and motivates.

Those three simple concepts resonate.

If you’re lucky, you’ve experienced the magic of a great culture somewhere along the way.

Before reading Coyle’s book, I attributed great culture to luck, chemistry, or serendipity. Sometimes you click with a group of people and sometimes you don’t.  But Coyle says we can be intentional about building a great culture. It’s not luck, it’s something we can create. That’s empowering.

There are a few questions we can ask ourselves about our organization or communities to see if we are helping or hurting the creation of a strong culture.

Here are a few examples:

Sharing a new idea feels terrifying, intimidating, or exciting?

When we disagree, do we brawl, dismiss, or engage?

When our leaders screw up, they: evade it, admit it, own it?

You get the drift.

Seen through the frames of The Culture Code I began to understand the “why” behind the examples in my own life when I experienced magic at work or in the community.

For sure I/we felt safe, we were able to feel vulnerable and own our mistakes. Most of all, we felt connected to a story. One we were writing.

There’s an old saying: “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

I have no doubt that’s true.

Summers Past & Service Honored

The Dunlop Maxply Fort was a classic of the era. The iconic racquets sell for over $300 online.

Note: We’ve been engaged in a little bit of spring cleaning lately and I’ve finally worked up the will to dive into some boxes that have been stacked in the garage for ages. I’m not a hoarder (well, maybe a little bit), but I do manage to accumulate a lot and until recently I haven’t wanted to go through these “collections” of memorabilia and mementos to see what should be kept and what should be tossed. I can’t say it’s easy throwing away articles I’ve written during my newspaper career or old photos, but it’s gotten easier. After all, nobody is going to want these things and they are taking up space so it’s off to the recycle bin you go. Still, amidst the litter of life, you find some things that you forget about. Here’s an essay I wrote decades ago hoping it would be published in Newsday, the paper of record for Long Island. P.S. I never sent it.

 

“8.09 acres at the southeast corner of Oxhead Road and Pembroke Drive from J-3 Business to D-1 Residential.”

That was the way the day started. One seemingly innocuous sentence, buried in a Newsday round-up of zoning changes.

But the two sentences stung me. The 8.09 acres at the southeast corner of Oxhead Road and Pembroke Drive were the most important acres of my childhood. They were the site of the Stony Brook Swim & Racquet club –the place where I spent six glorious and formative summers.

Somehow, I thought “the pool club” would survive forever. In a way it will, in the memories of hundreds of families who spent precious summers together in an idyllic spot on the north shore of Long Island.

Even though the pool club had been gone for years (the owner converted it into a summer camp), the grounds remained untouched. The club was pretty much the same as it had been during its glory days in the mid-70s. I had seen to that on my infrequent visits home. I always made sure to visit the club, park the car, and reminisce.

Oh, the 13 clay tennis courts were memories once the club closed. But the venerable paddle ball courts, the snack bar, gazebos and concrete kickball court all remained.

I knew every inch of that place—from the “Savodnik” tree named after my best friend’s family who loyally set up camp under it every summer, to the storage sheds deep in the woods where we would take our summer love interests to share that first kiss.

I knew where every family sat. The Mah Jongg players would sit underneath large umbrella’s shuffling tiles for hours and hours interrupted only by our anxious pleas for change so we could raid the snack bar for Charleston Chews and cold drinks.

Then there were the tennis players. They would sit poolside, sporting world class tans except for their feet. Their feet were white as the sand on the finest beaches. The mark of a serious tennis player was white feet. If you had them, it meant you were out on the court polishing your game; too busy to get a total tan. For six years my feet were as white as could be, covered by ankle socks as I wore out my Stan Smith Adidas shoes.

Over at the paddle ball courts were the middle age war horses with names like Murray, Stu and Herman.  They didn’t mess with tennis, preferring instead to duke it out on the paddle ball walls.

Paddle ball was a city game. We were in the burbs, but the tough men with the leathery skin could be found on the paddle ball courts. These guys were my favorites and I loved watching them risk life and limb diving on the hard concrete courts to “kill” a little black ball.

