A Birthday Tribute To A Delray Original

Words to live by…and he does.

My friend Fran Marincola turns 80 today.

He has asked me to write his eulogy.

This isn’t it.

Fran has a lot more life left to live. I’m sure of it.

He has a passion for a whole bunch of things—his wife, his restaurant, the wonderful Caffe Luna Rosa, Mickey Mantle, Delray Beach, national politics, the stock market, Bruce Springsteen, dogs, his family, friends, storytelling and a whole lot more.

I think your passions keep you going. So does a weekly happy hour or “manly lunch” where you can tell those stories, spar with friends and the share the week’s news.

Fran and I have been friends for close to 20 years.

Our friendship started out in a very strange way. I was a newly elected city commissioner and he called to pitch me on some parking contraption that today would have made sense, but I didn’t like it at the time.

So we argued. And argued. And argued and argued some more. Until both of our cell phones died.

It was the start of a beautiful and somewhat volatile friendship because I find myself debating Fran via phone and text 2-3 times a week, in between phone calls and texts and emails where we actually get along quite well and agree with each other.

I admit, sometimes I will actually pick a fight with my friend.

Why? Because he’s a fun guy to debate, he has funny sayings, makes interesting arguments and the whole experience —and Fran is an experience— makes me sharper. It’s not fun to always agree. And we prove that people can disagree—passionately (because Fran is passionate about things) and still like each other very much.

So yes, sometimes I will invite a disagreement just to spice up the week and keep us both sharp. I feel I am providing him with a needed service.

Fran doesn’t like absolutes and so if you want to get him going text him and say ‘so and so doesn’t have a chance to win an election, an Oscar or a Super Bowl.’

It makes him crazy, because his mind works like a mathematician and therefore there is always a chance of something occurring even if it’s remote.

As I have gotten to know Fran, I marvel at the life he has led or should I say the many lives he has led.

He’s worked on boardwalks, owned nightclubs, took acting classes with Broadway stars, travelled far and wide, owned a slew of businesses, made and lost fortunes and hob knobbed with some very famous and infamous people. In short, he is a character. One of the great characters in Delray Beach.

I think characters make a town. They give a place flavor and excitement and set it apart from other blander places.

Fran is a world class character in a town full of world class characters. I have long felt that we in Delray Beach are blessed with more than our fair share of characters—something I briefly touched on in my book “Adventures in Local Politics.”
It seems that all sorts of people are attracted to quaint Florida beach towns and they come from all over creation to add the salt to the water.

I have a friend who believes that Florida attracts modern day rogues and pirates who stop here until they are found out and then migrate to the Keys. The last stop is usually the islands, according to his theory.

There may be some truth to that, but not all characters are rogues and pirates and some like my friend Fran are lovable, big-hearted, generous and compassionate people.

Fran scores the highest on those four categories and that’s why I and many others love and respect him.

He has offered me a ton of hard won wisdom always delivered in an entertaining and unforgettable way. I have resisted some of that wisdom, but he has never held my stubborn streak against me and for that I am grateful.

He has stood by me in good times and in bad times and has proven to be a true friend.

One thing you learn—and for me it was the hard way—is that when you are a public official you have an endless amount of friends and some of them are fair weather. But it’s your true friends who stick by you when your title goes away and you drift off into the next phase of your life.

Fran sticks with his friends through thick and thin.

I have come to admire his business acumen and his strong desire to take care of his employees and customers no matter what. I admire that he is close to his children and grandchildren and that he’s a devoted husband to Kim (another one of my all-time favorite peeps).

I like that he will try new things with a smile and share his past with his closest friends—warts and all. And I’ve come to realize that the warts aren’t really warts after all. Not when they forge character, teach lessons and shape who you become.

My friendship with Fran has been a gift.

It’s nice to have a friend who is a few years older because they can really teach you things if you are willing to listen. And I am, even though I may pretend not to agree with some of his more “colorful” theories on life and love.

He’s given all of his friends the twin gifts of wisdom and laughter. That’s no small thing.

