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Choosing Love

Shoponebuffalo.com is raising funds for victims of the mass shooting at Tops supermarket.

When I first started my journalism career, I worked for a small newspaper outside Binghamton N.Y called “The Country Courier.”

The paper was based in a town called Conklin. It was a little speck of a place, and I was just passing through. I hadn’t thought much about Conklin until we learned that the racist murderer who killed 10 people in Buffalo came from there.

There are so many mass shootings in America that it has become easy to grow numb. But this mass murder broke through and hit us square in the heart….until the next one. And there always seems to be a next one.

When I heard that the shooter came from Conklin, it just seemed hard to fathom.

My memories are hazy, but I remember a small bucolic town in the southern part of Broome County near the Pennsylvania border. It has been described as a “Mayberry” kind of place. The 2020 census says a little over 5,000 people live there. Conklin is about 200 miles from Buffalo. It is nearly 98 percent white and less than one percent African American.

I remember covering town meetings and being bored beyond belief. There weren’t a lot of exciting issues in Conklin to write about and I surmise that the people liked it that way. I remember driving home late at night after a council meeting through country roads back to Binghamton and encountering a cow in the middle of the road. We scared each other and I remember thinking how lucky I was to see it before it was too late. I would soon move on and forget all about Conklin until last weekend.

I checked the local coverage of the shooting, knowing that reporters would beat a path to the hometown of the shooter trying to determine if “place” somehow contributed to the hatred and depravity needed to coldly murder 10 innocent people. I had tried the town’s website, but its bandwidth was overwhelmed by people looking for answers. I couldn’t get access.

So, I turned to the local newspapers that I used to know.

The reporters went to a local diner for answers, like I used to do when I moved to Delray and got a job at the old Monday-Thursday Papers. We used to go to Ken & Hazel’s or the Green Owl for the local scoop. In Conklin, that source of local sentiment would be Jane’s, a local landmark.

From the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin:

“Who would think, at age 18, growing up in such a beautiful community, to have such hate?” said Jane Lazaros, who’s owned the restaurant on Conklin Road for 28 years. “What is all this hate?”

That’s the question many in town had on Sunday: Where did the hate come from?

A small town outside Binghamton, Conklin captures the grittiness of much of rural upstate New York. The greater Binghamton area, with about 195,000 residents, has seen better days, with major employers such as IBM long gone from the region, although Dick’s Sporting Goods and Amazon have opened massive warehouses in recent years to provide some relief.”

What is all this hate? It’s a good question, awkwardly phrased, but we know what she means when she says it.

It’s also a question that is sadly familiar for the Conklin community. It was only 13 years ago when a gunman walked into the American Civic Association immigration center in Binghamton and killed 13 people, wounding four others. I had forgotten about that and that me surprised me. Having lived in Binghamton, that shooting should have resonated with me, but there are simply too many heinous acts to remember them all. That’s sickening.

In that incident, the shooter was Vietnamese American, but investigators determined that he was motivated by racism and hatred for immigrants.

Racism and hatred….it’s an affliction we can’t seem to shake.

There’s a coarseness to our society these days that is having an impact. Words are important. They tend to leave marks when loaded with hate. And hateful messages tend to manifest into actions.

And this week I can’t shake the image of Celestine Chaney, 65. She was shopping at Tops with her sister for some shortcake to go with the strawberries she had sliced at home.

Her sister says they were giggling as they decided to make a shrimp salad and picked out rolls, lamenting the high price of food these days. Just two sisters out on a Sunday enjoying what is usually a mundane chore.

It was an impromptu visit to a neighborhood store. Little did they know that 200 miles away a hate-filled murderer, barely an adult, was plotting to kill as many Black people as he could find….

He found Celestine Chaney and 9 others.

It’s hard to find words that can heal this kind of pain.

We also know that our politicians won’t do anything to address the situation. This time, we are not even hearing a whole lot about steps we can take to stop this kind of thing. We know better now. We know our so-called “leaders” won’t do a damn thing except stoke more hatred in an endless cycle that when taken to an extreme leads to bloodshed.

Meanwhile, the hate keeps coming at us. And it’s armed.

Give us strength.

 

A Matter Of Trust

A rare gem named Pearl.

I just finished a book called “Thank You For Being Late” by Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times.

It’s a fascinating read that seeks to explain the changes happening in our world as technology accelerates and Mother Nature reacts.

But the book really takes off when Friedman returns home to St. Louis Park, Minnesota to describe an idyllic childhood in a middle-class community where people looked out for each other and trusted their leaders and their institutions.

Trust.

Now that’s a powerful word; loaded with meaning and importance.

When you think about it, trust is our most valuable commodity.

When you earn trust—and it must be earned—you can leverage that trust to do big and important things.

Friedman relates a story about the mayor of St. Louis Park backing a solar Wi-Fi program that cost the city $1.7 million. Then winter came and the technology didn’t work. It was a complete loss.

The mayor went to the Chamber of Commerce stood up at a breakfast and told a packed room that he was “the idiot” that voted for the plan. He owned the mistake. His honesty built trust.

And when he walked around the community he was greeted with empathy.

“Too bad that didn’t work,” citizens would say. “What’s the city going to try next?”

That message wasn’t delivered with cynicism or snark. There was no “gotcha” expressed, just a genuine desire to say “hey, you messed up, you owned it, we appreciate that, and we hope you’ll try new things in the future.”

Can you imagine that happening in Washington D.C.?

Can you imagine that happening in Delray Beach?

Recently, a former city water inspector filed a whistle blower lawsuit alleging that she was fired without notice for speaking out about issues relating to water.

The city denies the allegations. In fact, the city denies that she was fired at all. She was merely written out of the budget. P.S. Her son was let go as well.

A few days after the suit was filed, Rob Long, a member of the city’s Planning and Zoning Board, was on Channel 12 saying he could relate to the plight of the whistleblower. There was an attempt to remove him from the planning board because he expressed an opinion about the water that didn’t adhere to the city’s party line.

That’s chilling.

And wrong.

