Former City Commissioner Dean Trantalis took office as Fort Lauderdale’s mayor just over one month ago. A lot has happened in his first few weeks leading the city.
Trantalis, who is also the city’s first openly LGBT mayor, has challenged the long standing gun shows at War Memorial Auditorium. He’s also voted in favor of changes to city staff, and he’s re-examining the Downtown Wave Streetcar project.
WLRN sat down with Fort Lauderdale's mayor to recap the challenges during his first month in office and discuss his plans for what comes next.
WLRN: When did you know that you wanted to be a public servant?
TRANTALIS: I actually never thought of myself as holding public office. I ran at student government levels, but I ultimately made the decision to run because I felt that I could accomplish so much more as a mayor, and I could take the city in a direction that I think the community was seeking. And it has been enriching! Of course, running for commissioner you focus on your district - but running as a mayor you're taken to the four corners of the city, and has introduced me to a lot of really wonderful folks, and we have a great city. We have a big city!
Before you were elected mayor, you pledged to stop the Wave streetcar project from moving forward in its current form. The bids came in up to $104 million over budget. What do you need done before you can vote on it?
TRANTALIS: The community has pretty much spoken on this issue, and just about everybody realizes that the Wave streetcar system as is currently configured is not going to be appropriate for our city. It's too expensive; it doesn't work for our environment. And now the question is how do we undo it? My goal is to try to remove the city from its obligations for a streetcar system that requires in-ground rail and overhead wires.
There was a big concern about losing federal funding. I've spoken to the folks in Washington that are in charge of these programs. They think that the philosophy that I've introduced to them, about re-purposing the money, makes a lot more sense to them.
You recently told the owner of the War Memorial Auditorium gun shows in Fort Lauderdale to find another location. What pushed you and the commission to that decision?
I had been advocating for the gun show to not be operating their shows for many years. It wasn't just because of what happened at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School - that just triggered the movement even further.
You know, no one is saying that you can't own or sell guns in Fort Lauderdale. It's just that, you know, having it operate in the middle of a playground and where families come. It just was not the appropriate place. We shouldn't have to wait for someone to be hurt or killed before we take action.
The gun shows’ owner, Khaled Akkawi, has said he believes it's your responsibility and the commissions' to find them another venue for the gun show if you won't renew his lease with the city. Is this something you're interested in helping him with so that he will move?
I can't tell him how to run his business. There are other gun shows in our city. I’m not going to partner in his business. But we just know that the War Memorial Auditorium is just not an appropriate place.
What are the next challenges that you anticipate tackling in the city during your next months as mayor?
We have to finally take on the goals that we've all spoken about and those include the following: We have to talk about rising sea level. We talk, and we've we gone to conferences, and we hear a lot of speeches - but we don't have a plan yet for our city.
No. 2: We have to realize that overdevelopment is probably the cause of a lot of other ancillary issues, such as poor infrastructure as well as traffic.
Furthermore, we need to talk about affordable housing. We have neglected our obligation to our community to provide affordable housing.
We also need to spend a lot more of our time and attention and resources on homelessness. We have failed to do that as a city in the past. The consequences of that attitude are visible on street corners and next to libraries. It's a win-win situation for the homeless and for the rest of the community to try to find solutions for them. So, those are the types of goals that we're looking to achieve, in addition to the Wave streetcar.