Gang politics in Riviera?

Follow the money, not last March's votes

Palm Beach Post Editorial
Tuesday, June 26, 2007

In March, Riviera Beach voters elected a new city council majority. Last month, those three new council members voted to have city taxpayers pick up the $45,214 legal bill of their political ally, Dawn Pardo. Her suit to limit development of the Ocean Mall on Singer Island gave the new council an issue to run on.

The new council also has approved $84.882 that will go to other political backers, so they can hold a Gang Awareness Week. If the money wasn't supposed to be seen as another political payoff, the new council got off to a bad start.

City Manager Bill Wilkins pulled the agenda item because he wanted to find a different way to finance the proposal by retired Palm Beach County Sheriff's deputy Dan Calloway, who also supported the new council. Mr. Wilkins was overruled; Councilman Cedrick Thomas insisted that reserves be tapped, if needed. "The only snag was how it was done," said Shelby Lowe, who had wanted the money approved properly. "But it definitely wasn't a political payoff. We need to do all we can to try to come up with ideas to fight this gang thing."

Councilman Lowe said he's "a product of the Calloway system" of athletics and academics that has kept many Riviera Beach youths busy and out of trouble on their way to responsible lives. Mr. Calloway has worked with kids, including hard-core gang members, for more than two decades.

"We're out here fighting for our lives and everybody is trying to make it a political thing," he said of his request to pay for the activities, including bringing in National Football League players, that started Saturday.

Opponents include former Mayor Michael Brown. "It's a giant political payoff," a shakedown in anti-gang guise, he said. "It's the same old thing they had been doing over the years and I did not allow."

It all illustrates the kind of politics that Riviera Beach needs to rise above. Police Chief Clarence Williams is correct that if the youth violence problem "was purely law enforcement, it would already be solved," and that the community-based effort can be "one of the planks of a comprehensive strategy, not only for Riviera Beach but throughout the county." The city's politicians will render that strategy worse than counterproductive if they give out money based only on who got them into office.