The politics of retribution doesn’t breed a culture of trust—in fact the opposite occurs. A toxic culture creates a climate of fear where maybe the next inspector will think twice about expressing an opinion that could affect public health.

Confident and competent leaders at all levels welcome debate. They see it as healthy and serving the larger purpose of getting to a better place.

In the Friedman book, he finds that the culture of St. Louis Park has remained intact to this day despite decades of change including dramatically altered demographics.

That’s a testament to the community and their strong desire to hold onto important values.

Yes, we live in an era of rapid change, but some things need to stand the test of time. Some values need to be preserved.

One of the things that resonated for me in the Friedman book was the ethos of dialogue and compromise that’s apparently prevalent in Minnesota politics.

I cherish both of those things. And I think they’re missing in our society today.

Dialogue allows citizens to engage, share ideas and build relationships. Dialogue enables trust. It is hard to demonize someone that you know.

Today, the “sides” talk past each other and exist to score points not to serve the nation or the community but to get back at their opponents.

One side exists to “own” the other in an endless back and forth that produces exactly nothing.

As for compromise, well has anybody seen compromise recently? It seems to have vanished without a trace.

Instead, we are seeing the powerful say: ‘why should I compromise I’ve got the power to do what I want? And those out of power saying, ‘how can I compromise? we’re getting bulldozed so I need to stick to my guns’.

This kind of thinking leads to very bad outcomes. It leads to Old School Square being terminated without a conversation or a plan at a cost of millions to the taxpayer. It leads to confusion versus solutions when it comes to water issues.

A twin word to trust is decency.

We don’t hear much of that word these days.

It’s not quite missing like compromise seems to be, but it is rare —like finding a good parking spot on Atlantic Avenue or seeing an albino alligator (see photo above, her name is Pearl, and she made her home at the Gatorland preserve in Orlando).

How do you show decency?

You start by being empathetic, courteous, and benevolent. It doesn’t cost you anything and it buys you everything.

According to Friedman, there really is something to the term “Minnesota Nice.”

Sure, there are problems. Lots of problems. There’s racism, education gaps and affordability issues. George Floyd was killed by police in Minnesota. So it is far from perfect.

But that’s not the point—every place has its problems. It is how you address those challenges that distinguish the winning communities from those that languish.

In Minnesota, they have something called the Itasca Project.

Itasca is a business led civic alliance focused on expanding prosperity and tackling big issues.

It has no staff, is project based, but has produced a ton of results. The organization is data driven and its values center on igniting cross-sector collaboration to take near term actions to solve long term challenges.

Check it out: https://itascaproject.org/

We need one of these organizations in Boca-Delray.

There’s Something Happening Here….

 

I don’t mean to brag, but just like The Beach Boys sing: I get around.

Mind you, not as much as I used to—my tank is half full these days, but I compensate by reading, surfing the web and listening to podcasts. We live in a wonderful world of content that resides at our fingertips.

If I see a movie or read a book I like, chances are I can find a podcast featuring the writer or a website that includes links to their work so I can go deeper.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about Florida real estate, especially South Florida real estate and what’s happening to our market.

If you’ve lived in Florida long enough, you’ve seen the booms and you’ve seen the busts. You’ve marveled at the prices paid for homes and buildings only to see those jaw dropping deals look like bargains a few years later. But this time it feels different. This time it feels like the very nature of our region is changing.

As I write this, our market is red hot. We are seeing prices that defy description. Land in downtown Delray is trading at $6 million an acre. Homes that a few years ago were selling in the high $200s are selling for four times that price today.

It all seems…well… it all seems  unreal.

And yet….

A whole lot of value has been built in Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

Yes, there’s traffic.

Yes, there are bad drivers and rude people.

Yes, we tend to complain about those things and a host of other maladies real or imagined.

But…

By just about any measure, this is a great place to live.

As a result, people are willing to pay a premium to live here.

After all, we check a lot of boxes.

Good weather + quality of life+ no income taxes = a robust real estate market.

Add in years of low interest rates, easy credit, and lots of money sloshing into the system and you get inflated values.

Yes, real estate is rising just about everywhere, but something different is happening here.

So, what do I mean?

Ok, a few random thoughts based on “getting around” talking to real estate people, reading articles etc.

  • Big finance is all in on South Florida. West Palm Beach is reeling in the firms, Goldman Sachs etc. So is Boca. And Palm Beach Gardens. Wall Street, anxious to have a post -Covid hedge against being locked down in NYC, sees our area with all its wealth and proximity to Palm Beach as a very attractive option compared to NY, New Jersey and Connecticut.
  • West Palm Beach, under the able leadership of Mayor Keith James, is having a “moment.” I’ve always felt West Palm had potential beyond the ups and downs of Clematis Street or the various iterations of Rosemary Square or whatever it’s called this week. For a while, I thought the condos were going to crowd out the ability to land businesses, but there seems to be room left over for economic development and job creation. No less an authority than the Wall Street Journal is singing the praises of West Palm, noting that it has been “discovered” by many Palm Beach types who once never thought of crossing the bridge to own real estate or open businesses.
    One of the more exciting developments is the vision taking shape at Palm Beach Atlantic University. I had an opportunity to look at a scale model of the campus vision in the beautiful board room of the university. The plans include a major investment in health care on campus, a lifelong learning residential component and a center that will train future leaders while celebrating free enterprise. If it comes to fruition, it will be a big leap for downtown West Palm Beach.
  • The University of Florida is also flexing its muscles in Palm Beach County with plans to partner with some of the life science institutes that have sprouted here. I’m a little wary of how this encroachment affects FAU, but the UF brand and political muscle can’t help but make a difference in our region.
  • Speaking of FAU, I’ve had recent meetings with board members, President Kelly and professors. FAU’s ambitions are impressive. The best is yet to come at FAU. Keep a close eye on their medical school–what they are building there is beyond exciting it’s potentially transformational.
  • Lynn University (Disclosure: I serve on the board of Trustees) also has a grand vision that I am immensely proud of. Covid was a wild ride for educational institutions, and I’m endlessly impressed by the team at Lynn which consistently pivots to ride the waves of change. That’s good news for Boca and the surrounding area because Lynn radiates a whole lot of positives for our community.
  • We are also seeing health care take a major leap. The Baptist network—which runs Bethesda and Boca Community—has taken medicine to a new level. I also remain a strong booster of Delray Medical (Disclosure: I spent seven years on the board) and its sister hospitals owned by Tenet.

