A Cautionary Tale

I read an interview with Kenosha, Wisconsin Mayor John Antaramian that I found very interesting.

Mayor Antaramian has been in the national news lately after his city erupted in protest after the shooting of Jacob Blake.

Blake, 29, a Black man, was left paralyzed after an encounter with local police.

In my experience—which I’ll get to in a minute—the level of unrest that cities experience in the wake of violence is directly correlated to the relationships and work that has been done years before.

If your police department and city government connects to the community,  your odds of finding a positive way forward increase exponentially.

Former Delray Beach Police Chief Rick Overman—who was a remarkable chief—used to say that in his line of work trouble was inevitable. You did all you could to avoid it—you train your officers, you create rigorous standards for hiring, you embrace community policing—but at some point something bad was bound to happen. You will face a challenge, it’s the nature of the profession.

Policing is dangerous and important work.

While I can’t pretend to know what it’s really like, I’ve had a glimpse by spending lots of hours in the back of cruisers as a journalist and a policymaker. I’ve met and gotten to know scores of officers over the years.

I’ve had many late night conversations with officers who confided in me about what it’s like to put on a gun and a vest and head out to work not knowing what you are going to encounter. Those conversations have deepened my appreciation for the special people who choose that profession.

Chief Overman used to talk about something he called the “reservoir of goodwill.” Overman knew that there would come a day when something tragic would happen—he felt it was inevitable in his line of work—and his department would have to draw on that reservoir. So he and his officers worked every day to fill the reservoir by building trust and relationships citywide. Community policing was not a PR stunt or a photo op, it was a governing philosophy. Officers were urged to get out of their cruisers and to find ways to get to know the people and businesses in their zones.

We have seen incredible examples of this—officers past and present—who have connected in truly wonderful ways with the communities they serve. It makes all the difference in the world.

But police departments—as important and essential as they are—cannot do it all.

Again, Chief Overman recognized this fact. He needed the community to volunteer. He needed the community to tell his officers what was really happening on the street and he needed city government to care about all parts of our city.

Now many cities talk the talk.

They issue proclamations and mouth the words about investing in underserved communities. But too few cities walk the walk.

And those cities get in trouble when something happens and they realize that the reservoir has run dry or doesn’t exist at all.

Which leads me back to Mayor Antaramian in Kenosha.

He has been mayor of that town off and on for 20 years. When he was asked what he regrets the most, one mistake sticks out in his mind.

In 2000, the mayor formed a committee to address what he described as “racial issues.”

In Kenosha, the committee focused on housing and homeownership and according to the mayor they developed policies to address the issues identified.

“We spent about a year working on different issues,” he told USA Today. “We actually came to some solutions on those issues. My mistake was I didn’t keep that committee together. I’m refusing to make that mistake a second time. I’m getting too old to make too many mistakes. We thought we solved the problem and we didn’t.”

The last sentence is a key one.

A mistake many cities and mayors make is they think that once they address something it’s done.

The truth is, in this line of work—community building—you are never done. Never.

You must constantly be working to strengthen what you’ve built and you must be constantly be thinking about what’s not working and why.

Delray Beach has made this common mistake.

We think our downtown is done—it’s not.

We think our beach has been re-nourished and is safe, but we better maintain our dunes or they will wash away.

When I was mayor, the commission identified race relations as an issue we wanted to work on.

So we did.

We had study circles that encouraged people from different backgrounds to share their stories and learn from each other. We had neighborhood dinners in which people from different neighborhoods would gather to meet and share their hopes and dreams and we did our best to invest in neighborhoods that were neglected.

There were successes and there were disappointments. But there were no failures because making the effort yields dividends.

You learn.

You grow and you adjust—as a community. You do the work together.

Was it enough?
Unquestionably, the answer is no.

But the effort was never meant to end. It was designed to be an ongoing discussion and effort—long after me and my crew left.

Sadly, politics got in the way—as it often does. Personalities clash. Grudges develop and if not addressed—and they weren’t—they fester and eventually those feuds crowd out just about every initiative.

An old friend asked me recently whether it was possible to succeed if your government is dysfunctional or downright wacky.

My guess is—it’s not really possible.

Oh, there will be bright spots—non-profits doing good work and people who shine.

But think about how much more success you’d have if government was engaged and rowing in the same direction as the people they are supposed to serve.

Today, I worry about my city.

I fear that the reservoir is dangerously low.

Our Police Department is terrific and enjoys a great reputation. It remains an amazing asset.

But I sense anger and frustration out there—a lot of people are feeling marginalized and there is a huge concern over the poor treatment of several high ranking Black city employees whose careers were derailed in Delray.

I could be wrong.

I’m no barometer and I live behind a gate (when it’s working) in a lovely (mostly white) neighborhood. But I see stuff on social media and I still talk to a range of neighborhood leaders and I hear, see and feel the frustration out there.

We ignore it our peril.

We have got to get back to the work. We can’t make the mistake Kenosha did.




How To Lead

An easy to read primer on leadership.


I saw an interview with the philanthropist David Rubenstein on Face The Nation recently.
Mr. Rubenstein just released a book on leadership that waits for me patiently on my night stand each evening.
In the book, Rubenstein talks with a variety of successful leaders and distills some of the things they’ve learned along the way.
I was sold on the book by his answer to this question by host John Dickerson.
“What do you look for in a leader?”

DAVID RUBENSTEIN: I’m looking for their ability to focus, their ability to communicate well, their ability to have some sense of priority of what’s most important to them, their ability to inspire people, their ability to rise to the occasion. And I also think humility is important. Anybody that is really a successful leader I think has failed in life. And you have to persist after your failures. But failure gives you some humility.”

