Wellington voters will head to the polls in March to select a new mayor. After eight years with the gavel, Mayor Anne Gerwig is stepping down due to term limits. Seeking to replace her is Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone, who has served two terms on the Wellington Village Council, and frequent critic of the current council and overall village policy, Bart Novack.
The Tuesday, March 19 election, held concurrently with Florida’s presidential preference primary, will also have two other open Wellington council races on the ballot. Each race, including the mayor’s seat, is for a four-year term.
Four candidates are seeking Seat 1 (Bob Margolis, Marcella Montesinos, Amanda Silvestri and John “Jay” Carl Webber), while five candidates are running for Seat 4 (Shelly Lariz Albright, Maria Antuña, Carol Coleman, Karen Morris-Clarke and Michael Partow).
Napoleone believes that his eight years of council service make him the best choice to serve as mayor, particularly since the incoming council will already have at least two new members.
“My eight years of experience on the council and more than 20 years living in the community, and my record of public service, have me uniquely prepared to serve as the next mayor of Wellington, providing some continuity to the next generation of Wellington leaders,” Napoleone said.
Novack, however, believes that major changes are needed in the Village of Wellington, and he sees himself as the candidate that can deliver that change.
“The reason why I’m running for mayor is to give back the power to the people,” Novack said. “I believe I’m the best candidate for mayor because I have no skin in the game. I rub elbows with no one.”
After eight years on the council, Napoleone believes that he is the best choice to take over the gavel and run the meetings.
“I have a track record of experience. The mayor, for lack of a better term, is the spokesperson for Wellington,” he said. “That person needs to be able to put Wellington’s best foot forward. You need to be a person who can instill confidence, engage with people and explain to them why this is the place they want to be. I will hit the ground running; I don’t have a learning curve.”
An attorney, Napoleone earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida. He went to law school in New York at St. John’s University. He is a partner in the law firm Day Pitney. His practice focuses on business, real estate and probate litigation.
“I have served on many other boards and chaired other organizations,” he said. “I am past president of the Palm Beach County Bar Association, I served on the executive board of the Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County, and I serve on the executive board of the Palm Beach County Transportation Planning Agency. I’m also an elected member of the Palm Beach County League of Cities Board of Directors.”
Napoleone is proud of his work on the council over the past eight years.
“Aside from keeping the tax rate low and keeping Wellington the safe community it is, I’m working to continuously improve the facilities that our residents enjoy,” he said. “We added the lakefront promenade and expanded the amphitheater to accommodate bigger crowds.”
Other new recreational amenities include the Wellington sports park off Greenview Shores Blvd., which added much-needed sports fields. “We also just added 40 acres to the Wellington Environmental Preserve. We will look to add that with more walking trails,” he said.
While those are more high-profile projects, the village is also working to keep things running smoothly behind the scenes, Napoleone said.
“We also run the water utility,” he said. “People take it for granted, but we just spent a lot of money upgrading that plant. We have kept that facility operating at a very high and efficient level, which is no small task.”
Over the next four years, Napoleone wants to “focus on the things we do well and do them better.” This includes keeping taxes low, but not cutting services.
“Our residents have come to appreciate a Wellington level of service that I don’t think they want us to cut,” he said, adding that managing the budget responsibly is also important.
He also believes that the village must find ways to continue to attract young families to Wellington.
“Wellington was built on young families. The housing market is increasingly expensive. We need to balance that to make sure that young families can still move to Wellington,” Napoleone said.
That includes managing the push for development.
“Florida is growing faster than every other state in the country. We need to balance what developers want to build against what residents want us to have,” he said. “Some development is good, some is not.”
Napoleone noted that “the center of Palm Beach County continues to move west.” That puts pressure on Wellington to keep up with newer communities.
“We need to continue to stay the premier community for families in Palm Beach County, and that takes investment,” he said. “We need to continue to have high-end facilities. We need to have the types of amenities and infrastructure that make people want to continue to move here.”
That is why Wellington continues to invest in its A-rated schools and extensive park system.
