Greetings From Asbury Park

The boardwalk in Asbury Park, N.J.

I’ve always wanted to go to Asbury Park.

So last week we made the trip.

We loved it.

As we toured Belmar, Ocean Grove, Asbury, Allenhurst, Freehold, Neptune and Colts Neck one thought was top of mind: New Jersey might have the world’s worst PR, because the reality far, far, far outstrips the perception.

New Jersey is breathtakingly beautiful (that’s right)  with a magnificent coast, incredible neighborhoods, vibrant cities and architecture that makes you pull over and stare.

Asbury Park has always held a place in my heart and  imagination thanks to its association with my musical heroes Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

I’ve read a few books about the boom and bust history of Asbury Park and the musicians who helped to put the place on the map.

So I was curious to explore the tiny (1.5 square miles) city.

Asbury has a pretty boardwalk, a beautiful beach, some amazing seaside bars, wonderful architecture, a hip hotel, a really nice downtown and some terrific restaurants.

But what sets it apart is its vibe.

Asbury Park is a town that seems to be built on rock n’ roll.

From rock photographer Danny Clinch’s “Transparent Gallery” and the Sound Booth lounge at the Asbury Hotel to the live music at Asbury Lanes and the renowned Wonder Bar—music is everywhere.

This weekend, Asbury expects 20,000 people for the first Sea. Hear. Now. music festival with big names like Social Distortion and Brandi Carlile coming to town to rock the shore.

Asbury is a town building on its roots—its glory days as evidenced by the Paramount Theatre and a grand boardwalk and a musical heritage which includes Springsteen, Southside Johnny and so many great bar bands.

Off the boardwalk, we found a nice downtown, especially Cookman Avenue which featured some interesting retail (a bookstore!, an adorable cinema and a tea house featuring cats—yes cats—called Catsbury Park) and some amazing restaurants. (If you visit, run don’t walk to Taka, it’s as good as it gets).

The surrounding towns feature block after block of really beautiful homes, Victorian gems that make you realize that Florida missed a golden opportunity by allowing so much cookie cutter housing to be built.

When visiting a place it’s important to consider its history and to see what’s in front of you. But it’s also important to understand its psychology, what drives a place. It’s critical to understand not only the reality but what the aspirations of a place are.

You can do this by observing who’s in town—what kinds of people do you see buying homes, opening businesses and investing in a place.

You can supplement what you see with a little reading—local newspapers, real estate publications, even what the hotels are saying about the town in their marketing materials.

And that’s where Asbury gets really interesting.

This little city with a rich history and a very cool present has aspirations.

Asbury is an ambitious place with a goal of becoming a nationally renowned cultural mecca built around music, art, festivals, great restaurants and a sense of place. Sound familiar?

The local press celebrates this ambition with profiles of entrepreneurs building web businesses, opening bakeries, planning music festivals, opening unique restaurants and creating boutique accommodations that pay homage to the area’s history and vibe.

One of the urban pioneers that seems to loom large is famed rock photographer Danny Clinch who has a very cool gallery attached to the ultra-hip Asbury Hotel. Clinch is arguably the most acclaimed music photographer around these days. He has chosen Asbury Park to not only show off his incredible portfolio but also to grow the city’s cultural brand.

The Sea. Hear. Now. festival is probably the most ambitious attempt so far. But the gallery itself is more than just a gallery. It’s a live music space where the local creative community can meet, grow and find encouragement and an outlet.

In many ways, I saw some parallels between Asbury Park and Delray Beach circa 1980s through early 2000s.

The emphasis on culture, food, beverage, festivals, tourism, entrepreneurship. The aspiration and hunger to fix and invest in neighborhoods and commercial districts. The willingness to take some risks. The presence of visionary pioneers with dreams and ambitions. The passion to make something happen.

I can’t comment on the politics of Asbury. But the truth is you need both the private sector and the public sector rowing in the same direction to make change and realize ambitions. It doesn’t work if volunteers, business owners and residents are out of step with local government or vice versa.

Towns need their Danny Clinch’s for sure. But they also need their elected officials and city government’s help too.





Division or Collaboration It’s a Choice

We are at the point in the campaign for commission seats in Delray Beach where the word bully gets thrown around.

So this post is about bullying. And how to recognize who the real bullies are; because often bullies accuse others of being bullies when you stand up to them.

I’m not talking about the school yard kind, but adult bullying. Although there are similarities.

