West Palm's Next Mayor Speaks

Forget Joel Daves. Lois Frankel rules.

One year ago this month, Florida House of Representatives minority leader Lois Frankel, a Democrat from West Palm Beach, announced her bid for governor. An outspoken and respected seven-term liberal lawmaker who gained fame for blasting the Bushes during the 2000 election, she told New Times last year (see "Long Shot," Ashley Fantz, November 15, 2001) that she planned to "redecorate the governor's mansion to look something like most of Florida, not the small, elite minority the Bushes cater to." In the thick Brooklyn accent of her youth that she has maintained despite 28 years of living in West Palm, Frankel tried to convince groups from Pensacola to Key West that a litany of legislative accomplishments made her an ideal candidate.

But Frankel was overly optimistic. Three weeks after filing, two events turned her run into a crawl. For both political and economic reasons, September 11 crippled her odds of raising adequate funds. And then came the announcement that her main competitor for the Democratic ticket was that dance party-lovin', red truck drivin' Reno woman.

So last month, Frankel quietly forfeited her battle with Bush and filed to run for mayor of West Palm. Although she didn't garner much support in her gubernatorial campaign, this time around, Frankel has been endorsed in the Palm Beach Post and supported by big-name lobbyists and local government players, including the former West Palm mayor, Nancy Graham.

Frankel talked with New Times recently, and as in most encounters with her, this exchange was a breathless one as she rushed from one appointment to another, wired as she usually is on two cell phones. She was in her maroon 1999 Acura, which is equipped with a Global Positioning System because she has a tendency to get lost. If her stereo were on, she confesses, she'd be listening to her Gloria Gaynor compilation disc. Q: You reached your term limit in the House of Representatives and that, you said last October, was one of the reasons you opted to run for governor.

A: My time was up, and that was a motivator to look for other public offices to run for, but the governor's job was something I wanted uniquely and I was qualified for, hands down. But as bad as this sounds, qualifications don't always make for a successful candidate. You have to have money and notoriety. I saw the writing on the wall last winter when Reno was getting major party endorsements, and with that came celebrity power and money flow. I just couldn't compete with Janet. I could have stepped up my campaign, but I'd have to split myself in two. By October, we'd had five special sessions, and I had to be in Tallahassee. I couldn't raise money or campaign when I had a job to do as minority leader. If I would have campaigned, I would have been criticized. But by doing my job, I'm also criticized for not campaigning aggressively enough.

Q: You raised about $130,000 in cash and about $200,000 in matching funds. What happens to that money now that you're not in the running?

A: I had a lot of contributors giving $50 or less. And if they don't support my mayoral run, then they'll get that money back. But most people are. I have $150,000 in my mayor's coffer now. When I had to call people about whether they were in favor of this mayoral run, I got all sorts of crazy suggestions about what I should do.

Q: Like what?

A: I had a large group of supporters who kept calling every day saying, "attorney general." Then some people said agriculture commissioner. [Actually, the position is commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services].

Q: What would have qualified you for the job of agriculture commissioner?

A: That's what I said. Some said county commissioner and the state senate. A few people mentioned running for sheriff of Palm Beach...I'd get to carry a gun.

Q: But you focused on becoming mayor?

A: Not really. I said that I was going to stay focused on the Legislature and not engage in a new campaign. When I got out of session, I would reassess my situation and then decide. I was just exhausted from battling a House and Senate dominated by Republicans in addition to trying to jump-start my [gubernatorial] candidacy. I wanted to just go home and relax a little. I needed to chill out badly...I've been in the Legislature almost nonstop for 14 years. The last two years have been devoted to being an around-the-clock countervoice against that [Bush] administration. From the time of the recount until May, I never got a break. I never got a break. I did go on a two-day cruise with my son [a U.S. Marine stationed in Australia] a few days before New Year's. I tried to just lie on the couch for a week. And that worked out for a day, but I was good about not going into my office until at least 9 a.m.

Q: It was former West Palm Beach Mayor Nancy Graham who encouraged you to run?

A: I was at home during a chill-out week, and Nancy called me because she'd read in the [Palm Beach Post] that [current Mayor Joel] Daves said I didn't know what I was doing by considering this run. Truthfully, there was speculation in the media that I was going to run, but it wasn't so much on my mind until Nancy called. We just talked, and she was very enthusiastic. So I thought I'd start talking to people in the city to see what they thought.

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