Health care has become a major economic driver and is essential in a world impacted by pandemic (s). In order for an area to maintain and grow its value, a good health care system is not an option, it’s table stakes.

  • There’s a lot of money moving into Boca/Delray. Take a drive through Lake Ida or Tropic Isle or La Hacienda (off of North Federal) and you almost can’t believe your eyes. So, here’s what’s happening—no judgment just observation. Older homes are being purchased for big money only to be leveled and replaced by even more expensive homes. In many cases, the new residents are replacing people who have lived here for decades and have decided to cash out and either move out of the area and or downsize. The new residents may only live here a few months a year. They are here to have fun at the beach and on Atlantic Avenue. They may never get involved in the community and they may never vote here. They are here for the amenities (again no judgment, we plan to do this in Maine in years to come so I get it.) Regardless, this changes the flavor of neighborhoods and the community. If I were still a policymaker, I would be keeping a close eye on this dynamic.
  • The wealthy and seasonal demographic moving to our community is also impacting schools. Enrollment in Delray Beach public schools is plummeting. This is a sea change from an earlier era when the School District had to add portables to keep up.
  • All these dynamics puts the squeeze on middle class families and those striving to get to the middle class. I often wonder where people who serve as essential workers will live. It is a huge challenge to create attainable housing when land and construction costs are soaring. Usually, the best way to lower costs is to add supply to meet demand. But long and uncertain entitlement processes and an aversion to density makes it hard to add supply—especially in areas near employment centers. Regardless, it will take a huge effort to provide the housing we need to accommodate those currently frozen out of the market. It isn’t fair to put it all on the development community who simply can’t make the numbers work without significant help from government.

Every study I’ve read lately is calling on government to step up with financing tools to bridge the gap but that will require political will, a willingness to take some risks to ensure housing opportunities and some policy innovation that frankly, to date. we haven’t had.

There’s more but that’s enough to chew on for now.

It will take a village to re-imagine our future. It’s coming whether we prepare for it or not, but it will be better if we prep.

Let’s just say that Florida seems to be the new “golden state”—as the bloom fades on “California Dreaming” “Here comes the Sun(shine)” state.

 

 

 

Living The 4 S’s

For more information visit www.4kids.us

We just went to a great event celebrating the important work of 4 Kids, a non-profit whose mission is to help children in crisis find a safe place to live.

I’ve been impressed with the leadership of the organization for quite some time and I owe my friend Karen Granger a debt of gratitude for introducing me to the world of 4Kids. We have a lot of children in our community who desperately need our help.

Karen, who used to serve as the president of the Delray Chamber, works for 4 Kids. She’s been a wonderful ambassador for the organization and has convinced several of my friends to get involved.

My company, CDS International Holdings, helped 4 Kids find office space in Delray and we are so proud of the work they are doing which has made it easier for families in southern Palm Beach County to access critical services.

I’ve been especially impressed by 4Kids President Kevin Enders, who has run the non-profit for the past five years.

Kevin comes from the private sector and he brings a business like focus to the mission while also exhibiting a great passion for children. It’s a great combination of heart and business rigor.

At the event–held at the magnificent Waterstone Hotel in Boca Raton—Mr. Enders talked about what makes an organization work well.

Borrowing from the work of Dr. Curt Thompson, author of “Anatomy of the Soul,” Kevin reminded us that people need four things to feel whole; the 4 S’s.

They need to be “seen”, they need to feel “safe”, they need to be “secure” and they need to be “soothed”.

I was touched by that formula and it’s been on my mind ever since.

And while it applies to non-profits, I think it also works for businesses, families and communities too.

So let’s spend a moment unpacking the formula.

People need to be seen.

We have a need to feel valued, respected, loved and understood. It’s important that we take the time to do so.

But while awards and official recognition are great, it’s the daily care that matters the most. In our busy world, it’s easy to glide through the day and neglect those we love and value. We need to be conscious about “seeing” these special people and letting them know how important they are. This is a simple concept, but so often we fail. Just this morning, a friend reached out to let me know they hadn’t heard from me lately. I felt terrible about it, but I was grateful to be made aware. We need to tend to our relationships.

Likewise, we all suffer setbacks and it’s important that we are soothed by our community or organization or family when the inevitable trials occur. I can personally testify to the power of soothing to heal the body and the mind. When I was seriously ill with Covid, the messages of support I received helped me through the ordeal. Love heals.

In addition, we need to feel safe and secure in our homes, communities and careers.

The trait I most value in a teammate or a co-worker is the ability to feel that I can make a mistake or  that I can be vulnerable and say I need help.

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a team that allows me to learn and doesn’t make me feel bad or in danger when I turn to them and say “I can’t figure this out, can you help?”

Organizations get in trouble when people feel that they can’t make a mistake and that they have to pretend they know it all or risk their role. In reality, there’s a lot of wisdom in saying you don’t know what you don’t know. Smart people ask for help, not so smart people pretend they know it all.

I think the 4 S’s are a good prism to assess where we are in the various parts of our lives.

What are we getting and what are we missing in our jobs, communities, volunteer efforts etc.

I think a major issue in our nation is our inability to see others, especially those who are different or hold opposing views.

Similarly, it seems like the other S’s are related. It’s hard to feel safe, secure or soothed if you are not seen. The four go together.

I’m sure there are many other things we can think of as must haves. But the four S’s seem like a solid start.

I hope you have them all—-in abundance. And if you don’t, I hope you work hard to bring these traits into the lives of others.

 

 

 

Heroes & Villains

Dropout is the mesmerizing story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos.

We’ve been watching two fascinating series about wayward entrepreneurs on Showtime and Hulu.

