Gruneisen challenges Whelchel in Boca Raton mayor’s race
By Donovan Ortega
BOCA RATON – The seat of Boca Raton mayor will be up for grabs March 8th. And two people want to serve in that office.
The incumbent mayor, Susan Whelchel, has a challenger – Linda Spurling Gruneisen. This will be Boca Raton’s first contested election since 2005 when Rev. Mark Boykin challenged incumbent Steven Abrams. Abrams won that election in a landslide.
Since that time, the seat for mayor has been held and acquiesced without contention. It appeared as though Whelchel would retain her seat this year without a fight. That is, until Gruneisen applied for candidacy just six hours before the deadline for potential candidates. Whelchel has cited Gruneisen’s last minute maneuvering as proof of her lack of political experience and shortsighted vision. However, Gruneisen said that she, and a growing number of Boca Raton’s residents have, for a long time, been “concerned with the state of things in Boca, especially the economy.”
Gruneisen was prompted into action after she noticed that Deerfield Beach was having an election. She then inquired at City Hall if Boca Raton was due for an election as well. When told an election was to be held but no one had entered, Grunieson asked why it hadn’t been publicized. The city official she spoke to mentioned concerns with the high cost involved with having an election.
“They seemed rather content with not having one,” said Gruneisen, who walked away from that conversation disturbed by what she felt was a lack of democracy in Boca Raton.
So, with the cries for free elections swirling in Egypt, Gruneisen wished to voice her unhappiness as well. She entered the realm of politics in Boca Raton.
“I feel that there are many unheard voices in Boca that are not happy with those who have been in political positions for a long time and haven’t delivered the results they’ve promised,” said Gruneisen. “I’m on the ballot as an answer to those people.”
Many residents have expressed concern with the cost of running an election that some feel is meaningless given Whelchel’s large contingency. It has been estimated that the election will cost the city $100,000 for ballots, poll workers, and polling places.
“The fact is that Boca Raton’s budget is $450 million dollars, and a $100,000 isn’t going to be a burden to the taxpayers if it means checks and balances and democracy,” said Grunieson.
At a recent fundraiser at Uncle Julio’s in Mizner Park, Whelchel offered stinging criticism of her opponent when she chided Gruneisen’s short-term residency and her apparent disconnect with the needs of Boca’s residents. Gruneisen claims those assertions are patently false.
“I’ve lived within an eight mile radius of Boca Raton my entire life. I’m a runner and I jog the streets and I know these people,” said Gruneisen.
She grew up in Pompano Beach, attending high school and college in Broward. Gruneisen has traveled abroad as well, working for the Peace Corps in Bolivia to enhance small business. More important than the history of her residency, though, is that she claims to be a breath of fresh air in a city that desperately needs it.
“I’m disappointed with the way Mayor Whelchel has planned to balance the budget. It doesn’t recognize Boca Raton’s potential,” said Gruneisen.
She explained that the planned traffic cameras and parking meters will give Boca Raton residents the feeling of being used as revenue builders and certainly won’t attract people to an already floundering downtown scene.
“I understand that there is an effort to re-brand our downtown, but what kind of message are we sending when we’re putting up traffic cameras and parking meters?” asked Gruneisen.
Gruneisen also cited the lack of development on the beach as a problem.
“We have five miles of highly valuable ocean front real estate, yet our government’s answer is to close Spanish River Park three days a week. There isn’t any wonder that no one wants to go to the beach, you have to bring rations for an army,” said Gruneisen. “If you want to have a meal on the beach, you have to go to Deerfield or Delray.”
Grunieson didn’t stop there. She decried the “Promenade” project on Palmetto Park Road as being insufficient redevelopment.
“New pavers aren’t going to attract people downtown,” said Gruneisen. “Not to mention how badly it has damaged the shop owners during Boca’s busy season. They all had to pay assessment fees for new sidewalks they never wanted. It’s a waste of money.”
When asked if she felt she had a chance to win, Gruneisen answered definitively.
“Yes, absolutely. The word is getting around. There are a lot of people who feel they are not being represented and are not happy with the way things are. I think they’ll turn out to vote.”