The Palm Beach County political whirlwind named Tracy
New York native Tracy Lee Caruso has packed a myriad of accomplishments into her ten years of residency in Delray Beach and developed her own enthusiastic fan base.
The savvy entrepreneur owns and operates a successful executive suite business in The Set, which has attracted over one-hundred businesses to the area.
A former rape crisis counselor in New York, Tracy channels her passion for activism in multiple ways. She was appointed by Palm Beach County Commissioner Dave Kerner to the Board of the Finance Housing Authority, a position of vital importance. “Affordable housing is an urgent matter everywhere,” Tracy says, “but in Palm Beach County, we have a serious problem. I’m excited to be involved in this effort and look forward to helping the underserved.”
Continuing her mentorship with young women, she was recently appointed to the Board of the Boca Raton-based nonprofit, Propel Your Future, which helps high school girls achieve their dreams and goals with their education.
In 2020, Tracy jumped into local politics as a candidate when she ran for Mayor of Delray Beach, a race she lost by a small margin. “It was a good, interesting experience,” she notes. “It has come full-circle for me in many ways because my husband Mike Caruso is a Florida State Representative who serves fourteen different municipalities from Boca Raton to Singer Island, primarily east of Military Trail. Many of the bills he focuses on involve mental health, education, and protecting against antisemitism—things I have been involved with, too. We codified the federal definition into the state definition for antisemitism in Florida. That was a big deal because we have a huge Jewish population in Florida, and I’m Jewish. Having seen a huge rise in race and hate crimes, this was a significant accomplishment.”
Tracy explains that Mike’s biggest passion is mental health, having watched their son struggle with mental health issues over the years. “We’ve seen it firsthand,” she says. “When you witness mental health through the lens of your family, you feel for others dealing with the same challenges, and you see the holes in the system. Although everyone is talking more about it these days, people tend to ignore the mental health aspects of crime. However, Palm Beach County has addressed the issue in a way that could be a model for the rest of the state.
“When I was out door-knocking during my campaign for Mayor of Delray Beach, I met an intelligent elderly woman, a former artist who showed me all of her creations. It was evident something was not quite right, possibly dementia. Fast forward to now. This woman whom I had not thought about since showed up at my office to tell me she had been thrown out of her home. Although she didn’t think of herself as homeless, she had been on the streets, sleeping under a tree for a couple of weeks before she sought me out. I called a contact from the county who connected with another individual in Delray Beach who assists people with homelessness and mental health issues. And it all worked out. She resides in a facility she loves and raves about how nice and clean it is. This is an example of what could be done throughout Florida, not just in Palm Beach County.”
Because many drug addictions are connected to mental health issues, Tracy is proud that her husband worked on House Bill 479 – Sober Homes, which requires sober homes to abide by the following requirements to earn accreditation:
- Maintain housing standards of credited homes
- Demonstrate how they can effectively and appropriately address resident concerns
- Meet all other statutory requirements for certification
- Limit the number of residences a certified administrator can manage to 50 unless they can prove they can effectively and adequately care for more. No administrator may have more than 100 individuals under their care. Better care
- Notify who is under their care and their locations and suffer penalties for lack of reporting
- Give individuals their property back if they choose to withdraw
- Provide how they plan for their homes to meet credentials for certification
In addition, the bill authorizes contingency management programs (rewards good behavior for individuals in recovery through recognized techniques, for example, the AA chip), allows DCF to budget for contingency management, and limits the number of individuals an administrator can have in their care unless they provide written justification.
Mike has also worked with Dave Aronberg, State Attorney for the 15th Judicial Circuit on SB 704, a bill that addresses what actions to take against bad actors in halfway houses that are in it for a kickback, not to help addicted people. “They would take their money for the 30 days and get paid a ridiculous amount of money,” Tracy says. “It was about ‘heads and beds.’ After they got the money, they put these individuals in recovery back on the street with no tools and no way to cope. They would fall back into the same self-defeating patterns and go back in. To address the problem, the legislature created laws to stop so many people from profiting off of others’ misery.”
Tracy was in Tallahassee when we conducted this interview and was thrilled to report the number of ordinary people showing up at the Capitol to make their voices heard on various issues. “I’m not talking about lobbyists; I’m talking about regular people sharing things we would not otherwise know about. People think their voices don’t matter, but they do. When you see somebody face-to-face and talk to them, you get a different feeling about them, their emotion about the issue, and its importance. That is when changes take place. It’s an amazing part of the process.”
She describes a woman who spoke about a rare eye disease that affects some babies at birth, something that could be eradicated by a simple eye drop test. The woman met with different legislators about the possibility of making it an automatic test. “If she hadn’t done that, who would know about this? None of us can know about every little thing that could happen and what to do about it. That’s why people need to show up. You can’t assume that every single person knows every single thing on this planet; they know what they know, they know what they work at. They know what’s important. One of the best qualities of the Florida legislature is that it is comprised of different types of people. Yes, we have lawyers, but we have other professions, too. Since Mike is a CPA, much of his work involves taxes and tax bills and keeping Florida a great place to live.”
Running for Mayor of Delray Beach has given Tracy a renewed appreciation for candidates and public officials. “Because I did run for mayor and worked on my campaign and my husband’s campaign, along with some others, I’ve gotten to see the full picture over the past five years. I’ve seen every bit of the process and I hope everybody feels for these candidates because I gotta tell you, being a candidate is brutal.” As for elected representatives, she believes they are public servants trying to accomplish things for the benefit of everyone in their day-to-day lives.
Whether in elected office or not, Tracy relishes the opportunity to contribute in her own way. “I see it from the frontlines, so to speak, and it’s very exciting. Over the years, people have reached out to me because they can’t always get to Mike, but they know I’ll relay the information. It has been a privilege to be part of so many people’s journeys when they’ve had problems and help to solve them. It has been an honor for Mike and me, not to just change some legislation, which is amazing but to be part of people’s individual lives and make them better. I can’t think of anything more rewarding.”
Given their devotion to serving the people of the 89th District, it’s no surprise that everybody has Tracy and Mike’s phone numbers, although Tracy admits to being a fan of the text, due to the sheer number of incoming calls. “People text me a lot, some I know, some I don’t know. But they’ll tell me they got my number from someone and ask for my help. What’s amazing is that most of the time, Mike and I can help. That’s what I love. And even if it’s not us, personally, or one of Mike’s aides, we can put them in touch with the right people to accomplish whatever they want to do. In the end, they receive the help they need. It’s great to see that and to be able to make an impact at that level. I absolutely love it.”
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