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  • Writer's pictureJoe Capozzi

‘I am not MAGA!’ — Candidate’s ‘rookie mistake’ fuels partisan uproar in nonpartisan Lake Worth Beach race

Updated: Mar 4


Mimi May, a newcomer running for a Lake Worth Beach City Commission seat, denounces a fake flyer with her photo next to former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a candidates forum Feb. 19. Her opponent, City Commissioner Kim Stokes (second from left) denies any involvement in the fake ad.(JOE CAPOZZI)

THE FAKE FLYER with the headline “Make Lake Worth Beach Republican Again” shows Mimi May, a political newcomer running for City Commission, smiling next to photos of former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.


The bogus ad was emailed last month to dozens if not hundreds of city residents, presumably by a supporter of Lake Worth Beach Commissioner Kim Stokes, May’s opponent in the March 19 election. Stokes, a registered Democrat, said neither she nor her campaign had anything to do with the fake flyer. 


May, a registered Republican who has insisted party affiliations should be off limits in the nonpartisan race, was not amused.  


“Somebody sent this and that’s not OK,’’ she said at a candidates forum Feb. 19, her voice rising as she held the fake ad in front of 100 or so people in a room at The Beach Club. 


“I am not MAGA. I am not a Trumper,’’ she said. “That is insane. It’s rude and it’s disgusting.’’ 


The flyer was the latest — and loudest — volley in a nonpartisan city commission race that has blown up into a toxic partisan fight, with supporters of both candidates taking shots at each others’ political leanings, right out of the playbook for tactics in state and national races. Nasty political rhetoric has surfaced in other small-town races in South Florida, as noted March 3 in a South Florida Sun-Sentinel column “The Mudslinging Reaches Main Street.’’


Until Feb. 19, Lake Worth Beach’s District 3 race’s partisanship dust-up had played out mostly behind the scenes, in comments on community Facebook pages, before gaining steam in January when May accepted (and later returned) a $1,000 donation from the controversial owner of a downtown business where she posted a campaign sign. 


It didn’t come up in the first 55 minutes of the hour-long Beach Club forum, which also featured three mayoral candidates and focused on hot-button city issues like the Gulfstream Hotel, short-term rentals and the shuttered beachfront swimming pool.


But in the final moments of her closing statement that night, May said, “I need to address the elephant in the room,” before dramatically pulling out the bogus ad to the cheers of her supporters, as seen in this edited video clip.



What May didn’t mention during her passionate remarks was her own role in fueling the partisan rhetoric: In an ill-fated move that helped inspire the bogus May/Trump/DeSantis ad, she gave an interview in January for a story in a conservative online media website called Florida Jolt


Published by BizPac Review co-founder Jack Furnari, a self-described “radical conservative,’’ Florida Jolt bills itself as “Conservative News for We The People’’ and “a voice to people scorned by the legacy media, parents of public school children, conservatives, homeschoolers, the religious, the traditional, pro-lifers, libertarians, etc.’’ 


The headline over Furnari’s Florida Jolt introductory column in 2022: 

“We cannot allow the left to destroy Palm Beach County.”


In September, Florida Jolt published a story criticizing the “GOP-hating” Lake Worth Beach City Commission for passing a resolution declaring the city a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community. (The article was written by Tracy Caruso, the wife of State Rep. Mike Caruso, a Republican whose coastal district includes parts of Lake Worth Beach east of U.S. 1.)


May, a middle school teacher with no prior political experience, said she wasn’t aware of the news site’s conservative agenda when she followed the advice of a campaign adviser and agreed to talk to a Florida Jolt reporter, her first-ever interview with a media outlet. 


The story, published Feb. 1 and headlined Outsider Mimi May vows to revitalize Lake Worth in City Commission Race,” was tame compared to most Florida Jolt content. A straightforward profile about her reasons for getting into the race, it did not describe May as a Republican or focus on traditional conservative topics. 


Kim Stokes

And it did not attack Stokes, who has been described by critics as a “socialist” aligned with activist Cara Jennings, a former city commissioner and self-described “anarchist.” (In 2018, Jennings hurled harsh words at then-Gov. Rick Scott in a Gainesville Starbucks, a confrontation captured in a viral video.)