“Super Pumped” is the story of Uber and its “tech bro” founder Travis Kalanick. “TK”, as he was known,  broke a lot of dishes while disrupting the taxi business before being dumped for creating a culture more toxic than sucking on the tailpipe of a Checker cab.

“Dropout” is the fascinating story of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes who modeled herself on Apple’s Steve Jobs— except for the fraud part. She will be sentenced this fall for essentially lying her way to the top before taking a fall. Her black turtleneck didn’t save her from the fact that her company was built on…well…nothing but hype.

Yes, it seems that Hollywood is taking a dim view of entrepreneurs lately. The trend goes back a decade or so to the “Social Network” which portrayed Mark Zuckerberg as an egomaniacal, socially awkward techie who climbed over a lot of people to build Facebook into a global behemoth. In other words, the movie was spot on.

Also, a fit for the evil entrepreneur narrative: “WeCrashed”, the story of WeWork founder Adam Neumann, who ran his $47 billion company off the rails before being given his walking papers.  We can also look forward to  “Billion Dollar Whale” a soon to be released movie about Jho Low who looted the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund before disappearing somewhere in China. He remains at large. But he did take down a government and ensnared Goldman Sachs during his memorable run. In a quirk of fate, I got to know one of the major players in that scheme, but I’m saving that story for my next book. It’s a good one.

Yep, there sure are some cautionary tales about gifted grifters whose magnetism, vision, and ability to tap into greed makes for great books and movies and in most cases bad businesses. The jury is still out on Facebook while Uber and WeWork seek to move past the dubious behavior of their founders.

But the evil entrepreneur narrative doesn’t tell the whole story.

Yes, there are villains in the world of entrepreneurship, but there are lots of heroes too. I wish Hollywood would publicize their work as well—in many ways they are more interesting if not as salacious.

Admittedly, I am biased, but I work alongside a very kind entrepreneur named Carl DeSantis. He built Rexall Sundown from scratch into a huge vitamin manufacturer right here in Boca Raton before selling it for $1.8 billion in 2000. Rexall Sundown employees shared in the wealth they created—which is Carl’s way. While most people would have retired after such a huge exit, Carl went back to work, creating a family office and investing in companies and people. His latest hit is Celsius, a wildly popular healthy energy drink that trades on NASDAQ. Celsius started in Delray Beach before moving to larger headquarters in Boca Raton. But when Celsius rang the bell on Wall Street, Carl was onto the next thing—Tabanero Hot Sauce, which we are working hard to make a hit. Make sure to try it at Caffe Luna Rosa and Christina’s among many other restaurants.

Another good guy entrepreneur is Delray’s very own Randy Smith, who runs Heritage Flooring. Randy is a serial entrepreneur with a curious mind that I deeply admire.  I’m lucky to call him a friend because having lunch with Randy is like going to business school with salad dressing (always on the side).

Randy and his wife Lennie, have a passion for sailing (and life itself) and I’ve been taken by their devotion to an organization called Warrior Sailing (www.warriorsailing.org) which provides maritime education and outreach for wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans. Warrior Sailing reconnects veterans to the camaraderie and teamwork they previously found in military service.

While Randy and Lennie certainly know how to have fun, the Wolf of Wall Street has nothing to worry about from these two.  They run a much cleaner ship.

We understand it is fashionable around these parts to bash developers. But like we’ve been saying, there are good developers and there are bad ones. We need the good ones because their entrepreneurship creates the vibrancy we rely on to make our cities work.

Along the way, I’ve known a few good ones (and a few bad ones too) and my company has dabbled a little bit in this world— as investors anyway. I can say that the development business is not for the faint of heart. Yes, there are great rewards if you do a good job, your timing is right and there’s a market for your work. But there is great risk as well—and mistakes can wipe you out, so can interest rate hikes, pandemics, hurricanes, bad politics, changing tastes and construction costs.

You must be a great entrepreneur to swim—and not sink— in those waters. Still, I know several developers who are very philanthropic, community minded and work hard to serve their communities.

Meanwhile, some of the best entrepreneurs I’ve met are in the restaurant biz.

Talk about a tough road.

The competition is fierce, the margins are small, it’s hard to build and keep a staff but somehow, they figure it out.

Fran Marincola and his father started with a small gelato shop on A1A in Delray and built it into Caffe Luna Rosa, a Delray landmark. CLR— as some of us call it— offers health insurance to its employees and the restaurant has given back a lot to Delray Beach over the years.

Same goes for former Boston’s on the Beach proprietor Perry Don Francisco, co-founder of Delray Citizens for Delray Police. For 30 plus years, Perry has quietly been there for so many people while being a steadfast supporter of police, fire, and local schools. He’s one of a kind; a gifted, hardworking entrepreneur.

I can think of dozens of examples of talented entrepreneurs who are role models as well.

So, as much as we are enjoying the drama behind the creation of Uber and Theranos, we are heartened by the good guys. They are everywhere. You just have to look.

And when they cast the part of Randy Smith in the Netflix version of his story (the series should be called “Floor It”)  I hope they consider Brad Pitt for the role.

 

Facts about entrepreneurship:

America just witnessed the biggest business startup boom of our lifetimes.

  •    5.4 million people applied for small-business licenses last year — a 53% jump from 2019, pre-pandemic.
  •  Global investment in startups shattered records in 2021, hitting $643 billion — 10x what it was 10 years ago.

 

 

 

Here’s To The Game Changers

Akira Back is the newest addition to Pineapple Grove’s Ray Hotel. It’s special.

I’m intrigued by my friends at Menin Development.

I’m not alone.

Led by founder Craig Menin and President Jordana Jarjura, Menin Development is doing some truly extraordinary things in our village by the sea.

I’m interested and curious about all of it.

But I’m especially fascinated with some of their more unique projects.

  • The Ray Hotel in Pineapple Grove is a next level boutique property with a gorgeous 22,000 square foot rooftop amenity featuring an incredible pool,  three cutting edge restaurants and a design aesthetic that has reshaped the look and feel of the block.
  • The Delray Beach Market is the largest food hall in Florida, a whopping 150,000 square feet featuring 27 chefs and operators.
  • Lionfish restaurant brings a west coast sensibility to Atlantic Avenue. It just feels very different from what we’ve seen before.

