By Jane Smith
Developers continue to dominate Delray Beach election coffers with contributions to sitting city commissioners.
Voters will decide March 17 who sits in two City Commission seats. Two incumbents, running for re-election, have raised the most contributions for their respective seats.
Seat 2 incumbent Bill Bathurst raised $77,040 as of Feb. 14, the latest reporting date before press time. That amount is about 73% higher than the combined total of $44,464 raised by his three challengers.
Bathurst’s campaign contributions show 44 $1,000 donations. About two-thirds — 28 of the donors — have development business in Delray.
Nine of the 28 are from restaurant owners who donated $1,000 each in late October. The money was recorded after Bathurst voted with most of the other commissioners to move the valet decision to March.
The city’s public safety staffs had suggested moving the valet operations off Atlantic Avenue. The four-block stretch has just two lanes and is often clogged on weekend nights.
On March 3, the commission postponed the decision again until Oct. 1. City staffers are working with a consultant to create a downtown parking program that includes valets.
Bathurst has three challengers: Juli Casale, Jennifer Jones and Debra Tendrich.
Casale has raised $27,637, the highest amount among the Bathurst challengers. A neighborhood activist, Casale has received four $1,000 donations to date, with one donor having ties to real estate.
She is running a grass-roots campaign with contributions from fellow Historic Preservation Trust members and neighbors.
At the candidate debates and in her emails, she refers to Bathurst as “Dollar Bill” for his votes for more development and against the neighborhood feel of the city.
Jones, who is self-employed, raised a total of $4,180. One of her donors, a tax preparer, contributed $1,000.
At the Beach Property Owners Association forum on Feb. 19, Jones said, “There needs to be a change on the City Commission … to make our environment better and safer.”
Tendrich operates a nonprofit. She has raised $12,647 and has not collected any $1,000 donations. At the BPOA forum, after complaints were made that the sea grapes at the beach have not been trimmed in three years, she said, “I will go out and trim them myself.”
Speaking at the forum, Bathurst touted his family history, saying he wants to “retain and grow as much of the Village by the Sea as possible.”
For Seat 4, incumbent Shirley Johnson raised $53,234 as of Feb. 14. As with Bathurst, Johnson’s campaign coffers show she is closely aligned with developers and restaurant owners.
In early October, Johnson voted to extend the valet operations on Atlantic for six months. Later that month, she received eight $1,000 donations from restaurant owners.
She did not vote to review a city board decision that allowed the Delray Place developer to create a cut-through into Delray Place South. The cut-through is expected to create more traffic on the entrance road to the Intracoastal community of Tropic Isle.
Two months later, Joe Carosella — who owns the plazas requesting the cut-through — donated $2,000 from two different entities. His land use attorney, Bonnie Miskel, also donated $1,000 to Johnson’s campaign.
Two years ago, Johnson proposed the City Commission take over the Community Redevelopment Agency board. City commissioners now sit as the CRA board along with two residents, from the Northwest and Southwest neighborhoods.
“I saw the dysfunction of the CRA board,” she told attendees at the BPOA forum on Feb. 19. “Since taking it over in 2018, more of the funds are going to cure slum and blight.”
Challenger Chris Davey, a residential real estate consultant, agrees with that decision.
“Handling that amount of money” estimated to be $24 million for the current budget year, “an independent board would be a disservice to the taxpayer,” he said at the forum.
But former CRA board members, including ex-chairman Reggie Cox and community organizer Charles Ridley, who heads the West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition, disagree.
They are supporting two challengers: Angela Burns, a schoolteacher who is vying to oust Johnson, and Jones, who is running for Bathurst’s seat. Burns and Jones said they want to have an independent CRA when asked at the BPOA forum.
Jones has received $250 from Cox. She also has received $100 from Kristyn Cox, a former CRA employee.
Of a total $7,363 in donations, Burns has received two donations from Reggie Cox totaling $750, and $250 from Ridley. In addition, her CRA-connected donors include $100 from Morris Carstarphen, an ex-CRA board member, and $100 from Kristyn Cox.
Davey also told the forum that the City Commission needs to protect its main asset — the beach. The city needs to stay on top of federal programs for beach renourishment.
Delray Beach has an estimated 3 million annual visitors to its municipal beach, which Davey said works out to be slightly more than 8,000 tourists daily.
“Our greatest attraction is a natural one,” he said.
Davey is mostly self-financing his campaign. He had loaned himself $20,000 of a total $26,000 collected through Feb. 14.