U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, Once Mayor Of West Palm Beach, Proves Tenacious Leaders Get Things Done
Nothing papers over political differences quicker than money. Dollars are not red or blue, but green.
So when outspoken liberal Democrat U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel strolled into a recent Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce cocktail reception to talk about a big check she delivered to South Florida, even conservative Republicans greeted her like a star. Business folks pushed partisan politics aside in the name of economic development and praised Frankel for her help in obtaining $1.2 million for widening and deepening Port Everglades. After two unsuccessful decades of trying for the money, the port improvements only gained momentum when Frankel was elected to Congress in 2012. Enthusiastically praised by chamber members at the reception, Frankel quipped to the group, “Whoever thought dredging was so sexy?”
Frankel, who is currently serving her second term in Congress, has been successful in politics where so many others have failed because of her power of persuasion and tenacity.
It is a skill first learned as a trial attorney, honed during 14 years in the Florida House, refined as the mayor of West Palm Beach from 2002-2011 and used every day in Congress.
“Politics is about sticking to your goals, building relationships and finding common ground,” she says.
Frankel has been especially adept at forging relationships built outside the Democratic caucus and among Florida Republicans, particularly when she is fighting for her House District 22. At press time in early October, a judge was considering new boundary maps that would reshape her district, which currently stretches from Riviera Beach in Palm Beach County to Fort Lauderdale and Plantation in Broward County.
Frankel has been fighting for what she believes in since she was a youngster growing up on Long Island, New York. She used to defend her little brother. “He was a little runty kid,” Frankel recalls. “He was picked on. I would stand in the front lawn with a baseball bat and chase the bullies away.”
Like so many youths in the 1960s, Frankel began actively protesting the status quo at college. In her case, college was at Boston University and Georgetown Law School. Her clothing manufacturer father, Edward Frankel, was a frequent target. “We would clash. I would call him a capitalist pig,” Frankel says.
Although she has moderated the rhetoric, the 67-year-old Frankel is still firmly anchored by her decades-long progressive Democratic principles. She is a reliable vote to preserve Medicare and Social Security. She wants the minimum wage raised, has consistently defended women’s reproductive rights and generally supports the Obama administration.
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Frankel. She has been criticized by national business groups for her support of Obama administration initiatives. Some groups have also questioned her 0-6 record on sponsoring bills this year.
Still, Frankel knows how to move past the criticism. As West Palm Beach mayor, she helped transform an outdated and underutilized downtown into a residential, shopping and entertainment destination. The task was not easy since some Palm Beach County commissioners found her tough demeanor intimidating. “When you push for change, you’ll get people upset,” Frankel says.
Frankel left city hall because of term limits after eight years. Elected to Congress in 2012 in a district that included a huge swath of north and central Broward, her priorities changed. Suddenly she was chasing every federal dollar she could for Broward.
High on her list for the coming years are projects dear to the business community’s heart, including more money to complete the Port Everglades improvements and another project—a new federal courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Building a replacement for the old Fort Lauderdale building will be tough in lean budget years, but Frankel gave chamber members at the reception hope. With customary doggedness, she is forging a quiet, back-channel deal with a Republican whose district also needs a courthouse. The chamber group approved. Having watched Frankel at work the past several years, they know she has the skills to finally get a courthouse underway.