When I was a young man, I thought bullying was a pathology that ended in junior high.

Then I moved to Delray and got involved in local politics.

When you enter the arena, you can count on meeting the bullies in your town. I’m not talking about the normal back and forth of debate on the issues or about people who just don’t like what you’re peddling.

I’m talking about folks who wake up and decide to make you their hobby.

It’s usually not about policy or ideas—although occasionally how you vote on a single issue can trigger abuse. But more often, it’s personal; like in personal destruction.

I’ve encountered a few of these charmers in my adult life. And I’ve seen others experience them as well.

It comes with the territory.

If you want to avoid the bullies–don’t say anything and don’t do anything. Don’t support a candidate, don’t ever take a side on an issue or even be seen with anyone who does.

But if you do, you can count on somebody questioning your motives, your character, your friends, your livelihood and your ethics. Check that: they won’t question you they will judge you and convict you. And the rub is they often don’t know you.





It has nothing to do with likability or whether you’re a nice person.

For instance, even the Dalai Lama has detractors.

I strive to be a decent guy. I try to be polite and courteous. I pick up my share of checks and I love animals. I even recycle.

But I also have opinions. I like to express them. And the last time I checked, that’s still guaranteed by our First Amendment. Here’s a smattering of opinions that have earned me some wrath over the years.

I don’t get hives over festivals, my life isn’t ruined if the bridge goes up and I don’t see all developers as the local version of Freddy Krueger. Some yes, but not all. I have (or at least had) faith in our Land Development Regulations and I’m a believer in the long time community vision for Delray Beach. I was there when it was shaped by a wide range of local stakeholders who have given a great deal to Delray Beach and continue to serve the community.

Heck, I even have civic pride. (I even use the word heck not the pejorative alternative).

I think this community came together and did some amazing things over the years. I don’t believe that Delray was ruined, overdeveloped or in need of being taken back. In fact, I think it was saved by the very people who forged the vision and made it happen—and that includes developers, business people, neighborhood leaders, the CRA, the DDA, the Chamber of Commerce, festival producers, non-profit leaders, police officers, firefighters and city staff. It really does take a village.

That’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it. Sorry bullies, that’s just the way it is.

I also understand that not everybody embraces the same things that I do. I think that the strategy employed by Delray created a remarkable place and a whole lot of value and quality of life. I think it’s a sustainable strategy. But I understand that some of the changes and policies are not to everyone’s liking. The question is whether we can respectfully disagree. And that’s where we can find both the challenge and the opportunity.

Can you disagree with a bully and not be attacked? Or can we find a way to work together, find compromise and at times agree to disagree knowing there will be issues down the road where opponents on one issue can actually help each other?

Here’s why I prefer the latter to the bully model; which promotes division and dysfunction.

In my experience, the typical “my way or the highway” civic bully isn’t interested in getting to know you or hearing about the rule of law, the principles of economic development or what might make a city sustainable. In their closed minds, you’re wrong and you’re evil. See, it’s not about policy it’s about their need to discredit and bash you.

Many of the people I’ve seen bullied have reached out to those who have judged them in an effort to clear the air, find a way forward, listen to the grievances and answer questions. They seek common ground–after all we’re  neighbors and we might see each other at Caffe Luna Rosa or in the hot sauce aisle of Publix. But their entreaties are almost always rebuffed.


Because it’s easy to demonize someone you don’t know. It’s harder to hurl hate and lie about someone you’ve looked in the eye and learned something about.

You may find that they have kids, love animals, enjoy music, coach baseball and have a sense of humor. You may even figure out that they actually believe in what their selling and that they are not bought and paid for. But that narrative won’t work for the bully. If you are a real person it might make it harder to go back on social media and beat you up.

So while bullying and negativity seems to be a fact of life these days and some of it is so crazy and false as to be laughable–the toxicity it produces isn’t funny. In fact, it’s ruinous.

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve seen some amazing things happen here.

A dead downtown revived.

A land trust formed.

Have you seen the homes they’ve built? These are real families in real neighborhoods once neglected and now beginning to show some signs of improvement.

We’ve seen the southwest plan come to life. Oh, not all of it, but a great deal with more to come. (But only if we stop the endless bickering and get back to work).

We’ve seen schools conceived and built from the commitment shown at community meetings and the passion of two members of the Delray Beach Police Department.

