Birth Place: Brooklyn, NY
Years in Florida: since 1964
House of worship: St. Coleman’s Catholic Church, Pompano Beach
Married to: Scharlene since 1979, with 2 Children
Occupation: A police officer since 1973, he served as the Chief of Police for Ft. Lauderdale from 2001 to 2008.
Q: Where did you grow-up and what was it like?
A: My family moved down here in 1964 and my father retired from the Air Force -he was a colonel. We moved to Ft. Lauderdale when I was 16, so I finished my last two years of high school at Cardinal Gibbons. Subsequent to that, by the way, I had three brothers that went there and my two children also graduated from there.
Q: Growing up [or now] – do you have a favorite sport, or hobby?
A: Growing up down here, if we had any time off in high school or college, we just enjoyed playing football on the beach in the undeveloped areas. Anything north on Bayview Drive, north of Coral Ridge Country Club was just beginning to be built. Cows were grazing on Dixie and Commercial Boulevard. So we had the opportunity growing up then to really just have the freedom to enjoy the outdoors playing sports.
Q: Who has most shaped you as a leader – your mother or your father? Why?
A: That’s a really tough question. I think they both did in so many ways. I wouldn’t be able to separate that.
My father was a career military man and obviously he instilled in the family “Duty, Honor and Country” without a doubt, and also love of country and public service.
My mom was a stay at home mom and sometimes a part time teacher, but I think all those things just coalesced to instill a sense of responsibility and leadership toward the community.
Q: Where and how did you meet your spouse?
A: I met her when I was working at the police department. I was at the department for 35 years – my last six or seven as a police chief. I met my wife back when current public safety aids were community service aids and she was working for the department. I saw her, fell in love immediately and pursued her. Luckily here we are after almost 31 years this July. I am a lucky man. Two beautiful children, one is 30 and the other is 25. One is a police officer in Boca Raton – she is University of Florida graduate. My other child, a son, is working on his doctorate degree at Yale University – European History. We have been very fortunate and blessed and I am proud of our entire family. I mean, even though I am sitting across from you right now with blotches on my face for skin cancer treatment, because I enjoyed the outdoors and sunshine down here a little too much, it’s been great growing up here.
Q: Does your family have a Thanksgiving, or Christmas tradition, that you’d like to tell us about?
A: Ironically, even though the last name is Roberts, my heritage for the most part was Italian. My mother was Italian and my father was raised by Italians in New York City, so a big part of our tradition is obviously the Christian Holiday of Christmas. We observe and celebrate it in the Italian way. On Christmas Eve, you eat seafood courses and we adhere to that.
I remember as a young boy going to New York City and my grandmother, who came from Italy, would cook for us and the next day would be another feast. So, it is a great family tradition, family getting together, enjoying ourselves and having fun. We try to go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve as well.
First job? Moving furniture in high school and college
Favorite movie? Saving Private Ryan
Last book read? Divinci Code.
Musical preference? Classical and Country
Favorite team? Dolphins and Marlins
Lakes or oceans; mountains or beaches?
In the past it was the oceans and beaches. Lately, we take a lot of vacations to national parks and do hiking. My love now is to go on vacations where there are lakes and mountains.
Army, navy, air force, marines or coast guard?
My dad was an Air Force career man, so I am more inclined to the Air Force, but I also served in the National Guard – that was my service to our country.
Q: You were elected to the Ft. Lauderdale City Commission, District 1, just over one year ago. What was your motivation to run for public office?
A: My whole life is dedicated to public service – that is my career and I believe in it. I feel I have a talent for that and I wanted to continue, but I also felt that we could do a better job as a city and local government for the people. I also believe that public safety is the key and foremost element as to why governments were formed from the beginning of time until now. We are kind of getting away from that main focus. If you don’t have public safety and you don’t have stabilized neighborhoods and communities, you can’t have economic development or people enjoying their lives here – it just deteriorates.
