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  • Writer's pictureJoe Capozzi

‘Absolutely disgusting:’ Recovery advocates rip Lake Worth Beach PAC mailers

Updated: Mar 11


Addiction recovery advocates are outraged over this mailer. (Blur effect added by ByJoeCapozzi.com.)

PALM BEACH COUNTY addiction recovery advocates are outraged over attack mailers, sent to Lake Worth Beach voters by a political action committee, showing photographs purportedly of overdosed addicts in the city’s downtown.


“Commissioner Kim Stokes, This is not OK!” reads one mailer sent last week by Prosper Lake Worth Beach, a PAC formed in January to support first-time candidate Mimi May, who is challenging Stokes in the March 19 election. The mailer shows a photo of an unconscious person sprawled on a sidewalk next to the words “Actual photograph taken on Lake Avenue.’’ 


A week earlier, the PAC sent a mailer with four photos, purportedly of overdosed addicts, and a photo of a man asking a motorist for money  under the headline: “Kim Stokes helped keep the welcome mat out for panhandlers & addicts.’’ 


After criticism erupted on social media, May denounced the mailers and said they are not associated with her campaign. But the PAC’s members include at least two ardent May supporters, persuading many Stokes supporters to believe that May is connected to the mailers. 

 

Two Lake Worth Beach recovery advocates said they broke into tears when they pulled the flyers from their mailboxes. They did not want to be identified in this story because they said they feared retribution if May wins the election. 


Others had plenty to say on the record. 

 

“It’s disgusting. Anybody who wants to score political points off of somebody else’s pain and suffering does not deserve a seat in elected office,’’ said former Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who does not live in Lake Worth Beach and does not know Stokes or May.


McKinlay pushed for policies during her eight years on the commission to reverse the stigma of addiction and improve recovery services for addicts in a county where more than 4,000 people have died of opioid overdoses since 2012. Lake Worth Beach has been among the hardest-hit communities.


“We have done so much work to try to remove this stereotyping of addiction and move the conversation away from it being some sort of moral failure to actually a medical issue. We are talking almost a decade of that conversation, and a mailer like that undoes that work,’’ she said. 


A mailer sent by Prosper Lake Worth Beach, a political action committee formed to help elect first-time candidate Mimi May, who is challenging Commissioner Kim Stokes.

Others said the mailers underscore a glaring lack of empathy by influential people in Lake Worth Beach for those suffering from addiction.


“Is that the way we should portray people who have a disease?” asked  Staci Katz, a former New York City police officer who lives in Lantana and runs the advocacy group OUR2SONS. “We wouldn’t send flyers with (photographs of) people in diabetic comas or on chemo. What right do they have to do this? It’s absolutely disgusting.”


“Pictures like this in political ads are showing the true ignorance of the person behind the ad,’’ said Maureen Mulroy Kielian, president of Southeast Florida Recovery Advocates. “It breaks my heart because that's a human being and it's someone’s father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister.’’


Herman Robinson, a former Lake Worth Beach city commissioner now living in Ormond Beach, saw the mailers on social media and felt compelled to comment on his Facebook page: “It’s too bad that name calling and graphic images meant to degrade people in need fill a voter’s mailbox. Be very careful who you vote for, Lake Worth. The wolf of the new politics is at the door. When you vote, you show the rest of the world what you are made of.’’ 


In an interview March 9, Robinson said his Facebook comments were not meant as an endorsement for any candidate. 


“We do have people with drug problems. I don't know that we can blame it on any one person. It’s a PBSO problem. It's a societal problem. To say one candidate, one commissioner, is responsible is not accurate,’’ he said.


Kim Stokes

The mailers are the latest volley in a nonpartisan municipal race that has broken out into a partisan street fight. A month ago, a Stokes supporter emailed some residents a fake flyer showing May next to photos of Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis under the headline “Make Lake Worth Beach Republican again.”


May, a registered Republican, denounced the bogus ad and accused Stokes of bringing partisan politics into a nonpartisan race. Stokes, a Democrat, said she had nothing to do with the ad. She 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.


Like many communities across the United States, homelessness and drug addiction have been problems in Lake Worth Beach, where residents and business owners have called on law enforcement for help. But city leaders have struggled to find solutions


Early last year, the commission, following the advice of the city attorney, approved a $75,000 settlement with the four homeless men who filed a federal lawsuit challenging a panhandling ordinance. 

 

In an interview March 9, May said she understands the anger in the community over the mailers. She said she herself is a recovery success story, having come to South Florida for addiction treatment in 2007. She has been sober 17 years. 


Mimi May

“As somebody from the recovery community, I can understand their being upset,’’ she said, “but we should be more upset that those are actual pictures of people in Lake Worth Beach.’’ 


The mailers point out a problem with drug use in Lake Worth Beach that might be better solved if addicts were dealt the “consequences of living a life of addiction’’ by being arrested and jailed, May said in a comment under Robinson's Facebook post.