We’ve see a cultural center rise from the ruins of a neglected old school.

And a library built on West Atlantic when a bully from my day told us it would never work if you put it “out there with those people.” I kid you not, that was actually said. We built it anyway. And he’s as miserable as ever.

He was told–politely–to pound sand. PS he’s still out there peddling hate, lies and conspiracy theories.

I can go on.

I’m a firm believer that many amazing things that occurred could not have happened today because the culture has become toxic. And toxicity is fatal to progress.

And friends, we had better start caring about culture.

Because It’s everything.

If it doesn’t get better –and trust me it needs help– the community is at risk.

So how bad is it? Here’s an example. There are many.

A few weeks back, a group of people came together and launched an effort to fight back against the nastiness and negativity by forming a group called Better Delray. Almost immediately it was assailed by a small group who questioned (sorry proclaimed) Better Delray’s motives, hidden agendas etc.

Really…they did. And they are so wrong. And they drew their conclusions based on what?


Nobody sat down and talked. There were no questions asked, but conclusions were drawn based on exactly nothing but personalities.

But there is a lightbulb going on around town. People are finally getting tired of the negativity, the endless fighting, the attempts to muzzle and intimidate. The fact that issues hang around for years because “leadership” is too busy fighting each other and majoring in the minor.

Thank goodness there’s an awakening taking place.

Because we need you to get angry.

We need you to understand the stakes.

We need you…

To call it out.

To demand civility.

To volunteer.

To vote.

Yes, vote. In a local election. Because it’s important and so few of us do. Less people show up these days than in 1990 despite a much larger population. So as we inch toward the March 14 election…

Seek out the positive–reject the toxic. Reject those who manufacture division.

I’ve noticed a few common themes in my 30 years here.

If you want to see progress…

Support those who go to work for this town. Put your faith and your trust in those who are involved over those who sit back and criticize and (mis) judge.

My best friends in Delray Beach are the men and women who have rolled up their sleeves and went to work on behalf of this community.

They’ve helped children, created jobs, supported the arts and charities, volunteered and put skin in the game, in short they’ve cared. Sometimes so much it hurts. A few are even developers…gasp.

But whenever I look around I never see the critics. I never see the bullies. They are AWOL.

When it comes time to pitch in, they are absent. When it comes time to build they can’t be found. But they are always there when it’s time to criticize. They are always ready to judge, condemn, label, divide and threaten. Always.

They never miss an opportunity and when necessary they create things to whine about.

None of them ever bother to get to know those who have been and are involved.

But somehow they know they’re dishonest, they know they’re self-serving, they know they are shills.

Only they’re not.

And we are not going away. It’s our town too.

Many are tired of the bickering, the disrespect of the people, events and organizations that built this town, the constant turnover of senior staff, the endless lawsuits, the insults of those looking to invest here, the lies about the CRA, the embarrassing behavior of so-called leaders, the bullying of event producers, the demonizing of people in recovery and those trying to help them and the lack of progress on important issues.

They were left a 40 point lead and they are blowing it. I’m willing to say it, because I love this city.

Call me a shill, label me, threaten my friends and our businesses.

But a great many who are involved in the major institutions in our town are dispirited. Many are scared and won’t speak out for fear of retribution.

They shouldn’t be. Something is seriously wrong if they are.

We must come together because we have been driven apart. By people who have not given back.

We must replace division with collaboration.

And that’s why I am  supporting Jim Chard for Seat 2 and Shirley Johnson for Seat 4.

And I’ll tell you why and what I see is at stake in my next post.

Do You Believe in Magic?

We've read somewhere that pictures of cats attracts readers. Kittens exhibiting friendship can't miss, no?

We’ve read somewhere that pictures of cats attract readers. Kittens exhibiting friendship can’t miss, no?

Friendship has been on my mind lately.

Maybe it was a visit from a childhood friend or watching my stepson light up when he came home from college and reconnected with his best buddy—but the older I get the more I find myself treasuring the friends I have made over the years. I am so grateful for friends; the people you can count on year after year for fun, laughs, good conversation, advice and just plain hanging out. The best ones are there for you when you are up and when you’re down. They are real, sincere and sometimes painfully honest.

