Published On: Wed, Sep 6th, 2017

Madame Mayor Carol G. Hanson, the End of an Era

By: C. Ron Allen

I awoke to the news Sunday that longtime public servant and Boca Raton Mayor Carol G. Hanson had died.

While I was not surprised because I knew of her health challenges (her husband of 61 years, Henry “Hank” Hanson, died one month ago), I was saddened to learn of her passing.

Madame Mayor, 83, as I affectionately referred to her, was one of the last few honest old school politicians remaining. I covered her as a reporter and the experience was a far cry from my experience with many of today’s elected officials.

Whether I called or stopped by to leave a message with her secretary, I could count on Mayor Hanson returning the call.

While she never forged a coalition on the dais, the “Mayor for life” mastered building genuine connection with her constituents. When residents complained about the train whistle at nights, Mayor Hanson, who also lived near the tracks, fired off a letter to Florida East Coast Railway officials on their behalf. Some thought it was a no win battle, but to their surprise FEC officials responded by silencing horns between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. through the city.

The ban was reversed in the 1990s because of the increasing number of crashes.

Madame Mayor could quickly go from being cordial or diplomatic to being acerbic, especially when she suspected deceit or foolishness.  She also would make faces and roll her eyes when she did not agree with a speaker especially if she considered them clueless

Not one to mince her words, she had strong feelings against planned growth. It was no secret; she wanted to maintain her quaint “Paradise”.

“When I moved to Boca in 1960, we found Paradise with our 6000+ neighbors, she once said. “Now, we have Paradise lost. So much for our Paradise.”

In the 1970s when the population was about 7,000 residents, she pushed to cap the city at 40,000 units. The courts struck down the move. Today, the city has close to 100,000 residents.

During an interview in her office, it was not unusual for her to say, “Let’s go for a walk.”  I knew then that meant, “Let’s go for a cigarette downstairs.” It was then that I got some of my juiciest quotes from her because somehow it seems that whatever was in those cigarettes would cause her to be candid. No one was immune from her wrath.

When a newspaper investigation found that the Boca Raton Police Department had lied about crime statistics to make the city look safer, Mayor Hanson was one of the first to decry the behavior. She also saw it as an opportunity to get rid of the chief of police, Peter Petracco, who I am certain was never on her Christmas card list.

She did not spare me either. She would call me and give me a tongue lashing if she did not like a story I wrote. Yet, she was also quick to bestow compliments.

When I wrote about a Boca Raton Beach Tax District board member who objected to the expansion of Military Trail into Broward County, because it would allow undesirables to come into the city, she called me and in that gravelly voice scolded me.

But she ended of the conversation with, “I did not care for that story… but I still love you Sweetie,” her trademark title when you were in good graces with her.

A native of Utica, New York, Mayor Hanson moved to Miami at age 10. After graduating Miami Senior High School, she joined Southern Bell in 1951 as a long-distance operator.  Boca Raton became her new home in 1960 when her husband, Hank, was transferred by his company.

Mayor Hanson made her debut in politics during the 1970s, when she fought against the noise from a tile manufacturing plant near her home in the city’s north end.

Council members appointed her as an alternate member on the Planning and Zoning Board.

She developed an interest in politics and ran successfully for a seat on the City Council in 1979. She won re-election during which time she served as vice mayor.

In 1982, she ran successfully for the State House of Representative seat. She served until 1994 when she returned to Boca Raton. A year later, she entered a three-way contest for the mayor against incumbent mayor Bill Smith Jr., and Emil Danciu, who served as mayor from 1987 to 1993.

That race pitted big personalities against big dollars.

Armed with a pledge to make City Hall responsive to the “little guy,” she touted her voting record as a former state representative and campaigned on a message of fiscal conservatism.

With only $25,000 in her campaign account (more than the $647 she raised when she first ran for the Council in 1979), Mayor Hanson beat Danciu and Smith, who had amassed a war chest of $95,000 “Are we gonna have fun in Boca,” she said, with her trademark feistiness, shortly after she heard the final tally. “We have the most intelligent voters in Boca.”

The Mayor abruptly retired on March 31, 2001, as she wanted to spend her summers with Hank in the mountains of North Carolina.

Goodbye “Sweetie”. Thanks for all your contributions to the residents of “Paradise” and the state of Florida, your ethics and your insight. Job well done.”

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