Q: Can you name a key issue that you are currently working on as a Ft. Lauderdale City Commissioner that you hope to see completed?
A: The issue of public safety has to remain first and foremost and it is intricately linked with economic development. You can’t have one without the other. And, of course, we are dealing with the fair issues of the budget and how we deal with it to make sure we can deliver those primary services and keep this the fantastic community that it is.
Q: Is there one accomplishment in your seven years as the Chief of Police, for Ft. Lauderdale, that you’d like to tell us about?
A: There are probably two accomplishments. In 2003, we had the lowest crime rate in the history of the City of Ft. Lauderdale and that record stands to this date. The department continues to do an excellent job. We were able to recruit and get back up to that same point now. Through active recruiting, we were able to establish a strong community policing the relationship within the community, and you can’t do it by yourself. It is a partnership with the community and we were able to succeed.
The other main goal that I mentioned is that we were able to get the department out from under the Department of Justice consent and we increased our diversity hires through our diversity promotions, creating a good level playing field.
Q: Can you name a time where your faith was challenged as a public official [or in other leadership positions]?
A: I stated on the dais. I feel that the current administration that we inherited, that I had to work with as the police chief, had a certain mind frame that the ends seem to always justify the means. Although a lot of good gets done, I don’t subscribe to that philosophy. I don’t want to get into specifics, but there were cases that were brought before us where I had to make decisions to take a stand and wouldn’t go along with certain things. That is another reason why I did not renew the contract of the current City Manager.
Q: Everyone develops an opinion about Presidential and Gubernatorial elections, but few people focus on local elections. What are your thoughts about this?
A:?I think it is a shame. It starts locally; local has the biggest impact as far as the pocket book of the people and the services that are delivered. That is one of the things that we talked about. Not just me, but almost all of us are in for election this time. A current mantra is “Bringing Back Your Voice”, so the priority is to educate the public to get them more involved. We actually now have a focus at every commission meeting with recommendations and feedback from others as far as what they want done or what they think should be done. We get to educate people, keep them involved and by keeping them involved and active, there is a buy-in and I think that we can maybe overcome that seemingly lack of interest. I think you are right, I mean, local elections only have ten percent of the people voting, so engaging local interest is important.
Q: What advice would you give someone about serving on a citizen’s advisory board?
A:?Step up to the plate and please help us out. We need to know from the citizens what their priorities are, how to fund those priorities and what we should be doing for the community. I always liken it to when you are an administrator in an organization, or a leader, you don’t want to lose contact on the day to day events of what is happening in the community or in your organization; one of the best ways to find that out and to stay in touch with the needs is to have these advisory boards.
Q: Is there a person in American history that you truly admire, or are fascinated by and why?
A: There are a couple of people, but I admire Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. I think that those are the people that stepped up to the time in history, stepped up to the plate and they were their own bosses so to speak, yet they also had a love for country and for the people. They were fair-minded individuals and I just thought that they accomplished a lot. With Teddy Roosevelt, just the fact that he was so independent minded, that he was almost a bull in the China shop when it came to the politics of that time, this is what I admire him for.
With Reagan, the same type of thing. He stood his ground, he had core beliefs that he went by and acted upon. I think that history is going to show him as one of our greatest presidents by the time it writes itself.
Q: What are your thoughts on careers in elected office and government, versus being a public servant?
A:?First of all, a career is, well, you being a public servant. If you are in this just for any other reason, you are not going to succeed and you are in the wrong mindset. You need to be there as a public servant. The other thing I believe is that anybody can do a lot of “vocations” or “jobs”, but unless you have a passion for that job, you are not going to be successful at it. You are not going to do a good job with it. Public servant is what you should be if you are elected as an official.
Q:?What is one thing that you would change about Ft. Lauderdale?
A: With Florida as a whole and also Ft. Lauderdale, the negativity associated with politics could be changed. Things are too personalized and separated, let’s come together to continue and improve and strive to make everyone and everything better.