Leadership Delray Meets The Mayors

Students in Leadership Delray get an overview of how city government works. After dining with the mayors they took a tour of the Fire Department.

The Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce has a nice annual tradition.

Every year, as part of its Leadership Delray program, the Chamber arranges for the class to have lunch with Mayor’s past and present.

It’s a nice event that allows us old timers—I call us the PIPS for Previously Important People— to trot out  old stories and meet up and coming leaders in the community. For the class, hopefully the event enables students to understand where we’ve come from as a community.

Mayors are assigned to different tables for lunch and at the end we stand up and answer a few questions. This year we were asked to address our biggest challenges and to share a leadership tip.

It’s a fun program and you never know—someone in the class may be a future mayor or commissioner. I’m a graduate of Leadership Delray and I’m pretty sure former commissioners Pat Archer and Gary Eliopoulos are graduates too. I’m probably missing a bunch, so I apologize in advance.

Anyway, this year Mayor Petrolia attended along with Tom Lynch and Jay Alperin who served in the 1990s and Dave Schmidt, Tom Carney and some guy named Jeff who served in the 2000s. From the looks of things, I think the mayors had a great time.

As for me, I always enjoy the lunch Q and A, which this year included questions such as:

How much did you have to raise when you ran? (About $20,000, today races can easily hit six figures)

What has changed about Delray since you served? (Just about everything).

Would you run again? (Can you do the job from Maine in the summers? Asking for a friend.)

What do you see as future challenges for our town? (Here’s a short list: sea level rise, affordable housing, infrastructure repairs, a toxic political environment, education, traffic and a need to engage the community and the list goes on…..)

I pay particular attention to the topics that my lunch partners are interested in. The Leadership program attracts a cross section of community leaders from a wide range of fields so it’s a good focus group for determining issues people are interested in. We spent a lot of time talking about the high cost of living in Delray and the challenging nature of politics these days.

I also really enjoy hearing from the mayors. We’re a rare breed, there are only 10 of us still around. This year’s attendees represented 30 plus years of local politics and these men and women have seen a lot: The Decade of Excellence, the transformation from “Dull Ray” to All America City, the discovery that several of the 9/11 terrorists were living here (many in the class didn’t know that), the impact of the opioid crisis and of course Covid and hurricanes.

So many stories. So many lessons learned. I think it’s valuable to share these insider perspectives.

Years ago, we did two “Mingle with the Mayors” events at the Crest Theatre and the Delray Library.

It was kind of like an “Inside the Actor’s Studio” format with a cocktail party thrown in for good measure. I remember learning a lot about my city from listening to Mayors such as Leon Weekes and Doak Campbell who served long before my time in office.

I wish those events and these lunches were recorded because local history is often lost to the march of time.

To guard against some of that, here’s a list of the mayoral challenges and advice given last week.

Tom Carney: Biggest challenge: Balancing a budget during a financial crisis. Leadership advice: engage the community in visioning processes etc.

Tom Lynch: Challenge: Hiring a good city manager after a decade of turnover and fighting illicit drug sales (successfully tackled by community policing policies). Advice: Stay in your lane. Set policy and let the staff execute.

Shelly Petrolia: Challenge: The opioid crisis and Covid. Advice: Work with the community.

David Schmidt: Challenge: Moving Atlantic High School, 9/11 fallout. Advice: Empower the staff.

“I never lost sleep about what was happening at City Hall,” he said. A nice vote of confidence.

Jay Alperin: Challenge: Cleaning up the mess created by Tom Lynch (that was tongue in cheek, Tom was a great mayor). Implementing the Decade of Excellence Bond. Advice: Listen. Good leaders listen and don’t dictate.

Me: Challenge: Hurricanes (back when stores and gas stations didn’t have generators), the Jerrod Miller shooting. Advice: Be kind. You can’t be an effective leader if you aren’t kind and empathetic.

Thanks to Delray Chamber, President Stephanie Immelman, Chamber Marketing Director Sara Mears and the staff at the Golf Club for a memorable afternoon.

Let’s keep the tradition going. You never know who might be taking notes for a future run.









Waste Deep In the Mud

Every year, the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce hosts a “Mayor’s Lunch” inviting all the living mayors to the Golf Club to meet the latest class of Leadership Delray.

Not everyone shows up, but this year five former mayors and the current mayor came to share stories of their terms in office.

It’s a nice tradition and a real privilege to be able to meet up and coming members of the community who are in the class. In fact, at least two of the former mayors are former Leadership Delray graduates (Dave Schmidt and me) and we highly recommend the course to those who want to gain some insight into the community.

This year, we were joined by Tom Lynch, Jay Alperin, Dave Schmidt, Tom Carney and Shelly Petrolia.

