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

What bothered Resnick more than the aggressive tactics was the referendum's unmistakable goal of trying to undo the deal he had worked so hard to secure for the city. Kramer and his attorneys also recognized the charter amendment as a potential deal-breaker. When Resnick formed a political action committee to oppose the amendment, called Miami Beach Citizens Against Higher Taxes, Kramer funneled nearly $1.5 million into it.

If the source of that pile of money bothered many Beach residents, they were even more outraged by the way the cash was spent: hundreds of thousands of dollars for scare-tactic ads, relentless telephone polling, and heavy-hitter political operatives. As many enemies as Resnick made while negotiating the Portofino deal, he made far more in leading the fight to defeat what came to be known as the Save Miami Beach amendment.

"I think most people accepted that Ed was doing what he thought was right, all the way up until the referendum," Ilona Wiss says. "When he allied himself with that, allowed himself to be part of strategies that were used, I wondered, How low will he go?"

Resnick continues to deny that he is or was "Portofino's point man," as the weekly SunPost dubbed him during the referendum campaign. He chuckles at the assertion that he was somehow paid off by Kramer to lead the fight against the referendum. "Oh, I've had a lot of trouble with people in this building," Resnick says of South Pointe Tower, his home. "There are people who are still thoroughly convinced that I am paid by Kramer. I got into an argument with one guy, and he said to me, 'I'd like to see your bank account and see the payments you're getting.'"

Kramer's money saturated the referendum campaign, but Resnick insists he wasn't among those cleaning up. "When I was in the campaign, my driver was paid for," he reports. "Oh, and I got my lunches. In some people's mind, that was tantamount to my being paid off. I keep telling them I wouldn't sell out that cheap."

Neisen Kasdin, who was elected mayor in 1997, says Resnick didn't sell out at all. He was simply obsessed with doing whatever it took to preserve the Portofino deal. "We had a couple of very bitter, knockdown-drag-out arguments around the time of the referendum that led to a total break in our relationship," Kasdin remembers. He won't elaborate on the details of these spats, except to say they concerned Kasdin's refusal to campaign against the referendum. "But is he a tool of Kramer? I think all those criticisms of him have no basis," Kasdin asserts.

To this day Resnick remains firm in his opposition to the Save Miami Beach referendum, calling it an example of "populism out of control." Deciding city planning issues by plebiscite, he argues, is simply a bad idea. He agrees with the legal opinion offered by City Attorney Murray Dubbin prior to the vote: The charter amendment is unconstitutional because it inserts the public into the quasi-judicial zoning process. "I think you'll see that I'll be proven right. It's going to fall flat on its face," Resnick predicts. Just such a legal challenge -- filed by Portofino -- is pending before the Third District Court of Appeal.

After the firestorm of the referendum campaign, Resnick began to withdraw from politics, leaving groups such as the South Pointe Advisory Board and the Committee for a Barrier-Free Environment, and even resigning as president of the condo association of South Pointe Tower.

Not so long ago, one Beach political observer cracked, "the waters parted for his wheelchair" at city hall. Resnick no longer has that kind of pull. But he has retained his knack for controversy. Instead of fighting for Thomas Kramer's right to build skyscrapers, however, Resnick is now championing ... bathrooms.

Throughout the Nineties, Resnick has lobbied the city commission for public restrooms on Lincoln Road. He has continually argued that the outdoor mall needs such facilities to accommodate shoppers and browsers -- and, of course, people in wheelchairs. "Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), if they build any public restrooms, they'd have to be accessible [to disabled people]," Resnick explains. The commission's response to his efforts has been deafening silence.

Earlier this year he discovered a different angle, citing the South Florida Building Code that requires restaurants to have one toilet and a urinal, or two toilets, for every 40 seats. Currently, sidewalk cafe seats are not counted in this formula. Resnick posited that they should be. Restaurant owners suddenly faced the prospect of having to either build more bathrooms or cut down drastically on their sidewalk seating. Needless to say, they were not pleased.

"It was an absurd concept," says Ray Schnitzer, co-owner of South Beach Brasserie and the Eleventh Street Diner. "I don't see what [Resnick] had to gain by this. It would be a hardship on the landlord, which would then be passed on to the tenant. There are enough pressures and obstacles to doing business in this town as it is. I guess he figures his role in life is to bust the balls of individual property owners."

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