Mayor Jack Seiler got his first taste of national attention last year, but it wasn't the way he wanted it.
After news stories of 90-year-old do-gooder Arnold Abbott getting arrested for violating the city's anti-homeless laws went viral, the country's attention turned toward Fort Lauderdale to see who was responsible for such horrendous legislation. Who could enact a law against feeding the homeless? And who could arrest a 90-year-old man for feeding poor people, even if there is some pesky law?
Deserved or not, Seiler became that man. For a few days, his face was blasted all over national media as the symbol of heartlessness and lack of compassion for the poor. But however controversial the feeding ordinances are, there was a good deal of misinformation, and Seiler took the brunt of it. Abbott wasn't arrested -- he was carted away from the feeding station and given a ticket (however, a few younger charity-minded people have been arrested for violating the ordinance). And the new laws don't completely ban feeding the homeless, but they do put tight restrictions on feeding in public parks.
However, the mayor has done a lot more since he took office in 2009, and he's eager to point that out. On issues regarding the economy, housing, and the diversity of the Fort Lauderdale Police force, he's confident his record is strong enough to convince voters he deserves another chance.
Here's his position on some of the major issues facing the city:
Las Olas Marina: "We're in the process right now of upgrading and expanding the Las Olas Marina, and I'm very much in support of upgrading and expanding the marina. The marine industry is a very important industry to our community, and we'll do what we've done over the last six years and I will do everything possible to preserve, protect, and grow a sustainable marine industry. So certainly, the expansion of that marina and the upgrade of it is high on my list of priorities."
The Wave Streetcar: "The Wave streetcar is a process. We inherited it, and we just had to implement it. But the Wave streetcar goes back to the late '90s with a group of downtown development leaders, and I think we'll see that project through to completion. We obviously have to look at alternative transportation, and this city commission has focused on alternative modes of transportation and making sure that our roads are available and accessible to everybody, including mass transit, individual vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians. So the Wave is part of our multimodal transit loop, as well as part of a sustainable but renewable approach to energy-efficient transportation options."
City Salaries: "We've got the second-lowest property tax rate of the 25 largest cities in the state of Florida. We've got a 4.5 percent unemployment rate in Fort Lauderdale. We're knocking it out of the park in terms of jobs and the economy and the budget. We've really had tremendous success and, as far as it relates to city budget issues, we're gonna stay on track with what we've done, and we've had such great success with it, there's no reason to change our policy. We treat our employees very fair, and we have converted all of our nonpublic safety new hires to what they call 401s. So we went from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. We still have our public safety employees under a defined benefit plan, but like I said, we've done such a good job of managing the budget, I don't think we'll do anything to disrupt that."
Improvements on Police Reform: "There can always be improvement. We can improve any aspect of what we do day-in and day-out in Fort Lauderdale, whether we're talking about the Police Department or public works or parks and recreation, there's always room for improvement. But as it relates specifically to our Police Department, I am delighted with their professionalism and their competency. They're a department that you know is well-run when a new sheriff gets elected and a half dozen of the higher-ranking officers in the Fort Lauderdale Police Department are brought over to help run the Broward Sheriff's Office. That's a tremendous reflection on the professionalism of our Police Department, our police officers. I don't know if in the history of any city you've ever seen that number of top-level officers go to help run another agency because of how well-respected they are. We're doing very well.
"The nice thing for me is we probably have one of the most diverse police departments anywhere, and that sends a really strong message about race relations and community policing. With these protests, all you have to do is look at the Fort Lauderdale Police Department and we're basically a minority-majority department between the African-Americans, Hispanics, and females. You look at our leadership and see we are very diverse. We have females in top positions. We have Hispanics in top positions, we have African-Americans in top positions, including the chief and the assistant chief. So it's a department that really reflects the community well and reflects extremely well on our diverse, inclusive approach, and I could not be more pleased with that... The protests about race relations don't really ring true in Fort Lauderdale because, last time I checked, our Police Department was around 30 to 40 percent African-American."
Biking While Black/Racial Profiling: "It's simply not true. I love that question, because every time I get that question, I tell them to call our black chief of police who is an African-American, who lives in the community, who is the one implementing this and tells us this is a really good law. And then I tell them to go talk to our assistant chief of police, who at that time, before he just left to become the chief of police for the School Board of Broward County, and a lifetime member of the NAACP who will tell you that's a good law.
"There is no 'biking while black' law in the City of Fort Lauderdale. The law involves the registration of bikes, and the concept is very simple: One, if your bike is stolen, it's registered, and we recover it, you can recover it too. Two, if your bike is stolen and it's registered and we don't recover it but we find other bikes that were recovered that end up not being claimed, we can replace your bike. So we've really had this tremendous success with recovering lost property or similar property because they registered their bikes.
"Also, if you speak to anybody in the community, they love this law because there are certain times when people are using bikes and bike lookouts to commit crimes, and this law, which came about long before my tenure as a mayor, has been very effective in addressing crimes committed within the neighborhood. As much as this might surprise people, I'm more concerned about the safety and security of our neighbors and safety and security of our neighborhoods than I am about a media twist to a law that has had tremendous success over the last 20 years."
Riverwalk: "I really am anxious to complete the Riverwalk, and I'm not just talking from an infrastructure standpoint or from a physical standpoint. The Riverwalk means so much to Fort Lauderdale in terms of not just physically but in terms of the activities, the events, the sense of place, the community gatherings -- it is really a tremendous asset. The river is a tremendous natural resource. The Riverwalk sort of emphasizes that natural resource and makes it a community asset and treasure. I think if we can fully implement patrols, lighting, and maintenance, we can maximize that to be a great community activity and sense of place. So the Riverwalk has been something that I'm very anxious to complete. Like I've said, not just from an infrastructure or structural standpoint but from a full community standpoint that this is, in fact, an ultimate destination in the City of Fort Lauderdale. It connects so many parts of the city, it really is a gathering place for such a diverse group of people. So I'm really anxious to see the Riverwalk through to completion."
On the Competition: "First of all, I commend both of them for running. I think it's important that there are elections. I think it's important that there are races. In essence, the referendum becomes a reflection of the policies that we've implemented. So we'll know Tuesday whether the general public supports what we've been doing. We'll know Tuesday whether the neighbors, citizens, and voters approve of the work we've done.
"I feel we've done a tremendous job focusing on jobs, the budget, the economy, really making sure Fort Lauderdale has had a sustained recovery and I think this election will be a referendum on that. The voters support my opponent, then they'll say we don't like the direction this city is going in in terms of jobs, the economy, and budget. If I get reelected, they'll say I've done a great job on preserving and protecting our quality of life. I'm encouraged by the response I've gotten and I commend my opponents for running.
"I actually think Mr. Brennan has some interesting ideas. Mr. Ryerson, this is his third time running and he kind repeats the same old criticisms and when he gets corrected, he comes out with new ones. But he's essentially been running for mayor since 2008 and this is his third time. But Mr. Brennan has brought a fresh outlook to the campaign and a fresh outlook on the election. And I commend the guy for participating in the process. I respect him."
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