But not long after May shared the story on her Facebook page, criticism erupted on social media about her decision to be profiled in a megaphone for the conservative establishment. She removed the link. 


“It’s a rookie mistake is what it was, honestly. I didn't know what Florida Jolt was. I should have done my research. I didn't,” May told ByJoeCapozzi.com.


“The interview wasn't a very right wing interview,’’ she said. “It was just where it came from that was horrible. I didn't realize who it was and where the slant was. I just didn't. I was poorly advised.’’ 


Stokes and her supporters aren’t convinced that May didn’t know about Florida Jolt. And even if she didn’t, they said, it’s a glaring reason voters shouldn’t elect her: If May can’t properly vet a media outlet seeking to interview her, how can voters be confident that she will do proper due diligence when making decisions that affect Lake Worth Beach’s 43,000 residents?


“I don't want a leader that is going to have to backtrack. I want a leader that I can trust what they are going to do,’’ said Stokes, who in a Feb. 9 campaign letter called on voters “to stand up against the hateful conservative rhetoric of my opponent's party.’’


“It seems like she is waiting for people to tell her what to do,’’ said Stokes, a former high school math teacher elected in 2021 when voters swept three incumbents from office. “And who are the people she is actually going to listen to? Because the idea that she is going to be the voice of every person in this town doesn’t float.’’


May would not identify the adviser who steered her to Florida Jolt, saying, “I don't want to throw anybody under the bus.’’ 


Furnari told ByJoeCapozzi.com he couldn’t remember who introduced May to him. 


“I remember speaking to her, I'm not sure exactly how the call happened, and liking her. So I assigned a writer to write her up,’’ he said. 


“You have to understand, I speak to an awful lot of candidates. At this time of the year my phone rings off the hook. Half the time I don't remember who called me or who sent them to me. I just don’t,’’ he said. 


But May made an impression on Furnari, who said he “in-kinded” her campaign ads on Florida Jolt. May said she did not request or know about the free ads until they were pointed out by critics on social media.  


‘Election interference’


For May’s critics, it all added up to a perfect partisan storm of concerns about her political motives, inspiring the creation of the bogus May/DeSantis/Trump flyer. Although the ad did not include the standard fine print explaining who paid for it, as required by state law, some people thought it was authentic. 


“I have had people tell me that they can’t vote for me because of the email linking myself to DeSantis and Trump,” May said. “Since my opponent’s campaign sent these, I feel as though they are election interference and causing bias based on lies in a nonpartisan election.’’


Stokes said her campaign did not send the fake ad and had nothing to do with it.  


“The facts are, she is a Republican who gives interviews to right-wing publications and takes money from known anti-gay businesses,” Stokes said. “Now she is upset that someone associated her with Trump and DeSantis?”


Fake ad presumably made by Kim Stokes supporter.

May said she suspects Stokes and her supporters had always planned to attack her political affiliation in the campaign, long before the Florida Jolt story. 


“When I decided to run, I said to myself, ‘What are they going to come at me with?’ And that's the only thing they had, but I didn't think they were going to make it so ridiculous,’’ she said.


She said she spoke to Stokes in early 2023 and asked her to agree to “run a clean race and let's just let the voters choose because our positions are so different enough that they can choose on the issues. They don't need anything else. And she said, ‘Well, I can't control what other people do.’’’  


May said her political views are “very centrist” and not at all aligned with the far right. In hindsight, she said, she should have switched her party affiliation to independent before she entered the race. 


“Every single person (working) on my campaign is a liberal progressive,’’ she said. “They’re all either registered independents or Democrats and they all support me.’’


May said she was encouraged to run by several supporters, including a Lake Worth Beach city commissioner. But she said her decision to get into the race was her own, sparked by frustration with Stokes’ performance.


When she decided to run, she said she “was directed” to Cornerstone Solutions, the hardball political consulting firm that has represented major political players, from the entire West Palm Beach City Commission to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw. May said Cornerstone told her the Lake Worth Beach Commission race was too small for the company to take on and referred her to Craig Agranoff of Political Consulting LLC in Boca Raton.


