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For practically every question, he's got a sharp-tongued retort, while the mayor, after he finally arrives, is in the somewhat awkward position of explaining the complexity of a problem and the progress that is being made on it. When Gelber is asked about crime, for example, he cites his career as a prosecutor and judge, and adds, "One way to fight crime is to get policemen out on the street." However, Justice Department oversight of police department racial hiring practices has complicated the Beach's ability to hire new officers. But the city recently has received permission to add 40 to 60 officers, and, after being trained, they'll be on the streets. "We're hiring as many officers as we can," Gelber says.
Delaplaine snaps, "We've got the officers, we just got to get them out of their beds in Kendall where they're watching TV and put them working on the streets, not in their air-conditioned police cruisers. If you look out at Washington Avenue on a Friday night at one a.m., all you'll see are meter maids writing tickets to generate revenues, not cops taking thugs off the street. That will not change under this [Gelber's] administration." He wins some solid applause for those attack lines.
When it comes to parking, he also scores rhetorical points: "The special interests don't want to solve the parking problem. They want to make sweetheart deals with [hotelier] Tony Goldman." Gelber doesn't offer much of a defense. "Parking is one of our weakest points. We have failed in that," he concedes, while urging the crowd to give the Beach's new parking director, Frank Del Monaco, a chance.
Despite the seeming legitimacy this forum gives Delaplaine, the true disparity between Gelber and his opponent becomes clear when all the candidates are asked how much money they've raised so far. "I've raised a ton of money," Gelber announces with a mix of pride and embarrassment at his $85,000 haul. "We didn't know who our opponent would be." Then, reaching over to patronizingly pat Delaplaine's hand, he notes, "With no reflection on Andy, I've quit soliciting funds as of the last [treasurer's report] filing date." The clear, unspoken message is that Andrew Delaplaine is not worth taking seriously. When Delaplaine's turn comes, he pauses dramatically and jokes, "I'm owned by Big Sugar," then adds, "We'll be spending $20,000, more or less." Pointedly, he never mentions how much he's actually raised. (By the end of last week, he claims to have raised slightly more than $9000.)
After he's finished, Delaplaine is surrounded by some well-wishers, and it's clear that he's won a few new converts. (Surprisingly, no one has brought up questions about drinking, bankruptcy, or anti-Semitism.) Saul Feltzin, an elderly retiree, walks over to congratulate him, although Feltzin allows that he initially thought little of Delaplaine's campaign after reading about him in the Herald. He complains to Delaplaine that his property taxes have risen from $5000 to $25,000 over the years, and the candidate tells him, "They waste so much of your money."
"Keep it up," Feltzin says. "I'll send you a donation."
Others, though, remain unconvinced. Elayne Weisburd, the president of the Middle Beach association, sniffs, "Everything is a joke to Andy, but I don't consider my city a joke."
There's not much in Delaplaine's background that points to a career as a politician. Although born in Coconut Grove, he grew up on a large plantation in a rural town in Sumter County, South Carolina, after his father, a General Foods executive, left corporate life to become a gentleman farmer. Delaplaine's standard of living decreased after his parents divorced when he was eight years old, although he and his four siblings continued to live on the decaying farm and, by 1959, began attending private schools, joining other whites in avoiding the newly integrated public schools. The civil rights revolution of the Sixties barely interested Delaplaine, as he focused instead on his reading and his dreams of becoming a writer. He graduated from a small college in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and headed to New York City to establish himself as a writer. But he ended up selling underwear at Saks Fifth Avenue, supplementing his income with free-lance work revising film scripts. After two years, he returned to South Carolina, where he worked as a newspaper reporter in Columbia while toiling on a novel. (He's now revising it.)
Delaplaine first moved to Florida -- Bay Harbor Islands -- in the late 1970s to live with his mother and to start work as the editor of Leisureguide magazine, a tourist publication, of which he was the major stockholder, geared to hotel guests. (He subsequently bought and lived in what had been his great-grandmother's winter cottage in Belle Meade.) He sold his interest in the magazine company for about $500,000 in 1981, he says, and then frequently traveled to London, where a few plays he had written were produced; simultaneously, to make money, he edited travel newsletters. He moved from Belle Meade to South Beach in 1988, where he quickly made an impact on the nascent arts and party scene. Back then there wasn't much around except the Strand, but Delaplaine saw the area's potential and set about realizing his goal of starting a theater. He also established himself as a unique character with his charm, literary erudition, and, perhaps most strikingly, his habit of wearing shorts, even to formal gatherings. As he explains it, "I had gained a lot of weight, and I couldn't wear my expensive wardrobe, so I wore shorts."