Royal Palm Beach residents will vote in a mayoral race on Tuesday, March 19 that pits experienced, four-term incumbent Mayor Fred Pinto against Steve Avila, who grew up in the community and believes that the village needs a new generation of leadership.
Held concurrently with the presidential preference primary, the mayoral election will be the only municipal race on the ballot. Councilman Jeff Hmara and Councilwoman Selena Samios were re-elected without opposition when no one filed to run against them.
The focus on Pinto’s campaign is his long history of village leadership dating back to his first council election 20 years ago.
“I have demonstrated to our citizens that I have been able to provide great leadership and good government, and not politics,” Pinto said. “I would like to continue the work we have put in place and help us maintain and sustain our high level of excellence moving forward.”
Avila sees himself as a candidate that reflects a changing Royal Palm Beach community.
“I bring much-needed energy. I want to work with people, whether they agree with me or not,” he said. “I want to have the best interests of Royal Palm Beach at hand and not special interests, and I want to make sure that people of all walks of life are represented.”
Avila grew up in the community and graduated at the top of his class at Royal Palm Beach High School in 2007 before attending Dartmouth College. He lived in China for five years, returning home in 2020, and is part owner of a company that does college admissions consulting.
“I would be the first person to actually be on the council who grew up here,” Avila said. “I don’t come from a political background. For far too long, we have had uncontested elections with far too much influence from developers.”
Worried about low voter turnout, he wants to get more people involved in the process.
“Many people don’t know who the mayor is and who the members of the council are. I want to really change that,” Avila said.
He believes that Royal Palm Beach needs to do a better job at outreach and transparency.
“I’m having difficulty getting access to things. In other municipalities, you can find out where candidates are raising money,” Avila said. “In RPB, you have to e-mail the clerk and wait.”
He is concerned about overdevelopment in the area.
“I want to see Royal Palm Beach stay the same. I don’t want it to turn into West Palm Beach,” Avila said. “Growth has to be responsible. Developers play far too much of a role in the process here in Royal Palm Beach.”
Avila is very proud of his background and believes that he represents the “American dream.”
“In one generation, my family has made a great leap forward,” he said. “My father and none of his siblings continued beyond ninth grade. When I graduated college, it was an Ivy League, and the first in my family to get a college degree. Wherever I go, I will always have a blue-collar background, which is something I take pride in.”
Professionally, he is proud of his work helping get others into college.
“I have helped a lot of students get into their dream schools,” Avila said. “My biggest accomplishments are when I help someone achieve their dreams.”
Avila would like to implement term limits for council members.
“I really think that we should have a conversation about term limits,” he said. “I am looking at our current board. They have been in office much longer than others across this county.”
He also wants to make it easier for people to get involved in local government and plans to focus on “responsible development.”
“I want to put Royal Palm Beach on map,” Avila said. “I’m tired that when I tell people I’m from Royal Palm Beach, I have to qualify it by saying it’s next to Wellington. We are at a crossroads. The western communities are expanding. I want us to be able to navigate those waters without changing who we are as a village.”
He also seeks to “stop the brain drain” where students attend schools elsewhere instead of Royal Palm Beach High School.
“I am representative of what can be achieved through our local high school,” he said, adding that he wants to attract more young families to the community.
When it comes to traffic and growth, Avila noted that he has connections at all levels of government to help the village manage these issues.
“This is where local, county, state and federal all get merged,” he said. “That’s the whole point of having relationships at different levels of government and leveraging them. Whenever there are issues that are more a county or state issue, we must talk to the relevant officials and departments.”
Avila likes the job that the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has done in keeping the village safe and is a big fan of the park system in Royal Palm Beach.
“We have lots of parks,” he said. “I am very proud of it. We have a lot of people in the western communities who make use of our parks. I am partial to Veterans Park because that is one that I grew up going to.”
When Pinto looks out at the Village of Royal Palm Beach, where he has served as mayor since 2016 and on the council since 2003, he sees a community that is well-managed, fiscally sound, offering great amenities to residents with a very low municipal tax rate.
“I think the voters know me by now,” he said. “I have been working for them for a number of years. Since I have been on the council, I have been able to leverage my Wall Street background and my leadership skills from being a battalion commander in the U.S. Army National Guard.”
Pinto’s U.S. Army expertise is in strategic planning, while his corporate experience is in financial services. Both have been useful during his council service.
“I’ve leveraged my financial services business experience in key decisions we have made over the past several years, which have left us in a strong financial position and debt free,” he said. “We have not raised our millage rate in 20-plus years, and we will not be. We have among the lowest millage rates of all the cities in Palm Beach County.”
Given his background and experience, Pinto believes that he is the best person to continue serving as mayor.
“I have provided leadership and good governance,” he said. “We are a safe, debt-free municipality, and our biggest challenge is sustaining the levels of excellence that our residents are accustomed to.”
Pinto is very proud that Royal Palm Beach has been named in the top 10 percent of the safest municipalities in all of Florida.
“Our No. 1 priority is to have a community where the citizens can feel safe in their homes,” he said.
He is also proud of the newly completed Royal Palm Beach Village Hall, replacing a decades-old, outdated building.
“We now have a new, modern building, and we have accomplished it without borrowing one penny,” Pinto said.
He is looking forward to the Feb. 29 grand opening of the facility, along with the final work on the surrounding municipal campus. The village will then move on to other long-planned projects, Pinto said.
“Next, we are moving forward with planning a significant expansion of our recreation center complex to provide additional services to our citizens,” he said. “We must stay the course of the good value proposition for young families and our senior community.”
When asked about his vision for the future of Royal Palm Beach, Pinto noted that is something that the council is continuously working on.
“Every year, we look at if what we are doing works with the long-term vision of the village,” he said. “We want to maintain as much as possible that ‘Mayberryesque’ quality of life we have here in the Village of Royal Palm Beach.”
When it comes to dealing with the growth going on all around the community, “we can’t really control that, other than working with our neighbors,” Pinto said, adding that it has created significant cut-through traffic.
“Traffic will always be an issue. We have a main thoroughfare that passes on our southern border, and also State Road 7,” he said. “We have worked with the county on synchronization of lights. Traffic signals have been put in place to better regulate the traffic.”
When it comes to working with state agencies, they are all about building new roads, Pinto said, but what is really needed is alternative ways to travel.
“I am a firm believer that we have to come up with a long-term strategy to improve our public transportation system, so that residents have a true option to decide not to take their car to go where they want to go,” he said.
Pinto said that the new family entertainment and residential development known as Tuttle Royale was going to be built either way, and Royal Palm Beach annexed the area to have more control.
“That’s built on land that was not part of the village,” he said. “The developer wanted to incorporate into either Wellington or Royal Palm Beach, and we are glad that they chose to come to Royal Palm Beach, so we had some control of what will be going there.”
Pinto gives high marks to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office for keeping the village safe.
“I was the prime mover in convincing our council to make our agreement with the PBSO,” he said. “This has been critical in making the village safer, and one of the safest in the state.”
Pinto is most proud of being able to achieve this high level of safety for residents while keeping the village in a strong fiscal position.
“We have a fully funded capital improvement plan for the next five years,” he said. “We have a tremendous number of facilities and parks that we have made available for the pleasure and lifestyle of our residents.”