A state complaint, name-calling and fault-finding shroud a Boca Raton special election for two seats on the City Council, painting a picture of town split on crucial issues.
The races for mayor and City Council Seat A offer a chance for a voting bloc on a council poised to make major development decisions and spend more than $60 million in incoming cash from a previous city land sale.
Three candidates are running for mayor, a seat vacated by suspended Mayor Susan Haynie who faces criminal corruption charges. One of the candidates, acting Mayor Scott Singer, relinquished his seat on the council to run for mayor, prompting a second race for Seat A on the Aug. 28 ballot.
Realtor Bernard Korn and attorney Al Zucaro are also running for mayor.
Running for Seat A are Kathy Cottrell, Tamara McKee and Andy Thomson.
Singer took on the city’s top spot following Haynie’s ouster in April. A Harvard-educated lawyer, Singer’s three goals as mayor are to: strengthen the city’s partnership with the Palm Beach County School District to improve safety and crowding; grow Boca’s corporate community by attracting new industries, like technology and medicine; and continue an open line of communication with residents.
Singer — elected to office by Boca voters in 2014 and 2017 — holds regular town halls with residents to gauge feedback on policy issues.
Singer’s main sparring partner in the race has been Zucaro, who founded gadfly blog BocaWatch. Zucaro, a former West Palm Beach commissioner, is running for mayor for the second time. He lost to Haynie in 2017.
BocaWatch has, for years, been a voice critical of development and the elected officials who support it.
His three goals as mayor: curb “overdevelopment,” possibly by advocating for changes to city code; increase transparency in government by having council members disclose private conversations with city staff; and “maintain the quality of life in Boca Raton,” he said.
Zucaro chided city leadership in an interview with The Palm Beach Post. He vowed to replace City Attorney Diana Frieser, a 19-year employee, for her “role” in Haynie’s controversy. Zucaro criticized City Manager Leif Ahnell, but said he would allow Ahnell to continue working through his planned retirement in three years.
Singer filed a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission against Zucaro and BocaWatch, claiming the blog is illegally acting as an unregistered political committee.
Zucaro called the move a political attack, and called Singer a “phony” supported by “developers and special interests.”
Korn, who says he’s also running for president of the United States, wrote in an email that his three main goals as mayor would be to create anti-corruption, anti-bullying task forces, to advocate for transparency and to reform campaign financing. He did not explain how he would carry out these goals, and declined interviews with The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board and a reporter.
Korn owns a homesteaded house with his wife in suburban Boca Raton, calling into question whether he lives in the city, The Palm Beach Post reported. He registered to vote for the first time in April at a Boca Raton address belonging to Richard Vecchio, a one-time mayoral candidate. Korn wrote that he and his wife are separated and that he lives in the city.
On spending the $65 million Boca Raton is poised to collect from selling its 200-acre western golf course to developer GL Homes, Zucaro said the city should save the money. Singer said leaders should consider investing some in green space, like the planned Boca Raton National Golf Club, or a new City Hall campus.
Korn said the city should hire more police.
The Seat A race is not without its own controversy.
McKee, an actor appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to the Florida Real Estate Appraisers’ Board, called Thomson, an attorney, a “carpetbagger,” “deceptive” and “a liar” last week.
Thomson, who has lived in Boca Raton for two years, told The Post he was approached by the elected body and staff of the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District earlier this year about a job as its attorney. District Director Arthur Koski corroborated this to The Post.
Thomson said he considered the opportunity, but wanted to avoid a potential conflict of interest should he run for city council.
Still, McKee said Thomson has been “dishonestly” characterizing the encounter as a job offer.
“It’s completely unacceptable that he’s going around espousing that he was offered a public job with a salary of more than $100,000, and he was not,” she said.
Cottrell, backed by BocaWatch and Zucaro, is running on a low-growth platform. She’s endorsed by Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke.
If elected, Cottrell, a retired organizational consultant, would: advocate for land acquisition for parks and green space, partner with the School District to improve safety, and curb overdevelopment through “better decision-making,” she said.
McKee’s goals include: creating more parking downtown, streamlining the city’s permitting process for businesses and working with the school district to ease crowding.
Thomson, who unsuccessfully ran for the council in 2017, said his goals as councilman are to use his past experience at a traffic engineering firm to find solutions to congestion, find more land and resources for the Palm Beach County School District to ease crowding, and use mediation and litigation experience to bring together a “divided city.”
For more information about the candidates and their goals, visit apps.mypalmbeachpost.com/kycboca2018/.
Follow Boca Raton reporter Lulu Ramadan on Twitter at @luluramadan.