Isn’t that cool? I mean, doesn’t that sum it up?
Let’s break it down.
Focus: the best leaders I’ve seen are focused on goals. They don’t get distracted by bright shiny objects and they don’t let distractions throw them off their game. In other words, they don’t major in the minor. A good local example is former Mayor Dave Schmidt.
I learned many things sitting next to David for my first three years on the commission. Mayor Dave was focused on the big picture and always exhibited calm under fire. And he faced some raging ones: protests against the move of Atlantic High School and the discovery that several of the 9/11 terrorists were living in Delray which put an international media spotlight on our town. Regardless of what was thrown at him, Mayor Schmidt kept his eyes on the prize and made sure his fellow commissioners did so as well. 
Communication: Good leaders communicate. They have an ability to explain their positions and views. And they take the time to do so.
I thought former Mayor Tom Lynch did a great job articulating the city’s goals, aspirations and potential when he served from 1990-1996. I was a young reporter back then, assigned to cover city government. I always knew where the city was headed because Tom was a consistent and reliable communicator.
A sense of what’s important: Great leaders want to accomplish something. They don’t seek power for power’s sake. For the good ones, it’s a job to do, not a job to have.
I kept that phrase in my wallet through my term in office. It means that you are willing to lose your seat if it means doing the right thing for the city. Sometimes that means taking positions that are not the most popular at the time but that you know is the right thing to do for the community long term. Great leaders are willing to plant trees knowing they won’t be the ones to enjoy the shade.
An ability to inspire: I’ve seen some good leaders who were lacking in charisma, but that’s not the same as inspiration. A solid steady leader can be quietly inspiring. Why? Because they are solid and steady.
Former Chamber President Bill Wood did have charisma. And he was also very inspiring because he was reliably optimistic, had a wonderful sense of humor and a warmth that made everyone in his presence feel good. Consequently, he made businesses feel good about being in Delray. That’s an intangible that is hard to place a value on.

Rising to the Occasion: Good leaders have a way of meeting the challenges they are presented with. So if tragedy strikes they meet the moment with compassion. If there’s some sort of disaster (man made or natural) they have a way of handling it that calms the community and helps inspire confidence in the future. My local examples for this item are former police chief Rick Overman and former fire chief Kerry Koen. 
Both leaders were battle tested and enjoyed widespread support among the troops and the broader community. So during hurricanes or difficult incidents —which are par for the course in their line of work —they always rose to the occasion and you felt that everything would be OK. Steady hands during stormy seas..invaluable. 
Leaders who rise to the occasion find ways to create wins even when the going gets tough. 
Consequently, if there’s an opportunity they can seal the deal.

Humility and Failure: The best leaders are humble, real, honest and service oriented. I also happen to think a sense of humor is enormously important. The best leaders can admit when they are wrong and are committed to personal and professional growth. They have an ability to evolve. They know they aren’t the smartest person in the room and seek to surround themselves with people they can learn from. I call it intellectual humility. Those that have it can learn from others. Those who think they know it all, really don’t. 
I also think that failure is an important life experience. Failure informs. It keeps us humble and enables us to learn critical lessons. 
A good leader knows that as long as you learn from mistakes and don’t repeat them the experience is not really a failure at all.
As we edge toward national, state and local elections in November and again in March it may be helpful to review this list of traits and see how the candidates measure up. 


The Future of Policing: Relationships

Our national dialogue is fraught.

It’s like a game of gotcha.
And it leads absolutely nowhere.
Endless circular arguments that leave us angry and frustrated.
The latest example is the so-called debate over the term “Defund The Police.”
We don’t need too. Nor should we.
But we do need to invest in neglected communities. It’s not a zero sum game. We can have good police departments and we can set aside money for communities that need our help. This is not an either or choice. We can do both. And we can help our police departments by re-imagining their role in society.
 Perhaps, we are asking our police departments to do too much.
A few years ago, the Dallas Police Chief touched on this notion in a now famous video in which he lamented that every single societal issue ended up at his doorstep.
If you have a stray dog problem, ask the cops to deal with it.
Homelessness, opioid addiction, mental health issues ,domestic violence—-just put the cops on it.
Well, perhaps that’s not the best approach.
First, we never do get at the root cause of these problems and secondly when things escalate it can get end badly for everyone.

Instead, we can invest in mental health professionals, case workers, counselors and others who can assist the police in keeping our communities from descending into places of hopelessness and despair.

A few years back, the Delray Beach Police Department hired a social worker to help with a raging opioid crisis among other issues. I would argue we need more of that.
We don’t have to look far to see an example of how a department can reform and make a lasting difference. We can look to our very own police department.

Thirty years ago, the biggest issue in town was the poor relationship between citizens of neglected neighborhoods and their police department.
Things began to turn around with the introduction of community policing first introduced by interim Police Chief Rick Lincoln and taken to an amazing level by Chief Rick Overman who was hired in 1991 and given the mandate to turn things around.
Chief Overman came from Orlando and he was a change agent.
He was also a charismatic visionary who talked a good game, but played a better one.
He rolled out a blizzard of programs: Citizen Police Academies, outreach to the large Haitian community, problem oriented policing projects to get at the root of issues and a volunteer program that at its zenith numbered over 1,000 residents who acted as the departments eyes and ears.

He broke the city into zones and tasked officers to get out of their cars and into the neighborhoods where they could develop relationships and trust.
The department worked with MAD DADS, a grassroots organization that walked the streets to reclaim neighborhoods from drug dealers.
Chief Overman initiated bike patrols, opened police substations and invited citizens into the department to see how it worked.
There were efforts to have officers mentor local kids, there were midnight basketball leagues, barbecues, self defense classes, toy drives, DARE classes in local schools to keep kids away from drugs and much more.
Some of it lasted. Some of it went away.
But all of it was good.
Because the focus was relationship and community building.
The emphasis was on communication and building trust.
Chief Overman knew that in his line of work it wasn’t a matter of if something would go wrong during one of the thousands of police/community interactions that occur every year in a complex city such as Delray ,it was a matter of when.
He wanted his city and his department to be ready. He built capital. He built relationships.
He built a reservoir of good will.
He also raised standards for hiring officers insisting on a college degree, controversial at the time. But he believed that the more education an officer had, the less likely he or she was to make mistakes—especially violent ones. It was a position backed by research.
Within a relatively short amount of time, the police department went from being perceived as a huge liability to being arguably the city’s biggest strength.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again. The Delray Beach Police Department made it possible for our city to have a renaissance.
People won’t invest—their time or their money—unless they feel safe.
The example set by the police flowed to every department in the city.
The whole city became oriented toward community building. That meant town hall meetings, visioning exercises, resident academies, youth councils, community dinners, summer programs, after school “Beacon” programs, partnerships with non-profits and much more.
And guess what? It worked.
It’s expensive and time consuming. But…failing to engage your community is a lot more expensive.