They give you the benefit of the doubt when you mess up—as we all do from time to time –and they are happy when you succeed; sad when you suffer a setback. As I approach yet another birthday I have been reflecting on the magical times in my life and they all revolve around family and friends. That’s not a profound discovery, but I also realize that I have had several very special eras of friendships and a few professional and community experiences that can only be described as magic (sorry, there’s no other word). And in talking to people I have come to understand that not everybody gets to have that in their life, either personally or professionally. So I feel a whole lot of gratitude for the magic and that’s what I will always look for in my work and relationships.

I’ve been blessed with several friends that I have had since early childhood. I have a core of guys who I have known since we were 6, 7 and 8 years old and I am very aware of how special and how rare that is.

We’ve kept it going through junior high cliques and high school crushes, college, first real jobs, marriages, kids and now middle age. We are spread throughout the country—California, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Virginia, Arizona, New Jersey and our native New York. We don’t see each other much, but we are in touch. And when we do get together for reunions or milestones we pick up where we left off.

Truth be told, the talk of glory days gone by is rare. We typically talk about our present day lives and our plans for the future, which shockingly now includes talk of retirement and yes mortality (in another 50 years or so).

To be able to share those conversations with guys who knew your 4th grade teacher, met your grandparents, went to your bar mitzvah and know who you took to the prom is nothing short of remarkable. Past embarrassments become the source of warm memories, like the time you pretended your car broke down just so you could linger at the local fast food joint and talk to the cute girl from your social studies class or the time when a friend painted a rock with the phrase “the search is over” (a cheesy 80s song by Survivor) only to have the object of this sure thing say she never wanted to see him again when she drove by and saw it.

We have gone through cancer—(parents and one of us), experienced marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, business ups and downs, births and deaths— together. We have also experienced a whole lot on our own. We have close friends that the others don’t know, experiences that we didn’t share and a whole life separate from each other. But we know that if something ever happened to any of us, we could reach out and find whatever help we needed within our circle. No questions asked. These are the brothers I never had.

I live in Delray Beach because of my friend Scott, who is one of the guys I’ve known for over 40 years. So blame him if you must. After we graduated high school, Scott went off to SUNY Oswego and I spent a year at Stony Brook University before joining him in a place that was so cold, snowy and windy that we didn’t thaw out until four years after graduation. So the prospects of warm weather made it an easy decision for me to seek a newspaper job in either Florida or California, where another guy from our circle was going to chiropractic school. The Florida offer came first and off I went to join Scott who was already here sitting by the pool.

Florida in the late 80s was an interesting place. I thought it was summer camp. Every morning we went for bagels with Scott’s dad Mickey and after work we played tennis, went to the pool and explored the area.

I was assigned to cover Delray and it was like discovering journalistic heaven: political bickering, horrific crime, City Hall intrigue and interesting people everywhere you turned. This place put the fun in dysfunction. But despite the myriad of serious problems there was a vision in place and a whole lot of aspiration and talent aligned to turn the city around. And I got to write about it and eventually participate.

The newspaper office was in Boca on East Rogers Circle and the newsroom was filled with off the charts characters and a lot of gifted writers, editors and photographers. It was a golden age of community newspapers and we were growing by leaps and bounds—the Monday-Thursday Papers was a great place for me to learn from older and much more experienced journalists who spent a lot of time showing me the ropes and teaching me how to spot news and dig deep for the telling detail that made a story resonate.

It was a magical time and again friendship drove a lot of the creativity, fun and success of the venture. We enjoyed each other, hung out together at Dirty Moe’s, went to lunch at Spinnakers, Tom Sawyer’s, Boston’s, Ken and Hazel’s, Rosie’s Raw Bar and George’s Diner. We pushed each other to succeed and laughed along the way. I couldn’t wait to go to work in those days.

Over time, the era came to an end. People move on, to other jobs, me included. The industry changed, technology changed, the characters that made newsrooms so amazing faded away. And I miss them. I think the world misses them.

I next experienced magic– driven by friendship and relationships– during my 7 years as an elected official in Delray Beach. In hindsight, it was a special era. The great initiatives and visions that I covered as a reporter were largely completed by 2000 and so the group I served with and the staff I worked alongside were given the gift of a blank slate.

When that happens, you have two options. Build on what came before and put your own stamp on things or go in another direction. We chose to build on. And we did.

We engaged people in a Downtown Master Plan, we did a plan for parks, we did a cultural plan, we focused on neighborhoods, we delved into race relations, worked to engage citizens, addressed recruitment and attrition issues in police and fire, adopted a southwest neighborhood plan, revamped our historic preservation policies and invested in assets like Old School Square and the library which moved to West Atlantic which became a major focus. We moved the high school and focused on schools. But we did more than just plan and dream. We got things done. And we did it as a team.

