At a Palm Beach Civic Association forum on Tuesday, candidates running for office in the Nov. 8 general election staked out the issues defining this year’s races.
Hot topics included surging housing and food costs, the need for safer schools and cleaner drinking water, and a possible expansion of the Port of Palm Beach.
Experts were also on hand to explain the five questions on the Nov. 8 ballot and changes in election rules and procedures.
About 150 people attended the roughly hour-long event at the Mandel Recreation Center.
The Civic Association invited candidates from seven races for political offices that represent the town, including the local U.S. Congressional District, local Florida House and Senate districts, two Port of Palm Beach Commission seats, and the statewide races for governor and U.S. Senate.
Seven candidates participated, including U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, the Democrat seeking re-election to represent Florida’s 22nd Congressional District; Dan Franzese, the Republican challenging Frankel for her seat; State Rep. Mike Caruso, Republican incumbent running for Florida House District 87; State Sen. Bobby Powell, the Democrat running for Florida Senate District 24; Port of Palm Beach Commissioner Blair Ciklin, the Democrat running for re-election to the Group 4 seat; Doreen Loretta Benson, the Republican challenger for the commission’s Group 4 seat; and Roderick Clarke, the Republican candidate for the port commission’s Group 5 seat.
Each candidate was permitted three minutes to speak about whatever they chose. There was no debate and candidates did not take questions during the forum.
Frankel said she has worked to keep sand on Palm Beach’s shoreline, championed research into Alzheimer’s disease and has brought millions into the district to fight homelessness and help survivors of domestic abuse.
“I fiercely believe that women, not politicians, should be in charge of their own reproductive health, lives and futures,” Frankel said. “I believe democracy is threatened by election deniers and by Florida’s new election laws. I worry about the safety of my grandchildren, and yours, too, when they go to school or even to a park. My son, Ben, a former U.S. marine artillery officer, will tell you he believes with me that assault weapons should not be on our streets.”
Dan Franzese, the Republican challenging Lois Frankel for the 22nd Congressional District seat, said he is a businessman running for political office because the nation is headed in the wrong direction.
“Our country is in crisis in so many ways,” he said. “Right now, we have the worst inflation in 40 years and our country is in a recession that’s hurting us so much in so many ways, that is effectively a tax on all of us. We are now suffering a significant decrease in the standard of living. A million senior citizens last year went below the poverty line. We need to get back to sound fiscal policies and energy independence.”
State Rep. Michael Caruso, the Republican seeking re-election to represent the newly drawn House District 87, pointed to his legislative record, which he said includes laws to reform property insurance, strengthen patients’ rights and set building safety recertification requirements in the wake of the Surfside condominium tragedy.
He said he wants new legislation to set minimum standards for school safety and wants to clean up the environment.
“Florida is not Florida without clean water,” Caruso said. “We need to continue our work on Florida’s fragile ecosystem. We allocated $3 billion toward cleaning up Everglades this year … I look forward to sponsoring a septic-to-sewer conversion bill this year and a septic tank maintenance bill this year.”
Caruso faces Democrat Sienna Osta in their race for House District 87. Osta did not participate in Tuesday’s forum.
State Senator Bobby Powell, a Democratic incumbent running to represent newly drawn Senate District 24, said his office hears daily from constituents who can no longer afford to stay in their homes because of dramatic and sudden increases in their rent. Young professionals are graduating with higher education degrees but can’t afford to live in Palm Beach County unless they stay with their parents, he said.
“The biggest challenge facing everybody in Palm Beach County is housing,” Powell said. “We’re in the midst of a crisis. Inflation has gone up … We as legislators have some real challenges to work on together, and it has to change for us to get where we need to go.”
Republican Eric Ankner is attempting to unseat Powell in their race for Senate District 24. Ankner did not participate in Tuesday’s forum.
Port of Palm Beach Commissioner Blair Ciklin, who is seeking reelection to the commission’s Group 4 seat, said the port has put its expansion plans on hold. Ciklin said the port’s intentions have been misunderstood and do not call for massive dredging of the Palm Beach Inlet.
Media reports on the port’s new master plan took note of its plans to deepen the inlet to accommodate larger cargo and cruise ships – a plan strongly opposed by the Town of Palm Beach and neighboring Palm Beach Shores.
