How did the West Palm Beach mayor's reelection attempt turn into such a fright?

Before the committee could vote, Goldberg made an impassioned plea for the Singer-Thompson group. "This, to me, is a team that brought everything to the table," she said. "Jane Thompson for decades has reinvented, reinvigorized one city after another."

Of Singer, Goldberg said: "This is a person who can get his arms around designers and attorneys and the public and really begin to pull together a cohesive unit and thought."

She had little praise for the other frontrunner, Sasaki: "Well-executed designs but, for me, sterile," she said. "Somehow, I don't know if this is a team that can reach into our very soul and bring out the best of who we are."

Mayor Lois Frankel
Mayor Lois Frankel
Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell accuses Frankel of hiring a political bounty hunter to smear her reputation.
Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell accuses Frankel of hiring a political bounty hunter to smear her reputation.

The scene made a vivid impression on Bojanowski, who says it was "my first experience of seeing how really, really powerful [Goldberg] was."

The committee, however, made its own call: Sasaki earned its top ranking. The Singer-Thompson group ranked second.

But the City Commission had the final say. A month later, it ignored its own citizens' committee and awarded the contract to the Singer-Thompson team.

Commissioner Mitchell, who favored the Sasaki proposal, remembers a conversation she had with Goldberg on the subject. "Joan personally said to me that Michael Singer was on that team, which is why she wanted that team," Mitchell says. "I said, 'Will he work with the Sasaki team?' She said, 'No, he won't work with them. '"

Mitchell also recalls a conversation with the mayor. "Lois said to me, 'Whoever Joan picks, that's who I'm going with. '"

It was Thompson's plan that commissioners praised, but in the years since they gave her firm their endorsement, Thompson has drifted — or has been pushed — further and further from the project. A November headline in the Palm Beach Post declared Thompson "out of the loop" on a waterfront project dominated by Goldberg and Singer.

Reached at her Boston office, Thompson refused to discuss her role, or lack thereof, in the waterfront project, saying only, "I suggest you read what's already been written... and you can draw your own conclusions."

Bojanowski believes cutting Thompson out was always part of the plan. "I suspect that the whole thing was a sham," she says. "It was going to be Michael Singer and Joan Goldberg." Bojanowski is convinced that Goldberg and Singer threw their support behind Thompson purely to "use the cachet of her name."

By that rationale, Thompson, who is being paid through public coffers, is just a figurehead. "Exactly," Bojanowski responds. "And that's why I'm guessing Jane Thompson was absolutely disgusted and didn't want anything to do with it."

Singer denies that Thompson has been pushed out. "It's just that her part of the project — urban planning — is already finished. She and her company defined [the waterfront project], and that was excellent work."

Goldberg initially agreed to speak with New Times but then did not respond to numerous phone calls and e-mail messages.

Perception is the buzzword of the West Palm Beach mayoral campaign, which will come to a conclusion with Tuesday's election.

The Frankel administration has labored to convince West Palm Beach residents that they only perceive an increase in crime, that in fact citywide crime is down, if only slightly. Florida Department of Law Enforcement statistics show that burglaries decreased by a percentage point between 2005 and 2006 while during the same period, the total number of murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults fell by 4 percent.

So too has the mayor struggled to control the perception that her economic development plans have stalled. Frankel points to a Clematis Street that's safer than when she took office and to a bevy of new downtown condos ready to provide shoppers there and to CityPlace, which has also suffered. But that forecast is all based on the assumption that the condos sell, despite a still-sluggish South Florida housing market, and that today's struggling Clematis merchants and CityPlace stores can weather the current doldrums.

In the one instance where perception had helped Frankel, it's now turned decidedly against her. During most of the mayor's term, downtown developers perceived it necessary to make generous campaign contributions so that their projects would be fast-tracked by Frankel's administration. This perception helped her raise $400,000 for her campaign, an unheard-of sum in West Palm Beach politics.

But the grand jury's report took a dim view of that state of affairs: "Developers and businesses perceive that the City of West Palm Beach is in fact a 'pay-to-play' city," the report said. "Developers take actions consistent with this conclusion, including the contribution of substantial sums of money to the campaign account of Mayor Lois Frankel."

The mayor's efforts to emphasize the report's positives — that no cause was found to make a criminal indictment — have been roundly jeered. Her response is hardly reassuring in a city that last year witnessed the indictment of two sitting commissioners: Jim Exline on charges he failed to report $60,000 in income and Ray Liberti for accepting more than $70,000 in bribes.

Even Frankel could see this was a major problem so near an election. And she acted fast. Frankel last month circulated a 36-page draft of an ethics code whose principles she asked commissioners to endorse. The draft was almost a carbon copy of Tampa's far-reaching ethics code, using the same section numbers and titles and the same language.

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