A Taste for Trouble

When Ed Resnick agreed to help negotiate the Portofino Agreement, he never figured he'd become South Beach's public enemy #1

Things were looking grim in the war room. It was June 3, 1997, the day Miami Beach citizens were to vote on the so-called Save Miami Beach amendment. Inside the Fifth Street storefront office that housed Miami Beach Citizens Against Higher Taxes, the atmosphere was apprehensive. Veteran campaigners, all gray hair and cuff links, worked the phones in English, Spanish, or both. Fresh-faced young gofers in white T-shirts scribbled messages and scurried about.

Precinct results trickled in. Gradually it became clear the amendment this humming political machine had worked so hard to defeat was going to win -- and by a wide margin. This meant a citywide vote would be required whenever officials sought to increase the zoning density of waterfront property.

The controversial Portofino Agreement, negotiated over the previous two years between the city and developer Thomas Kramer to govern his development of the South Pointe neighborhood, depended upon just such a zoning increase. Thus Kramer had poured $1.5 million into funding this battalion of mercenaries. They had directed a ferocious campaign against the amendment, all for naught.

By 9:00 p.m., with the outcome assured, TV reporters began to fill the office, waiting for the group's spokesman to make his concession speech. At about 9:30, Edward S. Resnick made his entrance, his battery-powered wheelchair rolling over a wooden plank that allowed him to cross the storefront's threshold. The retired attorney looked drawn and a bit hollow-eyed in his coat and tie as he gently nudged the chair's joystick forward with his good hand, the right one. When he came into view of the troops, they showered him with applause. This seemed to brighten his countenance as he manuevered to his desk at the back of the office, preparing to face the cameras.

His assessment: "We couldn't overcome the anti-high-rise sentiment of the city, and we couldn't overcome the personality." The "personality" he was talking about was the well-publicized ill behavior of Thomas Kramer. But many Beach insiders were griping about Resnick himself.

Unlike the other members of this organization, Resnick was not a hired gun. He was, and still is, an activist. He maintains to this day that he became the spokesman for the Kramer-funded group out of his fervent belief that the Portofino Agreement -- a deal he helped negotiate -- was the best the city could do.

Ironically two years earlier Resnick had been a staunch opponent of the Portofino Agreement, voting against it on a community advisory board and writing a position paper detailing the complex deal's shortcomings. He then went on to represent South Pointe residents (without pay) in negotiations to restructure the agreement.

By helping to broker a new pact, however, and later joining forces with the widely loathed Kramer to oppose the Save Miami Beach amendment, Resnick became a lightning rod for activist ire, the ultimate citizen turncoat. His apparent about-face still infuriates Beach politicians and other activists. "That was the day of my downfall," Resnick says now of the election, only half joking. "I went from being a good guy to a bad guy in Miami Beach."

In keeping with his personality -- stubborn, irascible -- the 72-year-old Resnick remains unapologetic about his opposition to the referendum: "If I weren't willing to stand behind what I was a part of, I would be in effect saying I'd wasted my time and we hadn't accomplished anything."

Ed Resnick, who is not related to Abe Resnick, the late developer and city commissioner, moved with his family to Miami Beach from Connecticut in 1936. He attended public schools but dropped out of Miami Beach Senior High School to join the Navy in 1943. After a three-year tour, he enrolled at the University of Florida and eventually obtained undergraduate and law degrees.

He married his wife Phyllis in 1950; their daughter, Patricia came along shortly thereafter. After doing some mortgage work early in his career, Resnick became a full-time real estate lawyer. Just as he was establishing his family and his law practice, his life changed forever. "In February of 1953, I managed to get polio," he deadpans.

Resnick remembers being in an iron lung for six weeks as the disease ravaged his body, paralyzing his legs. He could barely move his left arm; his right was better but still impaired. "There are stages with these things," he says. "I forget how it goes: 'Why me?' Then anger, then despair, then you finally start to accept it." Resnick remembers going through all these in less than a year. "The fact that I was a lawyer was pretty good," he notes. "I had limited use of my hands, but I could use them well enough. I mean, I was in the hospital with a guy who was a doctor, a surgeon. That's a major life change."

In continuing to pursue his career, Resnick got both literal and figurative support from Phyllis, now 66 years old. He didn't get his powered wheelchair until 1992. "My wife has had lots of years of pushing," he smiles. "She basically totally took care of me. I mean, now I have a man who comes by in the morning and gets me up out of bed, but that's because I've gotten heavier, and we've all gotten older."

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