elections

Boca and Delray Election Recaps

Delray election recap

Jim Chard

City Commissioner Jim Chard

There’s a lot to say about Boca Raton’s election on Tuesday. But we will start with Delray Beach’s election, which produced some surprises.

In the City Commission Seat 2 race, Jim Chard got 56 percent of the vote in a four-candidate field that included Kelly Barrette, who started TakeBackDelrayBeach.com. Chard doubled Barrette’s total. In the Seat 4 race, Shirley Johnson routed Josh Smith, 64 percent to 36 percent.

Those are very high numbers for local races that include candidates with name recognition and decent qualifications. Chard and Johnson got those numbers against candidates whom current commissioners Mitch Katz and Petrolia had endorsed. Katz and Petrolia also helped the Barrette and Smith campaigns.

“I was amazed,” Chard told me Wednesday morning. His campaign ran phone banks, and Chard said the responses were promising, but the margin still surprised him. “I think the message from the voters is that this is a great city on the right track with some issues that we need to address,” notably sober homes. Chard referenced “past leaders” who have worked to craft solutions and called himself “the continuation” of that approach.

For Chard and Johnson, getting their message out became easier with late rushes of campaign contributions. Between Feb. 25 and March 9, Chard brought in about $24,000 compared to $9,000 for Barrette. To that point, Chard had raised $40,000 more than Barrette.

Johnson brought in roughly $21,000 compared to $7,500 for Smith. The two had been running about even in contributions, but that recent wave pushed Johnson to $30,000—more than double Smith’s total. Johnson’s contributions included $3,000 from iPic and others related to the company, which is developed Fourth and Fifth Delray. Chard received $1,000 from iPic’s lawyer.

Shirley Johnson

City Commissioner Shirley Johnson

Katz said Chard and Johnson “ran on change. I don’t really know what that means. Maybe all of us (on the commission) need to change, make the tone better during the meetings.” Katz noted that he had invited current and former commissioners to his town hall on Saturday, and said he, Petrolia, Commissioner Jordana Jarjura and Mayor Cary Glickstein had gotten alone well last week in Tallahassee, where they asked legislators to support the latest sober home bill.

Of Chard and Johnson, Glickstein said the city would “benefit from their experience and collegial demeanor.” Voters, Glickstein said, “rejected the ‘gang’ campaign of sitting commissioners and candidates inextricably linked together.” Chard’s and Johnson’s victories show “just how tired people are of the vocal minority’s obnoxious, mean-spirited attacks that incite derision through social media but were largely rejected by voters.”

Chard, however, said, “I don’t believe in slates. I think Shirley and I presented ourselves as objective, willing to look at the facts, and not aligned with anyone.” The new commission will gather for the first time at the organizational meeting on March 28. For the first time in almost five months, the commission will have all five members. We should see soon if with the new commission comes a new dynamic.

New manager priority number one

The new commission’s first priority will be to hire a permanent city manager for Delray Beach or persuade Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus to stay on.

De Jesus took over when Don Cooper resigned in December. De Jesus had been fire chief, and tonight the current commission will approve an agreement allowing de Jesus to return to his old job at a salary of about $160,000. He will make $187,000 as the interim manager.

The commission’s collective hope, however, is that de Jesus might become the permanent manager, despite saying he didn’t want the job. “Everybody says that with him and (new City Attorney Max Lohman) that these have been some of the best meetings,” Katz said. “Maybe (de Jesus) will see how the new commission looks and decide if he wants to change his mind.”

And the Boca recap

Mayor Susan Haynie

Mayor Susan Haynie

In 2014, Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie defeated an opponent who portrayed himself as the anti-development candidate. She got 57 percent of the vote. This year, Haynie defeated a challenger who portrayed himself as the anti-development candidate. She got 55 percent of the vote.

Does that two-point drop mean anything? Not really. In 2014, Anthony Majhess may have had the firefighters union, but he didn’t have a website. In 2017, Haynie had the union, but Al Zucaro had his BocaWatch website, which has pummeled Haynie for months. Zucaro said he had given up the publisher’s role during the campaign, but the attacks—bordering on libel—only got shriller.

Zucaro got more votes than Majhess did, but Haynie also increased her total from 2014. Turnout was 18.2 percent, far lower than what strong civic engagement would have produced but still much higher than the usual turnout in a city council-only election.

Though Haynie now has won seven city elections without a loss, 45 percent of the voters wanted Zucaro. On Wednesday, Haynie acknowledged the concerns about traffic and said she and the council must work to “mitigate” the effects. She has asked the city’s traffic consultant, Kimley-Horn, to study the idea of making Federal Highway one-way northbound through downtown and Dixie Highway one-way southbound.

Haynie said she would bring the report to the council. If there’s interest, she will use her role as chairman of the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization to investigate whether money is available. Haynie said the city is working on improved traffic signals and making improvements at intersections.

Zucaro first had sought proxies to run against Haynie. By running himself, Zucaro may have spread his name and that of BocaWatch, but he also exposed his background to public review, and the reading isn’t pretty. By the end of the campaign, Zucaro was ranting against “corrupt developers” while, as usual, offering no evidence to support an accusation of criminal activity.

BocaWatch had no new postings as of Wednesday afternoon. Zucaro’s anti-Haynie campaign likely will continue, but Haynie won the campaign that mattered.

