WEST PALM BEACH — Minutes after new West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio took the oath of office on March 31 in the City Hall chambers, she outlined her priorities. At the top of the list, she said in her first mayoral address: working with the heads of the police and fire departments on budget cuts.
Present to hear those remarks and witness the inaugural ceremony was Police Chief Delsa Bush, an African American who is the city’s first female chief. Muoio and some other mayoral candidates campaigned on a promise to fire Bush, citing low morale among officers and questioning her budgetary decisions.
Bishop Harold Ray, founding pastor of Redemptive Life Fellowship, the largest African-American church in Palm Beach County, and former County Commission Chairwoman Addie Greene had criticized the candidates for their stance against Bush.
Muoio recanted, saying she had made a mistake. She met with Bush to apologize and promised to work with her if elected. She also met and garnered the support of famed personal injury attorney Willie Gary, who spoke on her behalf at a campaign rally at Gaines Park in the African-American community.
Muoio gave expression to her changed stance when she delivered her address. “I deeply respect management of our police and fire departments,” said Muoio, who has taken over from Lois Frankel. “I know that we must take care of those who take care of us. You are an important part of our city and I look forward to working with you.”
Gary, who attended the swearing-in ceremony, said he believes Muoio will be a mayor for all the people. Ray, also present, said he, too, expects that she will be a fair mayor. Ray’s church corporation, the Redemptive Life Urban Initiatives Corporation, built several homes in the heart of the inner city with full support from Frankel. He expects to have a good working relationship with Muoio, as well.
In an interview, Bush said the attack against her by Muoio and other mayoral candidates during the campaign had come as a surprise.
“I don’t know what the phenomenon was that started it, but the community can attest to the fact that I have given my life to this job and to this noble profession, with eight years being the head of this police department, so I have no regrets and I stand by everything I’ve done. I’m not begging or groveling for a job,” said Bush, who’s been with the department for 28 years.
Ray and Greene stoutly defended Bush’s record and credentials at a commission meeting during the height of the campaign. Bush said that although all the candidates apologized to her, she is prepared for whatever comes. “If they want to keep me, they can keep me and, if not, I would be ready to go whenever they [say],” she said. “I would just hope the community has a choice and input into who the next police chief would be.”
Keith James is the second black commissioner on the West Palm Beach City Commission, the other being the long-serving Ike Robinson. “It’s exhilarating, but humbling, at the same time,” said James, a Harvard graduate with his own law firm. The position, he says, gives him a chance to serve the entire community.
“I’m just honored that the voters of West Palm saw fit to put me up there. Sitting on that dais was an exhilarating feel but I realize the responsibility that comes with it,” he said.
James, an only child, was delighted that his mother, Patricia Jones, of Dallas, Texas, and his children, Amber and Keith Jr., stood with him as he took the oath.
“It just brought tears to my eyes to see that the determination he had as a child is still being carried out as an adult,” Jones said. “I always knew he was going to be a leader. I’m just so very proud.”
“We’re very proud,” added Amber James, a senior at Harvard.
Their mother, attorney Elaine James, also a law graduate of the Ivy League university, who works with a local law firm, also attended the ceremony. Keith Jr., a Duke University graduate, works for the Department of Justice.
Daphne Taylor may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org