A few years back, it became fashionable to trash the past history of this town.
It was a foolish decision driven by petty personal feuds and ego.
But that ruinous mindset  has sure done a lot of damage. It has led to the dysfunction and turnover at City Hall, which ought to alarm and concern us all because it leaves this community weaker and vulnerable.
We stopped doing many of the things mentioned above. We abandoned strategies that built a city and could have done a lot more had that ethos continued.
We even had senior city staff question the investment in some of the programs mentioned above. That’s their right.
But their conclusions were so wrong.
Those investments were not wasted, they enriched lives, created opportunities and built something of value—a community.
I am grateful that our Police Department has maintained good relations with our community.
Chief Javaro Sims has led admirably during this difficult time. We have some  very special officers.
Personally, I’d like to see a recommitment to community policing complete with a plan and a budget. It’s money well spent.
Officers need to know the people they protect and serve. Our city’s children need to know and trust officers.
I’d also like to see efforts made to grow the capacity of local leaders and organizations. We need more leaders and we need to support those we have.
Local government can play an important role in these efforts.
Bring back visioning. Bring back Charettes. Bring back community dinners. Bring back the effort to improve race relations.
Get serious about economic development and capacity building so when development occurs—locals benefit.
We had the playbook. Then we tossed it. For what?
But my friends that play book—well it still works. Dust it off, freshen it up and you’ll see magic happen.

Leadership Creates Waves Then Ripples

The best leadership creates waves and ripples.

They say that success is a team sport.

That’s true.
But individuals can really make a difference too. And some people are so special that their good works create ripples that sometimes go unnoticed.
That thought crossed my mind when I attended a recent Boca Chamber luncheon honoring Plastridge Insurance as “Business of the Century.”
Among the attendees and speakers at the event were FAU Research Park President Andrew Duffell, Business Development Board of Palm Beach County President Kelly Smallridge and Chamber CEO Troy McClellan—three influential local leaders who can all point to Plastridge Chairman Tom Lynch as a mentor/catalyst for their careers.
And that’s how it works.
The best leaders create/help/nurture/empower/encourage other leaders.
I’m fortunate to have known many like Tom Lynch whose influence resonate far beyond their own work. These leadership “ripples” are not only gratifying to witness it’s often fun to connect the dots.
Most of my experience with leadership is centered around Delray Beach. It’s here that I saw former Chamber CEO Bill Wood help a long series of leaders reach the next rung by recruiting them to his board and watching them climb the ranks at the Chamber and in the community.
I also witnessed Mayor David Schmidt work with students at Atlantic High School taking many to Delray’s Sister City Miyazu, Japan and sparking in them an interest in international culture and travel.
I’ve seen Marjorie Waldo work her magic at a local charter school and then strengthen an important non-profit, The Arts Garage changing lives along the way.
I’ve seen Chuck Halberg support innumerable non-profits and create some organizations that have helped hundreds of people  including Impact 100 for Men and the Delray Beach Initiative.
My friend Perry Don Francisco’s leadership ripples/waves are everywhere: police officers and firefighters benefit from his work with Delray Citizens for Delray Police, their children  earning scholarships and their careers blossoming as a result of his support and advice.
Three other solid examples are former City Attorney Susan Ruby, former Police Chief Rick Overman and former Fire Chief Kerry Koen.
Susan hired excellent lawyers who went on to become city attorneys in other jurisdictions. She entrusted them with tough cases and as a result– during her tenure — a vast majority of legal work was handled “in house” and very successfully I might add.
Chief Overman turned our police department into a training ground for chiefs. Those who didn’t aspire to be a Chief still found opportunities to grow as detectives, career officers, K-9 officers and community policing specialists. Former Fire Chief Kerry Koen was also well-known for his ability to spot talent and grow it.
Two non-profit executives I admire are also busy minting new leaders: Emmanuel “Dupree” Jackson and his EJS Project are devoted to changing the trajectories of lives in Delray neighborhoods and Mark Sauer’s Bound For College (formerly Delray Students First) has devoted his life to giving opportunities to those who might not otherwise have a shot at college. The waves they are creating are just getting started.
And the list goes on.
Great leaders leave a mark. They influence lives. They leave their communities better than they found them and they nurture others who will go further. They create waves that make a splash, but their ripples endure for generations.
As Simon Sinek so wisely says: The leaders who get the most out of their people are the leaders who care most about their people. 

The Genius of Creative Mornings

Creative Mornings Palm Beach is attracting big crowds to their monthly events.

Editor’s note: I had the opportunity to speak last Friday at the Arts Garage to Creative Mornings Palm Beach. It was a thrilling experience. I have been asked by a few attendees to post my remarks, which are mostly accurate, but I did veer off on a few tangents. The talks are videotaped and live streamed so the actual talk should be posted on the Internet soon. In the live event, I thanked my dad, for being an inspiration and guiding star. He was in attendance, which was very special. Special thanks to Yulia, Amber, Nichole, the Arts Garage, Marjorie Waldo and the Creative Mornings team for giving me the opportunity.

Good morning…

I’m going to start with a confession….I am not a genius.

That’s probably not a surprise or a revelation to those of you who know me.

But I believe in genius.