Campaign advisers make it their business to mingle with politically connected people. In October, Agranoff attended a cocktail party at Furnari’s house along with a who’s who of county power brokers. Among them: Palm Beach County Republican Party Chairman Kevin Neal; former County Commissioner Mary McCarty (who was pardoned by Trump in 2020 for corruption charges she pleaded guilty to in 2009); John R. Smith, chairman of the Business Political Action Committee of Palm Beach County; Mike and Tracy Caruso; condo powerbroker Andre Fladell and Democratic Clerk of the Court Joe Abruzzo, according to a Florida Jolt photo gallery


Not ‘some MAGA freak show’


The Republican Party is trying to gain inroads in traditionally-blue Palm Beach County, where registered Democrats (38.5 percent) outnumber registered Republicans (about 30 percent). 


Neal, responding to criticisms within the county party leadership about his performance, said in a Feb. 15 Palm Beach Post story that the party has about 30 candidates running for municipal offices and he had met or spoken with about 80 percent of them.


May said she has “been approached by people in the Republican Party and I have said, ‘Thank you, but no thank you. It’s a nonpartisan race.’’’ 


Last week, May said, she received an email from Neal offering to donate $500 to her campaign.“I politely declined,’’ she said. “I said this is a nonpartisan election and I prefer to keep it that way.’’’


Lake Worth Beach City Commission candidates forum Jan. 25 at the Lake Worth Playhouse. (JOE CAPOZZI)

May said she hopes voters see that Stokes is honing in on partisan politics to avoid talking about her “poor” record on issues directly relevant to Lake Worth Beach residents. 


“I know this sounds naive but this is what I thought: I tell you how I feel, Kim tells you how she feels, we both tell the truth and you pick who you want, because we are vastly different,’’ she said. “But that’s not what's happening and I am being made out to be some MAGA freak show.’’ 


It may be a nonpartisan race, Stokes said, but partisan politics is foremost on the minds of district residents she has spoken to on the campaign trail. Those residents, she said, believe party affiliation informs and shapes how elected officials make decisions, even those on small-town city commissions, and especially in a Trump/DeSantis era that has seen attacks on gay and abortion rights, book bans and immigration restrictions.


“We hear all the time at the doors: Is Kim a Democrat or Republican? Is Mimi a Democrat or Republican?’’ Stokes said. 


“We are in a state and country, now, where things have become hyperpolarized, and which party you align with does speak to, kind of, what issues are important and where you stand on them. People want to know. And I think it's strange to not to tell them.’’


May admits that many residents, when she goes door to door, ask her party affiliation.


I tell them it's a nonpartisan election. I say, ‘The potholes don't care whether you’re a Republican or Democrat,”’ she said. “I'm very centrist. When I get elected, I am going to have fiduciary responsibility for our city and I will be very conservative in that, but socially I am very liberal.’’


Stokes said her own fiduciary responsibility has guided her in her first term. It’s why, to the consternation of many people who are now supporting May, she has made difficult decisions and asked hard questions about the cash-strapped city's finances — from millions in incentives offered to the developers of the Gulfstream Hotel renovation to renegotiating a “sweetheart” lease with the popular oceanfront eatery Benny’s on the Beach at the city-owned pier. 



Stokes joined her commission colleagues in unanimously approving the Gulfstream Hotel project in 2022, and preliminary work is now underway. A new Benny’s lease, pushed for by Stokes, will give the city $1.5 million more than the lease initially proposed by city staff. 


Stokes has often voted in step with Commissioners Christopher McVoy and Reinaldo Diaz and at odds with Mayor Betty Resch and Commissioner Sarah Malega. Led by Stokes, the factions lined up in December to fire the city manager, with Resch and Malega opposed. The decision, two weeks before Christmas, upset many of the same residents who support May.


In campaign mailers and on social media, May has criticized her opponent on all of those decisions, calling her “decidedly and unapologetically business averse.’’


And May has repeated a narrative that Stokes, McVoy and Diaz tried to kill the Gulfstream Hotel proposal by delaying it and not seconding Malega's key motion that might have doomed the project if the mayor hadn’t passed the gavel to second the motion.


Stokes said she wishes May would check city records and acknowledge the fact that she voted to approve that project and others instead of going “on social media and telling lies about me on a daily basis.’’ 


May said Stokes only voted to support the Gulfstream and Benny's after bowing to public pressure from angry residents who packed meetings, staged a golf-cart protest parade and posted billboards over the highway. 