The paddle ball players were early heroes and I dreamt that someday I’d be good enough to compete with them. When that day came, it was much sadder than I thought. The old war horses were good, but we were younger and quicker. Somehow that made me sad.

Tennis was winning the hearts and minds of my little pool club world. It was the “tennis boom” of the 70s and people like Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg were bringing the country club game to the masses.

If you grew up on Long Island in those days, you played tennis.

As for me, I threw myself into the game with reckless ambition. I played about every waking hour.

And when I wasn’t at the club, I was out front of my Levitt house pounding the ball mercilessly against the garage door. I would do this until my mother opened the window and begged me to stop. I couldn’t get enough of the game. I woke up early, put my tennis clothes on and waited impatiently for my mom to get ready so we could go to “the club” and I could hit the courts.

Around this time, the pool club changed.

Tennis had its own caste system and status was measured by the type of racquet you used. A Dunlop Maxply and Arthur Ashe Head Competition were paths to instant popularity. These racquets exuded cool. They were, in a word, iconic.

When tennis kicked in, suddenly the four hard courts at the pool club weren’t enough. It was clay courts or bust.

When I look back—as much as I love tennis—the popularity of the sport hastened the death of the club.

The club’s owner decided to add 13 har-tru courts and to allow for separate pool and tennis memberships.

At first, the addition of the soft clay-like courts seemed to uplift the place. We were no longer a distant second to some of the posh country clubs in Setauket and Old Field. The not quite ready for white collar kids from the Levitt homes could match strokes with any blue blood this side of Poquott.

But the incision was made, and the distinction between “family swim club” and big-time tennis was uneasy.

Then it happened.

Suddenly, one summer, we were the oldest kids around. In fact, there were hardly any kids at all. The area was changing, getting older and younger at the same time. Moms were heading back to work, and a different lifestyle was taking root. There were different ways to spend the summer in my hometown.

When the reality hit us—that this would be the last summer at the club—we didn’t mourn.

When you’re 15, you live to move on. You never glance back. It’s only when you’re older that you realize how good you had it and how you wished you had savored it more.

So, we walked the grounds of the pool club that last Labor Day—every inch of the place recounting only that summer.

We did it every Labor Day and this would be no different, even though it would be the last time.

There was no talk of the grizzled paddleball players who left the summer before. Their time had passed, like a soft summer breeze.

Gone too were the pretty girls who used to walk from the pool to the snack bar. They started going to the beach and so we would we in our never-ending effort to find romance.

The Mah Jongg players traded their tiles for jobs, and we all went to the Mall.

I feel fortunate to have spent ages 8-15 at the club. I shared tennis with my dad, and we grew closer. I spent every day in the same place as my mom and my sister and that meant something. Even though we didn’t hang out, I knew they were there. We had a daily destination as a family.

I met three of my closest friends at the club, friends I’ve kept to this day.

And, quite possibly, I fell in love for the first time at the pool club (although the relationship was innocent and lasted a scant few weeks). Puppy love is a better word for it.

I feel sad that families don’t have a destination to go to everyday; a place to be together with other families. I always had a vision of myself staring through a ragged chain link fence, looking in at the club years from now— wife and kids tow— explaining that this was where it all happened. The beginning of an aborted tennis career, my first kiss, my first standoff with a bully. It would be fall, when I looked through the fence. The leaves would cover the faded kickball court. But it would all be there. The gazebo, the snack bar, even the Savodnik tree. All there so I could look back and remember.

Funny, how a zoning change can ruin your day.

 

Thanks for a Job Well Done

Retiring BPOA President Bob Victorin was presented with a beautiful painting by gifted local artist Ernie DeBlasi.

Last week, the Beach Property Owners Association honored outgoing president Bob Victorin for his lengthy and distinguished service to the 55-year-old civic association.

I was honored to say a few words of praise. In Bob’s case it was really easy because he’s terrific.

Here’s a snippet of my remarks. We wish Bob and his lovely wife Jan health and happiness in the years ahead.