We celebrated our successes and we came together during the hard times too—hurricanes, the death of Jerrod Miller and the myriad controversies that occur in a place that people are passionate about.

Along the way, you make friends—and a few enemies– but you realize in hindsight that it is all about relationships and the ability to touch people; to make their lives better if you can.

I served with commissioners, citizens and city staff who talked about the need to listen, work together and take responsibility for trying to make a positive difference on whatever challenges we faced. They believed in building a great city and we were willing to try new approaches in order to make things happen. We were bold and ambitious and took some risks. Some stuff worked, some things fell short. But we learned together and it was a whole lot of fun.

I served with a Commissioner named Alberta McCarthy and she talked about community unity and we adopted the slogan. As we see divisions in our nation get wider by the day during a particularly brutal election season; as we witness bickering at city commission meetings and negativity on social media, I think about that phrase. Maybe some think it’s trite and corny. But it isn’t. It’s a big thought, an ideal, something to strive for. It may or may not be achievable. But it’s everything, isn’t it? It’s about coming together to build a better future for as many people possible; hopefully everybody.

We never achieved it totally, but I think we came close enough to see what it looked like.

Magic occurs when caring people commit to each other; whether it’s a childhood friendship that never ends; a successful business or a city that wants to make something happen.

You can have all the raw material—money, strategy, resources galore but you need the people part. That’s a must.

It’s all about the relationships…there is no short cut around people and you can’t achieve great things in isolation. You need friends. It’s just that simple.


An Opportunity to Learn


Editor’s Note: This is our last blog of 2015, we are going to enjoy the holidays and take a break. We do want to wish our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Safe New Year. We have enjoyed the conversation and look forward to more dialogue in 2016. But before we sign off, we want to wish our old friend Randal Krejcarek, Delray’s Environmental Services Director a fond farewell as he leaves for a terrific opportunity. Randal was always a class act, a talented professional and a pleasure to work with. He went above and beyond and he will be deeply missed. He’s just a great guy.

I had lived in Delray Beach for 13 years when I ran for the City Commission in 2000.

For a decade, my job was to cover city government, which meant I attended just about every City Commission meeting, CRA meeting, planning and zoning meeting, DDA meeting and community gathering that occurred.

I rode with cops and firefighters, was involved with the Chamber of Commerce, non-profits such as Old School Square and Pineapple Grove Main Street and served on the Sister Cities Committee. I knew just about every community leader from neighborhood association presidents and union bosses to city department heads and prominent local business leaders. I even knew a great many of the city’s most notorious criminals—and interviewed a few of them in prison.

When I left the paper around ’97, I started my own publications that covered schools, sports, crime and education and got know teachers, principals, School Board members, coaches, athletes, boosters and more cops , volunteers and criminals.

So I thought I knew a lot about Delray Beach when I got elected and I did, sort of.

But I also had gaps in my knowledge a mile wide and 10 miles deep.

I was a well-trained rookie, but I was still a rookie.

I remember an orientation meeting with then City Manager David Harden, where I was handed a copy of the City Charter, a thick budget book and a giant copy of the city’s land development regulations, comp plan and other documents. I barely made it back to the car. I had a similar meeting with then City Attorney Susan Ruby.

When you get elected you are expected to learn the following: municipal finance, land use law, labor relations, pensions, budgets, capital improvement plans, county/city relations, community development block grants, how debt works, municipal law, historic preservation, emergency management policies, municipal insurance and a whole lot more.

The formal education was just beginning—the informal one begins once you’re on the job and truthfully you never stop learning the nuances of leadership. That piece is ongoing with lessons earned and learned from every issue and interaction. It’s a remarkable experience.

Local government even has its own language: LDR’s, the difference between a waiver and a variance, conditional use, something called “smoothing” (a pension term) and my favorite: effluent flows (look it up) because a perk of the job is you also sit on the sewer board for Boynton Beach and Delray.

Some of it fascinated me. Some of it confused me. Some of it made me yawn and some of it was so cool that I wanted to learn as much as possible.

In my opinion, the two areas where city officials should spend their time and develop some chops are land use and budgeting.

