Gelber Unbound

He managed to leave office without being indicted, which may explain why Miami Beach's former mayor feels free to unload on development, corruption, and the bad boys across the bay

You don't sense he has that same level of loyalty?
No, no, I don't think so. Maybe he'll develop it, but I think you develop that by being a kind of pothole mayor or commissioner, dealing with people on a one-to-one basis. People call and say, "There's a bunch of water out in front of my house," and somebody comes. It's not by making great pronouncements.

So if you weren't able to get that kind of unconditional support, why did you run for mayor in the first place -- and so late in life?

Running for mayor of Miami Beach was not some big goal I had. I thought that being a judge was really a higher calling. I really didn't want to get involved in politics here, because the city had a reputation for very dirty politics. Although I had lived here for 50 years, I never felt the job was worthy of me. But in 1991 I had a long discussion with myself and I decided, since I wasn't risking my career or my name, that I could run. The very fact that I had nothing to lose, that I wasn't looking to develop a political career ahead of me, would make this a fun adventure for me. And it was.

What would be your own greatest criticism of your tenure as mayor?
I felt that I failed to become involved seriously with the plight of children, which really had motivated my career as a juvenile court judge. I never worked especially hard at developing programs for children in Miami Beach. I also just about ignored the homeless. Those are two areas where I could have done a lot more. Of course, as I said, I didn't come in with a program, and I never viewed that as negative, but some might say that it was.

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