I have seen genius and I appreciate genius—and I’ve learned that while genius is important to success, it’s not essential… there are ways we can tap into genius without actually having to be one.

There are ways we can leverage genius by using the work of great artists, great leaders, great entrepreneurs, great musicians—to inspire us and help us improve our world.

This morning, I want to share a little of my story with you and how I’ve found the motivation to take risks, overcome fear, try new things and hopefully find a way to make my little corner of the universe just a little bit better.

First, let me say that I’m inspired by genius every day…

The Beatles.

Bruce Springsteen.

Abraham Lincoln.

Winston Churchill.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Nelson Mandela.

Maya Angelou, Joni Mitchell, Frank Lloyd Wright..

Geniuses….whose body of work motivates us to dream, strive and aspire.

But even the geniuses can’t do it alone…and that’s my message this morning.

If you are a genius, you still need a team….—Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak, Johnny Ive and thousands of employees…some of whom work at the local Genius bar. Mark Zuckerberg connected 2 billion people on Facebook but he needed Sheryl Sandberg to scale his platform…

Lincoln put together a team of rivals—to win the Civil War and preserve the union.

Even Bruce Springsteen has the E Street Band….or as he describes them—and I quote: “the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making -Le-gen-dary E – Street – Band!” ….Which includes Delray resident Max Weinberg…who has become a friend of the Arts Garage and this city.

No man or woman is an Island. Genius or no genius, nobody can do it alone.

The best way we can move forward as a culture is to harness the power of people to build community.

There’s genius ready to be tapped, created and deployed —anywhere –at any time– for anything—if we take the time to build community….

There’s no problem we can’t solve…no challenge we can’t overcome –if we build community.

I believe, that if we cultivate genius, nurture talent and encourage aspiration we can move mountains…we did it in Delray, I’ve seen it done elsewhere, it happens in business and it happens in organizations too….to capture genius is to embrace the magic of the crowd….to be open to ideas and imagination….

And consequently, there is a price to pay if we don’t engage and make connections…

If we tell people to go elsewhere to pursue their dreams—we will lose not only our present —but we will squander our future too….

Genius unites….it brings people together around ideas and visions of a better future.

Genius incites…the ideas that you have to fight the hardest for are often the ones you will be remembered for. (Let me say that again)….Everything that people now love about Delray Beach faced initial and often strong resistance…but if you believe in your vision, if you persevere—over time, you will make real and lasting change.

Genius also excites….it makes you feel alive with possibility and hope, but genius can’t take root and spread if it’s isolated and alone.

I attended my first Creative Morning….last month in Boca. And frankly, I was blown away.

I walked into that meeting not knowing what to expect…and in need of community and inspiration…

We live in a very challenging world…the news can be heartbreaking and overwhelming, the personalities we confront on a daily basis can deflate even the most optimistic among us.

And so I walked into Creative Mornings… feeling a little lost …as if I was at sea without any navigation—I felt a little lonely and exhausted that day…which I think all of us feel from time to time.

We are living in significant times…our anchors are being ripped from the ground…our world is moving so fast and I’m not sure if we are always aware of what’s happening.. It can leave us feeling unsure and unsettled…..

And then I met you …and the sense of community I felt in the room awakened something inside of me…it awakened my belief in community

and in leadership…

and in entrepreneurship—the three pillars of my life outside of  family and friends.

There is power and beauty in what you are building here with Creative Mornings….

your inclusiveness, your openness, your energy and your warmth not only impressed me but it moved me…

there is genius in what you have tapped into and it shows leadership, it builds community and it nurtures creative entrepreneurs. And our world needs what you are creating—now more than ever.

So I feel at home here with you….And this morning I want to share a little of my story and some thoughts on genius and how it relates to your work and our world.

One of my favorite quotes about genius is the following by moral philosopher Bernard Williams: “Talent is a flame. Genius is a fire.”

I’m impressed by talent…but I am awed by genius.

I am also inspired by genius…as I think most of us are….genius is what moves us….it stops us cold and it makes us pay attention. And when you are exposed to genius—it starts a fire and it changes the world.

For me, genius is a step or two beyond excellence….it’s something you feel. It hits you…stops you cold, and makes you reach for the railings because once you see it…you can’t go back….It looks like this…(cue Bruce Springsteen video).

As I mentioned, I am not a genius. But I think we all have the ability to tap into genius and in some ways we have a responsibility to do so.…

I showed you that clip of Springsteen at age 25…because there’s something about him that spoke to me on a visceral level…moments in his songs that hit me deep in my soul and listening to him made me want to go out and do…(pause)… something….to do something of significance with my life.

I wish I could write like Steinbeck, or think like Seth Godin, or scale like Mark Zuckerberg or write songs like Bruce Springsteen….but I can’t….Still, I’m here to say that accomplishment and achievement are possible if we dare to try…if we allow ourselves to experience life. If we don’t play it safe and succumb to fear.

I use the geniuses that move me as fuel…a great song gives me faith in the future and great writing makes me want to write—so that maybe I could taste— if just for a moment— something magical.

So we should seek genius—that magic….in our businesses and in our communities…., it’s there to be discovered and awakened.

It’s waiting there for us to be leveraged and turned into something positive and special. And that’s what we did in this city by reaching out to the stakeholders of this community and asking them what they wanted to see their city become. When we did that—through visioning and civic engagement—we tapped into the genius of this city. And we were able to move mountains as a result. This kind of magic is available to us as entrepreneurs and artists…if we reach out to our audience…if we devote ourselves to making their lives better.

So how did I get involved in this kind of work? I have no idea…

This is a picture of me…on my first day of college.

I’m 18 or 19…I’m away from home for the first time in a place called Oswego, NY, a world away from my Long Island roots.

This young man….who I barely recognize as me….has no idea what’s in store for him.

I had never heard of Delray Beach…had never dreamed of being mayor of a city….and I had never met a person from Pittsburgh PA….

