NEW: Contentious Royal Palm Beach mayor’s race marks election

March 05, 2018
The race is on for the mayor and Group 3 seats on the Royal Palm Beach village council. (Kristina Webb / The Palm Beach Post)

The race for mayor of Royal Palm Beach has turned fiery — the challenger points to the incumbent’s November arrest in connection with domestic battery allegations as an issue that distracts from the village’s “family values.”

The March 13 ballot will be a repeat of village residents’ choices in 2016, when former councilwoman Martha Webster unsuccessfully ran against Fred Pinto for the seat after former mayor Matty Mattioli retired from politics.

LEARN MORE: Explore candidates’ responses on key issues with our Know Your Candidates tool

Also up for election: Council Group 3, with incumbent Selena Smith facing challenger Sam Roman. Councilman Jeff Hmara in Group 1 also was up for re-election, but was elected unopposed. Council members serve two-year terms.

Mayor’s race

Webster, 71, said she was not considering another run for office — she previously served on the village council from 2008-2013 — until the 67-year-old Pinto was arrested in November. Pinto’s wife declined to testify and no charges were filed, court records show. Pinto did spend the night in jail, something he has said the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office did to “cool down” the argument his wife and he were having.

PAST COVERAGE: Royal Palm mayor says he and wife working to move forward after domestic battery arrest

“I was very upset when Fred was arrested for domestic battery,” Webster told The Palm Beach Post. “… When the mayor spend the night in jail, the village spends the night in jail.”

Webster also mentioned the arrest in her opening statement at a Feb. 26 Royal Palm Beach candidate forum. “I believe it is time for the village of Royal Palm Beach to reset its moral compass,” she said.

Pinto has countered Webster’s statements, both in a message mailed to Royal Palm Beach residents and in interviews with The Post.

A mailer sent last month includes a letter from Pinto and his wife, Donielle, apologizing for the incident. What Pinto has referred to as “the event” was a “couple’s disagreement,” the mailer said. “Please accept our sincere apology for any concerns this may have caused you,” the couple wrote.

“That’s really all she has, and she’s using that as an opportunity to try and turn people against me,” Pinto told The Post.

He and his wife are moving forward and sought counseling after the arrest, he has said. The week after the apology mailer, Pinto sent another highlighting his accomplishments on the council.

“It said, here’s what I’ve done, let’s get back to talking about what’s happening and the leadership I’ve been providing for the 15 years I’ve been a public servant to the village,” he said.

One key issue continues to come up in both village council races: public safety.

While the overall crime rate has not gone up, Royal Palm Beach has seen a rise in vehicle burglaries and break-ins, according to a PBSO report delivered to the council last year.

Crime has “consistently gone down,” Pinto said, with the exception of a few outliers, including a crime he called “shocking”: Three men broke into a house on Sandpiper Avenue near Commons Park in July, tying up and robbing two women and sexually battering one.

Village staff and officials have worked closely with PBSO Capt. Rick Naujoks, who oversees Royal Palm Beach’s District 9, to discuss how to lower crime, Pinto said. “We have a very active dialogue,” he added.

Both Pinto and Webster said they have been encouraged by grassroots efforts to start neighborhood watch programs in the village.

“These people really are passionate about keeping their families safe,” Webster said, adding that she would like to see more coordination with regional officials, including County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay.

Group 3

Smith, a 45-year-old small business owner, is running for her second term on the council. She said her platforms have changed little from when she ran in 2016: seniors, local businesses and transparency. “And I’ve been able to accomplish goals on all three,” she said.

She pointed to her participation in the village’s Senior Citizen Ad Hoc Group while also promoting a $45,000 senior-transportation program in this year’s budget. She also said she is proud of her part in the village’s revamping of its sign ordinance to make it easier for local business owners to comply. For transparency, she said she has worked to widely share village news and agendas through social media.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had for the past two years,” she said, adding that she hopes to further her work and focus more on smart growth as areas to the west of Royal Palm Beach expand.

Roman, 48, is a political newcomer, an entrepreneur who works with the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and also works as a community outreach coordinator for PBSO.

He said he supports transparency and county’s Inspector General’s Office; improving quality of life for Royal Palm residents; growing the village’s recreation programs; and keeping taxes low.

“I want to serve this community more,” he said of his decision to run for office. Part of his inspiration: The growth of Westlake and other communities west of Royal Palm. Traffic calming projects will be a big part of providing relief to residents, he said.

“I want to work with those communities that want it,” Roman said. “It’s a safety issue.”