The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: Firefighters take sides in Nov. 8 Beach & Park District runoff

By Steve Plunkett

The race to fill two seats on the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District Commission now pits municipal firefighters against their county brethren.
Local 2928 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which represents firefighter/paramedics employed by Palm Beach County, endorsed incumbents Dennis Frisch and Earl Starkoff in October and gave $1,000 to each of their campaigns.
The money comes as Boca Raton firefighters and their union have poured hundreds of dollars into the war chests of challengers Erin Wright and Craig Ehrnst since the candidates began filing campaign finance reports in July.
Ehrnst and Wright also each received $500 from Flagler Alerts, the political arm of West Palm Beach’s firefighters union. Wright also got $1,000 from Florida Fire PAC, the political committee of the Florida Professional Firefighters union. That group lobbies Tallahassee for 175 fire-rescue departments across the state, including Boca Raton, West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County.
The motives of the city firefighters were mostly an unanswered question at an Aug. 11 debate sponsored by the BocaWatch citizen watchdog group, which has since endorsed the incumbents.
“As you look throughout the state, firefighters have family members, people close to them — it’s important to be involved in politics. It’s very important to have people who support you in politics,” said Wright, whose husband, Steven, is a city firefighter.
Ehrnst said the city firefighters asked him to run.
“They were the ones who brought the attention to me of the district,” Ehrnst said. “The concern primarily was the difficulty of communication between the city and the district, and that the district was micromanaging a lot of little details.”
The incumbents, however, talked of a conspiracy centered on Boca Raton’s proposed annexation of five neighborhoods just northwest of the city, which the district opposes until officials devise a way to expand the district’s borders to include newly annexed land.
Starkoff said the annexations would require additional staff at one or two Boca Raton fire stations.
“That means more jobs and promotions for city fire services,” Starkoff said.
Frisch said the annexations would have opposite effects on Boca Raton firefighters and county firefighters.
“That is why we’re seeing the play of the firefighters,” Frisch said.
Voters in Boca Raton and the remainder of the Beach & Park District west of the city will pick their two favorite candidates in the Nov. 8 general election.
City voters will also determine whether the city-owned Wildflower site should be reserved for public uses only.
All four Beach & Park District candidates have said if voters decide they want a park on the on the Intracoastal Waterway, the city and the district should work together on it. The city bought the 2.3-acre parcel, at the northwest base of the Palmetto Park Road bridge, for $7.5 million in 2009 and has been negotiating for years to put a restaurant there. But nearby residents mounted a petition drive and succeeded this summer in putting the question on the ballot.
The flow of contributions to Beach & Park District candidates slowed after the Aug. 30 primary, campaign finance reports show. Ehrnst, corporate treasurer at NCCI Holdings, led all the others in campaign cash before the primary with $10,030, and has raised $2,645 since. Five individual firefighters, the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce’s PAC and local architect Derek Vander Ploeg were among his donors.
Frisch, a podiatrist, reported receiving $4,725 since the primary, compared to $5,055 before. His contributors included former City Council member and fellow Rotarian Peter Baronoff, Beach & Park District commissioners Susan Vogelgesang and Steven Engel, and City Council candidate Andrea O’Rourke.
Wright, who owns a home inspection service with her husband, collected $3,190, down from $4,420 in the primary.
Starkoff, an IT services executive, raised $2,425, compared to $4,935 before the primary. His donations included $500 from city real estate baron James Batmasian and $500 from the Chamber of Commerce’s political committee.

When to vote
Early voting at the Boca Raton Downtown Library and other sites across the county ends at 7 p.m. Nov. 6. The Supervisor of Elections Office must receive absentee ballots by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 8.
Boca Raton voters will be electing two Beach & Park District commissioners in a runoff. Incumbents Dennis Frisch and Earl Starkoff face challengers Craig Ehrnst and Erin Wright, respectively.
They will also be voting on a referendum to determine if the city-owned Wildflower site should be reserved only for public uses. The city bought the 2.3-acre site for $7.5 million in 2009 and has been negotiating to put a restaurant there.
Precincts for the general election, which includes the presidential contest and a Palm Beach County vote on raising the sales tax to 7 cents, will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day.

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