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PBC in the National Spotlight

The Kennedys
From 1933 to 1995, the extended Kennedy clan gathered at the family’s home on North Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach; the visits were not always joyous.

David Anthony Kennedy (1955-1984), son of Robert Fitzgerald and Ethel Skakel Kennedy, became addicted to painkillers after a 1973 car accident, survived two drug overdoses, and underwent periodic drug rehabilitation treatment. In April 1984, he joined other members of the Kennedy family in Palm Beach for Easter, staying at the Brazilian Court hotel. When the family sent staff to his suite to check on him, they found Kennedy dead of a drug overdose.

During another Easter weekend in Palm Beach, in 1991 William Kennedy “Willie” Smith (1960- ), nephew of former President Kennedy and son of Stephen and Jean Kennedy Smith, was accused of raping Patti Bowman of Jupiter at the Kennedy estate. An estimated 500 members of the press came to cover the story between April and December, when Smith was acquitted. Bowman's name was bleeped and her face was electronically masked during the ten-day trial, presided over by Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Mary E. Lupo. Millions of viewers witnessed their first criminal trial during the live coverage by Cable News Network (CNN) and Court TV.

Stormy Weather

Residents of Palm Beach County became complacent about hurricanes during the mid-1900s after decades of false alarms and weak storms. On Labor Day 1979, Hurricane David stayed mostly offshore as it moved up the coast with Category 2 strength. Palm Beach County received six inches of rain and losses of $30 million, mostly in crops. Although by 1992, few people in Palm Beach County took hurricane warnings very seriously, officials convinced them to prepare and/or evacuate for Andrew.

Hurricane Andrew, the first named storm of the 1992 season, caused unprecedented economic devastation through the Bahamas, south Florida, and Louisiana. The Category 5 hurricane (upgraded from Category 4 in 2005) was predicted to make landfall near West Palm Beach on August 24, the first day of the school year; instead, it swept across southern Dade County. At the South Florida Fairgrounds near West Palm Beach, a state-run relief center distributed 4,500 tons of supplies for a month after the storm, with the help of more than 20,000 volunteers.

Andrew caused $26.5 billion in damage and was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history until surpassed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The destruction of 48,000 homes resulted in a migration of Dade County residents into Broward County, where residents in turn moved into Palm Beach County. From 1993 to 2001, Palm Beach County received over 100,000 new residents from Broward County, a one-third increase over the previous nine years.

South Florida had still not forgotten Andrew in 2004, when four hurricanes made landfall in Florida; two of them hit Palm Beach County three weeks and two miles apart. On September 5, Hurricane Frances left 495,000 people without power, some for many days; Hurricane Jeanne followed on September 25. Their paths over heavily populated areas caused considerable property damage and business disruption.

Residents and businesses were still recovering from hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2005, when Hurricane Wilma grew into most intense storm on record for the Atlantic Basin; this was the first year when there were more storms than letters to name them.

Earlier in the 2005 hurricane season, Katrina passed over south Florida as a Category 1 hurricane before wreaking havoc in Louisiana, particularly New Orleans, over Labor Day weekend.

Canadian industrialist Frank Stronach had about 200 evacuees airlifted from New Orleans to his Palm Meadows Thoroughbred Training Facility west of Boynton Beach, where they lived in the grooms' dormitory until early November. Local residents, through the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations, organized initial assistance until the Greater Palm Beach Area Chapter of the American Red Cross took over and provided food, housing, transportation, and access to other social services.

Tropical Storm Isaac drenched Palm Beach County, dumping between 10 to 18 inches of rain on August on 26-27, 2012. The Palm Beach Post estimated that about 25 million gallons of water fell on Palm Beach County’s western communities. The Village of Wellington and The Acreage received over 12 inches each while the storm left Lion Country Safari with over 15 inches of rain. Tropical Storm Isaac caused an estimated $72 million in damages to Palm Beach County.

Elections

The 2000 presidential election, the closest in U.S. history, was decided by 537 votes in Florida. The situation changed daily from Election Day on November 7 until Vice President Al Gore conceded to then-Texas Governor George Bush on December 13.

Manual recounts were ordered and cancelled, lawsuits were filed, vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney suffered a heart attack, and the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to override the Florida Supreme Court. Palm Beach County became the national focus among the many Florida counties that discovered voting problems.

Questions arose concerning Palm Beach County’s "butterfly ballot," where the candidates’ names appeared on the left and right columns of a page with a series of punch holes in the center. The term “chad” entered everyday conversation, referring to the small piece of paper punched out of a punchcard ballot. The confusion in 2000 resulted in the switch to electronic voting in Palm Beach County.

