By Steve Plunkett
Mayor Susan Haynie painted election rival Al Zucaro as a visionless complainer; Zucaro in turn said that under Haynie’s watch, problems in the city never get resolved.
And so it went at a candidate forum Feb. 6 sponsored by the Federation of Boca Raton Homeowner Associations, which also featured questions to the five candidates running for two City Council seats.
Haynie said her efforts had brought millions of dollars to Boca Raton from the federal, state and county governments, particularly on Interstate 95.
“I can guarantee you, once that Spanish River interchange opens [on I-95 this fall], we are going to see real solutions in our community,” Haynie said.
But Zucaro attacked the planning behind the project.
“That interchange will be a failed roadway the day it opens. It will have more trips on it than its capacity can handle. This isn’t good planning,” he said.
Zucaro, an immigration lawyer and former city commissioner in West Palm Beach, said he began watching politics in Boca Raton in 2009 shortly after he married local philanthropist Yvonne Boice and moved here.
“The politics in Boca Raton are really pretty ugly,” he said, recalling the 2012 race in which four City Council members, Haynie among them, appeared in a TV commercial supporting colleague Anthony Majhess’ opponent.
Haynie said her tenure on the council had led to strong relationships with former Boca Raton mayor and current County Commissioner Steven Abrams, with former council member and current state Rep. Bill Hager, and with U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, who in 2007 defeated Zucaro to keep her job as mayor of West Palm Beach.
Zucaro said Boca Raton needs to do a better job of attracting Fortune 500 companies to the city.
“There is no story teller as to the greatness of Boca Raton, and it is a great city. That’s one of the things I would absolutely do to increase employment, to increase economic viability and to increase the attractiveness of this community as a relocation [site] for jobs,” said Zucaro, who stepped aside as publisher of the BocaWatch blog to run for office.
Haynie said the council had hired an economic development officer and was pleased to hear her opponent say he loved the city.
“We are the envy of many communities because of the wonderful things that we have here,” Haynie said.
Scott Singer, the only incumbent in the council races, called himself “a leader who listens.”
“I stood alone when necessary to protect residents’ interests,” Singer said, citing his stances against increasing density in the proposed University Village project by Florida Atlantic University and against a 45-year lease of the Wildflower property on the Intracoastal Waterway.
His opponent for Seat A, Patty Dervishi, a real estate agent and vice president of the Golden Triangle Homeowners Association, said she was running to break up the party being thrown by and enjoyed by council members and developers.
“Together we will bring the power back to the people,” Dervishi said.
The race for Seat B to replace Michael Mullaugh, who is term-limited out, pits Emily Gentile, an officer of the Beach Condominium Association and former chairwoman of the city’s Business Improvement District task force, against Andrea O’Rourke and Andy Thomson.
“As far as we know, I’m the only candidate from the barrier island in about 30 years,” Gentile said. “I am your candidate from the beach, but I’m willing to serve all the citizens — all 90,000 citizens in Boca Raton.”
O’Rourke, a graphic designer, president of the Golden Triangle HOA and former editor of the BocaWatch website, said she was “a voice of reason” who has taken stands against overdevelopment and for green space.
“I know so many of you, and so many of you have heard me speak. I will focus my attention on the residents of Boca Raton,” she said.
Thomson, an attorney, calls himself “a product of Boca Raton”: His parents met as students at FAU.
“There’s a charm and a character to Boca that is so unique. But growth is going to happen. We have to have rules in place to make sure that the growth that will happen is reasonable, sustainable, structured, so that our city can succeed,” Thomson said.
The forum was recorded and is being rerun Mondays and Fridays at 7 p.m. and Saturday mornings through March 13 on Comcast local government Ch. 20, AT&T U-verse Ch. 99 and Hotwire Ch. 395.
The election will be held March 14. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.