Swelter

Posthurricane, and everybody trying to figure out the haphazardly enforced curfew situation. As of this past Friday, the Metro-Dade Police Department had dropped the curfew (with the exception of Key Biscayne) for the coastal regions north of SW 104th Street. Up until September 2 -- when Miami Beach City Manager Roger Carlton announced the lifting of the Beach's curfew at a Miami Beach City Commission meeting -- the Beach also had an 11:00-to-7:00 curfew. The march of events leading to the waiving of the Beach curfew a rather nifty story of economic and political pressure, despite being a hasty, incomplete assembly of facts, rumors, and half-baked conjectures. More or less, the journalistic approximation of truth.

The seeds of revolution festering with irate club and restaurant owners -- many of whom wanted an immediate ban on all curfew restrictions -- being virtually stonewalled during a Miami Beach City Commission meeting on Friday, August 28. (One long-time city official called the protest of nightclub owners at that meeting "the most disgusting display of selfishness I've ever witnessed in public service. People were dying in South Dade, and they thought we should be dancing in the streets.") A 48-hour liquor ban issued by the City Manager's office that afternoon rescinded the following day on the recommendation of Miami Beach Police Chief Phillip Huber, widely regarded as anti-club. Although 35 percent of Miami Beach police calls on weekends are alcohol related, Huber felt the situation had stabilized.

In an attempt to get together an organized irate platform, Paragon stages a vendor summit meeting the following Tuesday afternoon at the club. The district universe turns out: impressaria Kitty Meow, George and Leo Nunez of Warsaw, an older club figure/popper salesman, JoAnn Bass of Joe's Stone Crab, David Winer of WPA, Ron Kent of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, Denis Russ of the Miami Beach Development Corporation, Tony Kaye of the Clevelander Hotel, attorney and Miami Beach City Commissioner Neisen Kasdin, Steve Polisar of The Palace, Uptown, and the Miami Beach Entertainment Association, Michael Krieger of Van Dome, Dennis Doheny and Patrick Reilly of Paragon, and just about everybody else.

Some general stomping around, muttering about "just another city snow job" and the Clevelander's uncanny knack for avoiding police interference during the crisis. And then a settling into new town hall business. Kasdin explaining that the street lights and traffic lights would be out for the next two to three months, a problem compounded by the difficulties the city faces in replacing 50 brand-new stop signs, stolen by some deranged individual. At that point, Kasdin hoping for a 2:00 a.m. curfew, and, of course, stressing the sensitivity of the situation, the unseemly appearance of fiddling while Miami burns: "We have to educate people about the fact that this is not about making as much money as you can -- it's about survival. Don't be confrontational. Bear with us and have a little sympathy."

A lone voice bellowing across the room: "Maybe if the commission is ignorant of our lifestyle down here, it's time for a change." Assorted hotheads wondering what would happen if they refused to pay their resort taxes, defied the curfew, or just "leaned on the assholes." JoAnn Bass suggesting the clubs get together and provide volunteers for traffic assistance, an offer immediately deemed entirely sensible. Ron Kent reporting that his office had sent out more than 17,000 faxes to the press and travel industry, promoting the Beach as fun central. Winer suggesting that vendors set aside ten percent of revenues during certain hours to aid relief efforts. Doheny reminding everyone of "the global light" focused on the district and wondering if it might be practical and legally feasible to lock in customers from 2:00 a.m. until the end of curfew on busy nights, given that "they all stay till then anyway." An articulate leader-type issuing a call to arms: "We're all gunslingers here, riding the range with no one to represent us. There's different groups for Washington Avenue, Ocean Drive, and Lincoln Road. We need someone who can speak for all of us with a unified voice. Who do we like? Who do we trust?" From the crowd, a resounding cry of "nobody" and nasty chuckles. By Beach standards, though, really a very civilized assembly.

Afterward, a small ad hoc group -- Doheny, Winer, Bass, among others -- meeting at the Miami Beach Development Corp offices on Drexel Avenue. Bass suggesting that Carlton, the former "off-street parking czar," might be able to help with traffic problems. A curfew hotline established, varying marketing efforts bandied about, and an agreement that a small representative group of vendors will lobby city commissioners. Recipients of charity efforts being discussed -- the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, before the Beach credo is adhered to: "Let's take care of our own and do something for our people." A consensus that cooperation is required, and that fighting for the complete removal of all curfew restrictions might be alienating. Everyone agrees to quietly pack the Commission meeting the following day, and remain "a force to be reckoned with."

The Beach now poised to enact a grand crusade, but as so often happens, ordinary events leach the drama out of real life. According to two well-informed sources, Chief Huber meets with Carlton early the following morning to discuss some fairly compelling arguments. Metro-Dade Police Chief Fred Taylor advises that it would be better to give residents of curfew areas, forbidden to return home between 9:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m., the option of staying on the Beach until 5:00 a.m., when the clubs close. The streets of Miami Beach are about as safe as they're going to be for the next two to three months anyway, and things are running pretty smoothly. Police enforcement of the curfew at 2:00 a.m. will strain the department's resources and create a gridlock situation on the causeways. Carlton notes that the matter is an "issue of responsibility and safety. The city was ready to return to some degree of normalcy, although not as fast as some people wanted; I got dozens of calls from screaming club owners. But you don't want your City Manager to be a wimp." Labor Day weekend looming up, high season fast approaching, and the city needs those South Beach revenues. Chinatown, and it's back to business as usual.

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