What about the ten communities you say you brought to the top? Specifically, what did you do?

I bought a building, made it an elegant building, and other surrounding neighborhoods started moving ahead. Same like in Miami Beach.

Gentrification?
I wish I could say it so elegant like you.
But is the city on top now?

Things are looking good. But Rome wasn't built in one day. We're going in the right direction.

Although he's never at a loss for words, no matter what the controversy, and seems to deflect criticism with rambling replies and non sequiturs, a mixture of confusion and utter disregard, Hirschfeld does have one staunch ally and defender: his wife. Zipora Hirschfeld, who grew up in Tel Aviv, defends her husband passionately, the way only a spouse can.

"He has a brilliant mind," says Mrs. Hirschfeld, a self-described poet, as she sits at a round glass table in the Hirschfelds' eighteenth-floor penthouse suite at the Castle Hotel. "He sees things much clearer, and he's successful because he always sees what's needed, and he can create it. The other commissioners can't stand when a newcomer like Abe comes to Miami. He has better character and more honesty than all of them together. What have they accomplished?"

Her husband is a family man, she continues, a generous person who can't pass a beggar on the street without handing over a few dollars. "He has such a big heart," she says. "And he is very strong. He is stronger than me."

Mrs. Hirschfeld, who resigned from the Miami Beach Visitors and Convention Authority when the Castle Hotel shut down, says her husband will have little trouble riding out the current controversy. "They're looking to destroy Abe Hirschfeld," she says defiantly. "But they're not going to."

Do you have a philosophy that guides you as a public official?
Yes. It's the same philosophy that applies to all my business and all my life. My philosophy is very simple: I don't work for money, I don't work for fame. I only work for love and the benefit of the public. And people ask me, "Abe, you're Jewish and you're not religious. Why do you go to the synagogue on Saturday?" And my answer is very simple. I go to pray for my employees, to pray for my guests, to pray for the people I work with. And if they do well, I do well. And the same is for Miami Beach. Miami Beach does well, I do well.

Some of your employees say they don't need your prayers.
You won't give me one name that doesn't like me.
How about the picketers outside your hotel? The people who went on strike?
Those are not names of individuals.

Miami Beach suffers from allegations of corruption and mismanagement. It's plagued with crime. What have you done to revive it?

A lot of it I am alleviating. We have solved a lot of problems in the last year. First of all we got rid of [former police chief] Ken Glassman, which removed us from the title of crime capital of the nation. I removed [former city attorney] Arnold Weiner, where all the commissioners offered him a big compensation. We won the [appeal of the] Carner-Mason lawsuit. [Initially the court had ordered the city to pay Carner-Mason $30 million in a contract dispute regarding the Miami Beach marina, but this past month an appellate court overturned the judgment.]

What can be done about crime in Miami Beach?
I believe - just like I had the solution for the parking situation [in New York], which really changed the complex of the universe - I believe I have a solution to the drug and crime problem, and I'll be working on it within the next 60 days. I don't know if it will be a complete solution, but very close to it. It has to be properly prepared with all kinds of facts and analysis, and then I will present it to the world.

Will you give us a hint?
No. I'd like to, but I can't yet. It isn't ready.
Some issues that come before the city commission are complex - things like bond issues, tax-increment financing, labor contracts, budgets. How much time per week do you devote - outside commission meetings - to commission matters so you can make informed decisions?

I would say somewhere between four, five to eight hours in two weeks.
And what do you do in that time?
I am analyzing the reports and preparing statements and preparing answers.

Commissioner Shapiro says you don't represent the people - that you can't put yourself in their shoes.

Nobody's closer to the people than I am. My whole world stands from almost daily having direct contact with my plumbers, with my contractors, with my carpenters, with my driver. As a matter of fact, I had a driver twenty years, Elijah Montgomery, a black guy from Mississippi. One day I said to him, "Elijah, why don't you come in the back and I'll drive?" He said, "No, Mr. Hirschfeld, I don't want to." We were really like brothers. And then he said to me, "Mr. Hirschfeld, what can I do to not be a driver?" I said, "Elijah, learn from me. I have a Rolls Royce limousine, but I carry cement bags and a shovel in the limo, because sometimes it's missing cement from the job, I'll bring it in the limousine."

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