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

Goldberg, says Singer, is aware of the rumors. "There's a lot of implications — we laugh about it, actually," he says, adding, "I know for a fact that there is no personal relationship between them."

Asked how he knows, Singer admits he's basing that conclusion entirely on his hunches. He says, "If people would just ask the people involved, it would all be over with." Singer predicts that Goldberg would find the question laughable.

Frankel, of course, did not. Asked during a break in the February 26 commission meeting to describe the nature of her relationship with Goldberg, Frankel put her finger inches from the face of a reporter and said: "Let me tell you this clearly, so that you get it right: I have no personal relationship with Joan Goldberg. She works for the city. I've never been to her house. I don't socialize with her. We have had dinner a couple of times after work — and that's it."

Mayor Lois Frankel put the West Palm waterfront project into the hands of Joan Goldberg, above.
©Gary Coronado/The Palm Beach Post
Mayor Lois Frankel put the West Palm waterfront project into the hands of Joan Goldberg, above.

We'd heard she'd taken a trip to London with Goldberg. Was it true? "We went on a trip. She's doing the waterfront. We've gone on three trips to look for... you know... different types of amenities along waterfronts. We have a business relationship. If you want to suggest othewise, you better be prepared for a lawsuit. Anybody who knows anything knows that I have a group of social friends — she's not in that circle. They don't even know who the hell she is."

Asked to provide the names of those friends, Frankel went to the City Hall security desk and began dialing a college friend, Judy Ciedel. When Ciedel answers, Frankel explains her predicament: a misguided reporter. "He's insinuating that I have some type of personal relationship with Joan Goldberg. I tried to explain to him that I have a completely separate set of friends... Would you put this guy straight?"

Ciedel, who said she'd met Frankel at Boston University in 1966, said that she'd celebrated children's birthday parties with Frankel's family and has kept in touch with her ever since but that "I have never met Joan Goldberg. I've only read about her in the newspaper."

After Ciedel hung up, the mayor said of Goldberg, "She happens to be a brilliant, capable person that we hired to do a job — and she does it."

The implication that they are romantically involved, Frankel said, is "anti-Semitic and demeaning."

Later, her office sent another denial: "The Mayor does not currently, nor has she ever had a personal private relationship with any employee."

A city spokesman also sent this statement: "Joan Goldberg does not currently nor has she ever had a personal relationship with the Mayor. All contact is strictly on a professional level and revolves around her assigned duties as a consultant to the city."

Well, we had to ask.

Others tell us they don't dare because Frankel herself is such an intimidating force. Her reputation for digging up dirt on her opposition, for example, makes her out to be West Palm's answer to Karl Rove.

Commissioner Mitchell prefers the analogy of Richard Nixon. Last fall, Mitchell caught wind of a Mississippi-based firm making public records requests to learn more about her work as an investment banker, particularly in reference to her firm dealing with companies that have also done business with West Palm Beach.

Mitchell had her brother research the company. It turned out to be a Democratic Party operative specializing in opposition research. Mitchell, who is a Republican, blamed Frankel for the plumbing operation.

Frankel, a Democrat, didn't deny Mitchell's charge. "I read in the newspaper that you were going to run for mayor — and part of my process is to do research," Frankel said. "It's something that's typical."

It was "a politically motivated attempt to start digging up dirt on me," Mitchell said during an hour-plus diatribe at the February 26 commission meeting. "Investigating another city commissioner is the lowest form of impropriety."

Zucaro's taken his own shots from Frankel, and he's not shy about it: "She can kiss my ass, and that's a quote," he says.

But for the most part, the campaign has been less than rough-and-tumble and mostly one-sided: It's generally been a contest of Lois Frankel versus herself.

The headquarters of the Zucaro for Mayor campaign is tucked into a ground-floor office suite in the 801 S. Olive building, near Dixie Highway. On a sunny Saturday afternoon in early February, the candidate's wife, Maria, is here, squinting at the computer mockup of a flier that will show her husband next to a chainlink fence, a grave expression on his Italian face. His suit jacket is slung over his back, and his ample stomach strains his white shirt into a crescent shape.

"Can't they do some beautification?" Maria asks about the photo.

"No!" the candidate answers. "We're not handing out stale cookies here. I'm mean — but not too lean." He thinks the shot makes him look like an extra from The Sopranos, and that's apparently a good thing.

Zucaro's campaign for mayor has been quiet but cunning. He seems to realize that the pressure is squarely on Frankel and that his chief selling point is his not being his opponent. So whatever she does — or would be expected to do — Zucaro usually does the opposite.

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