“They are building entire communities of brand-new homes with brand-new amenities,” Napoleone said. “People are attracted to that. We need to keep up with that. When they are looking, people need to see Wellington as the better place to be.”
When it comes to managing traffic, he said that “widening roads doesn’t fix traffic problems” and that it is better to put new development in a place where the roads can absorb it. He is proud of the work that he and the village have done to tackle the problems with traffic in and around schools.
Napoleone is highly supportive of the work of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in Wellington.
“The statistics tell you we are one of the safest communities in Palm Beach County. The sheriff’s office is doing their job,” he said. “Our district and team, led by Capt. Addazio, are great partners to have out here. The same can be said for Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue.”
Napoleone provided the lone dissenting vote on the first reading of Wellington Lifestyle Partners’ controversial Wellington North proposal. That made him the one sitting council member not included in a recall petition currently being circulated against the other council members. Napoleone said that he does not support the recall.
“I support my colleagues, but I disagree with them on the issue that caused this recall,” he said. “I think the recall, the way it is being done, sets a dangerous precedent. If you vote the way people don’t like, you recall them. I don’t think it will satisfy the state statute. Not listening to residents is not a basis for recall. That is a basis for voting them out of office at the next scheduled election.”
Napoleone said that he is proud that the Village of Wellington remains a strong, family-friendly community.
“We are an outdoor, recreational community,” he said. “It is a safe place to live; it is a nice place to live. I still think it is the best place to live in Palm Beach County if you want to raise a family. The goal is to keep it that way.”
A longtime village critic, Novack ran unsuccessfully for a council seat in 2018. He is running a self-funded campaign based on his belief that there needs to be a complete overhaul of how Wellington operates.
“Just about everything needs fine-tuning in our village, which requires change under new leadership,” said Novack, who has been a Wellington resident for more than 20 years. “I have not taken a single penny for my campaign, as I feel this is a way of bribery. If somebody wants to do something, let them do it on their own.”
This includes not seeking support from various special interest groups.
“I do not want any support from outsiders, teachers’ unions, the fire department, police department, so on and so forth,” Novack said. “I just want our residents’ support to stop this chaos. I will try to keep our taxes low, along with our budget. There will be certain preventative maintenance needed, but nothing crazy. I will ask for more contractors on the list who are using a local residence.”
He is opposed to development proposals in the equestrian area.
“I will support the mom-and-pop horse community. I will not support the development that they are proposing,” Novack said. “The taxpayers are overburdened with infrastructure, when it should be the builders’ responsibility, which they have failed in the past on other projects in our village.”
He supports the current recall petition against four sitting council members.
“I may be the only candidate who actually signed it,” Novack said. “I do support the recall, but it’s not just for this project, it’s for many other things that they have done. I always say follow the money. I’m proud of the people coming together, and how we’re going to stick together.”
In office, Novack wants to fight traffic and stop overdevelopment.
“My top priorities are traffic and roadways that can handle the traffic that we have. We must stop overcrowded schools, and slow down the commercial building, as we have many overpriced, empty stores,” he said. “My vision is to try to bring back our bedroom community. It may never happen, but I’m going to do my best.”
Novack said he will also fight “selective enforcement,” which he said has happened to him since his previous campaign.
“I will stop selective enforcement, along with double standards,” Novack said. “The residents will be happy, but people who are looking to make corporate greed will not be so happy.”
Regarding the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Novack said he needs to know more about what is going on behind the scenes, but “everything could be fine-tuned.”
He is not in favor of the current proposal to annex areas on the north side of Southern Blvd. into Wellington. “I do not support the Sluggett annexation, as that is clearly being done for dollars to raise his values,” Novack said. “He offered it to the village 15 years ago. We didn’t want it then. We don’t want it now.”
He is opposed to any special treatment of council members. For example, he said, “council members should not use our village resources to run their offices out of the village hall while they are there.”
Yet, Novack did hope that a spirit of compromise can make things better for everyone in Wellington.
“We all need to coexist within our community,” Novack said. “We need to achieve a middle ground for all.”