And yet those three things—Delray, serving as mayor and marrying a woman from Pittsburgh would completely shape my life in magical ways that I could not have fathomed way back when….

I moved to Florida after experiencing several Oswego winters…which by the way last 11 months a year.

I came here to be a newspaper reporter….and trade endless winters for endless summers. My best friend lived here and I thought it would be nice to be in the sunshine.

And then I fell in love with this little city…because I saw its potential and its possibilities and I was attracted by the leadership that was here and by the vision that was just starting to take shape….First I wrote about it for a newspaper and then I decided to help make it happen.

And we did….

We got a lot done…

It was a team effort, it was fun. It was thrilling. It was also exhausting and at times stressful.

But a group of people worked together over a period of years because they believed in this place, they believed in each other and they believed in the value of creating a better future for ourselves and our children. What a concept….why can’t we embrace that philosophy for our country?…find a unifying vision and work together to bring it to life….

If I were a genius…I probably would have had a solid plan for my life based on that genius….John Lennon knew he wanted to be a musician from the time he was a young boy.

Scientists and engineers are fueled by their interests…Me…. I was trying to figure it out on the fly…

I always enjoyed writing….but I also knew that I was never go to be a Hemingway or a Pulitzer Prize Winner…But I discovered that I enjoyed people, that I loved to connect and that I had a passion for cities and an entrepreneurial streak…and so Delray resonated with me….

I saw in this city a chance to be a civic entrepreneur and inspired by local leadership I decided to run for office, about a year after I lost my mother to cancer.

She died at a young age…and I saw how life was fragile and that tomorrow was not guaranteed and so I made a conscious decision to say yes to things….even though I was afraid, way outside my comfort zone and not really sure I had leadership skills.

But Delray’s formula…its secret sauce of involving people— spoke to me. I also saw that it got results and that in small cities you can make big strides pretty quickly if you want too…if you harness the genius and talent in your community.

It’s a simple concept—there’s nothing in that success formula that is complicated or requires an Albert Einstein like brain. But there was genius in the simplicity of engaging the community’s stakeholders, forging a vision for a sustainable future and having the courage and the fortitude to stick with it—despite the roadblocks, despite the naysayers, despite the people who tell you that what you want to do is impossible.

We heard all the excuses– the instant you announce an idea you can count on the critics to whack you over the head.

. So what do you do when you encounter resistance…

My advice—listen.

Listen to the critics—and then defy them. Dig deep and make it happen. Or as Steve Martin advises…Be so good they can’t ignore you…

And I realize in preparing for this creative morning…that while I am not a genius, I was surrounded by a few…

talented leaders, incredible entrepreneurs, amazing public servants—and together we captured genius and we built a place and a vibe that made us fall in love, encouraged us to take risks on businesses and projects and compelled us to keep going when the going got rough…and we all know —it always gets rough.

I kept going…through the loss of my mother—who was my biggest champion, the end of a marriage, a terrible accident that almost took my father, through hurricanes that exhausted me, controversies nearly every week, protests and the shooting of a 15 year old that challenged all of us—-we kept going.

And because we created community….because we harnessed the genius of our citizens, we survived it all—whatever was thrown at us– and we thrived.

My adventures in local politics….opened up my world.

I went from a journalist—a noble profession to an elected official—-which should be a noble profession—to business and entrepreneurship….where I have been able to apply the lessons that I learned over the past 30 years….

And that’s how those of us who aren’t geniuses can succeed…by finding good people, understanding that you are never the smartest person in the room and by committing yourself to lifelong learning and experimentation.

I am as curious and as aspirational today….as I have ever been. Probably more so. Because in 8 days I will be 53…and while I still feel that is young, I can see old age for the first time…it’s out there…still hazy…but I see it…it’s coming. If I’m lucky…So I have a renewed sense of urgency…

And I wish that I had five lives to live….because there is so much that I want to do and experience. So many people I want to learn from…so many people I’d like to help.

I think it’s important to share actionable lessons…so I will conclude with a few from the geniuses I have encountered and studied….in the three important areas of my life…leadership, entrepreneurship and community..

First leadership…

From Churchill and Lincoln….I learned about the power of belief….Churchill’s belief that England would never be defeated and Lincoln’s belief in our better angels…these leadership lessons that we can all use regardless of where we are in life.

Failure was not an option to Churchill, because he knew failure to beat the Nazi’s meant certain death for his country and the values that shaped western civilization. Lincoln understood his weaknesses and sought to build a team that bolstered his blind spots—He was a strong enough leader and a secure enough person to surround himself with people who held different views.

I’m no Lincoln or Churchill…but I believe that leaders at all levels of life can learn from their example….I did not fight a World or Civil War when I served as mayor…but I was challenged– as we all are– by events that are out of our control….my biggest challenge was trying to keep our city together in the wake of a tragic shooting that took the life of a 15 year-old boy named Jerrod Miller.

Jerrod was shot and killed by a rookie police officer outside of a school dance in the southwest section of Delray… there is no playbook when these tragedies happen…and so you have to rely on your team and your own inner reserves in order to keep the community from spiraling out of control.

Jerrod was shot exactly 5 years before Trayvon Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida and we all saw what happened in Ferguson and Baltimore after Freddie Gray…

My best advice to any of you who might face a similar challenge is to channel Lincoln and Churchill…to reach deep and lead with your heart.

I had a 15 year old daughter at the time…so Jerrod’s death was something that struck me very deeply. Because I could not imagine losing my child in such a way…or in any way for that matter.

And so I followed my heart…

I met with everyone who would see me and I absorbed the anger…the love…the pain…and the hurt….all of which was directed at what I symbolized at the time—the mayor of our city and all that title implies….

And I realized it really wasn’t me who was being yelled by some…and in many ways it wasn’t me who was being hugged by others…I was a receptacle for the slew of emotions we were all experiencing.

My friends, I will say it’s a strange job when in the course of a day, you are told that you are evil —and told you are loved…

We made a choice to survive during that tough time.