“I was fortunate to work with the two Bobs, Mr. Victorin and Bob Sparvero during my tenure on the city commission. They were wonderful people to work with and together we navigated through some tricky terrain: several hurricanes, a comprehensive beach restoration project, design guidelines, a downtown master plan and my personal favorite —the great bike lane debate sparked by the redesign of A1A by the Florida Department of Transportation.

Through every issue, through every controversy, Bob Victorin exhibited remarkable leadership skills.

He was fact-based, kind, respectful and courteous. In a word, Bob Victorin is a gentleman.

That kind of leadership has almost gone out of style these days. But Bob’s style of leadership has been immensely effective. He has been a wonderful advocate for the BPOA, a passionate protector of the barrier island and an invaluable contributor to Delray Beach.

This organization has been remarkably successful because of leaders like Bob Victorin. Over the years, I got to know and work with Betty Matthews, Frank Boyar, Bernie Dahlem, Frank DeVine and Andy Katz.

Like Bob, they were strong leaders and wonderful diplomats. In Frank Devine’s case, he was actually a former Ambassador to El Salvador.

Bob followed in those footsteps and really helped the BPOA flourish in terms of membership and importance.

When residents expressed a desire to have design guidelines, the BPOA took the lead and created a template that was looked at by other neighborhoods in the city.

Bob was a participant in every citizen goal setting session we held while I was on the commission giving his time and energy to make sure we were taking the needs of the barrier island into consideration. He was a voice of reason as we worked with the state to redesign A1A, balancing the needs of businesses, bicyclists, and coastal homeowners.

My colleagues on the commission deeply admired and appreciated Bob. So did city staff. He’s a pleasure to work with and because he’s a pleasure to work with— he’s been incredibly effective.

I’m happy to say we’ve stayed in touch through the years. Elected officials like me, come and go, but Bob stayed on and happily remained a friend. We share a love of music (he once gave me a bunch of CD’s of his favorite songs that I still play)…. we share a love of community and we’ve enjoyed a cocktail or two through the years.

Bob you are a very special man, I also want to acknowledge your lovely wife Jan. As we both know, it would be impossible to spend this kind of time doing community work without the support of our loved ones.

Bob and Jan, Diane and I wish you the very best in the years to come. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

 

For Jimmy

James Steinhauser was a beloved friend and colleague.

I lost a friend last week and it hurts.

Jim Steinhauser was a month shy of his 89th birthday when he passed March 21 at Bethesda Hospital. We worked together off and on for more than a dozen years, brought together by the master of team building: Carl DeSantis.

We lost Carl in August.

Mr. DeSantis was a legendary entrepreneur and the magical person behind the success of two-multibillion-dollar businesses—Rexall Sundown and Celsius.

Jimmy was at Carl’s side for a big part of the ride. Both figuratively and literally.

 

Technically, Jimmy was Carl’s driver and all-around helper. But he was much more. Confidant, partner in adventures, researcher, social director, personal shopper, buddy.

Jimmy was front and center in every important meeting and was introduced often as a marketing executive.

He was consulted on everything, which was the Carl way. Mr. D was an inclusive leader and Jimmy was an eager participant and valued contributor.

 

Carl and Jimmy wandered the Delray/ Boca byways scouting out properties and hunting for opportunities. Those opportunities ran the gamut: billboard locations to promote Celsius and Tabanero Hot Sauce, where to buy comfortable shoes and, of course, the latest nutritional supplements.

Those two were something to behold; one minute they were saying how much they loved each other and the next they were bickering like an old couple. We thought they were endlessly entertaining because they were funny and underneath it all was loyalty, friendship, love, and affection. They were a pair.

 

In the evenings, Jimmy and Carl would visit their favorite restaurants where they would hold court, trade ideas, tell stories and plan the rest of their week. They were incredibly generous to wait staff and they knew everyone.

I loved being a fly on the wall for scores of these meetings. We laughed, arm wrestled and traded ideas and stories. We dreamed. Together.

