Stakes high in West Palm Beach Mayor race


It’s “win or go home” for two longtime icons of West Palm Beach city government.

Jeri Muoio’s been an elected official for nine years, the past four as mayor. Kimberly Mitchell has been a commissioner for 13 years. Following Tuesday’s election, one of them will be gone.

With such high stakes, the race has been bare-knuckle. And expensive, with out-of-town and allegedly unaffiliated committees crowding residents’ mailboxes and TV time with slick ads. And highlighted as much by character attacks and sniping and “she said-she said” exchanges as by debates over policy and issues.

In one appearance after another, Muoio rolls out her list of accomplishments. Mitchell says the mayor’s done plenty wrong and left a lot of things unfixed.

Muoio has said she’s made government more efficient, improved neighborhoods, reformed the city’s budget and pension program and pushed economic development.

Mitchell has said the Broadway and South Dixie corridors still are in disrepair, and the city’s utility and housing departments have struggled with scandals.

Muoio says crime is down; Mitchell says it’s up. The two use different time spans for their stats.

Mitchell has presented what she calls her “‘Fix it’ Initiative:” a $50 million capital improvement program that will fix streets roads and curbs without raising taxes. She says she’d leverage a combination of existing city income streams to obtain bonds for the repairs, which “will in turn attract business and increase the value of properties in the affected areas.”

The two candidates actually agree on many consequential issues, arguing only about who fought harder on them.

Muoio said she’s fought the planned extension of State Road 7 for eight years. She said the Metropolitan Planning Organization has it as its top priority and only a court battle will stop it. In fact, she and her predecessor, now-U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, called a news conference Friday to announce just that. Mitchell later questioned the timing of the event, just days before the election. Mitchell said she’ll work with Palm Beach County and other cities that oppose the road and lobbied Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Department of Transportation officials.

The mayor has hailed her role in negotiating the deal that will bring a spring-training site for the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals to the city-owned tract near 45th Street. Muoio has said she got a trade for county land downtown, and Mitchell would have given away the tract for nothing. Mitchell has complained Muoio and others accepted a much smaller city park on the site than they should have, and that they pushed through votes in ways that lacked transparency and which create conditons that might endanger the city’s water supply.

The two do disagree on some big issues.

When the commission voted last year for a $33.5 million ultraviolet water filtration system that the city says is the cheapest and quickest way to meet a 2018 ultimatum from the state, Mitchell and fellow commissioner Shanon Materio harshly criticized their colleagues for not at least hearing a pitch from a firm saying it could privatize the water system and build a new plant on its nickel and not raise utility rates.

And Mitchell and Muoio have clashed over the medical center proposed for the old city-owned “tent site” property. Muoio has said developer Michael McCloskey is getting a sweetheart deal, paying less for the tract than it’s worth. Mitchell has said the medical complex will create jobs and serve an important role downtown.

Muoio boasts a string of endorsements. Mitchell stresses she was endorsed not just by groups in the south end, where she lives, but also by CityWatch, the political group that delivers votes in the western communities; that’s Muoio’s turf.

On Tuesday, everyone involved will find out whose money, influence and facts win out.

MORE NEWS ONLINE: Get more West Palm Beach news every day from Eliot Kleinberg’s West Palm Beat blog. westpalmbeat.blog.palmbeachpost.com



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