Riviera Beach's major players

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Liz Wade
Member of the Riviera Beach City Council since 1989 (with a three-year break in the '90s)


Age: 59

Worked for 23 years at Pratt & Whitney as an aircraft sheet-metal mechanic and tube bender. Retired in 2000. Wade ran for county commission in 1992 and lost.

Divorced, she raised two daughters and four foster daughters.

Years in Riviera Beach:

She grew up in West Palm Beach. Her fondest childhood memory is of sitting in front of her house, her mother brushing her hair, when a handsome West Palm Beach police officer would come by. "He'd always kiss me and give me a nickel," she says. The young cop was Boone Darden, who in 1971 became Riviera Beach police chief, the state's first black chief of a big-city police department.

Wade is known for "Liz-isms," such as starting a city council meeting with, "I'm not going to tell anyone to shut up tonight; I took a chill pill." When Riviera Beach homeowners recently were paid far more than the value of their homes by a developer, she referred to them as being "as happy as a sissy in a Boy Scout camp." Once, when asked about corruption charges in Riviera Beach, Wade opened her purse and invited Palm Beach Post writers to look at her checkbook. "I drink but I don't take," she quipped.

She often spars with Mayor Michael Brown, but she invited him over for Thanksgiving dinner last year. "Don't worry," she said with a big smile, "I won't cook you."


Michael Brown

Riviera Beach mayor

Age: 46

Career: Attorney

Noteworthy: Played football at Purdue University; law degree Howard University; Port of Palm Beach commissioner 1995 to '97; elected mayor three times, beginning 1999. His wife, Barbara, sells real estate and has sold units at Marina Grande, the condo now going up at the western base of the Blue Heron Bridge.

Years in Riviera Beach: Born and raised. Now lives on Singer Island.

The middle of seven children, Brown spent his boyhood selling produce for his dad, "Farmer Brown," on the Riviera streets. (His father's first name was London, but no one ever used it.) The Browns also had a small paving/demolition business. "Everyone knew you could never outwork the Brown family," the mayor says.

His hometown roots help him and hurt him with residents, Brown says. "Most people in Riviera, they appreciate that I'm like them. I'm working class. I'm Farmer Brown's son, and because of that, I'll never desert them. But other people think, 'Who is he to be mayor? He grew up like I grew up, and now he's trying to get out of his class.' "

Brown says his motivation for redevelopment is to help lift Riviera's poor, particularly the children (one-third of the people on the mainland are under 17, he says).

"Too many (other African-American professionals) have abandoned them."


Addie Greene

Palm Beach County commissioner

Age: 62

Noteworthy: She started a caucus of local black political leaders "so elected officials could work together."

Years in the area: 40.

Greene says she is "disgusted" with the personality clashes among Riviera Beach leaders. Some city council members are too isolated, she says. "When you sit there and you never go anywhere, you never learn anything. You stagnate."

She calls her own years in Tallahassee as a state legislator "the best thing that ever happened to me because I experienced something different. I learned about politics, professionalism and myself.

"The only way that city is going to move forward is to get politically minded, free-thinking people, white and black, on that council. The same way of thinking is not going to help," she says.


Bill Wilkins

Riviera Beach city manager

Age: 59

Career: He worked as Riviera city manager from 1979 until 1987, when he was fired after trying to fire the police chief, former FBI agent Frank Walker. After a nine-month FBI investigation of Wilkins and others in city hall, no charges were filed. He became an assistant county administrator in 1989 and returned as Riviera city manager in 1999.

Noteworthy: Wilkins has served Riviera Beach as city manager, police chief and community redevelopment agency director.

Years in Riviera Beach: 32.

Known for his soft-spoken style, Wilkins runs day-to-day operations of the city and works for the city council. Former state Sen. Phil Lewis calls him "brilliant."

"In terms of being on the hot seat," says Wilkins, "that's what city managers do."


Edward Rodgers

Retired senior judge and former Riviera Beach City Council member

Age: 78

Career: Palm Beach County's first black prosecutor, first black county judge (1973), first black circuit judge (1977), first black chief county judge (1984) and chief judge of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit. Retired from the bench in 1995.

Noteworthy: The son of a steelworker, Rodgers grew up in Pittsburgh. At Howard University, he met and later married Gwendolyn, who died in 1994. The couple have three children. In 1950, he bought his first home in Riviera Beach at Veterans Homes between First and Eighth Streets for $6,500. He graduated from then-segregated Florida A&M law school in 1963 along with U.S. Representative Alcee Hastings. The U.S. Post Office in Riviera Beach was dedicated to Rodgers two years ago.

Years in Riviera Beach: 56.

Rodgers says one form of racism has had a sustained effect on Riviera Beach: Whites holding blacks to lower standards. He says this goes back to segregation days. "White businesses were held to the letter of the law," says Rodgers. "But there was no problem if black businesses didn't follow regulations. That certainly harms us even now, running businesses. How important it is to keep the books and monitor the pennies."


Herman McCray

Owner of McCray's Barbecue and longtime community activist

Age: 65

Noteworthy: McCray and his "Imperial Men," a group from McCray's Imperial Point neighborhood, were instrumental in the 1971 election of the city's first black-majority council. Member of the Riviera Beach City Council in 1992. City director of sanitation 1971, 1981-87. "I got my job through politics," he says, "and I lost my job through politics. To the victor goes the spoils. I'm not bitter."

Years in Riviera Beach: 40.

McCray has seen Riviera Beach politics from inside and out. He says racism is still alive in attitudes of white people "who have it embedded in them that they've always been better. They act like, 'I'm helping you because I feel sorry for you.' "

McCray isn't shy about today's leaders: "When they climb up to that dais, they become queens and kings. But there is no school for council people . . . they're not developers, they're not engineers, they're not financial experts. Who leads?"

He supports redevelopment, but not through the use of eminent domain. "Michael Brown is not the panacea for Riviera Beach," he says. "He thinks he has all the sense in the world, but I know he doesn't because I have some."