By Mary Hladky
After a six-month hiatus, BocaWatch is back.
Al Zucaro, the blog’s creator who is returning to his role as publisher, resumed online publication in March.
All insist no disagreements or animosities triggered the breakup.
Zucaro, who placed BocaWatch on “sabbatical” immediately after he was soundly defeated by Scott Singer in the August mayoral contest, said he was aware that some of his contributors “were not happy” when he shut down the site.
After conceding defeat on election night, Zucaro said that he would look for someone to take over the blog.
He approached his contributors and others, but “neither of those two things worked out,” he said in a March 7 interview. Over time, he decided the absence of BocaWatch “left a black hole in the marketplace. I decided it was not fair” to his many readers.
“I have no problem with them doing what they want to do,” he said of his former colleagues. “I wish them the best.”
Several said they moved ahead with BocaFirst after Zucaro did not restart BocaWatch.
“We were thinking BocaWatch was going to relaunch. When it didn’t, we decided to form BocaFirst,” said Jim Wood, one of BocaFirst’s founders. “We felt as if there are a number of topics Boca residents want to hear about. With BocaWatch, it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen.”
“He just shut it down,” Jack McWalter said of Zucaro. “We as a group, about 10 of us, were in limbo for about six months. We wanted to be a voice of the city.
“We are not competitors,” he added. “We are just trying to inform the public as to what is going on.”
John Gore, president of the BocaBeautiful blog who knows many members of the old BocaWatch team, said he didn’t think there was disagreement with Zucaro on the issues.
“Because Al ran for office twice and lost, there was some political baggage there and they wanted a voice that was independent of Al,” he said.
Zucaro also was defeated in a 2017 run for mayor.
Gore views the start of BocaFirst and relaunch of BocaWatch as good news.
“We think it is terrific there are now two instead of one watchdog publications,” he said.
Zucaro is a polarizing figure in Boca Raton. BocaWatch offered sharp critiques of Boca Raton City Council members and city administrators over their failure to rein in what the blog and its supporters considered to be downtown overdevelopment.
The blog blasted large downtown projects such as Mark at CityScape, Palmetto Promenade and the now-named Alina Residences, and championed efforts to turn the Wildflower site into a park instead of a restaurant.
Zucaro supported “resident friendly” City Council candidates Andrea O’Rourke and Monica Mayotte, who won office in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
He played an apparently important role in the downfall of Susan Haynie, who was suspended as mayor last year by then-Gov. Rick Scott after she was arrested on public corruption charges.
Zucaro filed complaints with the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics and the Florida Commission on Ethics about Haynie’s financial relationship with Jim Batmasian, the city’s largest downtown commercial property owner, and spoke with and provided documents to state prosecutors.
Zucaro appeared to be softening his tone in the first issue of the revived BocaWatch. He praised recent council actions on transportation for downtown special events, voting against a four-story duplex on the beach and moving ahead to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.
But back in old form, he criticized city leaders for not allowing any residential development in Midtown and failing to negotiate a settlement with landowner Crocker Partners, which has sued the city over the issue. That stance of siding with a developer is at odds with Zucaro’s previous complaints about developer proposals for large buildings in the downtown.
For its part, BocaFirst praised BocaWatch and Zucaro in its first edition “for blazing the trail, setting a standard and providing inspiration” and giving residents a voice in city affairs.
In interviews, its members said their blog would aim to be informative and not adversarial. But they vowed not to shy away from issues such as quality of life, traffic and infrastructure.
BocaFirst “might not be as hard-hitting as BocaWatch was,” said Katie Barr, who will conduct interviews on city issues just as she did for BocaWatch. “We don’t aim to be controversial, just informative.”
Zucaro “will have his voice which is an important voice in the community, and ours, which will be a little more gentle,” she said.
“We have a different tone,” McWalter said. “Our goal is to be a positive force in the city to help the city residents understand some of the issues that affect their daily lives. We have no partisanship. We don’t support people running for office. We will not endorse anybody. We are going to remove any possible negativity.”