Together, the gathering of mayors spanned 30 plus years of local history. In a city, that will be 110 years old on Oct. 9, that’s a fair amount of local lore shared over Asian chopped salad.

Some of our more senior mayors have lived here for 50 years or more. I clock in at 34 years.

We have seen a whole lot of change.

And these are the people who made so much of that change happen.

I’m a big believer in the possibilities of local government—in the right hands anyway.

I’ve seen magic happen on the local level. Sadly, I’ve seen tragic happen too.

Elections have consequences.

But local government holds so much promise especially if you get the right group in office and team them up with a talented and empowered staff.

It is the only level of government where if you have an idea and two of your colleagues on the commission agree with you, change can start to happen right away. That’s not true in Tallahassee or Washington D.C. which has become a dumpster of dysfunction.

But innovation can happen on the city level and Delray is a case study.

From transforming a tired downtown into a regional hot spot and converting an old school on the corner of Swinton and Atlantic into a cultural beacon to creating a land trust to give first time homebuyers a shot at a dream—Delray has a long and proud history of innovation and accomplishment.

All along the way, mayors, commissioners, city staff, citizens, business leaders, non-profits and other stakeholders worked together to make things happen. And all along the way every one of these groups were told that their dreams were unrealistic, unachievable, or stupid.

The naysayers have always been wrong—and that’s the Reader’s Digest story of most successful places.

Step 1: Someone dreams and aspires.

 Step 2: Those dreams are announced, and they are immediately assailed. (Usually by armchair quarterbacks).

Step 3: After much gnashing of teeth, the dreams are realized.

Step 4: The sky doesn’t fall.

Step 5: Everyone forgets, and the cycle continues.

And on the occasion when mistakes do get made, in a healthy city, you fix the problem, learn from it and move on.

You always move on.

That’s one of the messages that Mayor Lynch and I passed onto the Leadership Delray members at our table. We also talked about the need to recruit good people to run for office and how important it is to allow your professional staff to do their jobs without micromanaging their every move. A scared bureaucracy seizes up like an engine without oil—that’s never healthy.

You want your planners, engineers, police officers, firefighters and rank and file employees to feel like they have a say and a stake in the outcome. Progress requires collaboration. But it also requires leaders to show us the way by modeling that they can work together despite differences.


The first Delray mayor I covered as a newspaper reporter was Doak Campbell who served in the 80s.

I thought Mayor Campbell did a good job in a tough environment. The 80s were interesting in Delray—lots of crime, drugs, turnover at City Hall and infighting on the commission. Sound familiar?

But a legacy of accomplishment also came from that era. Among the achievements: the creation of the first historic districts, the founding of the CRA, the beginnings of Old School Square, early visioning efforts which led to the Decade of Excellence and a task force designed to help the downtown.

Things began to take off in the 90s with Mayor Lynch and Mayor Alperin leading the way. The Decade of Excellence began to implement the projects outlined in the Visions 2000 effort. Perhaps, just as important the culture in Delray began to change. The infighting was gone and with it the instability at City Hall. It was an era of civility and progress. The politics were calm too. Mayor Lynch ran once and served two additional terms without opposition. Mayor Alperin won his commission race in 1990 and served until 2000 without having to run again—an almost unimaginable scenario these days.

With a new City Manager (David Harden), new Police Chief (Rick Overman), new Chamber President (Bill Wood) and a maverick CRA Director (Chris Brown) there was a team in place that would enable a ton of good things to happen.

When Dave Schmidt became mayor in 2000 after winning a three-way race, the Decade of Excellence was largely completed. We had a blank slate and we wanted to start planning and visioning again.

I was on that Commission along with Pat Archer, Bill Schwartz and Alberta McCarthy. Mr. Schwartz would retire in 2001 and we were joined in 2001 by Jon Levinson.

We got along as a group despite being very different people. Mayor Schmidt was a quietly self-assured leader who did not have any problems with members of the commission taking the lead on important community issues. I was passionate about the downtown, so I co-chaired the Downtown Master Plan effort with Chuck Ridley. Pat led a task force on drugs and sober homes. Jon spearheaded housing issues and was part of the founding team at the Community Land Trust. Alberta and I took on race relations and Dave was there to lead us through the post 9/11 era, the controversial relocation of Atlantic High School and much, much more. He was great to work with.

When Dave was term limited in 2003, I ran for mayor. I had the great privilege to work with Commissioners Fred Fetzer and Brenda Montague and my successor Rita Ellis. We were a collegial group, and I was very grateful to serve alongside these special people. I considered them my teammates. We didn’t put candidates up against each other and we rooted for each other because we knew our success and more importantly our city’s success were inextricably linked.

So yes, we debated and yes, we disagreed but when the roll was called, we cast our votes and moved on. It was never personal. It was always on to the next issue and the next vote. As it should be.