Like in any business, cash flow, revenues, expenses, debt service and all that happy stuff is critically important. While you have a city manager, a few assistant city managers, outside auditors and a finance department you cannot be an effective elected official without an understanding of how you fund and charge for government services.

So you need learn to read and understand budgets, monthly financial analyses and year end reports.

I had managed newspaper budgets for a corporate parent and my own small publishing company so I had a basic understanding of finances. In fact, we were so lean I knew my cash position every moment of every day. I knew if I didn’t collect receivables in a timely fashion, those who worked with me wouldn’t be able to pay their bills.

As an elected official, you are in an oversight capacity, so the checkbook resides elsewhere but you learn quickly that you have a fiduciary responsibility and that 60,000 people and all the businesses in your town will come looking for you if things go wrong.

But my favorite part of my municipal education was in the land use arena; planning and redevelopment. I absolutely fell in love with it all—architecture, urban design, streetscapes and what it takes to create a successful downtown.

I read everything I could find—books, articles, magazines, the works of New Urbanist thought leaders –and began to look at cities differently when I travelled. The national Main Street program, Florida League of Cities, Urban Land Institute and American Planning Association were also sources I mined for information and insights.

Back in those days, we would travel to other cities for conferences and to glean ideas and learn from communities that had wrestled with similar challenges. More often than not, we’d take neighborhood leaders and city staff with us so we could learn together. We bonded during these trips which took us out of our everyday surroundings and exposed us to new ideas, approaches and ways to solve problems. We made friends across the country and talked up our city everywhere we went.

In short order, we were hosting groups in Delray to show them what we had done here—hits and misses, triumphs, defeats and lessons learned. It’s gratifying to share experiences with others on a similar path.

Over the years I have been visited by several people who aspire to be elected officials. They ask to meet for endorsements, campaign donations or to see if I would introduce them to people who might get them votes, more cash and endorsements.

I get it. It’s a necessary part of the process. But increasingly, I’m running into people who seem to be less interested in the subject matter and more interested in attaining the office. They seem sadly unaware of the opportunity to make a difference and more interested in personal power.

I pine for those aspirants who do more listening than talking; I observe whether they can stop long enough to seek information rather than just tell me how great and smart they are.

I look for people hungry to learn—who ask questions, who have done their homework about the community’s they seek to serve. How can you serve if you aren’t curious or willing to learn? How can you lead without first seeking to understand?

I run into a lot of people who think they are the smartest people in the room; regardless of which room they are in. I try to avoid them. They can’t learn, because if you are smarter than everyone else what can you learn?

I was uniquely prepared as a result of my newspaper job, but in hindsight, I knew very little. But I did know enough to ask questions and seek knowledge—that’s what reporters do. The better ones anyway.

How else do you learn? How else can you serve? How can you lead if you keep your own counsel?

The answer is you can’t.



A Village is a Port in a Storm


There was a homicide in Delray Beach a few weekends ago.

A 26-year-old man was shot and killed outside a community market on our Main Street, in our downtown. His name was Jamar Gabbage.

The shooting happened not far from our “gateway” feature, in the 1100 block of West Atlantic Avenue; the entrance to our downtown.

Last week we learned that three people died after overdosing on heroin within 24 hours in Delray.

The same day this story led the local news I saw a young man on a bike heading toward A1A screaming at passersby. I wondered whether he was ill or under the influence of “flakka”, the new scourge that is laying waste to young minds. This week came more news of someone allegedly under the influence and violent requiring several police officers and a K-9 to subdue.

But when I stop by to visit friends at a local restaurant the talk isn’t about murders or what to do about substance abuse. The talk is about “A frame” valet signs and whether a part on the beach pavilion is rusting.

When I browse social media I read about change and how sad it is to see a chain store downtown. Valid concerns, but definitely first world problems, I think to myself.

Then I read about an unattended death at a local rehab and see a slew of insensitive comments.

And I feel sad.

These are people we are talking about.

Someone’s dad. Someone’s child. Someone’s friend. They are not “cancers”, they are people.

I see a lot of lost people in our city. I see them outside the local Walgreens and watch them slowly cross a parking lot in front of my office on Lindell Boulevard.

Some are homeless and worn, like weathered driftwood. Others seem cooked with vacant thousand yard stares as they make their way across streets only to disappear in crevices.

We have it all here.

Mansions on the water.

Craft cocktails.

Fancy cars.

Valet parking.