 

We also took some trips: Vegas, New York City, and an arduous Poseidon like boat trip to the Bahamas.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas as they say.

As for that Bahamian voyage, let’s just say there were lots of prayers and texts to loved ones back home as we navigated waves that grow with every telling. We even dodged a plane and some crazy weather on our flight back home. As soon as we landed, the plane broke down. You can’t make it up.

 

Through it all, Jimmy was a constant.

Always there. Always reliable. Always quick with a joke and always able to share something with you that he just learned.

Now he’s gone. And the world feels a little different, a little emptier without him. That’s how it goes when you lose a friend.

 

I will note that Jimmy and I were opposites politically and we have different religions.

I mention that not because it was important to us (it wasn’t) but because we live in a time where people are being sorted and divided.

You stay with your kind, and I’ll stay with mine. You are supposed to fear me, and I’m told to fear you.

But none of that mattered with Jimmy. What we had in common and what we liked about each other was paramount.

 

We shared a love of America. We shared a love of New York.

He was from The Bronx like my parents were. He got a kick out of that connection.

We talked about sports, history and yes religion. He loved golf, listening to services on the radio and was proud of his Hyundai Genesis.

 

When Carl passed away seven months ago, Jimmy seemed lost.

He retired, but still came by the office in downtown Delray for brief but oh so sweet visits.

 

When we threw a retirement party for Jim and a beloved colleague he didn’t show. He wasn’t feeling well. We all worried about him.

 

When we visited him last week at Bethesda to say goodbye, he was wearing a BiPap mask. I recognized it immediately. It’s the same uncomfortable device I wore almost four years ago during my Covid battle. He was tired because it was hard to breathe, and that device is so darn hard to wear. Like putting a hurricane on your face. A hurricane that digs into your cheeks, ears, and the bridge of your nose. I could tell he didn’t like it.

 

But he lit up when he saw my two companions, wonderful women he worked with for over 20 years.

Jimmy loved these women. And they loved him back. This was the group that brought the word “family” to life in Carl’s family office. They looked out for each other. They are more than co-workers, they are family.

 

Carl was the catalyst who made this magic happen. We were blessed that he put us together. But nothing lasts forever. That’s a hard lesson to learn. But the finite nature of life makes its impermanence precious. We must strive to savor the moments.

We can always count on change. Death and taxes too.

But death does not end a relationship. The memories and the love endure.

 

Jimmy loved his CDS family, and we sure loved him.

As I write this, my mind is flooded with stories about this special man who was a constant for years—until today.

People get old, the song says.

People get old.

Love them while you can.

And if you have a chance to say goodbye make sure you do.

We told Jimmy that we loved him while we held his hand and looked into his eyes. We thanked him for his life, for his care and for the laughs. We told him that he was a good man who lived a good life.

And with one last squeeze of his hand, we left the room with faith that we will see him again.

 

Thanks Christina

The weekend also brought news that a Delray Beach staple, Christina’s in Pineapple Grove will be closing.

I’ve been a customer of Christina Betters for decades…back to the Gleason Street Cafe Days. She runs a great restaurant and Christina’s became a go-to place for countless breakfast meetings.  I miss her hospitality and her dog Vinny too.

We are watching a series called “The Bear” which is an inside look at restaurant life. I’m told by people in the business that the show is very realistic. Running a restaurant and having longevity in that industry is truly a remarkable feat. So we wish Christina the best and we wish her some rest as well.

Thank you for years of wonderful hospitality.

Here’s what Christina put on Facebook.

“As I close my doors for the final time, I want to express my deepest gratitude to all of my loyal customers who have supported me throughout the years.

I will cherish the memories I have made and the friendships that have blossomed over the years.
I have enjoyed watching your children and their children coming to eat over the years.
All your dogs have brought happiness to me and other patrons.
Our time together may be coming to an end, the love and appreciation I have for each and every one of you will for ever remain in my heart.
Thank you so much for being a part of our story and making it a memorable one.
Love always and forever Christina and Vinny.”