When Palm Beach County was still part of Dade County, it was also pivotal in the 1876 presidential election between Samuel J. Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes. There were then three precincts for Dade County’s 73 registered voters: Jupiter, where there were few residents besides the lighthouse keepers; Lake Worth, which had about 12 men of voting age, and Biscayne Bay.

The presidential race was extremely close, but the state senate candidate William Henry Gleason of Biscayne Bay demanded a recount of the 55 Dade County votes. The nation waited for the results until December 2, when the New York Tribune announced: “The returns from the only remaining county, the far off 'Kingdom of Dade,' have come.” After other issues were settled, Hayes became the 19th president of the United States.

9/11 Terrorists
On September 11, 2001 (9/11), the United States experienced a national tragedy when 19 members of the Islamist group al-Qaeda hijacked four commercial airplanes. The terrorists flew two of the planes into New York’s World Trade Center and crashed the third into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.; the fourth plane was diverted from its intended target by passengers and crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people died.

The FBI investigation discovered that up to 12 of the hijackers had lived in Palm Beach County in the months before the attacks.

Waleed Alshehri and Wail Alshehri, college-educated brothers from Saudi Arabia, stayed at the Homing Inn in Boynton Beach before they commandeered American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston and flew it into the north tower of the World Trade Center. In Delray Beach, the brothers accessed the Internet from the Delray Beach Public Library and shopped at Huber Drugs. In Boynton Beach, they bought a gym membership, as did another suspect, Satam al-Suqami.

Marwan Al-Shehhi and Egyptian Mohamed Atta, believed to be the pilot of Flight 11, stayed at the Hamlet Country Club in Delray Beach during the summer of 2001. They, too, were customers at Huber Drugs, and at the Urgi-Med clinic in Delray Beach. Ahmed Alghamdi, who stayed at an apartment in Delray Beach, is believed to have been treated at another Delray Beach clinic.

Mohamed Atta was identified as one of 12 to 15 Middle Eastern men who visited Belle Glade State Municipal Airport regularly from February to September 2001, in groups of two or three. The men told the airport’s crop-dusting operators that they were flight students and asked about flying crop-dusters, photographing them and asking to sit inside them. Investigators theorized that the terrorists planned to use crop-dusters as part of a backup plan.

Anthrax
One week after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, letters appearing to be written by Islamist terrorists were mailed to the offices of ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, the New York Post, and the National Enquirer. The letter to the National Enquirer arrived at American Media, Inc. (AMI) in Boca Raton, the publisher of the Enquirer and other tabloids, and was opened by Robert Stevens of Lantana, a photo editor for the Sun.

On October 2, Stevens was admitted to JFK Medical Center in Atlantis. He was diagnosed two days later with an infection caused by inhaling Bacillus anthracis, or anthrax, and died the next day. An AMI mailroom employee, Ernesto Blanco, tested positive for anthrax but recovered. Most of the 300 employees were given antibiotics, after anthrax spores were found at their workplace.

AMI was forced to abandon its building on October 7 and publish from two Delray Beach locations, before moving to the T-Rex Technology Center in Boca Raton, the former IBM complex. The Palm Beach County Commission offered AMI $390,000 to remain in Palm Beach County.

Similar letters were mailed to the offices of U.S. Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy on October 9. At least 22 people developed anthrax infections, apparently related to the letters. Stevens was the first death, followed by two postal employees in Washington, D.C., a woman in New York City, and a woman in Connecticut.

One of the key investigators of the attacks was Bruce Edwards Ivins, a microbiologist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Maryland. The FBI told Ivins that he was likely to be charged with the crimes, and on July 27, 2008, Ivins died of an apparent suicide at a Maryland hospital. Officials announced that Ivins had probably acted alone.

 

The U.S. Sugar Buyback Plan

In 2008 Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced that the state had a tentative agreement with United States Sugar Corporation to purchase all its assets for $1.75 billion. The land would become part of restoring the Everglades by eliminating the detrimental effects of sugar production and returning it to its natural function. The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), however, approved a more modest proposal for only the company’s land—180,000 acres for $1.34 billion.

Due to economic setbacks, in April 2009 a further reduction was drafted, to $530 million for 72,500 acres. Then In October 2010, the deal was further sliced to $197 million for 26,800 acres.

About 32,000 acres of citrus groves would soon be available to the state for water storage and treatment. The other 40,500 acres in the purchase would be leased back to U.S. Sugar to farm for at least seven years, temporarily protecting the 1,700 jobs of local residents. A full purchase of the company’s land is still the state’s goal; the current agreement includes an option to buy the remaining 107,500 acres by 2019, with a possible extension.


 

 

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