Delray mayoral candidate’s Parkland shooting political ad causes stir

DELRAY BEACH — A Delray Beach city commissioner and candidate for mayor spotlighted the Parkland high school shooting in a campaign postcard mailed to residents Monday that reads, “That’s why I’m running for mayor.”

The ad from Commissioner Jim Chard is getting mixed reactions among Delray residents and on social media, with some calling it distasteful and others lauding the candidate for highlighting the issue.

His opponent for mayor, fellow Commissioner Shelly Petrolia, said she was “speechless” after seeing the mailer.

“There’s a time to ask for votes and there’s not a time,” Petrolia said. “This is one of those moments where you understand that there’s a line. You just don’t cross it.”

The mailer reads: “17 dead in a Parkland school...

“24 miles from Old School Square.

“It’s terrifying.

“Public safety should be City Hall’s most important responsiblity.

“That’s why I’m running for mayor.”

Just below the message is the “Jim Chard for Delray Beach Mayor” emblem. 

The back of the postcard says Chard supports a ban on the type of assault weapon used by the gunman who killed 14 students and three adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14. He also calls for comprehensive background checks and mental health funding.

A retired father of two, Chard, 73, said he thought hard about the campaign mailer before sending it out Monday.

“I didn’t want it to look as if I was pandering on an issue,” Chard said. “But every door I knock on, the first question they ask is: What am I doing about school safety?”

Online, a far more divisive conversation is brewing over Chard’s mailer. In private Facebook groups, such as Delray RAW, a page with 19,000 members, hundreds of comments have been exchanged.

Some have commented that the ad is “disappointing” and “politicizing a tragedy.” Others voiced support for Chard and his stances on issues that divide the nation.

Petrolia said she also supports a ban on assault weapons, expanded mental health programs and enhanced school security.

Speaking about Chard’s mailer, Petrolia, 54, a mother of four, said: “I’m hesitant to even give (the ad) attention, out of respect for those who are feeling direct pain, because I do too as a mother.”

Petrolia and Chard both are Democrats.

Petrolia sent out a campaign email Feb. 23 that refers to the Parkland shooting in the context of hundreds of Delray Beach students who last week marched on Old School Square in protest for gun reform following the shooting rampage.

She described the demonstration as “moving” and “amazing.”

And she closed the email by saying the current mayor and city commissioners would put pressure on state and federal lawmakers for “gun control” and “mental health issues.”

The email doesn’t mention the March 13 election or voting.

“I wanted people to know I would lobby and do absolutely anything I can,” Petrolia said. “I have four boys in middle school and high school. It can’t strike closer to a mother’s heart than it did, mainly because of all the children that were hurt and killed, but also how close it was. It just makes it that much more real.”

In reality, lobbying is about all local officials can do amid a larger discussion on gun-control.

Municipal officials face removal from office or fines if they enact local laws that restrict where and when guns can be purchased or sold. 

But a mayor can use his or her position as the head of the city to take a public stance on larger issues, as sitting Mayor Cary Glickstein has since the Parkland shooting. Glickstein spoke at a rally at Delray Beach City Hall, calling on lawmakers to rise above partisanship and enact meaningful legislation that restricts access to assault weapons.

Glickstein also asked the city to craft a resolution that reaffirms Delray Beach’s stance against public access to assault weapons. The commission is expected to vote on that resolution Tuesday.

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