We made a choice not to destroy what we had built here..that choice was possible in Delray because we had made the investment in community that places like Ferguson didn’t…that was our genius…

….Some of us grew closer…a few of us grew apart…but none of us emerged from the experience unchanged….we learned to face the anger and the pain and the heartache with compassion.

Great leaders, great mayors work to make their communities more caring, inclusive and collaborative. They seek to unify, not divide. They seek to create a reservoir of good will…which makes it possible to weather any storm….

Lessons from the genius of Entrepreneurs….

This is where we can find a slew of geniuses….Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Seth Godin, Richard Branson and the list of entrepreneurial genius goes on and on…the common thread—fire…they all have a fire to see their visions come to life. They have an ability to dream and to execute…they know how to build teams, they know how to scale, how to market, how to make us long for things we never knew we wanted….

They blaze a path..they are mavericks….originals….they are geniuses….

So the longer I am in business….the more projects and entrepreneurial endeavors I am exposed to or involved with– from Hot Sauce and Beverages to restaurants and real estate— the more I realize how much I don’t know. But that’s OK.

Because we can learn from the entrepreneur…we can see the common threads: their ability to take risks, their vision, their belief in their ideas, their passion to bring those ideas into the world. And if we dig deep, we realize that there are virtually no overnight successes…there are always obstacles, always challenges, always setbacks…but the ones who win are always the ones who persevere.

Celsius our beverage…just announced a record setting quarter—an overnight success a decade in the making…there are no shortcuts…it is not a straight path…hang on is the best advice I can give you or fail fast, learn and do something else. Each of us has the ability to be resilient…grit is what succeeds, even more than genius….

In my Community work.

I was fortunate to be exposed to three geniuses in my community life…two mentored me and one married me…

My two mentors were our former Police Chief Rick Overman who I write about extensively in the book. He was the best manager/leader I’ve ever observed up close…his genius –and it was genius –was his incredible ability to inspire and empower his staff to do amazing things from bringing down drug rings and fixing neighborhoods to building a reservoir of good will in communities that were hard to reach.

When he came to Delray, the Police Department was the biggest issue in town….within a year it was arguably our biggest strength and the work of that department paved the way for remarkable success and investment. There is no Delray as we know it…without Rick Overman. He was genius…a visionary chess player always six moves ahead of where things were going…His success formula: empower others in your organization and you’ll soar.

Mayor Tom Lynch was another civic genius…he put the city on a track that enabled success and enabled guys like me to move the ball forward. Tom was an astute businessman, steeped in policy and very sure of his instincts and philosophy. I saw genius in him….he believed when others didn’t —and it made all the difference. He was the one who sat me down and encouraged me to be involved…geniuses inspire…and that conversation has fueled the last 20 years of my life. His success formula: Government can and should be entrepreneurial, take some risks…make it happen.

And finally, there’s my wife, Diane….who led our planning department and our Community Redevelopment Agency to new heights….she was a managerial genius….able to motivate staff, manage a board, navigate politics and race relations….she’s very smart—terrible taste in men– but very smart.

….I would label her a genius because she was able to see the forest through the trees and able to focus on the big picture and the details too…..Not too many people can do that…

She also is able to tolerate me…not too many people can do that either —which requires a very special level of genius. Her success formula: Never take your eye off the big picture, adopt a vision and get it done.

I want to conclude our morning of genius with a real quick diversion to music….which means the world to me.

And the two musical geniuses—among the many that I have found and enjoyed over the years—that I want to share with you are Springsteen and The Beatles….

Genius is timeless and both of these artists have created a musical canon that has stood the test of time….

Genius is also visionary…both of these artists have a vision and a message they needed to share with the world and their message was so resonant…that it is appreciated worldwide regardless of culture, age, geography, race or religion….

For Springsteen the vision was to take us on a musical journey and to focus on life, work, love, our towns, our country, our dreams, our frustrations, our triumphs and our aspirations.

His work has inspired me in my civic life, my family life and my entrepreneurial adventures….

His music is about breaking free of shackles and expectations of holding on to our dreams even when…especially when— they are challenged….

Not all of his characters make it….but all our fighters and in my darkest moments….facing cash flow issues in business, trying to keep a city from imploding after a racially charged shooting …I have found salvation, solace and hope in Springsteen’s words and music. We were both born to run….

That is genius…

As for the Beatles….their genius can be summed up in 5 words…All You Need Is Love.

And That’s a Perfect sentiment on which to end….thank you.


Virginia Snyder

Virginia Snyder and I had a long and complex relationship.

Virginia lived a long and fascinating life and I suspect she had a lot of long and complicated relationships.

She called ’em as she saw ’em—regardless of how the information might land, so in the spirit of Virginia, I thought I would share some unvarnished thoughts. I knew Virginia well enough to know that’s how she would have wanted it.

When I heard that she passed away March 20 at 96, I knew I would need a few days to process the news.

Virginia and I go back to my very first days in Delray—which is now 30 years ago.

She was a must see person if you were a reporter in Delray in the 80s and 90s and so like many other local journalists I beat a path to her door when I was assigned to cover the city in the summer of ’87.

Virginia and her husband Ross lived in the historic Cathcart House on South Swinton Avenue. It was built at the turn of the century and Virginia would correct you if you cited the nearby Sundy House– named after Delray’s first mayor– as the city’s oldest home.

She was feisty, but always friendly to me. Ross was handsome and quiet. She was very much in love with him and that devotion continued as Ross struggled with a disease that robbed him of his memory. She wrote and published poetry and many of them were about Ross.

When you visited Virginia, you would sit in her back office which served as the headquarters for her private investigation firm. The office was cramped and full of papers, files, news clippings and photographs. She was one of the first female private investigators in South Florida and before that an award winning investigative reporter, including a stint at the old Boca News, where later in my career I ended up as editor.