I’m often asked what has changed in Delray and my answer is always the same: the culture.

Instead of building on the achievements of the past and working toward a better future we seem fixated on looking backwards and tearing things down instead of making them better.

We went from collaborative to toxic.

Toxic isn’t productive.

Toxic is also a choice.

It’s going to take remarkable leadership to get us back on track. Because we are lost my friends. Deep in the weeds, waste deep in the big muddy as they say.

We are going to need the kind of leadership that created so much good for so long. The kind that I saw walk into that room at the golf course for Leadership Delray.

Let’s hope it comes soon– before even more is lost.






All Healing Is Local

“All healing is local.” – David Schmidt, former mayor and newly installed Chair of the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce.


I had a chance to catch a replay of the Delray Chamber’s Annual Membership Luncheon and Installation of Officers on Facebook recently.

It was a nice virtual event and the Chamber is to be commended for weathering a brutal 2020. It’s important that our community have an active and strong chamber and that business in our city has a voice.

Outgoing Chair Noreen Payne is a wonderful person who did a remarkable job alongside President Stephanie Immelman and a small but dedicated staff.  Not only did they keep the chamber alive during a pandemic, but they kept the organization relevant too. We should all be grateful.

For more than 90 years, the Delray Chamber has been a leader in our community producing Delray’s signature event, The Delray Affair, advocating for business and supporting all aspects of community life.

It’s an important institution; a pillar in a disposable world in which pillars are rare and needed more than ever.

That’s why I am thrilled to have seen the installation of my friend Dave Schmidt as the chair for 2021.

Mayor Dave —as I call him— is a steady, capable and intelligent leader at a time when we crave those traits.

He’s also correct when he says that all healing is local, a take-off on Speaker Tip O’Neill’s old adage that all politics is local.

Friends, our little village by the sea has become a pretty toxic place at least during election season.

If you swing by Facebook and spend five minutes perusing the pages devoted to Delray Beach, you will witness the social media version of Chernobyl. Warning: prolonged exposure will give you hives and make you want to pack your bags and leave our perfect weather for Antarctica.

At least nobody is trying to turn Antarctica into Fort Lauderdale.

In case you don’t know, we are in the middle of an election season in Delray with the mayor’s seat and two commission seats up for grabs on March 9.

We have the usual accusations of stolen signs and the tired and false narratives about evil developers and behind the scenes power brokers. I’ve been accused of being a power broker myself…someone who controls events from behind the scenes. It’s insulting because truth be told— if I were doing so— I’d be doing a better job because the city is a hot mess and that’s not my modus operandi.

I like progress, vision, outcomes and aspiration. I think we all do, but from where I sit, we’re sorely lacking in all of those areas. And I also value good relations with city staff, local organizations and our police, fire and general employees. We’re having some “challenges” there as well.

A few days from our election, candidates are being accused of anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, crimes, corruption, extremism, bullying and all-around thuggery.

Yes, we are going to need some healing after the dust settles. Check that, we are going to need a whole lot of healing.

And I would hope some reflection too because temperatures don’t get this hot in a healthy town.

I write this while still recovering from watching graphic video of traitorous thugs who violently attacked the Capitol Building on Jan. 6. Watching the footage made me physically ill.

What’s going on?

Really, what’s going on?

The Capitol Building—built by slaves, where so many American heroes worked to create Democracy, was desecrated. If you are a true patriot, not some guy with a headdress dressed like a shaman, but someone who loves America, that footage levels you. You just can’t shake the images.

Unbridled social media, unchecked meanness and years of incitement leads to violence. In hindsight, it seems inevitable.

I can see this dynamic unfolding right here if we don’t take a deep breath and check ourselves.

I’m hoping—regardless of who wins—that we can have a reset after the March 9 election. We desperately need one. We have to learn to be a community again.

Right now, we are terribly and dangerously divided.

I’m not the only who feels this way. Many long time contributors to Delray have similar feelings.

The fact that we feel this way annoys some people who would just rather continue down this ruinous path of insult and division.

Over the years, whenever I and others have ventured an opinion there have been attempts to silence us. Some people express shock when you express an opinion. Some of these people would like us PIPS (previously important people) to sit home and stay quiet.

It’s the local version of shut up and dribble. Sorry, not going to happen.

I believe you only critique the stuff that you care about, otherwise why bother.  The truth is I (and many other “exes and formers and used- to- be’s) love this town.

We care about the people who live here. We care about the people who work here and we care about the businesses who invest here.

We are all stakeholders.

Everyone should have a voice and everyone should be encouraged to use that voice hopefully to build a better community.

I have long believed that being a “village” was a lot more than the size of our buildings, which will never be more than 54 feet tall downtown. Friends, we will never be Fort Lauderdale, or even Boynton Beach or Boca Raton which allow 100 foot tall buildings.

