Hell froze over in Lake Worth, Fla., in November 2011.
The uber-liberal central Palm Beach County city – best known for its fringe population of self-described anarchists who regularly make national news for heckling conservative candidates and causes – elected a smart-growth, pro-business, pro-development Republican mayor.
“Lake Worth was the butt of all the jokes of Palm Beach County – the crazies, the communists, the socialists,” said Michael Weiner, a land-use attorney active in local politics. “Finally, everyone got sick and tired, and Pam Triolo got elected.”
Party affiliation aside, Triolo says her only agendas are cleaning up the many blighted areas of her beloved city, returning city reserves to a healthy state and ensuring that both current and future businesses thrive. All while preserving the artsy charm of this multi-cultural city by the sea.
Lake Worth is home to 37,000 residents nestled within seven square miles. Forty percent of its population is Hispanic, mostly Guatemalan, according to census figures. There is also a large and growing Haitian community. The revitalized downtown is a haven for both unconventional, Bohemian hippie types and the well-heeled artistically inclined. Shops, bars and restaurants with outdoor seating line the main drags – Lake and Lucerne avenues.
Triolo, 46, has lived there for 15 years and owns an advertising and public relations business in Lake Worth. A broadcasting major in college, she spent much of her life in radio. But she always loved politics. Triolo’s mother, Sandy, “a fiery Irish woman,” was an elected town councilwoman in Huntington, N.Y., on Long Island’s north shore, who was once considered to run for New York’s lieutenant governor post. The family printing business worked for numerous Republican organizations and campaigns.
While packing up her late mother’s belongings three years ago, Triolo learned her friend, fellow Lake Worth resident Greg Rice, had decided not to run for mayor. She knew immediately she had to step up.
“I was fed up,” she explained. “The city had blown through its reserves, the roads were pot-holed, and neighborhoods were run down and without sidewalks. They were going to raise taxes to the highest level allowable by law, and the council said they were also going to assess [residents] for street lights and fire. And the straw that broke the camel’s back was that because the city was financially strapped, they were going to eliminate the Sheriff’s Office contract and go back to being a local police force.”
Sheriff’s deputies had eradicated much of Lake Worth’s gang and drug activity, Triolo said, and losing that contract would decimate the city.
“Even if I didn’t win, I would bring to light the city’s problems,” she said. “This city, which sits at the base of one of the wealthiest cities in the world, with our own Intracoastal golf course, a beachfront, historic parks and many natural resources, was almost bankrupt.”
She campaigned door to door, promising to keep the sheriff’s deputies on the job, eliminate assessments, expedite the city’s lingering beach project, address the expensive utility rates and grow the tax base.
After 18 months in office, Triolo has made good on those promises, her supporters say. The Sheriff’s Office remains on patrol in Lake Worth. Gone are $1.7 million in assessments. Code enforcement has been restaffed, and land development regulations have been rewritten. An economic development coordinator has been hired. The beach project is complete. Utility rates have dropped by 8 percent, $1 million has been funneled into city reserves, and the city budget has been balanced.
“All from a budget they said couldn’t be touched and that taxes had to be raised,” she added.
High on her to-do list for the rest of her term is repairing infrastructure in the city’s long-ignored and poorest areas, dominated by Hispanics and Haitians. After taking office, Triolo walked those neighborhoods and was appalled by the number of unpaved roads and the dearth of sidewalks and fire hydrants — among $63 million worth of needed infrastructure repairs, from water and sewer to paving.
“We need to ensure the public safety of our constituents,” she said. “There’s no excuse for this.”
Being mayor is a balancing act that Triolo seems to be mastering, judging by feedback from residents and business owners.
Triolo is “the city’s biggest cheerleader who realizes that getting and keeping good merchants downtown is key,” said John Rinaldi, who owns the Sabal Palm House Bed and Breakfast with his wife, Colleen.
Rice, who said business obligations kept him out of the mayoral race, said his friend has turned the city around 180 degrees.
“She is a good listener,” he said, “and she’s fair in listening to both sides and making a decision that’s best for the greater good.”
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