Boca campaign contributions

Zucaro lost the mayoral race despite a bunch of late personal contributions.

Between Feb. 25 and March 9, the Zucaro campaign got about $59,000—nearly $40,000 of that from Zucaro. Of the $111,000 Zucaro has listed in contributions, more than half is in the form of personal loans or checks. The last report also showed $2,000 from companies controlled by former Councilman Peter Baronoff, one of those proxies Zucaro tried to recruit.

Haynie added $39,000 in outside donations during the most recent reporting period, bringing her total to about $133,000. Of the new money, $5,000 came from individuals and entities associated with GEO Group, which has a development application before the city. Another $1,000 came from the architecture firm that is designing Mizner 200. That’s the condo project proposed for Mizner Boulevard across from Royal Palm Place.

Mizner 200 mailer

One of Haynie’s mailers said she “sent Mizner 200 back to the drawing board to make certain it is the right fit for Boca Raton.” Actually, the community appearance board has recommended changes to the design. Mizner 200 still hasn’t had its formal CAB hearing.

The mailer also said Haynie “was the lone vote against Tower 155, a 144-foot building next to our residential neighborhoods.” That’s not quite true.

In 2013, Haynie voted for Tower 155, but at the lower height allowed under Ordinance 4035. In 2015, the developer asked the council for extra height under Ordinance 5052. To grant that request, the council had to eliminate the 2-acre minimum for such properties. Haynie voted against the added height. So the mailer was right about the 144-foot part, not the Tower 155 part.

Seat B race

City Commissioner Andrea O'Rourke

City Commissioner Andrea O’Rourke

By winning the Seat B race, Andrea O’Rourke becomes the latest person in Boca Raton to go from neighborhood activist to city council member.

As predicted, it came down to O’Rourke and Andy Thomson, but it wasn’t that close. The two were almost even after the counting of absentee ballots, but O’Rourke did much better at the polls and wound up with 48 percent to Thomson’s 40 percent. Gentile got just 12 percent.

O’Rourke aligned herself with BocaWatch, which promoted her candidacy. A group linked to O’Rourke’s consultant financed three Zucaro mailers. The term-limited Mike Mullaugh, whom she will succeed, never has been a BocaWatch favorite. O’Rourke told me, though, “There’s a certain purity about (Mullaugh.) He has no future objective,” in terms of positioning himself for higher office. “I liken myself to him in that regard.”

Yet O’Rourke’s campaign theme was, as one mailer put it, that “traffic, congestion and overdevelopment are destroying our quality of life.” That’s hardly something Mullaugh would say. In other moments, however, O’Rourke has acknowledged that development isn’t the main cause of new downtown traffic. It will be interesting to see how O’Rourke settles in to her new role.

And Thomsen?

Thomson may have lost, but he impressed many people as a candidate and should consider staying involved in preparation for another run.

Shelly Petrolia and Shirley Johnson could tell Thomson that losing the first time doesn’t have to end a political career. Petrolia ran unsuccessfully for the Delray Beach City Commission in 2009, then came back four years later to win a seat. She was re-elected in 2015 without opposition. Johnson lost a bid for Seat 4 on the Delray commission in 2006. On Tuesday, 11 years later, she won that same seat in a landslide.

Anti-incumbent sentiment?

 

City Councilman Scott Singer

City Councilman Scott Singer

I wrote Tuesday that the Boca Raton City Council Seat A race would determine the core level of anti-incumbent sentiment. That level is about 30 percent.

Incumbent Scott Singer got 71 percent. Challenger Patty Dervishi, who lacked any qualification except residency, got 29 percent. Her single message was anti-development. Singer had raised $120,000 through March 9. Dervishi had raised $5,600. If nothing else, she spent the least per vote of any candidate.

Mullaugh’s last stand

Mullaugh’s last council meeting will be on March 28. Expect many tributes. The new council’s organizational meeting takes place three days later. Members will choose a vice mayor and decide who will serve as chairman of the community redevelopment agency and run those meetings.

The first regular council meeting won’t happen until April 25. One day earlier, the council is supposed to hear a presentation from Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District Director Art Koski on why he believes that the agency should pay $24 million for the Ocean Breeze golf course and ask the city to help finance it.

Sugar Sand update

Speaking of the beach and park district, there was supposed to be a soft opening on Saturday of the new playground at Sugar Sand Park. On Wednesday, however, district commissioner Craig Ehrnst told me that cool temperatures this week are “hampering the rubberized finish work.” So there’s no soft opening. The ribbon-cutting and formal opening will be a week from Saturday.

Elections office crash

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher must be glad that she was on the ballot last year.

The office website crashed Tuesday night during the countywide municipal election. For hours, the site offered only results from absentee ballots—nothing from the polls. Employees were handing out copies of vote totals to reporters. Things got so confusing that The Palm Beach Post reported a victory in Boca for Thomson over O’Rourke. The site had complete results on Wednesday.


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Randy Schultz has lived in Boca Raton since 1985 and has worked as a journalist in South Florida since 1974. He spent 37 years at The Palm Beach Post, the last 23 as editorial page editor. He has written the City Watch blog for Boca Raton Magazine since February 2014. He also writes a weekly oped column for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.