But in those days I was a newbie reporter—new to Florida, new to newspapers and working for the old Monday-Thursday Papers– still the finest community newspaper group I’ve ever seen. We had great editors, photographers and reporters and I tried my best to learn from them because Delray was a fire hose of news—and Virginia had a lot of story ideas, some good nuggets of information and a lot of pretty spectacular conspiracy theories too. I leaned on some of my more experienced colleagues to help me sift through it all.

She specialized in investigating death row cases and exonerating people who she thought were innocent—and several of them were –including a man accused of being the “Bird Road Rapist.” DNA evidence later exonerated the man convicted of the crimes, but he served 25 years in prison for something he didn’t do.  He was 67 years old when he was exonerated and freed from prison—with Virginia’s help in 2005. The case haunted Virginia and she talked about it often.

She was also deeply involved with a man named Omar Galvez—that name will ring a bell to some old timers out there. “Omar the Evil” as he was known by the national tabloid TV shows that visited Delray to “cover” him. Omar was a confidential informant for local law enforcement. Virginia thought he was a bad man (or worse) and that he was being protected by cops who prized his information on local drug dealers.

These were the days of murder, mayhem and crack cocaine in Delray Beach. The days when entire neighborhoods were open air drug markets, when the lights flashed on Atlantic Avenue because it was too dangerous to stop at night and when kids got in trouble for going to Doc’s because they were not allowed to cross Swinton.

East Atlantic wasn’t any great shakes either.

I was robbed of my wallet one night where Worthing Place now sits and one time, in broad daylight, when I was interviewing someone for a ‘man on the street’ story, someone grabbed me from behind and ripped my shirt sleeve clean off. We both stood there in shock. It was a clean rip—very impressive.

Virginia was in the midst of it all and her primary foil was then Police Chief Charles Kilgore, a man straight out of central casting if you were looking for a stereotypical Southern Chief from a bygone era.

Chief Kilgore was an intimidating figure. And a very cagey interview subject—especially if you asked him to respond to anything related to Virginia Snyder.

Virginia unearthed questions about his educational background and was a constant and persistent irritant to the chief.

Virginia went after the department on a variety of issues. She didn’t have much use for many of Kilgore’s officers or the upper ranks of the department, but she did have sources among the troops and acknowledged that there were good officers too. It was those good officers that she invoked when she urged the local press corps to dig into the department.

She was also upset that Omar was being used because she thought he was up to no good and was being protected.

I wrote about it—even visited Omar at his house once—probably not the smartest move since he had quite a reputation. But I was young and adventurous and Delray was an amazing place in those days. It still is, but in a much different way.

I wrote one story that so incensed Omar that he called the newsroom and we had some words over the phone. I didn’t give it a second thought, until I bumped into him a few weeks later at a store. I was with my very young daughter at the time and it was a tense moment. He had something in his eyes you don’t forget.

But Virginia was fearless. And they had confrontations—one that resulted in a scary scene that led to charges. Virginia never backed down from anything or anybody.

If she liked you, she was your best advocate. If she thought you were bad or dirty, watch out.

I was never fan of Chief Kilgore. But I respected and admired his immediate successors—Rick Lincoln who introduced community policing to Delray and Rick Overman who was the best manager I’ve ever seen up close and Larry Schroeder who was a good man who handled lots of difficult situations with dignity and professionalism. I became a very strong supporter of the Police Department and credit them with making Delray safe so that we could have progress and investment.

So Virginia and I had our struggles. Sometimes I didn’t buy what she was selling but for the most part we kept a good relationship.

She began to taper off ever so slightly by the time I ran for office in 2000. She later closed the PI agency, but remained involved around town and we kept in touch. Ross was ill and it took a toll on her.

When I was terming out in 2007, she decided to run for mayor. It’s funny—that running for mayor of Delray never even made the obits that I read about her in the local papers. It’s a testament to her life that it didn’t warrant a sentence. For some, that would have been the obituary.

Anyway, in 2007, I endorsed my colleague on the commission, Rita Ellis who ended up winning.

In recent years, I took Virginia to lunch a few times and we had many laughs and shared memories. To the end she was pitching theories and fighting for causes she believed in.

Recently, I lost a friend at age 38 to a blood clot after he broke his foot. It was a tragic and unexpected loss and took from the world an immensely talented educator who had already left a mark in Florida and New Orleans at a young age. On his Facebook page was a saying from the legendary cellist Pablo Casals who was asked at age 90 why he continued to practice; “Because I think I’m making progress,” he replied.

That was Virginia. Practicing, writing and fighting for her causes to the end. She would have had it no other way.

I won’t ever forget her. Neither will Delray Beach or anyone who knew her. She was an original.





The Power Of Civic Pride: In the Name Of Love

An image used in Memphis to foster civic pride

An image used in Memphis to foster civic pride

A few years ago, the documentary “My Tale of Two Cities” was released.

The film focused on the revival of Pittsburgh, which hit the skids in a serious way when the steel industry collapsed.

At its heart, the documentary is a love story that chronicles the passion that so many people have for the “Steel City.” But it was also a reminder that emotion plays a huge role in economic development. If people are excited about their community, you can feel it in the air; and that vibe attracts others who want to be a part of things.

Dreams can be contagious, but they only take root if you care enough about your community to dream about it.

If you love a place, your heart soars when it succeeds and it aches when it falls on hard times.

As bad as things got in Pittsburgh, conditions were even worse in Detroit. But a group of passionate people are working wonders to bring that great American city back from the brink just as Pittsburgh has reinvented itself around medicine, education and robotics.

The “Made in Detroit” movement, the amazing efforts of Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert to revive the downtown and the work of artists and entrepreneurs to breathe new life into derelict buildings is nothing short of an act of love.

And of faith.

People love Detroit too much to let it go. So it will come back, maybe not the same as it was, but strong nonetheless.

Yes, emotion plays a huge role in economic development and community building.

