We have a year.

Actually, a little less than a year.

In March 2023, voters in Delray Beach will vote for two commission seats. Close readers of this blog know where I stand. In case you may have missed how I feel (I am very, very subtle) I believe we need change–wholesale change.

A discussion of what kind of change will have to wait for another day. But let’s just say we need deep transformative change. I hope that is subtle enough.

But for now, I think it’s important to think about how we choose our leaders and why we vote the way we do, or in some cases why we don’t vote at all.

This is a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and talking to friends about.

All of us seem to have an opinion on the political process and the quality (or lack thereof) of candidates. But I couldn’t seem to find anyone who really had new ideas about how to improve the process or increase the quality of the talent pool.

So, I went looking and I ended up where I frequently do—with the writings of Otis White.

Otis (I can call him that because we know each other) is a respected urban affairs writer who used to cover cities for Governing Magazine. He has a great website full of ideas based on his experience as a journalist and consultant working for cities large and small. Here’s a link www.otiswhite.com

I got to know Otis when he did a few pieces on Delray Beach.

He’s a great guy, a wonderful writer and his articles plumb the depths of his subjects where insights often hide. I must approach his website with caution though, because if I’m not careful, I will get lost for days.

Anyway, Otis did a piece on finding a better way of judging candidates.

He recommends a Consumer Reports type process in which voters can rate candidates based on a set of criteria they value.

Otis argues that this method could encourage voters to think about what makes a good candidate for local office. The process would also be fairer because everyone is judged against a set of reasonable criteria.

But what’s the criteria?

Easy: political positions and personal qualities.

Positions aren’t hard to figure out.

Tell us where you stand on things like taxes, infrastructure, and growth. Candidates can also be judged on their general qualifications (vision, experience, and ability to get things done.) They can also be rated on their understanding/commitment to key issues.

But personal qualities are harder to define.

In Otis’ example, gleaned from his experience in Atlanta, citizens may want to look at three attributes:

Does the candidate have a vision for the city and a personal vision of what he or she can accomplish in a three-year term?

Does the candidate have a set of experiences and qualifications that could make them effective as an elected official?

Can he or she accomplish the things they want to do? In other words, once in office, do they have the skills to drive the vision?

I think this is a solid start.

But you also need a vehicle to get the message to the voters. And that’s the hard part.

Is there an organization that most people trust? Or will that organization be labeled as yet another special interest?

In my opinion, there is an opportunity—a market niche and a need—to create a non-partisan civic organization that can stand for good government, strong values, civility, and progress. Not everyone would embrace it, but if it is seen over time as an organization that stands for the things that many of us embrace (and long for), then it’s messages and endorsements would mean something to other like-minded people.

A Consumer Reports type report card from such an organization might just break through the clutter of negative mail and ridiculous Facebook posts we all seem to loathe.

A hard task?

No doubt.

But a guy can dream right?

And if such an organization were to form, I would join (if they would have me) and I’d bring a bunch of people who know we can do a whole lot better.


  1. Kelly Barrette says

    Here’s the problem – “I’d bring a bunch of people who know we can do a whole lot better”

    There’s always a bias factor in organized citizen groups (pro-development, anti-development) They are by nature, like minded people banning together to accomplish a goal. Organizations tend to get behind a candidate who backs their cause(s).

    IMO – The biggest problem with our local elections is PAC money. If you really want to level the playing field in Delray politics – ban PAC money from local elections and limit candidates to 1000 yard signs each, no large signs on commercial properties. Hold three well-promoted debates in different neighborhoods (no questions given to candidates in advance). The City should send a mailer reminding residents to vote with a list of the candidates for each seat, and upcoming debates.

    Making these changes would encourage a wider range of candidates, lessen the burden of raising $100,000 plus to run for a City Commission seat, and raise awareness of Delray’s local elections.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Kelly, I agree with much of what you are saying with a few caveats. I don’t think it should take six figures to run for local office, which is essentially a volunteer position. (But basically a full time job, especially for the mayor’s post). I was told recently that the legislature has passed a law restricting a city’s ability to even share factual information relating to elections or referendums. Home rule is under assault in Florida and thought ought to alarm us all. I do disagree with the tired notion that one is either pro or anti-development. I think it’s a false and divisive construct. Why not be for quality, smart and sustainable development? There is going to be development or redevelopment. We need to understand that owners have property rights and that change is inevitable. What we can and should strive for is to shape that development by insisting on quality and great design. We have the ability to elevate the conversation around development and I believe if we did so we’d solve a lot of problems.

  2. Rosemary Nixon says

    Good morning! I have responded to your messages from time to time, but today’s spoke very personally to me. I have grown increasingly sad from the discord I see both nationally and locally. Too many people who seek personal benefit and celebrity status rather than being committed to serve the people. In 1960 I voted for the first time for Jack Kennedy because I believed we could make the world a better place. I went on to get an undergraduate degree in Political Science and a graduate degree in Public Administration, both at Northeastern University because I (and others at the time) believed public service was an honorable profession. Sounds naive in this day and age. When I moved to Delray, therefore, I was very excited that there were forums where citizens could share ideas that would benefit the community. My first job after grad school was in the city planning dept. of Middletown, Conn. staffing a community development project, planning with citizen groups. I think the suggestion from Otis White is a good one; however, things have gotten so bad that I wonder if it’s possible to have any conversation these days that isn’t polarizing. I would like to think it’s possible.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Your comments really touched me. Thanks for sharing. I believe citizen engagement is the table stakes for building community and we need to do more. I know it’s hard, it may prove to be impossible but we can’t give up.

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