WEST PALM BEACH — Mayoral candidates Jeri Muoio, Molly Douglas and Paula Ryan found themselves in hot water in January after each said during a debate that if elected she would fire West Palm Beach’s first female police chief, Delsa Bush, an African American who is popular in the black community.
The candidates cited what they said was low morale among officers, for which they blamed her, and for the purchase of a radio dispatch system that encountered problems in another city.
That infuriated black leaders, who criticized the candidates at a City Commission meeting, saying they should have addressed their concerns with the black community before threatening to fire Bush.
Former County Commissioner Addie Greene said about 20 people wanted to speak at the meeting but they tapped Bishop Harold Ray, a popular, well-respected pastor and community leader, to speak on their behalf. He said Bush had served with excellence, distinction and vision.
Muoio and Ryan appeared to be having second thoughts about firing Bush but Douglas, a city commissioner, stood her ground.
Prior to the outcry, there was no clear favorite among blacks for the March 8 mayoral election.
By Tuesday, it was evident that Muoio had made amends enough to win the support of famed personal injury attorney Willie Gary. He gave the keynote address at a rally for Muoio at Gaines Park in the heart of the black community. Boxing promoter Don King was slated to be on hand but he was a no-show.
Gary, who grew up in poverty in western Palm Beach County, is now known for winning hundreds of millions of dollars in jury awards from some of the largest companies in the world.
He told the small gathering at the Gaines Park gymnasium that they should vote for Muoio.
Asked in an interview after the rally why he was supporting Muoio, Gary replied, “She understands the need to reach out to all people and specifically African-American people. That was a road she crossed and, at the end of the day, she realized that that was not a road that she was to travel.”
Gary and Muoio met through mutual friends and the attorney said he was endorsing the mayoral candidate “because I want to encourage people to get out and vote for her.” No candidate was perfect, he said, adding, “at the end of the day, you have to pick the best candidate. I think she’s the best candidate.”
Muoio said in an interview prior to the rally that she was wrong in her remarks about Bush. “A good leader knows when she is wrong and can make up for it,” she had said previously, when asked about the situation. Tuesday, she said she called Bush the day after her comments and apologized to her “because I felt it was wrong for us to be talking about her in public without having talked to her first and without having had an opportunity to share our concerns.”
Muoio said she met with Bush and promised the chief she would have an opportunity to work in a Muoio administration. She would set goals and objectives that she would expect Bush to meet.
South Florida Times has not been able to reach Bush for a comment.
Incumbent Mayor Lois Frankel, whose term is up, has been popular among blacks. She is endorsing Muoio but says she disagreed with the three candidates’ original remarks about firing Bush.
“I was very disappointed with the responses of all the candidates. I am a full supporter of Delsa Bush. I appointed her and I think she’s been a terrific chief,” Frankel said in an interview before the rally Tuesday.
“The crime index has been down since she’s become chief. She’s ethical. I was disappointed when some of these candidates, I felt, were disrespectful of her.”
Daphne Taylor may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.