By C.B. Hanif
Adam Frankel, Delray Beach’s new Seat 4 commissioner, noted that in the March 10 municipal election he won the only race in which there was no incumbent. Voters also returned Commissioner Gary Eliopoulos to Seat 1 and elected Woodie McDuffie mayor.
“It seems to me the public felt comfortable with what they’ve done and wanted to give them two more years,” Frankel said.
As for the insider-outsider undercurrent that had hinted at upset possibilities, “There will always be an ‘old Delray,’ but there is also a new Delray, and it is up to us to reach out to everyone and go forward with their issues,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to do — listen to the people’s concerns and evaluate them and act appropriately. I think that message was really effective, and I’m going to stick to it.”
For mayoral challenger Chuck Halberg, “The results were disappointing, pretty amazing. It’s sad when 5,100 people vote out of 42,800. Apparently the people of Delray are fine with what’s been going on the last couple of years. I’m not.” Although he had “kept addressing the issues,” he said, “and I had the new business community behind me, my opponent had the good old boy network and prevailed over the new people.”
Going forward, the big pressing matter will be the budget. According to Eliopoulos: “How to get through without a whole lot of casualties such as layoffs affecting core services is going to be one of the biggest challenges.” Key will be contracts with the police and fire-rescue unions, which did not endorse the incumbents.
“I have been opened-minded and listening to all who have been calling me,” Eliopoulos said. “The election is behind. I don’t look back at who was endorsed by whom. My job as a commissioner is to look at what the citizens can afford.” And although he said he “would love to do a three-year contract, because of the dynamics of the economy, we’re trying to do one year at a time.”
His opponent, Shelly Petrolia, “did what she needed to do: give people an option,” he said. “She had to go with that approach as an outsider with a fresh set of eyes, not locked in to anybody. For me, it is not a question of being an outsider or good old boy. Goodness, I’m from Massachusetts. I’m Greek. So no, I’m not a part of the system. I’ve just been involved.”
Petrolia, meanwhile, plans to stay involved. “I’m hoping the city goes forward in a positive way. We’ve got that huge issue of the budget coming up. I felt the need for the average person, not networked, to have a voice in the workings of the city. So I will not be fading into the background.” Moreover, notwithstanding the tragic loss of her stepson on the eve of the election, she “felt very positive about my showing, considering that I was in the race for seven weeks, was a complete outsider and got 35 percent of the vote.”
Like her, Halberg sees the no-harm, no-foul results of the city’s bond-contracts investigation leaving the implication that City Manager David Harden placed the city in an embarrassing position. “I don’t feel right about the way investigation was done and I will continue to say that,” he said.
Eliopoulos, however, said: “I believe the commission did the best thing, the best way possible. That’s not to say that our policies and procedures don’t need help.”
So should the city be looking to get new city manager? “You never want to do that under this kind of environment,” he said. “Plus, David Harden has been here more than 20 years, and Delray has not been a failure. It has been a very successful career.
“Having said that, we may need look at changing the manager in order to step up. The example I use is the Miami Dolphins’ Don Shula is a legend. But there comes a time to change the coach. So I would look to see where we are and what we need.”
He also noted the four votes needed to select a new manager, a requirement that he said dates to a time when “every year, every election was about the city manager, and we went 10 years with 10 city managers. Clearly that is not what good government does.”
Halberg said he had heard there had been a meeting of people wanting to come together for healing in the city. “I wish people would get involved. But I think until changes are made in management, I don’t think it will happen. It will be business as usual the next two years; that’s my feeling.”