Post endorsements: In Boca Raton, Singer, O’Rourke, Haynie

Downtown Boca Raton is erupting with high-rises, planned before the Great Recession and rising now that the economy has brightened. Their sudden presence has alarmed many residents who worry that the long-sleepy area is fast becoming too dense and congested.

The anxiety has stirred strong interest in Tuesday’s elections for two council seats and mayor. Voting for all three positions is citywide and all are three-year terms.

Scott Singer

For Council Seat A, incumbent Scott Singer is challenged by Patricia Dervishi, a retired flight attendant and real estate agent. Singer, a Harvard and Georgetown-educated attorney, has opposed overdevelopment and backs sensible ideas for improving downtown traffic, including using Dixie Highway as a downtown bypass and making Federal Highway conducive for pedestrians.

He says he is the first council member to hold regular meetings with constituents. “I’ve also pushed economic development, which is critical to our community because there have to be high-paying jobs to maintain low taxes and our high quality of services,” he told the Post Editorial Board.

Singer, 40, is chairman of Boca’s Community Redevelopment Agency, serves on the state attorney’s Sober Homes Task Force and the Florida League of Cities’ committee on growth management and economic affairs, and is an alternate to the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization, among other memberships.

Dervishi, 70, says “this whole election is about … citizens versus developers” and that the city should “put on the back burner any further development” until issues such as traffic are addressed. She has no civic memberships nor experience in office, and far less to contribute than Singer.

Andrea Levine O’Rourke

The decision is much harder for Council Seat B, where three strong candidates are facing off: Emily Gentile, a retired executive business consultant; Andrea Levine O’Rourke, a communications and design consultant; and Andy Thomson, a litigation attorney. All three boast long lists of involvement with civic organizations.

O’Rourke, 69, a longtime Boca resident, calls herself “the voice of the residents.” She says traffic, congestion and overdevelopment “are ruining Boca Raton’s unique quality of life” and that she seeks “a pedestrian-friendly city with open green spaces for residents to enjoy.”

A former chair of the Federation of Boca Raton Homeowner Associations, an umbrella of associations “from the beach to the western communities,” O’Rourke also co-founded and heads the Golden Triangle Neighborhood Association, representing residents east and northeast of Mizner Park. She has been an editor of BocaWatch, an online newsletter started by now-mayoral candidate Alfred Zucaro.

Gentile, 65, cites her experience in corporate boardrooms, having helped Fortune 500 companies become more customer-friendly. She says that’s good preparation for moving the city forward and working well with citizens. She has chaired Boca’s Business Improvement District Steering Committee and been vice chair of the Downtown Advisory Committee.

Thomson, 34, says his legal specialty, dispute resolution, would be a great asset for a city divided between “anti-development groups, pro-development groups, there’s east, there’s west, there’s rich, there’s poor,” adding, “I am the one person seeking this job who can bring people together.”

O’Rourke differs from her opponents in having backed a successful ballot initiative to turn the city-owned “Wildflower property,” planned for a restaurant, into a park along the Intracoastal. Thomson says the initiative was worded confusingly. Gentile says the result means the loss of millions in future lease payments.

We believe that O’Rourke stands out for her commitment to human-scale development and creating public places that draw people to them to enjoy.

Susan Haynie

Finally, Mayor Susan Haynie, running for reelection, is opposed by Zucaro, an attorney who runs the BocaWatch website, which regularly accuses the mayor and city council — or, as he calls them, the “social and political elite” — of selling out the town to developers.

Zucaro, 67, is a former West Palm Beach city commissioner who moved to Boca after a remarriage and now plays the role of indignant outsider, railing against traffic and overdevelopment, but offering few ideas other than to “slow things down just a bit” and “manage it better.” He belongs to no civic boards.

Haynie, 61, began working for Boca Raton in 1974 as a traffic analyst. She was a council member from 2000 to 2006 and deputy mayor from 2010 until 2014, when she was elected mayor. She is president of the Florida League of Cities, chair of the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization and belongs to a host of other groups, from the city’s Planning and Zoning Board to the Elks.

She is pushing efforts to use Dixie Highway to absorb southbound through-traffic downtown and make Federal Highway more pedestrian-friendly. She gives assurances that developers won’t build as intensely as they want. Whereas Zucaro paints the current building boom as an unmitigated nightmare, Haynie gives a more positive view, noting that people are moving downtown – happily – and making the area more vibrant.

Haynie has played a leadership role in the I-95 interchange under construction at Spanish River Boulevard and the planning of a 20th Street college district, a unified campus for municipal buildings and a Waterfront Master Plan.

The choice is between a dedicated worker and a flamethrower. The answer is obvious.

We endorse Singer, O’Rourke and Haynie.

Palm Beach Post endorsements for the March 14 municipal elections will be posted online throughout this week on a city by city basis. They will be published in total in the Sunday, March 12, print edition.