We have to find a way to raise the level of discourse in this community and frankly that starts at the commission level.

Our elected officials may not run the day to day operations of the city, but they are tasked with setting the tone for our community. The mayor and city commission own culture.

And culture is everything.

It’s how we feel about our city. It’s how we treat each other. It’s about civility, respect, kindness and compassion.

That does not mean holding hands and singing kumbaya. Some decisions are tough ones and they are divisive by their very nature. We will “win” some votes and be on the losing side of others, but we must learn how to debate better and then move on. This level of divisiveness is not healthy or sustainable.

Our city has a reputation and it isn’t a good one.

The notion that our CRA did nothing for 30 years until it was taken over the by commission is just not true. And anyone who doesn’t believe that can email me through this blog and I will give you a personal tour of projects.

Here’s another myth….our labor unions are not greedy—their job is to care for the welfare of their membership. But they see the big picture too and if you work with them and listen—you’ll find them to be reasonable people who care about our city and are proud to serve us. In my mind, their endorsements mean something.

In terms of aspiration…our northwest and southwest neighborhoods are passionate about the future of The Set, why can’t we work with our neighbors to realize their vision for their neighborhood?  And why can’t we call the neighborhood The Set?

While we are on the subject of vision, I chaired the Congress Avenue Task Force, never did we consider getting rid of a lane of traffic. There was plenty of talk about making it safer to cross the street. Is that controversial?


It wasn’t always like this.

We can blame social media, but that doesn’t change anything.

All of us have to do better. Me too. I thought long and hard about this blog and others. I’m not naming names, there’s nastiness on all “sides” and it’s all wrong and wasted energy.

A happy village is a better village.

If any place can do it, it’s Delray.

We can be the beacon that other communities look to in a nation sorely in need of reconciliation.

We have done this before.

After 9/11—when we learned that many of the terrorists lived here among us—we came together.

When one of our firefighters, Pete Firehock, was murdered—we came together.

In February 2005, when Jerrod Miller was shot and killed, we grieved and we came together.

We were leaders in just about any category you can name: downtown rejuvenation, affordable housing, education, race relations, citizen engagement, urban planning, redevelopment, neighborhood revitalization, historic preservation, sports, events, the use of culture to drive community rebirth and the list goes on.

But for the list to grow. We need some healing.

Right now.


Note: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the sad passing of Richard Jones, a super talented architect and very nice man who did a lot for Delray. We pray for his family during this difficult time. We also continue to pray for the memory of Jerrod Miller, someone I think of every day. 2021 marks the 16th year since Jerrod was killed outside the Delray Full Service Center. That means he is gone one year longer than he lived. That fact is a hard one to fathom. We mourn his loss.

Discovering and Protecting the Secret Sauce

We've all experienced it: same ingredients, but different taste.

We’ve all experienced it: same ingredients, but different taste.

Most cities share similar assets.

In Florida, the cities may have beaches. In Colorado, they may be ringed by mountains. In Arizona, you may see red rock and cactus.
But we all know that special places are different. They have a different feel and special ingredients.
Just like your favorite pizzeria. Most use dough, tomatoes and sauce but the great pizza places stand out. Somehow the same ingredients just seem to taste better.

What drives the demand that’s responsible for success?

The one true advantage we all have at our fingertips is how we make people feel, and the stories we tell about our community.

I think it’s a combination of history, character (and characters), a sense of place, personality, civic pride and values–yes communities can have and should have values.

Mix it all together and you end up with a community feeling and hopefully a sense of community.

To my mind, that’s a city’s biggest asset. A feeling of community builds pride and confidence. It enables you to fall in love with a place and love leads to commitment and when people commit they make things happen.

A sense of community allows you to celebrate good news and just as important it enables you to deal with the bad stuff: tragedy, challenges and disasters –natural and man made.

I have thinking about this secret batch of ingredients as a new civic engagement boot camp kicks off this week at the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce.

I think 15-20 folks have signed up for a four week program that touches on history, leadership, redevelopment, planning and how individuals can make a positive difference right here in Delray Beach.

I’m hoping the program goes well. And I’m hoping many more sessions are scheduled.

The first session features several Delray icons including Old School Square founder Frances Bourque, influential former CRA Director Chris Brown, longtime and now retired Chamber President Bill Wood and two fine police officers from a golden era Vincent Mintus and Tom Whatley.

In a follow up post, I will let you know what they talked about.

The first class is designed to set the stage by sharing where we came from as a community. Follow up sessions will cover economic development and the most important topic of all: leadership.

Stay tuned and we’ll share the trip. It’s a compelling story. If it’s forgotten we will surely lose our way. If we honor and learn from our past we can find answers for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges and ensure that we don’t miss opportunities.