Delray Chamber candidates forum draws crowd at Arts Garage

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By: Marisa Herman
Associate Editor

Candidates vying for a seat on the Delray Beach City Commissioner squared off in a fiery debate during the annual Chamber of Commerce’s Candidates Forum Wednesday night at the Arts Garage.

The commission of five will add at least one new face to the dais. Bill Bathurst automatically won his race for Seat 2 before voting day on March 13 because no one filed to run against him.

Seats 1, 3 and 5 are up for grabs on election day. Two current commissioners are looking to up their title to mayor, one commissioner is vying to retain his seats and one former commissioner is looking to return to the dais.

Battling for the top seat of Mayor, Seat 5, are Commissioners Jim Chard and Shelly Petrolia. Chard vacated Seat 2 in order to run. Petrolia will give up Seat 1 to run for Seat 5.

Commissioner Mitch Katz is looking to keep Seat 3. He is being challenged by Ryan Boylston.

And for Seat 1, former commissioner Adam Frankel is looking to get back in the political scene. Two political novices, Eric Camacho and Richard Alteus are also looking to win Seat 1. Alteus qualified to run in the last election cycle and did not show up at debates or respond to interview requests.

The event was moderated by Vin Nolan and more than 200 people attended.

Candidates agreed on some issues like supporting nonprofits with funding if proposed state legislation passes that would limit Community Redevelopment Agency’s ability to give money to nonprofits and plans to jumpstart action on The Set Transformation plan and move forward on the Congress Avenue Corridor plan.

Below is where they varied on ideas and topics.

Seat 1 snippets

The first round was the calmest of the evening. Candidates were cordial and didn’t take too many jabs at one another.

When asked why he wanted to jump back into the political arena, Frankel said the city is in a healthier financial state now than it was when he was in office. He said the city’s budget was only about $90 million when he was first elected during the economic down turn. Now, he said with a budget of $140 million he said he would like to get more projects moving that were not feasible several years ago.

Alteus, a former Monroe County police officer, said his focus is on uniting Delray Beach, when it comes to the poor and rich. He said he was running because of Frankel, who he alleged voted against everything. On the contrary, Frankel supported a majority of projects that came before the commission.

Camacho stumbled when Frankel asked him what the city’s millage rate was. He referred to it a 19 percent. Mills are rates and not percents and the city’s current rate is 7.21 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Camacho received applause for his proposal to convert the city to renewable energy powering its grid, but he didn’t elaborate on a plan to do so.

Seat 3

The night heated up when Seat 3 candidates took the stage. Both candidates accused each other of being involved in frivolous lawsuits against the city.

Commissioner Katz brought up the lawsuit Boylston filed against the city when he filed to run for election previously and didn’t collect enough petitions to qualify for the ballot.

Challenger Boylston brought up numerous lawsuits the city commission has been involved in over the past few years including Atlantic Crossing, the tennis tournament and commissioners deadlocking when it came time to fill an empty commission seat and subsequently not holding a special election for voters to choose; therefore, violating the city’s charter.

Katz brought up how Boylston allegedly profited from his previous ownership of this publication by voting the Downtown Development Authority’s budget, which advertises its downtown happenings in the paper from time to time. Boylston, who is no longer affiliated with this newspaper, quipped back that he hasn’t profited from the paper in years.

Boylston countered by suggesting Katz is a bully. He referenced a time where Katz directed him to 211, a suicide hotline number, after Boylston contacted him about a city-related concern. He also brought up Katz’s involvement in a controversial Facebook group, Delray Cooked, which Katz said he removed himself from.

When it came to education, which both have run campaigns on, Boylston pointed out that Katz appointed him to the education board. Katz sends his son to middle school in Boca Raton. Delray’s middle school is struggling with under-enrollment. Boylston said he proposes turning Delray schools into a K-8 model, which is popular in other cities.

Seat 5

And finally, two sitting commissioners, Shelly Petrolia and Jim Chard duked it over the mayoral seat. Before the first question was read, Petrolia brought up a concern that Chard had seen questions prior to the debate.

Chard is a member of the chamber’s advocacy committee and received an initial email about the chamber’s plans for the debate. Petrolia, who was assured Chard had no advantage, then continued with the debate after stating she didn’t need extra help.

A big topic was staff turnover at city hall. Chard said he overheard city employees say they would leave if “she,” referring to Petrolia, became mayor.

Petrolia knocked Chard’s support of narrowing Congress Avenue. The city has been lauded for its narrowing of Federal Highway and for adopting a complete streets policy, which calls for road narrowing to make roads safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Petrolia said Congress is vital as a bypass.

To view the debate in its entirety, visit the chamber’s Facebook page.