Leaders who “get it” try to encourage that love because they know when passion is applied mountains can be moved. When you love something you commit to it, whether it’s a business, a business district, a community garden, a cause, a street, a cultural center or a neighborhood.

We have seen it happen in Delray Beach and in Boca Raton.

I remember when entire sections of Delray were open air drug markets. I remember when you could bowl down Atlantic Avenue at 5 p.m. and not hit anything. Then it changed—it changed the moment people committed to taking back their neighborhoods and rebuilding their downtown. To be sure, physical change can take years, but when the emotional switch is flipped, the energy of a city changes. You’re building…you’re working together…you’re making things happen. It’s electric. And it’s essential.

In Boca, I remember the old mall, the one on US 1 back before they built Mizner Park. It was depressing. It seemed like the all the growth and investment were sprawling west to places beyond 441. But today, east Boca is alive.

The most valuable assets cities have can’t be measured and that’s leadership, love and a sense of community.

If you have those you will see rapid progress, you will be able to handle adversity and you will seize opportunity. If you’re lacking, you’re doomed.

If you can’t find leaders who can build community and inspire people to fall in love, you’re going to struggle and you are going to drift. Sorry, that’s the law. There’s no skirting it.

But, if you do find those special leaders then look out, because now anything and everything possible.

Once a group of people starts believing and dreaming and converting others to their cause, social movements take root and transformational change is not only possible it’s inevitable.

It often starts with a monomaniac on a mission; someone so passionate that you can’t help but buy into their vision.

In Delray, there was Nancy Hurd who believed in helping the poorest, most at-risk children in our community. From that kernel grew the Achievement Center.

There was Frances Bourque, who thought an old broken down old school in a very strategic location could become a cultural beacon and community gathering space. She was right and we have Old School Square as a result when some of the powers that be at the time wanted to level the school and build something else.

There was Rick Overman, who came from Orlando and envisioned a police department that would be devoted to building neighborhoods and making our city safe for investment and a better quality of life. Within a year or two, he changed the culture of the department, enlisted over 1,000 (yes that’s correct) volunteers and not only transformed the department but the city itself.

We had Libby Wesley, who launched the Roots Cultural Festival, because she wanted to showcase the talents of children in the northwest and southwest neighborhoods and there was Norman Radin, who believed a derelict section north of Atlantic Avenue could be a cool place named Pineapple Grove. People thought Norman was nuts—Pineapple Grove was marred by vacant lots and vagrants.

The highlight of the street was a tire store and an old  McCrory’s department store. But Norman believed and before long so did others.

Spencer Pompey sought to integrate the public beach in Delray and drew national attention to his efforts. Mr. Pompey and his wife Ruth were dedicated to civil rights and deeply influenced a generation of leaders.

Vera Farrington wanted to preserve the history of the African American community and started a museum in the former home of a legendary black educator named Solomon Spady.

The list goes on…and Boca has had its share of visionaries too.

According to the Palm Beach County History Museum: “Tom Crocker worked with Boca Raton’s Community Development Agency to replace the failed Boca Raton Mall with a 28.7-acre mixed-use project, Mizner Park, completed in phases throughout the 1990s. Today the center includes 272 homes, a public promenade and park, stores and restaurants, 262,000 square feet of office space, a movie theater, the Count de Hoernle Amphitheater, the Centre for the Arts, and the Boca Raton Museum of Art.”

Prior to the creation of Mizner Park, there were 73 housing units downtown and office rents were the lowest in Palm Beach County.

With voter approval, the City of Boca Raton spent $50 million in infrastructure improvements and $68 million in bond financing to make the project feasible.

It wasn’t easy…controversies resulted in new state laws, a restructuring of the city’s government, higher local taxes, lawsuits, and heavy city debt.

But Mizner Park fulfilled its promise as a stimulant for downtown redevelopment. By 2002, there were 689 housing units downtown and 900 more under construction, and office rents were the highest in South Florida. The resulting 14-fold increase in assessed property values from 1990 to 2002 improved the city’s tax base, although the timing initially proved to be poor economically.

After property values rose again in 2005 Mizner Park started paying for itself. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized Mizner Park for removing a blighted property while creating a dynamic meeting place for the community.

Not bad. Sometimes progress takes a while. Sometimes a vision has to struggle before it takes root.

When a community embraces ideas, appreciates passion, works together on a common vision and understands that there is a difference between investment and spending—you begin to see change.

You begin to see value created before your eyes and that momentum builds additional momentum and encourages others to try and create things.

The best leaders I have observed are those who are creators and builders—people who embrace change, but also protect and promote  values and traditions.

It’s not enough to sit on a dais and judge. We need elected officials who seek to understand and build their communities. We need leaders who understand they have a responsibility to create jobs and opportunity and to position their cities for the future.

It’s not enough to sit on your couch and criticize or complain on social media. We need citizens  to organize around positive change. We need citizens who vote, write letters to the editor, blog, join, give, mentor and volunteer.

And most of all, we need citizens to fall in love.

When they fall head over heels— we’ve seen it and experienced it—change becomes easier to digest. It also becomes easier to shape too.

Passion, positivity and vision attract investment—the best kind too.

When investors show up to fund a community’s vision you can actually celebrate your success. Imagine that, feeling good about progress because it advances the dreams, goals and aspirations of citizens.

I see exhaustion in both Delray and Boca—long meetings, campaigns that are negative and development projects met with derision and dread.

Perhaps, it is because we are lacking a unifying vision and so we find ourselves reactive—liking some things, hating others; fixating on numbers—too tall, too dense but neglecting important things like design, affordability and uses that create a sustainable community.

The end result is always division; not consensus, excitement, pride or unity. We set up a system that has winners and losers and whether we win or lose we are exhausted by the fight. And there’s always a fight.

Debates and disagreements are inevitable. Cities are messy places. But I believe—when you are in service to a citizen driven vision—that those disagreements become fewer and your debates more focused.

Just a thought…but it all comes down to leadership and love of community.