Big Boats. Expensive private schools. 100 foot Christmas trees.

We also have murders.

Drive by shootings.

Kids whose parents beat them. People suffering from cancer and dementia. Heroin. Homelessness and drug deals done in alleyways.

It’s there for all to see in the village. If we care to look.

When I drive through town I have memories everywhere. That’s what happens when you’re anchored in a place for a long period of time as I have been in Delray—happily.

I remember being able to seeking solace in people whenever the going got rough.

On South Swinton there was Father Stokes. Chip, he would insist you call him.

He became Bishop of New Jersey.

But before he left he was a confidant; a trusted partner.

He cared about the poor people who lived just west of his church. When you talked with him you could see his passion about education, social justice and racism. Before he got his post in New Jersey he was up for another big job in the church.

A team of senior church leaders came to Delray to discuss his work in our city. I was asked about Chip’s work in the community and when I began to answer I noticed that I was choked up describing the care and leadership he provided. I realized that if he left, he would leave a gaping hole. He didn’t get that job but a few years later he got an even bigger one.

And you know what? We miss Chip Stokes’ leadership, courage and ability to focus on what was most important.

On Lake Ida Road, there was Nancy Hurd who spent decades loving the poorest children in our village at the Achievement Center. Nancy was always a port in a storm. On the darkest days, the days when I couldn’t sleep because I saw images of a 15 year old boy in a casket I knew I could visit Nancy and she would hold my hand and together we would visit pre-schoolers with their smiles, hugs and hopes. By the time you left, you had hope in the future. It wasn’t that reality changed, but in that corner of the world you could see goodness and love.

On North Swinton, at Old School Square there was Joe Gillie and Frances Bourque who were always excited about the arts and about serving children by exposing them to culture. Their passion was infectious. You wanted to sign on to their mission immediately and we did.

Years later I would sit on an interview panel and listen to 17-year-old Stephanie Brown talk about her love of photography stoked by a class she took at Old School Square. She would become one of our first set of Dare 2 Be Great Scholars. A year or two later she was named one of the top young photographers in Savannah where she excelled at the Savannah College of Art and Design. But for that class…it might not have happened.

Near Pompey Park, lived the Pompey’s, lovely people, educators, community builders whose love of this city made you fall in love too. Their history was painful; fighting for the right to go to the beach, better schools and parks and for local children denied opportunity.

On the southwest side, you could sit with Mrs. Wesley. Libby to some…and she would sing to you or read you a poem that left you a puddle. Libby was beauty personified. She believed in Delray. She believed in young people. She believed in roots. She inspired everyone.

At City Hall, you could pop in and feel the energy of achievement and pride. In the clerk’s office were Barbara Garito and Chevelle Nubin and lots of happy faces, Sue and Jim and others. There was DQ and Lula and a busy planning department with smart people like Ron Hoggard and Jeff Costello who could figure out any problem you threw at them. And we did. We threw a lot their way.

And there was tough Paul Dorling, who could be disarmed with a joke.

Perry held court at Boston’s and Bill at the Chamber. Lori could be found at the market and Nancy was always planning a festival.

Solace; everywhere you looked.

Pame, Jen, Evelyn, Skip, Bob, Cathy B, Susan, Kerry, Rachel and Tom Fleming in the Grove. Mrs Gholston and Miss B.

A village.

There were murders and drugs. Always. There was crime and blight galore. Businesses went bust. People said rude things.

But we were a village.

Always a village.

I’m not sure if those same havens exist these days. I hope they do and I suspect they do. Many of the players mentioned above have moved on in life which is what happens, but I’m sure they were replaced by others who are caring as well.

My wish is that current and future leadership seek advice and solace. You can’t do these jobs on social media, as great as Facebook is. And you can’t do it walled off somewhere in a vacuum. It’s only a village if we talk to each other. And listen—with empathy.


50 Keys to Success

Signs are all around us that what we see wasn't an accident.

Signs are all around us that what we see wasn’t an accident.

