WEST PALM BEACH Mayor Keith James fired back at downtown businessman Rodney Mayo for threatening to launch a recall petition after a judge disqualified the Subculture Restaurant Group owner from challenging James in the March 14 election.
“Mr. Mayo has lost a lot of credibility by attempting to qualify at the last minute as a candidate for Mayor of West Palm Beach, even though he does not reside in the city,’’ James said Jan. 18 in a statement released by his campaign to ByJoeCapozzi.com.
“A judge ruled against him and his last-minute tactics to change residency and disqualified him from the ballot. He tried to fool the voters and lost, and now he’s threatening to run a recall election,’’ James said in the statement.
A day earlier, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Joseph Curley Jr. ruled that Mayo was ineligible to run for mayor because he violated a city charter requirement for candidates to be legal residents of West Palm Beach for six months before an election.
Mayo lives in a house he owns near Lantana, James argued in court, not in an apartment above a bar he owns on Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach.
“West Palm Beach has rules that everyone must abide by if they want to run for elected office,’’ James said in his statement. “I was fully prepared to run in an election against Mr. Mayo, or any other opponent that wanted to run, so long as they were a legitimate candidate. I filed my challenge against Mr. Mayo because we had proof he only does business in the city but does not live here full-time.’’
Since James has no challenger, the ruling effectively cancels the March 14 election and gives the mayor another four-year term without a single vote being cast.
In a Facebook post after the judge issued his ruling, Mayo said he probably would not appeal the ruling because it would cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” with no guarantee of a decision before March 14.
“What we are going to do is to start a petition to recall the Mayor. The required number of signatures needed is 3,500,’’ Mayo wrote. “We want to double that! We want to send a message that we want our city back! We deserve to have an election and have a choice in our future. We will notify you shortly on how to sign the petition and share it with your neighbors.’’
James, in his statement, did not sound concerned about the recall threat.
“Residents will see that this is not about what is best for our city but whatever feeds Mr. Mayo’s interests, or gets him attention and headlines,’’ he said. “I am going to focus on doing my job as Mayor to run the city of West Palm Beach and carry on the momentum of progress we started four years ago for all our residents. My focus is on building a brighter future, not dismantling things when things don’t go my way.”
Mayo, in his Facebook post, said in his two months as a candidate he began to feel like he could win, despite his opponent’s financial advantage.
“Our grassroots campaign worked,'' he said. "Today we have over 500 volunteers signed up to help us change things for the better in our city. The outpouring of support was from all sectors and all communities. I was humbled by the people stopping by our campaign office and offering help, from the wealthy to the forgotten.''
But he said he is worried James will continue to “hand” the city over to developers.
“I'm afraid our out-of-control, laissez-faire attitude toward development will go unchecked. It is assured developers will get their way, and our skyline over the next four years will change dramatically. I am afraid more residents will be forced to move elsewhere as the rental rates continue to skyrocket; I am fearful that our forgotten communities will be wholly ignored until it’s time to bring in the bulldozers and hand the land over to the developers, I am afraid the small businesses will suffer and will be forced out in exchange for larger corporate operations that can pay the escalating rents.”
And, as an owner of 10 businesses in the city, Mayo wrote that he fears retribution.
“Mayor Keith James is a vindictive person. Anyone who did not support him may suffer. Many folks stayed out of this race because of that fear. For those that stood up, we applaud you!”
He questioned the judge’s ruling.
“If a citizen like me who moved to Northwood in 1974, opened his first business in 1987 on Clematis street, has ten businesses operating in the city with an 11th on the way, owns several properties in the city, has started several local charities and helped assist folks who lost their income due to COVID when the city failed to do anything does not qualify to run for local office, then what individual would?”
The judge ruled that Mayo’s decision to put his Lantana-area address on his drivers’ license and voter registration card meant that it and not his apartment above the Respectable Street nightclub on Clematis Street was his primary address.
Mayo, in his Facebook post, also attacked the mayor’s campaign manager, Cornerstone Solutions, saying its ability to raise money and run campaigns for city commission members puts democracy at risk.
“It all comes down to money,’’ Mayo wrote. “Years ago, the average commissioner campaign was $30,000, and a mayoral campaign was $100,000. Thanks to Cornerstone Solutions, fueled by money from a few influential developers (if you want to know who they are, look at the cranes dotting our skyline), these numbers have ballooned to $150,000 and over $500,000. When I decided to enter this race and met with a few political campaign advisors, I was told, ‘money equals votes; are you willing to match your opponents' money?’
“Two things I have learned in the past 60 days running our ‘take the money out of politics campaign’ are 1) the money Cornerstone Solutions and the developers threw at their hand-picked politicians have indeed scared off any potential opponents. 2) I have learned they are wrong; money does not buy votes!”
As of Dec. 31, James had raised $280,000 in direct contributions; Mayo had raised $64,500, including $15,000 of his own money.
(Reporter Joel Engelhardt contributed to this story.)
© 2023 ByJoeCapozzi.com All rights reserved.
If you enjoyed this story, please help support us by clicking the donation button in the masthead on our homepage.
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.