So what’s next?

We went to the soft opening of Menin Development’s latest creation, Akira Back last week. It’s special. Located in The Ray Hotel, Akira Back is the namesake of a Michelin starred chef who was gracious enough to greet his guests last week as the staff served dish after dish of creative cuisine.

The food was in a word: magnificent.

Mr. Back brings a interesting back story to Delray Beach.

Born in Seoul, Korea and raised in Aspen, Colorado, Akira moved to the Rocky Mountain state at the age of 15.  He picked up snowboarding as a hobby and eventually turned pro. He was so good, he appeared in a handful of extreme sports movies. During this time, Back began working at a local Japanese restaurant to supplement his income. After seven years on the pro-snowboarding circuit, Back realized that he felt the same thrill in the kitchen as he did on his board, shaping his decision to pursue a full-time culinary career.

Back attended the International Culinary School at The Art Institute based in Colorado, where he established the framework of his technique and amplified his knowledge of Asian cooking, allowing him to incorporate his artistic vision and Korean heritage.

The rest is the stuff of culinary history—award winning restaurants inside the Bellagio in Vegas and locations in Dubai, London, Paris, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, Riyadh and now Delray Beach.

Sitting inside Akira Back, we couldn’t help but marvel at what’s happening to Delray.

We were at the event with former City Commissioner Jon Levinson and his wife Lori. We moved here in ’87, I think the Levinson’s arrived in 79-80. We’ve seen a lot of change.

And while a generation of civic leaders, planned for, worked toward and hoped for sustainable vibrancy and economic success—it’s still hard to fathom what has happened here.

Delray is a rare story.

It really is and I sometimes feel like we take it for granted.

Now I get that not everyone is thrilled with the changes or change itself, but I like a lot of it. So do others, as witnessed by the year- round crowds, rising property values and now national reputation of Delray.

We told our server— a nice young man, from Salt Lake City—that the street we were sitting on was once anchored by a McCrory’s department store and a Piggly Wiggly. We pointed to Citywalk across the street and told him parts of that project used to be a coin operated car wash. He said that was hard to imagine.

When we cut the ribbon on Pineapple Grove Village 20 years ago, the photos showed that there was nothing to the north of us.

Those of us who were around  in the 80s remember Norm Radin (who coined the term Pineapple Grove), Tom Fleming (who led the Mainstreet approach to revitalizing the street) and architect Bob Currie talking about transforming four blocks of Second Avenue from Atlantic to Lake Ida Road. Some thought they were nuts. Nice people, but nutty. After all, at that time the city was struggling to get Atlantic Avenue going.

But you know what? Ya gotta believe (as Mets fans know). First you must see, and then you have to believe, and more importantly you have to act on those beliefs.

This blog is a paradox of sorts because I am a believer and a champion of change. I think it’s inevitable.

Our responsibility is to shape that change, but I don’t believe we can arrest it. At the same time, I cling to some things from the past that I feel are vital to our future. There are projects and buildings and values that define who we are—they identify our civic soul. Lose those things and we lose that soul and once lost….well you know the rest.

So yeah, there’s a paradox and a dance that goes on. Let’s celebrate the good changes but let’s also hold on to the tried, the true and the important pieces of our community’s fabric.

Which is why Craig Menin intrigues me. He’s showing us a new future, he’s shaking it up and making it happen. And I deeply admire that kind of drive.

I think Mr. Menin is a visionary. I know he’s an entrepreneur and I have a soft spot for both.

So, I’m rooting for him.

He sees something here and he’s willing to take big time risks to test that vision.

It’s the visionaries and the risk-taking entrepreneurs who change our world and our cities too.

They create opportunities for others; jobs, a broader tax base, a brand, a vibe and an ethos.

Those are extremely valuable assets for a city.

Mr. Menin has always been complimentary of the civic work that attracted him to Delray.

I really appreciate that about him, because I feel a lot of that work and a lot of those people have been demonized for ushering in an era of change and for failing to get out of the way.

But as the late Madeleine Albright once said, it takes a long time to discover your voice and once you find it you don’t want to give it up. Same with your community. When you find your home, you want to do all you can to make it better and sometimes that means speaking your mind.

That’s why I write these weekly messages. Thank you for reading them.

Personally, I never envisioned quite what Craig Menin and company are doing…but I did envision and hope that the work so many engaged in over the years would attract people like Craig. And Akira Back too.

Beginning in the 80s our city committed to citizen driven visioning.

It worked.

We didn’t have to offer incentives like so many other cities. We didn’t have to build or finance a major project that would “save” us.

We just asked stakeholders to come to the table to dream and we encouraged them to aspire then we got busy getting it done. That sent a message to the entrepreneurs: this is the best place to be. The best place to invest.

It’s not a perfect process.

Some stuff works better than you could have imagined and some stuff fails miserably. But you keep going. You keep working together, you keep promoting, you keep inviting people to participate and you hope that the entrepreneurs show up and take you places you could never imagine.

By the way, those entrepreneurs come in all kinds of styles. Some, like Mr. Menin, invest tens of millions of dollars and do things that make you say “wow”, others like Mark Sauer– who visited our table during the opening—start non-profits to help kids find a future. Some like Jeff and Julia Kadel make it possible for children to play baseball (see the Miracle League) and others like C. Ron Allen and Emmanuel “Dupree” Jackson devote their lives to creating the next generation of game changers.

In Delray, we also had entrepreneurs working at City Hall designing innovative programs and policies. Some of our best civic entrepreneurs wear uniforms and serve as police officers and firefighters figuring out ways to protect and serve us while making it safe for investment.

Thank goodness for all of them.

One might ask, where’s it all going?
Who knows.

I attended a webinar by a futurist last week and he said the 2020s would be the most consequential decade in human history. That’s quite a statement. We are off to an interesting start with a pandemic and war raging in Europe.

