By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
If Miami Beach politics is a joke, Abe Hirschfeld is the punch line. Even in a city hall where the mayor is under investigation by the Feds; where some commissioners view their offices as extensions of their private businesses; where proclamations are issued in honor of politically connected, world-class drug dealers; where millions of dollars earmarked for the community suddenly surface in Homestead, never to return; where greased wheels and back-room deals are a way of life - even in this three-story freak show of mutant public policymakers, one man, 71-year-old Commissioner Abe Hirschfeld, stands out like a lime-green necktie in a roomful of undertakers. Hirschfeld, a real estate magnate, a veritable tycoon who owns the New York Penta hotel, Manhattan's posh Vertical Club athletic center, and a host of parking garages in the Big Apple, is best known locally for spitting on Miami Herald reporter Bonnie Weston, for telling ethnic jokes in commission chambers, and for being kicked out of his own hotel for ignoring fire-code violations. On the dais of the Beach commission chambers, where each city official seems to have found a way to be disliked, blamed, or ridiculed by one or another of his peers, Abraham Jacob Hirschfeld holds a unique distinction: nobody likes him. And that's no joke.
Miami Beach Mayor Alex Daoud, perhaps unwilling to stir up the already roiling political soup he's in, is hesitant to criticize. "His publicity has not been good," Daoud hedges when his opinion is solicited, "but it has not been as bad as some of the other malevolent publicity that has really been pushed by the Miami Herald and the other news media in the area."
Other Beach officials, however, are not so reticent:
"He's one of the wonders of the world," says fellow commission member William Shockett. "He takes credit for things - he says that he got rid of the prior police chief, and he refers to him as `Gladstone' when his name is `Glassman.' That says it all. He's sitting at the meetings taking credit for getting rid of `Gladstone,' and everybody is laughing.... He's just unbelievable. I find nothing redeeming about him. He's a very vicious, warped, shrewd man." Shockett filed a slander suit this past week in response to Hirschfeld's broadcast allegation that Shockett "comes to the commission drunk." The suit was dropped two days later, after Hirschfeld presented Shockett with a written apology and after Shockett apologized for requesting Hirschfeld's resignation.
"I don't think that you gain respect as a legislator by doing acts that are not socially accepted," says Commissioner Stanley Arkin.
"He's totally unreasonable," asserts Commissioner Bruce Singer. "He is ineffective as a city commissioner because of his inability to work with others."
"The basic problem," says Commissioner Martin Shapiro, "is he's a person who's not suited to be an elected official. He doesn't understand the intricacies and the subtleties of being an elected official. The public looks at him as being a jerk."
Commissioner Shapiro says the public thinks you're a jerk -Well, the only thing I can tell you is he's not my lover and I wouldn't indulge in a discussion with him. He can call anybody a jerk - and that you're unsuited for public office. And others say you're taking credit for things you shouldn't take credit for.
They happen to be right. I'll tell you why. All the people come over in Miami Beach and they tell me, "Abe, you deserve the credit for making Miami Beach roomy," and I tell them, "Do me a favor, don't give me the credit. Give me cash." And I haven't seen any yet. So taking the credit doesn't give me any cash. If it does, it's good for the people. That is my cash.
An elected official is just common sense. And success in private events - not one of them [Miami Beach commissioners] has any success to be credited for. And I have all the successes that they will never reach if they live another thousand years. I don't think any one of them has a single honorary - and by the way, I got an honorary doctor of philosophy from the Protestant Theological Seminary. I got man of the year from the City of Hope, the man of the year from the real estate industry, and it can go on and on and on. And never have I taken an honor from an organization that I contributed money, because I don't want to buy an honor.
You've run for office several times in the past. Is politics in your nature?
No. No, I ran for office because I realized if I won't run for office, I will lose all my investments because of mismanagement in government. I was a member of the Electoral College of the United States. I am in Who's Who in the East, and nobody in South Florida is listed there. [Miami Herald publisher] David Lawrence is trying to get in and I won't stop him. I was the treasurer of the New York State Democratic Party. President Carter sent Air Force One to bring us to the peace treaty signing with Israel and I am the only one in the universe who has the peace treaty signed by the three presidents that were sitting at that table.