By Thomas R. Collins
Mayor William Koch Jr. has been the mayor of Gulf Stream since 1966 and has gotten to know many a politician. As far as he’s concerned, one of the good eggs is County Commissioner Mary McCarty. When the town needed help with paving roads that ran through town, she came to its aid. When it needed help resolving problems with Florida Power & Light, McCarty was there. So when Koch heard that federal investigators had raided McCarty’s house for documents and that she had become the latest public official to find herself in their crosshairs, it was unpleasant news to him. And if the investigation resulted in adding her name to any list of recently indicted public officials? “It would be a shock to me,” Koch said.
Few faces are as familiar in the political landscape of southern Palm Beach County as that of McCarty. She has championed the southern reaches of the county, including its coastal communities, since 1990, with an often-public in-your-face style.
Before election to county office, she spent three years on the Delray Beach City Commission. She will leave the County Commission in 2010 because of term limits.
On Sept. 26, federal agents left her yellow, one-story house in Delray Beach with several bins filled with documents. Delray Beach City Manager David Harden said that he and other managers in the city have been questioned about whether McCarty influenced a city decision to hire her husband’s underwriting firm to handle a 2007 bond issue totaling $24.6 million in utilities work.
“They asked a lot of questions about why we went to negotiated sale rather than competitive bid,” Harden said. “They’ve spoken to a number of city staff about that, and looked at documents related to the transaction.”
Cities can negotiate deals rather than bid them out, if officials judge there are certain benefits to that method. Harden said he wasn’t aware of any undue influence McCarty might have exerted, and said the city has always enjoyed “a very good relationship” with her.
McCarty, who has continued to attend county board meetings, was pleasant recently in fielding a call from a reporter, until she was asked about the investigation. “I’m not going to talk about that,” she said, and then hung up.
Her Fort Lauderdale attorney, J. David Bogenschutz, said McCarty has met with federal investigators at least once and was cooperative.
“Certainly Commissioner McCarty does not feel, nor do we feel at this point, that any evidence exists that she has in any way violated the public trust,” he said. “We are as anxious as anyone else to see where this investigation is headed.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Kastrenakes — who has worked on the cases against former County Commissioners Tony Masilotti and Warren Newell and former West Palm Beach City Commissioners Ray Liberti and Jim Exline, all of whom ended with federal prison sentences — also wouldn’t talk about the case or when it might be resolved.
“Investigations that are complex investigations are measured in years usually, not months,” he said. “But I can’t say.”
McCarty has been investigated for at least the last year, her former attorney, Bruce Reinhart, has said. Reinhart has since stopped representing McCarty because he is a former federal prosecutor who worked in the same office that has been probing public corruption in Palm Beach County.
One who would likely miss having McCarty around is Manalapan Mayor Tom Gerrard. “I know that on every occasion that Manalapan wanted to work with the county on any issue, she has been right there and been very attentive,” he said. When he learned of the investigation, his reaction was, “Oh, I can’t believe it.” “I just think Mary, as far as anything I know, has been absolutely top drawer,” he said.
“I would be surprised if there’s any basis for any wrongdoing.” Mayor Koch of Gulf Stream held similarly warm views of the commissioner.
“She seeks the information from the different mayors,” he said. “And I think she serves us very well.”
But Koch reserved judgment on whether McCarty should step down if it’s found that she’s done anything improper. “That’s really up to McCarty herself.”