Here at home, I hope we remain safe and stay healthy. One thing we can bank on is more change. Let’s shape it, let’s embrace it but let’s not forget the values that created the opportunities we enjoy and remember to do what we can for those who need our help the most.

 

 

It’s Only Rock N’ Roll (But I Like It)

Graham Nash still rocking at 80.

“Music is forever; music should grow and mature with you, following you right on up until you die.” — Paul Simon.

We went to see Graham Nash in Coral Springs recently and it felt…well…it felt magical.

We bought the tickets more than two years ago only to have Covid wash everything away for a while. So, it felt extra gratifying to walk into the theater and see a live show.

I’m on a personal mission to see the legends while they’re still here. Graham Nash certainly qualifies.

At 80, he retains his distinctive tenor. He is a charming and dynamic performer.

We were swept away by the music and for two hours it might as well have been the 60s and 70s when Nash was playing arenas not small theaters in Coral Springs (which he mistakenly referred to as Coral Gables).

Most people think their generation’s music was the “best ever” made; only in our case we’re right.

Nothing beats classic rock.

Two nights before the Graham Nash show, we went with my dad and his girlfriend to see “The Liverpool Legends” a Beatles tribute band at Spanish River Church in Boca Raton. They were accompanied by the Spanish River Orchestra, and they covered the Fab Four’s catalog from “A Hard Day’s Night” to “Let it Be” with aplomb. And for just a moment, we were transformed to a better place.

Outside the beautiful church, our world is a mess.  Missiles are being fired at innocent Ukrainians an ocean away, gas prices are skyrocketing and Covid—that damn virus– was still claiming victims and threatening yet another surge. Even though we are done with the virus, I’m not sure the virus is done with us.

Yes, it’s quite a world.

It’s during these times that we seek solace, answers, and sustenance. We get it from music.

Are there words profound enough to describe the brilliance of The Beatles?
Not likely.

What it is about their music that 60 years down the road we are still dancing in the aisles and singing along?

Same with Graham Nash.

My high school friends and I saw Crosby, Stills & Nash, 40 years ago at the Nassau Coliseum. CSN were sort of an oldies act even then—a 60s era band but still making music that resonated.

The song “Wasted on the Way”  broke through for me. The song was released in 1982. It was senior year and despite being 17 years old, I was already experiencing regret for not taking more chances. Why was I so scared of talking to that brilliant brunette in my English class? What’s the worst that could have happened if I asked her to grab a pizza at Mario’s in East Setauket?

The lyrics to “Wasted on the Way” challenged me to think differently.

“Look around me

I can see my life before me

Running rings around the way

It used to be

I am older now

I have more than what I wanted

But I wish that I had started

Long before I did

And there’s so much time to make up

Everywhere you turn

Time we have wasted on the way

So much water moving

Underneath the bridge

Let the water come and carry us away

Oh when you were young

Did you question all the answers

Did you envy all the dancers

Who had all the nerve

Look around you now

You must go for what you wanted

Look at all my friends who did and got what they deserved.”

 

Yes, I envied all the “dancers” who had all the nerve but this song—in 2 minutes and 52 seconds—gave me hope. It told me that life could be different. That we can “go” for what we wanted, question all the answers and find a better world that would run rings around the way things used to be.

That song—among so many—provides hope, inspiration, and joy.

There is something about music that makes us feel fully alive.

The other day I left work dragging. I sat in a chair for 8 hours, answered endless emails and was all “zoomed” out.

But when I got to the car bracing myself for the rush hour traffic, I turned on Sirius and “Jumping Jack Flash” came through the speakers— the distinctive riff instantly lifted my mood. I turned it up—way up— and the worries of the day melted away. When that song ended, the opening notes of “A Hard Days Night” so ingrained that they feel a part of my DNA blasted through the speakers.

I was no longer tired. I was no longer beleaguered. I was renewed.

That’s what good music does to you.

Whether its Bieber or The Beatles.

Beyonce or the The Band.

We’ll let Bob Marley have the last word:

“One good thing about music,” he said. “When it hits you, you feel no pain.”

 

 

Change The World

From heavyweight champ to fighting Putin, who could have known what history had in store.

“We can change the world rearrange the world
It’s dying – to get better” -Graham Nash

 

“I’m sorry, where should we go? This is our home… we defend it”—Wladimir Klitschko, former heavyweight champion.

Ten years ago, I went to Burbank, California with a colleague to film a commercial for Celsius, the beverage company that we worked for and believed in with all our hearts when few others felt the same way.

We were there to film a commercial with Mario Lopez, our first celebrity spokesman. Mario was also an evangelist for Celsius.  He didn’t need to get paid to drink Celsius. But we wanted him to promote the brand.

A few months earlier, that same colleague, Irina Lorenzi, and I had gone to LA to negotiate a deal for Mario to represent Celsius.

We felt beat up by the experience, but later learned it was all part of the game. Mario loved the brand, and it was his passion for our mission that sealed the deal. After all, we weren’t exactly Coca-Cola. (Today, we have a multibillion dollar market cap, so the lesson is believe!).

So here we were a few months later, filming a commercial based on a concept that Mario had conceived.

We went to a boxing gym in downtown Burbank, a place where Mario– an ardent fan of the “sweet science”– trained. The ad was cute but simple. Mario would be sparring with an older gentleman who was being pummeled until he took a swig of Celsius and turned the tables on Mr. Lopez.

During the filming, a very large, very muscular man stepped into the gym. It was heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. He was 6’6” and looked like he was chiseled from granite. He came by to see Mario, his friend.

After a few moments of chit chat, it was decided that we would write Wladimir into the script. He didn’t charge us (we couldn’t have afforded him) but he was gracious, a good sport and willing to help the cause, which is apparently a character trait.

Irina and I were elated. So was Mario. The commercial was better than we had imagined.

Here it is.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fnivh8rg2BY

I was so taken by Mr. Klitschko’s kindness, that I read up on him. He was born in the Soviet Union and his father was a General who was one of the commanders in charge of cleaning up the effects of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. His dad was later diagnosed with cancer. His brother is Vitali, also a former heavyweight champion and the current Mayor Kyiv. Both Wladmir and Vitali hold PhDs in sports science. They are not your typical boxers.

