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Riviera Beach runoff election features bitter battle, online sniping between opposing parts of city

Runoff showcases divide on Singer Island, mainland
Posted at 3:20 PM, Mar 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-18 18:37:05-04

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — Voters in six Palm Beach County communities will be asked to head back to the polls Tuesday for runoff elections.

Races for mayor and city council in Riviera Beach feature bitter battles and online sniping, pitting two parts of a town against each other.

Singer Island features Riviera Beach's most expensive homes while their mainland neighborhoods struggle.

The Blue Heron Bridge connects these two parts of the city.

To some, the bridge symbolizes the city's divide in the upcoming election for mayor and a city council seat.

The races feature Mayor Ronnie Felder against former City Council member Billie Brooks. The battle for City Council District 3 pits Council President Shirley Lanier against challenger Marvelous Washington. 

"If we have the right people in office ... we can make sure that bridge no longer has a wall in the middle of it," Riviera Beach resident Bill Hester said.

Riviera Beach resident Bill Hester
Riviera Beach resident Bill Hester discusses the upcoming runoff election.

Hester lives on Singer Island and much of his work in commercial real estate takes place on the other side of the bridge.

Flyers and emailers advocating for candidates in the upcoming vote show the Singer Island-mainland divide.

An email to Singer Island voters reads, "We pay the majority of residential property taxes in Riviera Beach."

"Certain people seem to believe that Singer Island is supposed to rule whatever happens to Riviera Beach," Hester said.

"If they didn't have Singer Island, I don't know what would happen on the other side of the bridge," said 90-year-old Luigi D'Auria of Riviera Beach.

Like many on Singer Island, D'Auria believes a lot of property tax money on the island should be reinvested here to keep it a competitive tourist destination.

Luigi D'Auria, Singer Island resident
Luigi D'Auria lives on Singer Island and lays out his thoughts on the runoff election.

"I don't want the island to change," D'Auria said. "I want it to be kept beautiful, and I think they're doing a good job so far."

If you travel across the Blue Heron Bridge from Singer Island to Riviera Beach, you'll find stark differences.

Contact 5 looked into census numbers that show Riviera Beach's poverty rate is 20% compared to Palm Beach County's 12% rate.

Some residents on the mainland part of the city see their neighborhoods dotted with older decaying homes, while across the Blue Heron Bridge, they see a traffic median with new palm trees at the gateway to Singer Island.

"They are like singing it out, like they are paying taxes and we’re not. We all are," said Maebertha Jones of Riviera Beach.

Jones sees the discrepancy at the heart of the elections.

"I wish it was over," Jones said.

But the signs all over town and the emails pushed out to voters show a contentious runoff election set to be held Tuesday.

Emails obtained by Contact 5 show that many on Singer Island feel if city council candidate Shirley Lanier doesn't win, then some on the island fear they will lose control of the city council, lose their city manager and open the door for development on the wealthy side of the bridge. 

"I'm hoping that that bridge … can be broadened so that it can be an all-inclusive city," Hester said.

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