When Alan Mandel steps down from the Council dais for the final time this Monday, March 21st, his departure will bring an end to an era that saw unprecedented prosperity, consensus-building and the completion of many projects. During his six-year tenure, Council passed controversial issues like COP on the beach and the noise ordinance and created a new stormwater utility – among many others. It is this last of which Mandel is particularly proud, as he told us when we spoke with him Wednesday to get his thoughts on the last six years and to find out what he believes to be the greatest legacy he will leave behind.
“I believe that our new potable water system, which will provide safe and reliable drinking water to the island, is the biggest thing I and my fellow council members accomplished,” Mandel told us. “Following the direction of prior councils, we were able to set it up and get it implemented.”
Alan is also proud of the work he did on helping to get the implementation of the Biggert-Waters Act delayed until the federal government could complete a feasibility study.
“I worked with the other mayors and the county on getting a four-year delay on something that would have cost a lot of residents and businesses a great deal of money,” he said. “That delay is nearly up, however, so this is something that the new council will have to really focus on.”
Mandel says he is happy to be leaving office knowing the reconstruction of Estero Boulevard is finally underway.
“We worked with Commissioner Kiker last year to get the Estero Boulevard project financed and begun, and this is important because it will provide sidewalks and safer pedestrian crosswalks for our residents and visitors,” he said. “There will also be better bike paths and drainage as the county upgrades the stormwater system on the road and connects it with the Town’s.”
When we asked Alan to give us a couple of the more memorable moments he had on Council, the first story he told us is one that outgoing Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson recalled with some hilarity to the Bonita Banner last week.
“Myself, Mayor Nelson and Commissioner Kiker were in Washington to fight against the high flood insurance premiums when we found ourselves stuck trying to get out of D.C.,” Mandel said. “Nelson tells the story a lot better.”
We looked up the article Alan was talking about, and it appeared in the Banner on May 12 of last year. In the story – titled, appropriately, ‘The Other Ben Nelson – the Great Mandel’ – Nelson says that he, Mandel and Kiker were sidelined by a particularly nasty blizzard.
“Flights out of Washington began to cancel,” Nelson said. “Several of our colleagues were able to leave early but Commissioner Kiker (Larry), Mayor Mandel (Alan), and I were not able to escape early, so we decided that we would meet at 8 a.m. the next day and go to the airport together.”
“At 4 a.m. the next morning, I woke up and looked outside. The usually busy street had disappeared, the cars parked there buried under several feet of snow and more was still coming down. Being a native Floridian I’d never seen anything like this and apparently neither had the people at the airport, because when I checked my email I found that they had politely informed me and thousands of other people that all flights had been canceled. For a week!”
According to Ben, the only flight Kiker could find was one that was leaving out of New York, so the trio decided to take a train to the Big Apple rather than be stuck in wintery blindness for seven days.
“But since there was a blizzard outside that’s also heading towards New York there were no planes, cars or even people walking anywhere in Washington D.C.!” he said. “But, Alan was unfazed. ‘Look, Union Station is just five blocks away,’ he said. ‘We’ll just walk there, take the train to Penn Station in New York, get tickets on the Long Island Railroad to Queens, transfer to the JFK Shuttle and then take that to the airport!” Then he leaned back, smiling and put his hands out to his sides like he had just finished a magic trick. “Simple, but Larry has to buy the tickets for the plane and I have to buy these train tickets right now!”
Though Ben says he thought that was the dumbest idea he’d ever heard, it beat sitting in a blizzard so off they went.
“Somehow, we got there alive and then rode the near empty train through the blizzard all the way to New York’s Penn Station,” he said. “Then Larry found a plane leaving for Fort Myers in ten minutes, and Alan talked the stewardess into letting us get on. Magic!”
Alan then told us about the time that he and Kiker found themselves locked into then-Representative Trey Radel’s office while a shooting occurred outside.
“Normally you only get about 15 minutes with a congressman, but we were stuck there for over an hour and a half,” he said. “This turned out to be a good thing as we were able to convince him about the importance of delaying Biggert-Waters. The next day he and another Democratic member got the legislation written. It was a strange and unfortunate circumstance, but it worked.”
Finally, we asked Mandel what piece of advice he’d give to the two new councilmembers.
“Persevere, do your research and respect the other councilmembers’ opinions – as you all have to work together,” he said. “We always tried to do that and that’s how were able to accomplish so much.”
As for what comes next, Mandel told us he plans to continue with his new gig as CEO of Good Wheels, work that he is very proud of.
“We are a 501-c-3 non-profit, and we provide transportation for medical care for the disadvantaged,” he said. “We are in Lee, Collier, Hendry, Glades and we just opened a new office in Orange County – which is where Orlando is.”
Alan says he enjoyed his time serving the community, though he is looking forward to having more time to spend enjoying life and working at Good Wheels.
“This is a great little town, and everyone should experience public service at least once,” he said. “I’d like to thank the people of Fort Myers Beach for allowing me to do so for six years.”
Keri Hendry Weeg