I’ve been thinking about Wladimir, his brother and of course the Ukrainian people since the Russian invasion.

The brothers are together in Kyiv bravely facing the brutal assault of a ruthless dictator hellbent on death and destruction. I have been following the brothers on social media and praying for their safety and the safety of their citizens.

Both Klitschko’s made a fortune because of their boxing prowess.

They could be in any exotic location enjoying their riches and the opportunities that their fame and their education’s would afford them. Instead they are in Ukraine defending their home and their freedom.

Wladimir signs his twitter posts with the hashtags “we are all Ukrainians”, “stay with Ukraine” and “stand together.”

And we will.

I hope we will.

For the love of Ukraine.

Sand in His Shoes

On a happier note, legendary journalist David Lawrence Jr., received a major award last week from the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.

It’s aptly titled the “Sand in my Shoes” award and it is given to a Miamian who has added value to the community and to our state.

I can think of no better person than Mr. Lawrence, who is a hero to journalists nationwide and those of us who value public service. He used to work for the Palm Beach Post.

I had a chance to meet Mr. Lawrence a few years ago after he led a discussion with former Governor and Senator Bob Graham at the annual meeting of Leadership Florida. It was a thrill to see two legends trade stories. I bought Mr. Lawrence’s book “A Dedicated Life: Journalism, Justice and a Chance for Every Child.” It was inspiring.

A friend posted 12 lessons that Mr. Lawrence shared after receiving the award last week. I thought I would print them here.

  1. Tell people that you love them while they are still alive.
  2. Believe in people.
  3. Grow spiritually – believe in something.
  4. Racism is the great cancer of societies.
  5. Have the courage to speak up.
  6. Be a lifelong learner.
  7. We cannot get through life without pain – but we can grow through it.
  8. Get back to people quickly.
  9. Believe in redemption.
  10. Always vote for someone with a moral core.
  11. Love this country- help us make it better.
  12. “The purpose of life is not to be happy—but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.”-Leo Rosten

 

Quality Time Remaining….

 

Thomas Friedman has an interesting business card.

I have only just a minute,

 

Only sixty seconds in it.

 

Forced upon me, can’t refuse it.

 

Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it.

 

But it’s up to me

 

to use it.

 

I must suffer if I lose it.

 

Give account if I abuse it.

 

Just a tiny little minute,

 

but eternity is in it. — Benjamin Mays.

 

I woke up early last Thursday and the name Benjamin Mays was in my head.

Sometimes, things like that happen to me.  It’s weird.

I’ll get an idea or wake up with a song on my mind and sometimes I’ll see a face or think of a name.

I know who Benjamin Mays is…he was the minister who gave the eulogy at MLK’s funeral. But I don’t know why I woke up thinking about him. I had to stop and think about it.

The poem above has two names “God’s Minute” and “Just a Minute.” In a few lines, Rev. Mays speaks to how fleeting life is and how we are called to make the most of the small blip of time we’re given. It makes you think and it forces you to ponder priorities.

The day before, my dad and I went to Florida Atlantic University to hear a lecture from three time Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Thomas Friedman. It was an interesting time to hear Friedman considering the state of our world and the war in Ukraine. Friedman has had a bird’s eye of view of world affairs for close to 30 years. He has known just about every player there is to know, and he has seen how our world is “flat” and therefore how trends knit together.

He spends his time thinking and writing about the big stuff.

Many of us, get lost in the small stuff. We miss the forest because we are deep in the weeds.

Friedman covered a lot of ground in his 90 minutes. He’s a remarkable thinker and deeply experienced.

But I came away with two thoughts from the Friedman experience.

First, the leaders who will make a difference in our world are those who tell the truth and build trust.

Think about that for a moment.

How many of our leaders tell us the truth and how many give us their spin or their “alternative facts?”

How many of our leaders build trust so that we can believe in our institutions and know that our values are respected and protected?

Second, the two most powerful forces in politics today are humiliation and dignity.

We all fear humiliation and we all want dignity.

Friedman believes so much in the power of those words and emotions that he often refers to himself as The New York Times’ “Humiliation and Dignity Columnist.” The title is on his business card.

Says Friedman:

“Humiliation, in my view, is the most underestimated force in politics and international relations. The poverty of dignity explains so much more behavior than the poverty of money. People will absorb hardship, hunger and pain. They will be grateful for jobs, cars and benefits. But if you make people feel humiliated, they will respond with a ferocity unlike any other emotion, or just refuse to lift a finger for you.

By contrast, if you show people respect, if you affirm their dignity, it is amazing what they will let you say to them or ask of them. Sometimes it just takes listening to them, but deep listening — not just waiting for them to stop talking. Because listening is the ultimate sign of respect. What you say when you listen speaks more than any words.”

Think about this concept in terms of Vladimir Putin, who feels deep humiliation over the collapse of the Soviet Union. And think about this concept the next time your City Commission or Council makes a mean-spirited decision and refuses to talk about it.  Was that decision driven by some desire to heal humiliation (or inflict it) and will that decision humiliate others?

In Friedman’s view, politics is the quest for dignity.

If we read the “Just A Minute” poem and absorb its profound and moving message, we are called to achieve with the little time we are given.

We are challenged to lift up, not humiliate. We are tasked with building trust and dignity.

People who divide and polarize, who invade, destroy, and seek to humiliate others are not leaders. They are the problem. And we must do our best to make sure they never get the levers of power because they will abuse not serve.

Remembering a dear friend

Bob Levinson

Last week, we sent our condolences to the family of John Gallo, a wonderful man and big contributor to Lynn University.

This week, we remember and send condolences to the family of Robert Levinson, one of Mr. Gallo’s best friends. The two—who called themselves the young and the restless—worked side by side for decades at Lynn.

Bob Levinson passed within days of his friend. He was a month shy of his 97th birthday.

Bob was a friend of mine and a wonderful man. I served on the Delray City Commission with his son Jon and Bob and I had grown close over the years.

