A political axiom holds that, when an office holder runs for re-election, the race is a referendum on the incumbent.
That’s certainly what Priscilla Taylor’s opponents — Mack Bernard, Lawrence Gordon and Robbie Littles — believe as they campaign in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary for Palm Beach County Commission District 7. Only voters registered as Democrats can vote in the race, and the winner will face only a blank write-in slot on Florida Nov. 8 ballot.
Taylor has represented the district for the past seven years and wants to be re-elected to what would be her final four-year stint on the commission. Commissioners are limited to two full terms, but Taylor was appointed to a partial term in 2009 by then Gov. Charlie Crist to replace the retiring Addie Greene. Then in 2010 she easily dispatched a Republican challenger in the lopsidedly Democratic district for another partial term and went unopposed in 2012.
This year, she initially sought election to the U.S. House of Representatives but dropped out in February after millionaire businessman Randy Perkins entered that race and put $1 million of his own money in that campaign. At the same time, she announced she would seek re-election — a move that angered opponents who believed they wouldn’t have to face an incumbent in the commission race.
“I never see where there is a problem in trying to move up,” Taylor said. “I’m still serving the same community.”
Taylor has held elected office for 17 years, having served as a Port of Palm Beach commissioner, a member of the state House of Representatives and a county commissioner.
Taylor said she’s proud of her accomplishments, which include directing county staff to have a study conducted to determine if minorities are getting a fair shot at county projects and pushing for affordable housing, a citizen’s review board to look into law enforcement shootings and the creation of the Youth Services Department.
Now she wants another term to see some of that work through.
The Youth Services Department has served as the umbrella for local work done as part of My Brother’s Keeper, an effort started by President Obama to improve education and employment prospects of minority boys. “I want to see that go to a different level,” Taylor said.
She also wants to see results from the disparity study, which are expected to be released later this year or in 2017. If they show that firms owned by women and minorities are systematically denied a fair opportunity to bid on county projects, they could be used as legal justification for the re-establishment of a minority business enterprise program designed to level the playing field.
Despite Taylor’s push, no citizen’s advisory board has been set up and affordable housing in the county remains scarce.
Those facts fuel the candidacies of Taylor’s opponents, who argue that she has not done enough to help residents of the district, many of whom are poor, minorities or both. According to the county Supervisor of Elections website, the district’s voters are 47 percent black, 37 percent white and 8 percent Hispanic; and 60 percent Democratic, 15 percent Republican and 24 percent other.
“I really feel we’re under-represented right now,” said Lawrence Gordon, a retired paralegal and investigator who has served on the Haverhill Town Council since 2010. “We have terrible housing affordability. The unemployment rate in the black community is twice the county average. Things have not gone very well for the minority community. The person in this seat needs to do more.”
Gordon said the county should alter its affordable housing program, which requires builders to include affordable housing in their development plans. Developers can pay a fee in lieu of building that affordable housing, and Gordon said he wants that fee raised.
Doing so, he said, would discourage developers from paying the fee and would lead to the construction of more affordable housing.
For Robbie Littles, a former West Palm Beach city commissioner, the focus should be on improving economic opportunities for minorities in the district.
Running for the county commission seat, he said, is “just a continuation of what I’ve done all my adult life in terms of advocacy, particularly for my folks — African Americans who cannot or will not speak up for themselves. I can make things happen for black folks, for minority folks. I can get a lot more done from the dais than I can from the street.”
Littles faults Taylor for not acting soon enough to address what he describes as the lack of opportunities for black business owners.
“It took her a lot of years — with a lot of prompting — for her to even ask for a disparity study,” Little said.
In addition to the the various political races, a referendum to increase the county’s sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent will be on the Nov. 8 ballot. The sales tax increase would generate an estimated $2.7 billion over 10 years. That money would be split between the county, cities and the School District of Palm Beach County.
Mack Bernard, a former state House member and Delray Beach city commissioner, wants to see that sales tax referendum approved by voters.
“The one penny sales tax will fund local education and infrastructure needs,” he said. “Our schools need the funds and I fully support having sales tax dollars go to help improve Palm Beach County education.”
Like others in the race, Bernard said he knows where he wants some of that sales tax money to go.
“I would work to ensure local preference is given in contracts, including minority and women owned businesses,” he said.
Taylor has pushed hard for the sales tax increase.
Gordon backs the sales tax increase, but he has raised concerns about its regressive nature, meaning the poor pay a higher percentage of their income on it than do people who are better off financially.
Littles said he’d support the sales tax increase “only if the county commission agrees to utilize black contractors, professionals, etc. on all future contracts, with established minimum percentage.”
KNOW YOUR CANDIDATES GUIDE
Get the candidates’ background and views in their own words in The Post’s exclusive Know Your Candidates online guide, pbpo.st/kycp2016.
EXCLUSIVE ELECTION COVERAGE
- One in a series about all races and referendums on Palm Beach County’s Aug. 30 ballots.
- Series will run daily through Aug. 14, the day before the start of early voting in the county.
- Get all The Post’s Aug. 30 election coverage at myPalmBeachPost.com/2016primary/