“We have to allow our law enforcement officers to enforce the laws that addicts break,'' she said. "It just may save their lives.’’


May’s critics said the mailers crossed an ethical line. Prosper Lake Worth Beach, they said, is exploiting people who suffer from addiction, people who had no idea they were being photographed, for the purpose of scoring votes at the polls. 

 

“That wasn’t my choice,’’ May said. “I found them to be offensive as well, absolutely, but I had nothing to do with sending them.’’


Asked if she knows anyone who belongs to Prosper Lake Worth Beach, May said, “I have no idea.’’ 


Prosper Lake Worth Beach originally formed as an advocacy group a few years ago to push for city issues such as the Gulfstream Hotel and a lease for Benny’s on the Beach. 


On Feb. 22, Realtor Erin Allen, a May supporter, 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 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.’’


Allen, whose husband Bo served on the City Commission from 1997-2003, would not comment for this story


A day after this story was posted on NextDoor, Allen commented under the link, "People SHOULD be outraged by these pictures because they are real people in front of REAL businesses downtown. To think this is what the businesses have to deal with regularly. Hosing urine and feces off the sidewalks before they open for business. Having to put up planters to provide a barrier between patrons and strung out drug addicts who amble down the sidewalks. It's alarming. And it's not what I want my grandkids exposed to in real life. The businesses are suffering and this does not help.''


(Image of an email sent by Erin Allen on Feb. 22, 2024)

Prosper Lake Worth Beach registered with the state as a political action committee on Jan. 24, 2024, according to state records. The PAC’s chairperson is Peggy Fisher, a Lake Worth Beach resident who has been critical of Stokes and Commissioner Chris 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, Kim Bailes, has a Tallhassee address. 


When a reporter March 9 dialed the phone number listed next to Fisher’s name on organizational papers the PAC filed with the state, it went to a voicemail. The reporter's call was not immediately returned.  


It’s not known how much money the Prosper Lake Worth Beach has raised, who has donated to it or how the PAC has spent its money. Under state rules, the PAC’s first campaign finance reports aren’t due until April 10, nearly a month after the election.  


If Prosper Lake Worth Beach had registered with the city, as other PACs have done in city elections, it would have been required to file finance reports before the March 19 election. 


Who is advising the Prosper and providing the content for the its mailers is not known. Stokes and her supporters believe it’s the same people who are contributing to May’s campaign, including business and real estate interests. 

'If it is indeed somebody who is suffering an overdose, why would you stand there and take a photo of it? Why wouldn't you call 911 and get them some help?'

If the Prosper’s members are pro-business, the PAC's mailers send the opposite message, said Amy Fernandez, who runs the Help Me Amy Foundation, an addiction recovery nonprofit. 


“South Florida is a recovery hub. People come here to recover, not to be taken advantage of because they are in a hopeless state,’’ said Fernandez, whose Palm Beach Gardens-based nonprofit serves people from Miami to Port St. Lucie.


McKinlay, a Democrat, said she doesn’t know Stokes but is aware of the work she has done in her first term to improve services for people in recovery. That includes Stokes’ support for the opening in September of the Recovery Community HUB at 1120 Lucerne Ave. 


“I don't have a dog in the fight,’’ McKinlay said, referring to the city’s District 3 race, “but it is absolutely horrible to use somebody’s pain that way.’’


“If it is indeed somebody who is suffering an overdose, why would you stand there and take a photo of it?’’ she said.


“Why wouldn't you call 911 and try to get them some help? Why wouldn't you reach over and make sure they were OK? You take photos of it and you put it on a political mailer and attack somebody who's actually tried to do something on addiction issues? It's disgusting. There should be no place in elected office, in leadership roles, for people who try to score those kinds of political points.’’



Stokes said her advocacy for people in recovery comes from her own experience. She said her late mother suffered from opioid addiction and other relatives suffer from addiction. 


“I know the impact on families, and the more I try to help the more these people hate me for it,’’ she said in an interview, referring to her political opponents. 


When Stokes saw the attack mailers, she said she was so shaken and outraged that it took her two days to post a reaction. 


“Not because it falsely accuses me of being responsible for homelessness and addiction. That is so obviously untrue, and voters are smarter than that,’’ she said in a Facebook post. 


“It upset me because circulating pictures of real people who are unresponsive is dehumanizing to them, their families and the community as a whole. It is also counterproductive to actually providing relief to those suffering from homelessness, mental health conditions, and addiction. These mailers were appalling, and the lack of humanity shown by the creators of them is shocking.’’ 


May was among those who commented on Stokes’ post. 


“I agree these flyers went too far,’’ May wrote.


“I am in recovery and have been for over 17 years,'' she said. "My primary purpose is to help others suffering from the disease of addiction. My phone is filled with numbers of people that have died due to this disease and those pictures were of real people in Lake Worth Beach. I am glad that you brought the HUB to LWB. Unfortunately, most of the time people need to hit a bottom before they seek recovery. There's a fine line between helping someone and enabling them. People are dying on our streets.’’


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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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