A few weeks ago we published a post listing 50 Urban Myths. It got a lot of response, thank you. Today we follow with a list of 50 ingredients for community building success.
1. Visioning: Having a vision is critical, a citizen driven vision is the most powerful.
2 Civic Engagement: Time always well spent.
3. Naming your problems and confronting them: that’s the real and true definition of an All America City.
4. Valuing education: You have to be involved in and advocate for your local schools.
5. Delray comes first, before personal agendas: Without a vision there’s a vacuum. Egos and personal agendas will fill the vacuum and knock you off track. Put the community’s needs first.
6. Big Hairy Audacious Goals That Are Implemented: Ambitious aspirational cities win. But in order for that to happen, goals need to be put in the done box.
7. Investing in culture: Delray got this right with projects like Delray Center for the Arts, the Library and Arts Garage. Culture makes your city unique.
8. Partner with non profits: Team up with solid non-profits to meet critical community needs. Build each other’s capacities to serve people.
9. Try to improve race relations: Diversity is our strength.
10. Build on your assets: Make the most of your parks and public facilities. Delray understood that it always had great bones.
11. Understand how the pieces fit together: Downtown’s brand positively impacts the whole city, quality schools drive commerce, gaps hurt.
12. Understand that downtown is never done: Smart leaders wake up a little scared even when things are going right. Downtowns boom and bust, you have to keep iterating and working hard. The downtown is the heart, you should never ignore the heart of the community.
13. Walkability: A big part of the charm and what makes this city so different from neighbors.
14. Understand that design trumps density: Push for good design, sprawl is not your friend.
15. Strategic density allows for sustainability; yielding economic, social and environmental benefits.
16. Understand that density can give you some affordability: A sustainable community needs a variety of housing options and price range, especially product in the middle.
17. Know you need open space downtown: But that space should be active and designed for people (and pets).
18. Value public art.
19. Know that outcomes matter. Process has a role. But you have to deliver. Don’t let bureaucracy stifle results or innovation.
20. Empower an independent CRA to be innovative: A well-run CRA can be a game changer. It was in Delray.
21. Understand that the CRA is a valuable tool and teammate.
22. Flexible codes encourage investment. Rigid codes stifle innovation.
23.  You can be flexible and business friendly but still have standards.
24. Dialogue matters. Input matters. Listening is critical. Tone matters.
25. Know there is a difference between making announcements and genuinely seeking input.
26. It’s a big city out there. And sadly the happy people don’t always show up: Effective leaders understand this.
27. It’s a job to do not to have: Effective leaders understand this.
28. Celebrate success.
29. Civility is important but it can be rare. You have to press ahead anyway.
30. Do what you think is right not what is politically expedient.
31. Real leaders don’t play dodge ball: Issues don’t magically go away, problems ignored fester.
32. Don’t fix what isn’t broken
33. Nothing is perfect. That’s ok.
34. The squeaky wheel shouldn’t take over the agenda.
35. Success is never final.
36. Failure is hardly ever fatal.
37. Cities can and must be entrepreneurial.
38. Always encourage civic pride.
39. People come and they go. Some are irreplaceable: life surely goes on, but people matter. If the right ones show up you succeed, if the wrong ones takes over, you risk it all.
40. There’s a need for a woodshed. To remind leaders that they are stewards.
41. Stay focused on the big picture.
42. Let the manager manage. Let the department heads run their departments. Encourage them to work together. Hold everybody accountable, but accountability does not have to look like punishment.
43. “How may I help you” is superior to “I’m going to stop you”.
44. Promotions are important. Cities need to market and to have quality events.
45. Good special events are important.
46. Encourage people to serve. Get them involved. Keep them involved. Thank them for their involvement 
47. Don’t create policy in a vacuum. Ask the end user or the impacted or the people you hope to benefit.
48. Put good people on city boards.
49. Elected officials serve us. We don’t serve them.
50. Complacency is a killer
Bonus. Don’t major in the minor.


Delray Marketing Cooperative Names New Director

Stephanie Immelman, a five year veteran of the DBMC, has been named executive director

Stephanie Immelman, a five year veteran of the DBMC, has been named executive director

After a lengthy search, the board of the Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative has chosen a familiar face to lead the organization as it evolves from an event driven agency to a destination marketing vehicle for Delray Beach.

Cathy Balestriere, chair of the Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative (DBMC), has announced the promotion of Stephanie Immelman to Executive Director.

“With her extensive background in international marketing and corporate finance, including 13 years working in Europe, Stephanie has made numerous valuable contributions to DBMC ever since joining as Destination Marketing Manager in 2008, including spearheading the social media campaign that resulted in Delray Beach being named the Most Fun Small Town in the USA by Rand McNally, USA Today and the Travel Channel,” said Balestriere.

[Read more…]