Published On: Wed, Mar 9th, 2011

Susan Whelchel retains Boca mayoral seat in landslide city election victory

Story, photos by Dale M. King

BOCA RATON – Uncle Julio’s Mexican Restaurant was a hot spot in Boca Raton Tuesday night – and it wasn’t just the jalapenos.

The eatery in Mizner Park was the site of Mayor Susan Whelchel’s victory party in the city election.  As the night got later, the crowd got larger, and the margin of victory expanded to a ratio of nearly 9 to 1.

“This shows that Boca Raton is on the right track,” the 16-year veteran of local and state politics told the Boca Raton Tribune.

This will be the second and final three-year term as the city’s chief executive for Whelchel.  Term limits will prevent her from seeking the post again after serving a total of six years.

Susan Whelchel is flanked by Maurice and Charlotte Robinson

That didn’t seem to be on the mind of anyone at Tuesday’s gathering that included friends, former and current colleagues and many followers of Boca politics.

The city nearly had to call off its election this year when it appeared Whelchel and two council members whose terms expire in 2011, Mike Mullaugh and Susan Haynie, would remain unchallenged.  At the 11th hour, Linda Spurling Gruneisen, a neighbor of the Whelchel family in Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club, filed nomination papers for mayor.

Mullaugh and Haynie were elected automatically because they were unchallenged.  Whelchel took over the executive seat from Steven Abrams in 2008, also without a challenge.

But Gruneisen said she didn’t feel the incumbent should retain her office without a foe.  Whelchel gave Gruneisen a dim assessment Tuesday night.

“My opponent didn’t do her homework, and spent her time complaining about the things she didn’t like in Boca Raton.  Tonight, she has heard – loud and clear – that Boca doesn’t agree with her.”

Mayor Susan Whelchel, left, and Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie at Uncle Julio’s

Whelchel said she intends to work with the council to make the city better.  Actually, the five-member council will remain unchanged going into the new mayoral term starting April 1.

In her time, Whelchel has been both a Boca Raton City Council member, head of the Community Redevelopment Agency, a School Board member and mayor.

During her campaign, the 66-year-old chief executive, a former teacher, put job creation and economic recovery at the top of her list of priorities. Whelchel has also staunchly refused to raise taxes and has fought to responsibly cut the municipal budget in response to the national economic downturn.

“We have proven that a back-to-basics approach works in this new economic reality and I will continue to drive a bold, common sense agenda for the next three years.”

Though she was criticized by her opponent for endorsing cameras to nab red light runners and the installation of parking meters – a first for Boca — Whelchel defended her action, saying it was necessary to add to municipal revenue at time of declining income sources.

At the same time, she has long been a supporter of environmentally sustainable or “green” technology, particularly in the construction of buildings and use of green space around the city.

Whelchel will be sworn in to her second term as mayor during a reorganization meeting of the City Council in late March.  Mullaugh and Haynie will also be sworn in again.

 

 

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