But Ciklin said there was a mix-up. The port hired a consultant to help it develop its master plan, but he said it ended up working with a man who understands California seaports but not Florida seaports.
“Basically, we’re putting the plan on pause right now,” Ciklin said. “Because it basically really has nothing at all to gain by listening to things that happen on the West Coast. What you read in the paper has nothing to do with what we’re looking for … what you’ve read about the huge dredging. That’s never going to happen. Maybe in California, they do stuff like that. But you know, we’re never going to do that.”
Doreen Loretta Benson
Doreen Loretta Benson, the Republican running against Ciklin for the commission’s Group 4 seat, said she’s seeking office because she no longer trusts our political leaders or elections. The nation should go back to hand counting paper ballots, she said.
“I saw my country going downhill year after year, decade after decade,” she said. “They’re selling us out – lock, stock and barrel. The elections are not what you think they are.”
The port needs change, Benson said. Its master plan contains no implementation schedule or cost analysis, she said.
“We need a new master plan,” Benson said. “We need jobs, greater transparency, and a fresh look at all these things, and beautification.”
Roderick Clarke, a Republican running for the Port of Palm Beach Commission’s Group 5 seat, said he’s a local pastor with 20 years of service in the Marine Corps, including duty in Iraq. Clarke said America needs a strong military and a strong president.
He cited inflation as the nation’s biggest problem.
“No one is threatening us except for high prices,” Clarke said. “Gas prices. We can’t afford housing and food has gone up at least three times … we can fix that by electing smart, conservative, visionary leaders. We can’t wait for the next two years. We need to do that next month.”
Clarke is running against Democrat Deandre Poole for the port commission’s Group 5 seat. Poole did not participate in Tuesday’s forum.
Ed Chase, director of intergovernmental affairs and community engagement for Palm Beach County, explained the five initiatives on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Three are proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution and the other two are questions for Palm Beach County voters.
Amendment 1 would allow homeowners to make flood-resistant improvements to their homes but not have those improvements add to the value of the home for tax purposes.
Amendment 2 would abolish Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission. The commission meets every 20 years and recommends constitutional amendments to the legislature. That is one of five ways in which the Constitution can be amended, Chase said.
Amendment 3 would double the homestead property tax exemption, to $100,000 instead of $50,000, for “specified critical public service workers,” including emergency responders, police officers, public school teachers, child welfare service professionals and active members of the U.S. Armed Forces and National Guard, Chase said. The exemption would not apply to school district taxes.
Palm Beach County Ballot Question 1 asks whether the county should issue up to $200 million in bonds to pay for affordable housing for people living below a certain income level. It’s intended to protect the workforce in the face of the dramatic increase in housing costs. The taxpayer impact would be $4.36 per $1,000 of taxable value, Chase said.
Palm Beach County Ballot Question 2 asks voters to extend a county school tax for school safety, teachers and operational needs that the school district says are critical to its mission. It would raise $240 million, Chase said. The impact to taxpayers would be $1 per $1,000 of taxable value. The tax was originally approved in 2018. This amendment would extend it until 2027.
Wendy Sartory Link
There are three ways to vote in Palm Beach County – by mail, early voting or on Election Day, Link said.
The deadline to request that a vote-by-mail ballot be mailed to you for the upcoming election is 5 p.m. on Oct. 29, Link said. These can be requested on the election supervisor’s website, pbcelections.org., by calling (561) 656-6208, or in person at four of their offices.
Early voting will be from Oct. 24 through Nov. 6, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., at 21 locations in the county. Call the supervisor’s office or check its website to find the location nearest to you.
On Election Day, you must vote at a polling location assigned to your precinct. All precinct numbers have changed, and some polling locations have changed because of redistricting this year, Link said.
Palm Beach County has a little over one million active registered voters and 200,000 inactive registered voters, she said. The county’s registered voters are 40 percent Democrat, 29 percent Republican and 31 percent no party or minor party affiliation.
Tuesday’s forum was moderated by Michael Ainslie, treasurer of the Palm Beach Civic Association and a member of its Executive Committee.
The forum was sponsored by the Stanley M. Rumbough Jr. Legacy Society. The Rumbough Society is named for the late philanthropist and longtime director and former co-chairman of the Civic Association who died in 2017.
“He was highly regarded and through his devotion to Palm Beach inspired others to give of themselves for the betterment of our community,” Civic Association President Mary Robosson said of Rumbough.