This is my small gift in return.

I hope he is not Disappointed! (Inside joke).

Happy 80th my friend. Here’s too many more playful arguments and good times to come.

My favorite photo of Fran taken on one of his daily walks around Delray.


Debate and Dysfunction


'We figure out the city or we fail'--David Simon creator of The Wire and Show Me a Hero.
We used to have some tough meetings. 
There were ugly incidents; episodes of incivility. 
There were nights when you came home and you couldn't sleep. Some nights you would leave a meeting and just drive hoping the night air would allow you to breathe again.
Local politics can be as ugly and as petty as national politics. In many ways it's even tougher because on a local level its personal. We know the people involved. We know where they live, have common friends, see them downtown, know their spouses. 
I know all five elected officials in Delray Beach; have known everyone who has served here since 1987. I've liked many, didn't care for a few.
When I first started writing about Delray Beach nearly 30 years ago, City Hall was a lion's den of intrigue. It was great to be a reporter back then, it wasn't so great to be a resident or a business owner.
Then Tom Lynch came along.
The tone of the meetings changed dramatically. Tom had help from people like Jay Alperin and David Randolph and later gentlemen like Ken Ellingsworth and Armand Mouw. There were some kind female elected leaders as well: Barbara Smith, Rita Ellis, Brenda Montague, Alberta McCarthy and Pat Archer come to mind. There were others.
We had 17 years of commission peace and strong leadership; it allowed progress to happen. 
Peace doesn't mean no skirmishes or that everyone loved each other. It also doesn't mean that were wasn't heated debate and passionate arguments. But it does mean that when the question is called and a vote is taken, you move on. You win some and lose some, but you try not to let bad feelings carry over to the next issue.
We've been off course for a while now. If you don't believe me, take a gander at the last meeting. Watch 20 minutes or so (if you can stomach it) of an issue relating to whether the city should accept a million dollars from the CRA for the old library site or fast forward to commission comments. Go ahead...we'll wait a few minutes.
For those who watched the meeting, it was a microcosm of what ails us as a community.
I saw mistrust and disdain among commissioners for each other and for key staff and agencies. I saw anger. I saw frustration and I saw dysfunction.
I don't watch meetings and haven't since leaving office in March 2007, but I was sitting on my couch watching a ballgame when I started getting texts from employees and others who were at the meeting.
"You gotta see this," one wrote.
"Hurry, tune in," wrote another. "It's like Jerry Springer."
So I did, I tuned in. And while the Springer references were an exaggeration, it was a poor display. If this was an aberration, I would chalk it up to a full moon. But this is a pattern and it shows a commission that's deeply divided. They can't even agree to cash a million dollar check without a split vote, a tongue lashing from the finance director (not a good move for an employee) and a full on attack on the City Attorney that was labeled an organized lynching by the mayor.
Most fun city? Indeed.
Every mayor and commission have their crosses to bear. We dealt with several hurricanes, a racially charged shooting of a 15 year-old child, a few hot development issues and a wildly controversial and deeply complicated move of Atlantic High School.
So far, at least in my view, this commission has had it easy. If you're biggest problem is whether to approve a downtown movie theater and a corporate headquarters, I'd say you were a damn lucky city.
But if I learned one thing about public life is that you never know what's coming down the pike.
It's a smart move to get your house in order, so that if something more serious than cashing a check comes before you, you'll be able to work together.
I'm sure this column will rub a few partisans the wrong way. That's OK. I'm not a partisan player...I've had favorites but Delray has always come first for me and for many others. So if my friends are screwing up, I don't think it's wise to ignore it. I don't think that's what a good friend does or a good citizen either. See no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil is no way to run a railroad.
I've been friends or friendly with all five elected officials sitting on that dais as temporary stewards...with the emphasis on temporary and especially on stewardship.
 It's hard to be productive when you can't get along or when there is no trust. You don't have to be buddies, but you do have to find a way to be productive because this city has serious issues.
I see a problem up there.
You will too, if you tune in or  listen to the chatter around town.
Tomorrow: iPic.