For a few years, we shared office space and I enjoyed seeing and chatting with Bob about world affairs.

He had a curious mind, worked until he was 90, wrote several books on business and management and never stopped learning. He was an inspiring man who enjoyed success in a wide variety of businesses ranging from hotels to manufacturing.

Bob cared deeply about the world and his community. He was philanthropic, generous, smart, experienced and well read.

I will miss his smile, our conversations, his take on the world and most of all his example.

What a special man.

He will be deeply missed by all who knew him.

Odds and Ends

Congratulations to the Delray Beach Public Library for a very successful (and fun) “Laughs With the Library” event at the spectacular Opal Grand last week.

Comedian Pat McGann headlined the show which was hosted by our very own Frank McKinney.

 

Congratulations also to the newly seated Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

Chair David Schmidt passed the gavel to Vivian DeMille who gave a terrific speech on the importance of heart and soul in leadership.

Lord knows we can use more of both here and throughout the world.

Finally, #prayersforukraine

 

Adventures In Writing…

It has been said that writing is a lonely endeavor. But I find it to be a joyous exercise.

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

– Anaïs Nin

 

I have always loved to write.

I find it relaxing and cathartic.

Whenever I have a strong emotion—stress, anger, happiness, excitement, sadness—my first inclination is always to find a corner and write.

I’ve had fallow periods where the words didn’t come easy, but I can honestly say I’ve never been blocked. The words just flow. Sometimes the prose is terrible, but the well never runs dry and with patience I can usually get something to sound reasonably passable.

I write to order my thoughts, to quiet a busy mind and because I like the interaction I get.

Some of you comment on the blog itself, some of you text or email me and some of you comment on social media. I enjoy it all. Thank you and please keep it coming.

A few years back, I wrote a book about my experiences in Delray entitled “Adventures in Local Politics.”

The book was my attempt to capture my story of coming to Delray Beach and working as a local reporter before deciding to run for office in 2000. I wanted to get it all down before the years dimmed my memories. I wanted to leave something for my children to read and I wanted the book to be a resource for other people who may want to run for local office.

I was proud of the book and although I had no expectations and only limited time to spend on promotion, the book found a niche. Students in an urban planning class at FAU used to buy it, people I met in business would sometimes order it on Amazon and a few candidates from near and far managed to find it.

I appreciated their support.

The publishing company I used went belly up during Covid and I found out that other than buying used copies online, the book would be out of print. Since I still get the stray request for a book, I didn’t want that.

So, after a few inquiries I signed a deal with a California publisher. I’m going to do three books: we just finished an updated version of “Adventures” which includes some stuff on Covid, then I’m going to flesh out a book I’ve already written about my relationship with a well-known local entrepreneur and finally I’m going to team up with some colleagues on a book called “Letters to a Candidate” which is underway.

Here’s the introduction.

Please let me know your thoughts. And thanks for reading this blog, which is a labor of love that allows me to clear the cobwebs every Monday morning.

 

Letter to a candidate…

Once upon a time, we used to admire just about every candidate who threw his or her hat in the ring.

Running for office is not easy and we respect that.

Campaigning is grueling, nasty, and personal. There are easier ways to serve your community. So, we had some reverence for those who stepped up and put

themselves out there.

Not anymore.

We’ve seen too many bad candidates.

We’ve suffered too many fools, egomaniacs, buffoons, narcissists and empty suits.

We’ve seen the damage they’ve done.

We’ve also seen the opportunities they’ve squandered and frankly we’re tired. Bad politicians make us cranky.

We’ve all seen the memes and the funny Gif’s poking fun at the clown car of elected officials who embarrass themselves (and us) with their bad behavior,

failure to get anything done and inability to serve the people they promise to help. Yes, we’ve laughed and yes, we’ve shared a few jokes ourselves.

But when you think about it,  poor leadership isn’t funny, it’s tragic.

In the case of war or pandemic, poor leadership gets people killed.

On a local level, you may not be making life or death decisions every day, but if you tolerate a bad Police Department or fail to invest in Fire Rescue services you can cause people to die.

Yes, serving as an elected official is a big responsibility. So, while we are glad you are thinking about taking the plunge, we think you ought to know a few things.

That’s why we’ve written these letters to you.

Each letter contains a lesson that we’ve learned through practice as former elected officials and through observation as involved and engaged citizens who have been keeping an eye on all levels of government for decades.

We’ve seen the great ones. The special people who move mountains and leave a positive legacy for others to build upon—or destroy.

We’ve seen the ones who could have been great but fell short.

And we’ve seen the ones who have made a mess of things.

What you are about to read is a distillation of our combined knowledge and what we’ve learned from others who have served.

Over our many decades inside and outside the arena, we have known council members, mayors, county commissioners, state legislators, members of Congress, governors, cabinet officers, senators and we’ve even seen a president or two up close. We’ve also met a slew of presidential candidates during their trips to voter rich South Florida.

As former elected officials who remained involved in the community we are also often called upon by aspirants and office holders who want advice, endorsements and money—not necessarily in that order.

This is the book we’ll hand to them now that it’s written.

We wish that this book existed back 20 years ago when we ran for local office in Delray Beach, Florida. It might have saved us some pain and heartache over the years.

We hope you will learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others. Along the way, we did get a few things right as well. We’ll share a few case studies on themes that you are likely to encounter as you begin your journey.

Enjoy and thanks for being interested in serving.

 

Note to readers:

We’d like to send our condolences to the Gallo family upon the passing of John Gallo Jr. February 12.

Mr. Gallo was a wonderful man, with a great sense of humor. He will be deeply missed by his many friends and admirers.

I got to know John through Lynn University where he worked over 30 years after a successful career in retail management. Mr. Gallo was the GM of the Jordan Marsh store in Boca Raton before joining the staff at Lynn.

He was active at St. Jude Catholic Church and at the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce. He was also a proud member of the Boca Raton Sunrise Rotary Club.

A line from his obituary grabbed me: “We will miss our father greatly; he defined what it meant to be a good husband, father, and friend.”

You can’t do better than that.

Rest in Peace my friend.