The forces of that public pressure surfaced again at a candidates forum at the Lake Worth Playhouse in January when a group of May supporters loudly booed Stokes several times, prompting May herself to rebuke the boo birds. 


Kim Stokes passes the microphone to Mimi May at a Lake Worth Beach candidates forum Feb. 19. (JOE CAPOZZI)

Although the Stokes campaign believes May’s supporters represent a loud minority, the latest campaign finance reports show May has raised $25,470, about three times what Stokes has raised. 


Among May’s donors: JIS Construction Management of West Palm Beach ($1,000); Sean Downes, Irish Brigade bar co-owner ($1,000); Hulett Environmental Services' pitchman Greg Rice ($500); Realtor Erin Allen ($500); Mayor Resch ($100); and former West Palm Beach City Commissioner Shanon Materio, who owns a business in Lake Worth Beach ($100). 


Allen launched a political action committee called Prosper Lake Worth Beach to help elect May and Malega. The PAC has sent attack mailers, including one, with photographs purportedly of overdosed addicts, accusing Stokes of  keeping “the welcome mat out for panhandlers & addicts.’’ 


May has been endorsed by county unions for the police, firefighters and paramedics and by the Broward, Palm Beaches & St. Lucie Realtors.


Stokes’ endorsements include The Palm Beach Post, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council and the AFL-CIO. She also has endorsements from two partisan groups: the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida and the LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus of Palm Beach County.  


Her $8,514 war chest includes donations from Tom Conboy, Commissioner McVoy’s employer ($1,000); attorney Molly McCrae ($500); David Mathews of Mathews Brewing ($100); Commissioner Diaz ($100); and West Palm Beach attorney Gregg Lerman, who is running for state attorney ($100). 


May said the disparity in contributions is a glaring indication of how the Stokes campaign is struggling. Otherwise, she said, Stokes wouldn’t be focusing on her opponent’s party affiliation as a campaign issue. 


“They have one bullet and they keep shooting it,’’ May said. “If they had anything else on me they would use it, but they haven't because it's the only bullet they think they have.’’

Stokes said May is missing the point: Partisanship is an important issue for voters casting ballots in races of all sizes, even in small-town nonpartisan city commission races. 


Many of her constituents, she said, are worried that the commission seat may be just a stepping stone for May’s political career.


“I don't want to be the town that launches the career of the next Republican, especially in the state of Florida when we have seen what the party has done,’’ Stokes said.

 

May said her political aspirations don’t go beyond serving Lake Worth Beach.


“If you talk to me, I'm a completely rational human being who just wants to serve her city. It's not like I want to go on to become governor,’’ she said.


“I am a true independent thinker,’’ she added. “I don't even believe there should be parties. I think we vote for the best person for the job. That may sound naive, but look at what we are faced with in the nation. Look at our two choices.’’


In 2022, Lake Worth Beach voters did away with citywide elections in favor of single-member districts. On March 19, only voters in District 3 will cast ballots for May or Stokes. (Voters citywide will cast ballots for the mayor’s race.) 


About 45 percent of the 4,632 registered voters in District 3 are Democrat, 27.5 percent are independent and nearly 24 percent are Republican. (Citywide, nearly 46 percent of Lake Worth Beach’s 14,538 registered voters are Democrats and 22 percent are Republicans. Nearly 22 percent are independent.) 



May said she “absolutely” understands why the Florida Jolt article could lead voters to make assumptions about her. 


All of this is new and I am going to make mistakes, obviously,’’ she said. “The point is not to make the same mistake over and over again.’’ 

Two other races on the ballot have not seen partisan infighting. 


Resch is being challenged by former Commissioner Andy Amoroso, newcomer Alex Cull and William Joseph.


District 1 Commissioner Sarah Malega is being challenged by Melvin Pinkney, a pastor and water treatment plant superintendent.


The mayor earns $29,500 a year and commissioners $24,500. They receive a monthly $500 car allowance. 


Dylan Harrison, the owner of Kavasutra, has been posting campaign signs for several candidates, including May and Stokes, in the window of his Lake Avenue kava bar, despite requests by the candidates to remove their signs. Cull and a Stokes supporter have complained to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.


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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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