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A look inside the PAC campaign to change the Lake Worth Beach City Commission

Updated: 4 days ago



A SOUTH CAROLINA interior designer, a former Missouri legislator who has advised Donald Trump, and a Fort Lauderdale developer are among the notable donors to a political action committee that supported two winning candidates in the Lake Worth Beach City Commission election March 19.


Prosper Lake Worth Beach originally formed more than a year ago as a grassroots group of residents and business owners concerned about growth and safety in Lake Worth Beach.


On Jan. 24, Prosper registered as a PAC with the Florida Division of Elections to support newcomer Mimi May in her race against incumbent Kim Stokes and Commissioner Sarah Malega in her race against challenger Melvin Pinkney. 


Both May and Malega won, effectively upending a commission majority that was often at odds with supporters of the Prosper grassroots group.


In a little more than a month after registering as a PAC, Prosper raised $37,085 from 42 donors in eight states, according to state records made public in April. Donors with Florida addresses contributed nearly $30,000, including $13,535 from Lake Worth Beach addresses, records show. 


Prosper paid nearly $19,200 from its war chest to Public Concepts, a heavy-hitting political consulting firm in Jupiter known for using attack mailers against opponents and for supporting Republican candidates and conservative causes. 


The PAC is required to list an address and occupation for each donor, but the donors’ connections to Lake Worth Beach are not always apparent on the campaign finance records. 



Here’s a look at some of Prosper’s biggest contributors, according to property records, state business records and other public records.


 

$5,000 — Affiliated Development of Fort Lauderdale


Since 2020, Affiliated has built two apartment buildings in Lake Worth Beach, The Mid and The Bohemian. Both projects received assistance through the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency. The developer has the same Fort Lauderdale address as two companies that made separate $2,500 donations to Prosper. The companies’ names are 1601 Dixie and 1017 Lake Ave — the addresses of The Mid and The Bohemian. 


 

$5,000 — Benny’s on the Beach in Lake Worth Beach


The company that owns and operates the popular oceanfront restaurant at the Lake Worth Beach Casino made two separate $2,500 donations. In April 2023, Lee Lipton, the owner of Benny’s, threatened to move the eatery out of Lake Worth Beach when Stokes led a successful move to renegotiate the restaurant’s lease at the city-owned beach casino. Stokes wanted to end what she and others considered a yearslong “sweetheart” deal for Benny’s, resulting in a new lease with terms more favorable to city taxpayers and closer to what other casino tenants were paying.  


 

$5,000 — Wendy S. Gilder of Charleston, S.C. 


Gilder, an interior designer married to the son of a late billionaire philanthropist, lives part-time in Lake Worth Beach where she owns a home in Parrot Cove. She and Erin Allen, a Prosper Lake Worth Beach founder, are listed as Realtor contacts on a website marketing the property, which was purchased in January 2023 for $1.17 million by a company registered in South Carolina. Gilder is married to Richard Gilder III, a Rhode Island private-school professor and son of the late Richard Gilder II, who died in 2020. Gilder II was a banker, philanthropist and a former chairman of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank that holds a “flagship annual event” in Palm Beach, according to its website.  


 

$5,000 — Kodner Real Estate Holdings in Dania Beach


The company owns five properties in downtown Lake Worth Beach, including a Lake Avenue building that houses Zoo Health Club, which is co-owned by Malega


 

$5,000 — Palm Beach Jewelry and Antique Show in West Palm Beach


The company is part of Palm Beach Show Group, whose president and CEO, Scott Diament, owns the Palm Beach Art, Antique and Design Showroom at 500 N. Dixie Highway in Lake Worth Beach. 


 

$4,000 — Brendan Lynch of Lake Worth Beach 


Lynch was chairman of the Lake Worth Beach Community Redevelopment Agency in 2022 when the agency received criticism from Stokes, McVoy and Diaz. The three commissioners expressed an interest in replacing the appointed CRA board with city commissioners, a practice in place in other Palm Beach County cities. Lynch is the son of Tom Lynch, who served as Delray Beach mayor from 1990 to 1996 and on the Palm Beach County School Board from 1998 to 2006. Tom Lynch at one time hired Public Concepts as a campaign consultant, according to a 2002 Palm Beach Post story.


 

$1,000 — Mark Ford of Delray Beach


Ford is a writer, entrepreneur and real estate investor, according to his website. Through his companies, he owns property in Lake Worth Beach, including two apartment buildings. He’s president of the Mark and Kathryn Ford Foundation, a nonprofit that supports FunLimon, an educational and vocational training school in Nicaragua.  


 

$500 — John Loudon of Lake Worth Beach


Loudon and his wife, Gina, own a waterfront home, purchased in August 2020 for $1,750,000, in the city’s Eden Place neighborhood. They also own the Sabal Palm House bed-and-breakfast downtown. He’s a former Missouri state legislator who is chairman of Florida Citizen Voters, a political committee pushing a citizenship requirement in Florida elections. He served briefly in 2017 as an adviser to America First Policies, a nonprofit advocacy group that promotes Donald Trump’s agenda. He and Gina served as Trump delegates at the 2016 convention and are members of Mar-a-Lago. In 2020, Gina served on the Trump campaign’s media advisory board and was co-chair of Women for Trump. In 2013, he and Gina appeared in the TV reality show Wife Swap.