It’s Time To Vote

Election Day is tomorrow, March 19.

Note: Today’s blog is a little bit different. I have a co-author for this one. Her name is Judy Mollica and she’s wonderful. Judy is the president of Friends of Delray and the host of their video series which I highly recommend you check out on Youtube. Just search Friends of Delray and you’ll find several interesting interviews with locals on a variety of topics. Here’s our thoughts on the Delray election, which is tomorrow. We hope you vote.

If you go the home page of Friends of Delray (www.friendsofdelray.us) you will find a few sentences that sum up who we are. Our reason for being.

“Friends of Delray is a diverse group of Delray Beach residents and supporters who have come together in the belief that our community thrives best when we work together to preserve our city’s unique sense of place and identity.”

We believe in community. We believe in collaboration and robust debate. We believe you can have both.

The next sentence on the site frames the challenge of living and working in Delray Beach in 2024.

“Our successes have created a quality of life many of us could not have imagined.  Yet success brings new challenges along with it.”

There’s no doubt that Delray Beach is a very special place. We have a rich history and many assets that other cities envy: a walkable and vibrant downtown, historic neighborhoods that ooze charm, a beautiful beach and an array of organizations and people who get up every day with the goal of making this a better place for all.

But those very assets have a flip side.

How do we manage a downtown that has become a regional attraction and keep its charm intact? How do ‘mom and pop’ businesses pay rents that in some cases exceed $100 a square foot?

How do we strengthen and protect historic neighborhoods? How do we create housing opportunities for families, young professionals, working people and our children who may want to come home after college to build a life?

Of course, there are more issues to address: sea level rise, the successful completion of projects funded by bonds approved last year, education and the future of Old School Square.

Very little, if any, of these subjects have been touched on during this election season. And that’s a shame. The voters deserve better.

Instead, we have seen an endless barrage of negativity about candidates and frankly about our hometown. If you didn’t know better, and just read what is being said via flyers and on social media, you would think that Delray Beach is a horrible, soulless place.

It’s not.

You would think it’s a mean place. It is not.

We talk about being a “village by the sea” and that is a wonderful, warm, and evocative description.

But we tend to talk about the vision of a village by the sea solely through the lens of development and change.

It hurts when our favorite places close or change hands (pun intended Hands was a 100-year staple downtown) and we believe that all development should be scrutinized to ensure that it fits in with our rules and design sensibilities. But we should also acknowledge that Delray has tough rules relative to height and density, especially compared with our neighbors. There is NO group even suggesting that we should raise the height limit downtown or anywhere else for that matter.

We will never be Miami or Fort Lauderdale. We will never be West Palm Beach or even Boynton Beach, which allows much bigger buildings than our city will ever entertain.

Still, everything begins and ends with the five people we elect to the commission. Get it right and good things happen. Get it wrong…. well you can figure it out. Either way, we must improve the tone of the town.

The fact that we are locked in a cycle marked by the politics of personal destruction ought to give us all pause. Because this becomes a spiral to the bottom.

Not only will good people not run for office, but they will also shy away from the process entirely which means serving on boards, volunteering for key non-profits etc. We would argue this is already happening. In fact, this is the very reason Friends of Delray was formed. We wanted to provide fact-based information on important issues. We wanted to bring in subject area experts to discuss issues and hopefully stimulate more conversation.

We are proud of what we have accomplished and know we must do more. But we are also dismayed by the toxic politics in our town.

We have seen PAC’s use racist dog whistles, employ homophobia and other fear mongering tactics to sway voters.

We are not advocating that we turn politics into some sort of genteel afternoon tea; that’s unrealistic.  So, if you are a bully, you should be called out for your behavior. If you have a past you should expect it to surface and if you have voted poorly or made mistakes you should be called to account. Issues are fair game.

Tough debate on the issues is needed, but we seem fixated on personalities, feuds, and tribal alliances. It’s not working.

This kind of politics isn’t village like. This kind of politics doesn’t address our needs and it won’t position us to seize opportunities or solve problems.