Delray Beach Candidates Revolt Against Chamber of Commerce

For the first time, candidates in Delray Beach who knew the local chamber of commerce wasn’t supporting them gave the Chamber the middle finger and said screw it, we’re not participating in your forum. The question is, were these candidates right, or does not participating make these candidates “illegitimate,” as one publication put it?

Delray Beach Mayoral Candidates from left: Tom Carney, Ryan Boylston, Shirley Johnson

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The Delray Beach Chamber forum has been steeped in controversy for several years because of past allegations that the Chamber leaked forum questions in advance to one of the candidates. Full disclosure. I ran for mayor in Delray Beach, and the Chamber didn’t give me any questions in advance, and I was treated well. That being said, the chamber has its not-so-secret chosen candidates. This cycle, they’re supporting current Commissioner Ryan Boylston for mayor. They also support Nick Coppola, Boylston’s preferred candidate, for commission. Both showed up for the chamber event. The only two candidates who showed up for the forum who were running against each other were Jim Chard and Tennille DeCoste, so it wasn’t much of a debate, and let’s face it, the fun of watching these things is seeing the knockdown, drag-out fights. The other five running candidates simultaneously held a meet and greet at the Marriot.

Mayoral candidates Tom Carney and Shirley Johnson, who have previously served on the commission, were in attendance at the Marriot, as did former commissioner Juli Casale. A candidate running against Jim Chard and Tennille DeCoste named Tom Markert attended. Anneze Barthelemy, attended as well. Casale and Barthelemy are running against Nick Coppola. 

Tom Carney sent a letter to the Chamber explaining why he wouldn’t attend the event. Florida Jolt asked Carney to describe in one sentence why he didn’t participate. His answer is simple and direct and sums up the entire problem with the chamber forum. 

Because the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce is not impartial. -Tom Carney 

Former Commissioner Shirley Johnson echoed many of the sentiments Carney expressed in his letter.

It had come to my attention and realization that another organization had become a part of the Boylston for Mayor machine – the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce.  Another group had become corrupted. 
The Chamber’s forum would be another SHOW to provide the facade of honest debate and discussion.  Just another opportunity to strut across the stage and offer up their version of the truth as they would like it presented.  I did not want to be a prop in this show and tell. -Shirley Johnson

Anneze Barthelemy didn’t attend because of Nick Coppola’s negative campaign against her. She sent a letter to the Chamber explaining that she supports them but doesn’t want to participate in a forum with Coppola. Coppola claimed, incorrectly, that Barthelemy is a homophobe; not the first time he’s thrown these accusations at Republicans. It would have been nice to see Barthelemy confront Coppola on stage, but one could understand why she didn’t want to. From Barthelemy’s letter, which has not been made public until now:

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I want to express my sincere appreciation for the incredible work that the Delray Chamber of Commerce is doing for our community. It is truly inspiring, and I am proud to be a supporter of your efforts. I am unable to accept your invitation to participate in the event due to the unfortunate negativity and attacks I have been facing from my opponent, Nick Coppola… -Anneze Barthelemy

Chamber president Stephanie Immelman told the Palm Beach Post:

We specifically do not endorse candidates because we want to be able to work with whoever is in office. So, it’s not to be seen as an endorsement. -Stephanie Immelman 

So, the Chamber doesn’t endorse because they want to “get along” with the candidate who wins, even though absolutely everyone knows who they support. This in and of itself shows what Delray Beach politics has become and tells you a lot about who has been elected in the past. A chamber of commerce whose sole job is representing the business community’s interests is afraid that openly supporting a candidate and being wrong could mean punishment and retribution, so instead of being straight-forwarded about who they want in office, who would be the best candidate to serve the needs of the business community, they pretend they’re not helping anyone by hiding behind the “we do not endorse” story. 

Candidates get something out of participating in forums, but the forum host gets more out of it than the candidates. The candidates give them credibility by showing up. Why should anyone give credibility to organizations that are against them? When I first heard these candidates weren’t going to the Chamber forum, I thought they were making a huge mistake, but there is another way of looking at it. The Chamber isn’t supporting the candidates who didn’t show up, and these candidates knew it well in advance. Going to the forum wasn’t going to help them in any manner and could hurt them. So why show up to provide entertainment? 

These candidates felt the forum wasn’t fair, and not showing up for their event was a strong and visible statement. Whether you like or hate any of these candidates, there is something so badass about that. 

Other stories you may want to read:

Delray Candidate Ryan Boylston Slammed by Florida Housing Innovations Council

Mayor Alexander Cooke Fights For the Soul of Juno Beach

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