 

$1,000 — Lucerne Ave Development of Boca Raton


The company owns four downtown Lake Worth Beach parcels and is registered to David Kislin of JEL Development.

 

 


HOW PROSPER SPENT ITS MONEY


Nearly $20,000 of Prosper’s war chest was paid to Public Concepts.


The firm is co-owned by Randy Nielsen, a veteran campaign strategist once described by the St. Petersburg Times as “the state’s foremost expert on attack ads.’’


His handiwork was on display in February and March in the mailboxes of Lake Worth Beach residents in Districts 1 and 3: Mailers attacking Stokes and Pinkney. Those mailers contained lies and misleading claims, Stokes and Pinkney said. 


Two anti-Stokes mailers prompted criticism from addiction recovery advocates, including a former Palm Beach County commissioner, for showing photographs of addicts passed out on downtown sidewalks — images the advocates said crossed ethical lines by exploiting people in need for political gain. 


They also prompted criticism from at least two donors to the PAC who said they thought they were giving money to a nonpartisan grassroots community group, not to a campaign marked by divisive attack mailers, according to the donors, who spoke on condition of anonymity.


Mimi May

The anti-Stokes’ mailers were the final salvos in a nasty District 3 campaign marked by partisan bickering in what was supposed to be a nonpartisan race. 


In early January, a fake mailer showing May with former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis under the words “Make Lake Worth Beach Republican” was circulated to some city voters, presumably by a Stokes supporter. 


May objected to the fake flyer and ripped the Stokes campaign for bringing partisan politics into what was supposed to be a non partisan race. 


Stokes, a Democrat, said her campaign had nothing to do with the ad. She has said May should blame herself for raising partisan fears among many Lake Worth Beach residents when she gave an interview in January to a conservative website.


May, who switched her party affiliation to independent a week before the election, defeated Stokes by 165 votes. Voter turnout in the district with 4,703 registered voters was 33.4 percent, higher than the countywide average of 20 percent for the March 19 municipal elections.  


In District 1, Malega defeated Pinkney by 100 votes. Turnout among that district’s 3,324 registered voters was just under 23 percent. 



Prosper’s Facebook page offers no information identifying its officers or founders. In state records, the PAC’s chairperson is listed as Peggy Fisher, a Lake Worth Beach resident who has been critical of Stokes and McVoy. The PAC’s address is a downtown Lake Worth Beach Post Office box but its money is kept in a Tallahassee bank and its deputy treasurer has a Tallhassee address.


Another Prosper leader is Erin Allen, a prominent Lake Worth Beach Realtor, who is not listed in the PAC’s registration records. On Feb. 22, Allen sent an email on behalf of Prosper Lake Worth Beach to people who had attended a meeting hosted by the group in May 2023. 


“Prosper has transformed into a political action committee to help with the races in District 3 and District 1,’’ Allen, whose husband Bo served on the City Commission from 1997 to 2003, said in the email. “We are supporting Mimi May for District 3 and Sarah Malega for District 1. After the race PLWB will become a 501 C 4 so we can continue to work for the community.’’


Stokes was often aligned with Commissioners Chris McVoy and Reinaldo Diaz, both of whom are up for election next year. Will Prosper transition again to a PAC for those races? 


“A determination will be made at that time,’’ Allen replied in an email to ByJoeCapozzi.com

Sarah Malega

Prosper also paid $250 each to the campaigns of Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and Palm Beach County State Attorney candidate Rolando Silva


The PAC’s latest finance records show it has spent $20,911 of the $37,085 it raised. 


Any remaining money, after expenses have been paid, “will go towards the furtherance of Prosper's mission to enhance the quality of life and prosperity of all Lake Worth Beach residents and businesses and bring a unified voice to Lake Worth Beach issues,’’ Allen said in the email.


“It will be used to focus on education, advocacy, and mobilization around city policies, programs and projects that affect our daily lives, so that we can ensure that Lake Worth Beach is safe, welcoming, and full of opportunity for all who call the city home.’’


May said her campaign was not involved with the Prosper PAC. 


When she started looking for a campaign consultant last year, she said she initially “was directed” to Cornerstone Solutions, the hardball political consulting firm in West Palm Beach. Cornerstone is run by Rick Asnani, who worked with Nielsen at Public Concepts before setting out on his own. 


May said Cornerstone told her the City Commission race was too small for the company to take on and referred her to Craig Agranoff of the Boca Raton firm Political Consulting.


In Florida, PACs can choose to register with a city or the state. Because Prosper registered with the state in late January, it wasn’t required under state rules to file its first financial records until April 10, nearly a month after the election. 


Had the PAC registered with the Lake Worth Beach city clerk’s office, its financial records would have been required to be made public before voters went to the polls.


© 2024 ByJoeCapozzi.com All rights reserved.

 

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About the author

Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.



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