As Wilton Manors celebrates its 70th anniversary, Mayor Gary Resnick remembers the city before its charm, urban core and reputation as a national LGBT destination.
“When I first ran for city council in 1998, the town was very sleepy,” Resnick says. “It wasn’t really known for anything, and a lot of people didn’t even know it existed.”
But in the last 20 years, Wilton Manors, located about three miles from Fort Lauderdale’s coastline, has experienced a physical and economical transformation, while flourishing into one of the most inclusive communities in America.
“We have a reputation as one of the most progressive cities ever,” he says. “It’s not by accident. It’s been a very deliberate effort.”
Resnick, Florida’s longest-serving openly gay official, is largely responsible. After joining local politics shortly after his move from Washington, D.C., to South Florida, Resnick, a shareholder at Fort Lauderdale law firm GrayRobinson, P.A., dedicated himself to the revitalization of Wilton Manors.
“I’ve always been civically active and engaged,” he says. “Once I moved to Wilton Manors, I thought the town was stagnant. Wilton has so many attractive qualities, but it was about finding ways to take advantage of them.”
After joining city council, Resnick was selected as vice mayor in 2000, followed by two re-elections in 2002 and 2006. He was then elected as mayor in 2008, winning re-elections in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016.
“Throughout my time, there was definitely a transition period of convincing folks that things needed to change,” he says. “Some people came in kicking and screaming, but we’ve gotten a lot of support overall. Becoming known as a gay- and lesbian-friendly community hasn’t sat well with everyone either.”
Resnick helped transform Wilton Drive, the city’s main thoroughfare, into a bustling arts and entertainment district with several bars, restaurants and retail stores, many of which are LGBT-owned or run.
While Wilton Manors is considered a famous “gayborhood,” much of what is done in local politics is unrelated to equality, Resnick explains. He maintains his focus on code enforcement, rezoning and development, and welcoming modern projects into empty storefronts and abandoned lots.
“It’s about adopting policies and pursuing actions that benefit the community,” he says. “Land use, economic development and capital development. They don’t necessarily have a LGBT bend to it. If you improve a road, you improve a road.”
Resnick believes that maintaining a progressive voice in politics translates to Wilton Manors’ forward-thinking reputation.
“I meet a lot of officials across the state and country who don’t have the same beliefs and policies,” he says. “I look at it as an opportunity to get to know someone and change [his or her] opinion. But the bottom line is we are all united in our love and interest in improving our communities.”
In 2018, Resnick will mark two decades in office. He has not decided if he will run for a sixth term but says he is open to the possibility.
“I’ve always been the person involved with improving community to create opportunity,” he says. “If you think back, Wilton Manors is night and day from where we were nearly 20 years ago.”