The Next Ex-Mayor

After two years in office, West Palm Beach Mayor Frankel has little to show except blocked streets

For her part, Frankel says it's a problem she simply has to ride out. Even though her predecessor lost his job in part because the public perceived the construction problem as his fault, Frankel says that won't be her fate. Frankel joked recently: "My election is two years away, so I've got to tell you, if these roads are not fixed in two years, then I'm not sure I even want the job."

Frankel's problems are compounded by her grandiose City Hall gambit. When she took office, Frankel scrapped Daves' plans to build a new City Hall on the west side of downtown. Now, Frankel is pushing for a massive, four-story building to take up an entire city block at Clematis and Quadrille Boulevard. But with critics raising concerns about parking and the expense of the project, the plan has stalled. City Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell says it's indicative of Frankel's "misguided direction" for the city.

"When she ran for office, she criticized Daves for having expensive plans for City Hall," Mitchell says. "Now her plans will probably cost the city $100 million." (Frankel has yet to speculate about the total cost of the project.)

Frankel at the computer she uses as a jukebox
Frankel at the computer she uses as a jukebox

Similarly, Frankel's campaign pledge to work with county leaders to have a hotel built near the new Palm Beach County Convention Center on Okeechobee Boulevard remains little more than a 2-year-old promise. Critics blame Frankel for the holdup, because she's been feuding with the County Commission and Ocean Properties, the developer, about Frankel's preference for another developer. Ocean Properties Vice President Tom McMurrian, when asked if he thought Frankel would continue to hold up the 400-room hotel plans, would say only: "We had hoped it would be further through the process than we are right now."

While the fight over the hotel seems to be calming down, the bad blood between Frankel and county leaders has continued. In April, Frankel refused to allow the county to run a pipe across a city-owned canal to supply utilities to the Scripps Research Institute project. Frankel's decision could delay work on Scripps, a project with a price tag approaching $1 billion. Frankel says she's holding up approval on the water pipe until the county agrees to continue letting the city sell water to county residents, a move the county says amounts to blackmail. County Commissioner Addie Greene, who backed Frankel's mayoral election campaign, says the move fits the mayor's style. "When I want something done, I have to smile and be all nice," Greene says. "When Lois wants something done, she goes for the jugular."

While supporters say her style allows her to get her way, a long list of former employees claim Frankel's bullying ways are too much.

Take Bruce Jagers, who had worked at City Hall only two weeks when he experienced the wrath of Mayor Frankel. After a long career as a TV producer, Jagers took a job in August to run the city's Channel 18, which broadcasts public meetings. It was a tough time to join city government. North-end residents were protesting about crime, top city employees were quitting regularly, and few of the public meetings Jagers was airing showed Frankel in a good light.

During a meeting of department heads, Frankel met Jagers in the hallway outside to chew him out for missing a public hearing, the first one in a while in which residents weren't complaining about Frankel. Because of his absence, the meeting wasn't televised. Jagers tried to explain that the employee who was responsible for giving him the meeting schedule had been fired. He says Frankel ignored the excuse and gave him a stern warning: "You missed a meeting. That will never happen again."

But back inside the conference room, Frankel's mood changed dramatically. "OK, we missed a meeting," Frankel told the group of department heads in a calm voice. "But this is not Bruce's fault. We need to make sure to let him know about things." Jagers was relieved but also baffled by her quick turnaround. Jagers quit after just two months on the job. "Working for her," he recalls, "you never knew if she was going to light into you or compliment you."

Former employees and those close to Frankel say the tirades are common. But just as frequent are her cordial moments. She rarely misses an opportunity to speak at community meetings, and her appearances often include Frankel dancing. One of the mayor's favorite icebreakers is to leap into a spontaneous party dance, either encouraging others to join or doing it happily by herself. Her management style of mixing a little sugar with a whole lot of fire can be effective, her critics concede, by scaring off potential rivals. But even most of her supporters admit Frankel lacks diplomatic skills usually a prerequisite in politics, where a good smile typically goes further than brains.

Greene, the County Commissioner and long-time Frankel supporter, says she's often surprised by the mayor's guns-blazing approach. Says Greene: "She's just not a people person."

Delray Beach chiropractor and political consultant Andre Fladell says Frankel has few of the subtle skills of most politicians. "The best way to describe Lois is that it's like dealing with a steamroller," Fladell says. "Whatever gets in her way, she just rolls over it and keeps going." But Fladell predicts that Frankel's reelection prospects will have more to do with her progress -- or if things don't change, the lack of it -- than her personality.

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