Martin Luther King would admire Jeff Perlman, so would Winston Churchill.
They would see that Perlman is a beacon of light in a somewhat darkened world. They would also approve of his ability to create harmony amidst chaos, and smooth over the tiny (and large) creases that cross our mortal path.
Despite it all, Perlman never lets the harsh winds of controversy take any steam from his softened heart. Instead, he digests it for us and comes out with a positive spin on lessons learned.
And there have been a lot of lessons.
He saw them firsthand when he came to Delray Beach from New York to be a rookie reporter. That experience gave Perlman a peek into the inner workings – and outer perception – of how a city should or could be run.
“As a journalist you get to see both sides of a city and meet people doing important things. I felt I had a broad understanding and was prepared to be an effective leader. For me it was a job to do, not a job to have.”
His hunch was perfect. Perlman was an exemplary mayor in Delray Beach (2003-2007) who brought people together and listened to their concerns. But, it wasn’t just to sharpen his hearing.
“You have to listen to people, build consensus, bring them together, and then make decisions respectfully,” said the Executive VP at CDS International Holdings, investors in Celsius and Tabañero sauce.
As mayor, Perlman chaired The Downtown Master plan, a holistic and comprehensive plan that expanded the vision of Delray to include West Atlantic Avenue.
The plan led to the investment of landscaping, entrance features and the beautification of Delray from the highway to downtown. It included downtown housing, improved race relations, the Old School Square Garage and idyllic OSS park.
Though Perlman left the mayors podium in 2007 he is still very involved in the city. He has been on over 50 boards, including The Achievement Center for Children and Families, Old School Square, Delray Medical Center, Business Development Board of PBC, Tourist Development Council, Leadership Florida, Delray Chamber of Commerce and dozens more. The most recent is Lynn University’s Board of Trustees.
However, board affiliation is only a minor part of the Perlman legacy. He wrote a book called Adventures in Local Politics, that explores how to lead and succeed in governing a small city.
But one thing for sure, Perlman is adamant that it takes a village to steer a city or an organization. He urges politicians and leaders to see the “We” instead of the “I” in leadership.
Perlman knows a lot about leadership. It is a subject he explores, implores and writes about in definite, yet demanding prose. “A good team is a group that trusts each other and gets things done. If you don’t worry about taking credit there is nothing you cannot achieve. Leadership is the art of creating an atmosphere where that can happen.”
Perlman has done just that. That’s why the Delray Chamber awarded him the Hometown Heroes Award for Inspirational Leader for 2020.
Part of Perlman’s leadership and talent lies in his ability to move mountains with the touch of a feather. In his blog, yourbocadelray. com, he dissects subjects like a holy man with a sacred text. His tender touch on the most contentious and combustible subjects is always cloaked with inspiration and compassionate insightfulness.
His prolific insights (and eulogies) will pierce your heart. Just reading them is like a fulfilling spiritual meal that rearranges the molecules in your being.
Recently he used the words to the song “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway play Rent as a springboard to salvation and soul-elevation.
“We won’t ever forget 2020 but while we are anxious to turn the page and resume our lives, I’m hoping we don’t blindly rush forward. I’m hoping we drive slow and consciously think about how we can make this world a better place. I sense that we long for kindness, community, purpose, meaning, love and empathy. We need to carve out a space for gentle hearts to thrive in this world.”
Perlman knows a lot about thriving. He has a wonderful 18-year marriage to Diane Colonna, four children and a father who is his hero and inspiration. He also has 5000 Facebook friends and perhaps more in real time.
Despite this, Perlman succumbed to COVID-19 this summer. Instead of leading a charge for goodness in the world he was fighting for his life. For 39 days he was in Bethesda Hospital, often strapped to a BiPap (positive airway pressure) machine.
Local newspapers chronicled his progress and TV stations gave air time to his illustrious and hard earned discharge procession. There were prayer vigils and urgent calls for convalescent plasma to help Perlman fight this demon disease.
“It was lonely and scary. I couldn’t breathe on my own or move. The tremendous outpouring of support aided in my healing and kept my spirits up,” said Perlman.
Like all Perlman life transitions he has sage advice for those who walk beside him. “I hear people say Covid is not real, it is real and potentially deadly.”
His other pearls of wisdom post-COVID: “I always had a great appreciation for life, friends and family – but it’s even deeper now. I realize we are very fragile. Make time for the stuff on your bucket list now.”
Perlman’s healing has been a sigh of relief for many, especially Frances Bourque.
“Jeff’s words have inspired and encouraged me for 30 years. We almost lost Jeff to Covid. He would not have been lost, but all of us in Delray would have been. The wisdom, leadership, friendship and compass set on the North Star, all gone. But save the Grace of God, Jeff remains the voice that guides us forward. 2021 will be a good year, and Jeff will be part of this new beginning.”
Luckily Perlman is still here to give everyone a chance to create miracles, or see the fairy dust in the orbit of ordinary life.