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Tracy Caruso takes on Shelly Petrolia in bid to become Delray Beach mayor

Wife of Tallahassee lawmaker seeks to oust 'divisive and vindictive' mayor
Tracy Petrolia vs. Shelly Petrolia
Posted at 12:03 PM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 12:03:01-05

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Shelly Petrolia is in the midst of a contentious race to remain mayor of Delray Beach.

Tracy Caruso, the wife of state Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach, is challenging Petrolia in the March 9 municipal election.

Caruso is a first-time elected office seeker who currently chairs the Delray Beach Historic Preservation Board, which serves in an advisory capacity to city commissioners.

Petrolia, who is seeking a second term, was first elected mayor in 2018, becoming just the second woman to serve in that capacity in the city's history. Before becoming mayor, Petrolia spent five years as a city commissioner.

Caruso's campaign has taken Petrolia to task for two controversial issues during her tenure as mayor -- the removal of George Gretsas as city manager and the city's water woes.

Commissioners voted 3-2 in November to fire Gretsas after an outside investigation concluded he violated city policy by bullying and retaliating against an assistant city manager. Gretsas disputed the allegations, calling them "false charges" and claiming they were retaliation for "exposing corrupt activities" in the city, including issues with the water.

Gretsas, who took over in January 2020, was the sixth's city manager since 2013.

George Gretsas, Delray Beach City Hall
George Gretsas is the sixth Delray Beach city manager since 2013.

Caruso's camp has also painted Petrolia as the failed leader of the city's mismanagement of its reclaimed water system after a whistleblower claimed cross connections with the drinking water were making people sick. While the Florida Department of Health and Palm Beach County's inspector general began an investigation, an outside review cited the city's "lack of institutional control."

A Caruso-backing political action committee known as Progress for Delray Beach has labeled Petrolia as "divisive and vindictive" in the many flyers attacking the mayor and responsible for the discord within City Hall.

Tracy Caruso campaign flyers attacking Shelly Petrolia
These are just some of the campaign flyers that target Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia.

Petrolia has received the endorsements of both the South Florida SunSentinel and the Palm Beach Post, while Caruso has the support of former mayors Jay Alperin, Rita Ellis, Woodie McDuffie and Jeff Perlman.

Although Caruso is a political newcomer, she's no stranger to politics. Her husband represents House District 89, which includes Delray Beach.

Petrolia's camp claims "dark money" from Tallahassee and outside the city is funding Caruso's "smear campaign." A pro-Petrolia flyer claims that more than 75% of Caruso's funding is coming from "PACs, nonresidents and special interests."

Another flyer plasters Caruso's comments in social media posts, accusing her of being "homophobic" and lacking compassion. It claims Caruso is "unfit and unprepared" for the job.

Tracy Caruso 'in her own words' flyer
Mayor Shelly Petrolia's campaign sent this flyer to residents accusing challenger Tracy Caruso of being "unfit and unprepared" for the job.

While most of Caruso's flyers take aim at Petrolia's character, the mayor's flyers mostly tout Petrolia's experience and accomplishments.

Two commissioners are also seeking re-election.

Adam Frankel is the incumbent being challenged by veteran journalist Price Patton, who worked for the Palm Beach Post and was a founding partner of the Coastal Star community newspaper.

Meanwhile, Mitch Katz is challenging incumbent Ryan Boylston for his seat. Katz is a former commissioner who lost to Boylston in the 2018 election.

Anyone registered to vote within the city limits can cast a ballot in each race.