Attitude Dancing

Wire editor and former club owner Andrew Delaplaine wants to be the next mayor of Miami Beach. Is this guy tilting at windmills?

Andrew Delaplaine, the editor of the South Beach weekly Wire, is huddled with campaign aides inside his cramped, book-lined office on Euclid Avenue, trying to come up with ideas for television ads in his long-shot race against Miami Beach Mayor Seymour Gelber. Standing at a computer keyboard in his standard uniform of khakis and a black T-shirt, Delaplaine brainstorms with producer Melanie Morningstar and cinematographer Marika Mattingly, who will be filming the spots for cable television. Mattingly, a woman in her twenties who, like Delaplaine himself, has never before worked on a political campaign, suggests, "We need something that makes me believe he's a totally serious candidate."

Delaplaine proposes some catch phrases to deal with that image problem: "I'm taking the issues seriously. I have real solutions..."

"...for real problems," adds Morningstar, an outgoing Australian native who's overseeing much of the campaign, although there's no single campaign manager.

As Morningstar and Mattingly prod Delaplaine to focus his themes, he begins to sound -- at least most of the time -- like a serious candidate, even though most political veterans on Miami Beach have dismissed his mayoral bid as capricious, a "lark," as Ric Katz, Gelber's campaign consultant, puts it.

"What do you think are the most important issues?" Morningstar asks.
"The most easily talked about is parking," Delaplaine responds, but he's quickly interrupted by Mattingly, who interjects, "The most important to me is the Portofino land deal," referring to the City of Miami Beach's controversial arrangement with developer Thomas Kramer that gives him a virtual monopoly to build high-rise towers in South Pointe.

"It's a done deal," Delaplaine notes impatiently.
But Mattingly insists, "I'm still so fucking angry about it."
Suddenly, Delaplaine, a chubby, energetic man with close-cropped, curly black hair, is seized with inspiration. "'I'm standing here at the very tip of South Pointe,'" he improvises, as if actually shooting a spot, "'but I'm here to talk about why North Beach is becoming a slum.' The camera pans up the Portofino Tower, and you correlate the city's emphasis on it directly to the decline in North Beach, the sucking away of resources." But he can't resist adding a joke: "'I'm at the southernmost tip of Key West -- and I can't get up!'"

The trio quickly turn their attention to the issue the 45-year-old Delaplaine has been harping on for years in the "Barbs" column he writes for Wire: parking. Mattingly asks him, "What's the one sentence that hits home?"

"Free parking!" Delaplaine shoots back. "I personally believe that if you have a South Beach address, you should be issued a free decal that lets you park in any residential area and not pay tickets at parking meters."

"As a voter, to me, it's too totally unrealistic," Mattingly notes. "It's utopian to say 'free parking.' Can you really promise that?"

"We can say we're going for it," Delaplaine glibly remarks, "and let the commissioners vote against it." He then starts spouting other solutions, including adding angle street parking that would, he contends, increase parking spaces 30 percent.

In the course of about two hours, they hash out with surprising ease rough scripts of ads designed to appeal to citizens in the three main sections of the city. After covering South Beach (an emphasis on parking) and the North Beach area around the Kennedy Causeway (decay and crime), Delaplaine turns to the affluent Middle Beach section: "'Have you ever wondered why property taxes go up and city services keep getting worse?'" he says, seguing back into his on-camera persona. "'That's because politicians refuse to tell the bureaucracy to stop wasting money. And each year they come back for more.'" But, he admits after completing his pitch, "we don't specify how the money's wasted. Let's find a bogeyman." However, by the end of the session he still hasn't figured out which expensive project to blame.

An even trickier problem, though, confronts them now: how to deal with some of the negative perceptions people have of Delaplaine. "Maybe we shouldn't bring it up, but in regard to the Herald article on you, are you going to take this position [mayor] seriously?" Mattingly asks. (Earlier in the week, a tough Miami Herald piece recounted some of the skeletons in Delaplaine's closet and quoted political consultants who derided his candidacy.) Morningstar thinks the "seriousness" question can be handled briefly, noting, "Our campaign slogan is 'We're in this to win.'" He types that out and says, "Make that the tag line."

Delaplaine reflects for a moment, then starts to take umbrage at the doubts about his candidacy. "I don't think the city's taking the issues seriously," he rails. "They ignore the issues. This guy [Gelber] was going to be elected without opposition, and none of this was going to be discussed." But they're not sure whether to address directly the attacks on the Delaplaine campaign's validity.

Morningstar at first argues they shouldn't rebut the criticisms in their commercials. "Let's not give airtime for their issues," she says. On the other hand, she muses, "Maybe we need to do a whole one that addresses everything A Andrew's bankruptcy [in 1991], the fact that people see him as an anti-Semite, all of the negative issues." She puts the best spin possible on some bad publicity: "I don't think it's so bad all those things came up in the Herald because a) everything's out in the open, and b) it gives Andrew an opportunity to explain his position. The bankruptcy -- as he explains it and I believe him -- is the smartest thing he's ever done, businesswise. It's the only way his creditors could ever have been paid back."

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