By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
The owner of the Mirabella site, Royal World Metropolitan, Inc., filed suit against the City of Miami Beach earlier this year, alleging that the city was illegally trying to block its right to build on privately owned land. On September 13 Royal World's attorney, Toby Brigham, filed a motion to block Shapiro from discussing the case in his capacity as a city commissioner at a closed "executive session" commission meeting scheduled for the next day. City Attorney Murray Dubbin responded that, because Shapiro was not presently retained by the Maison Grande, there was no conflict of interest.
Brigham says he respects Dubbin's opinion, but thinks that, in the absence of an actual conflict, the appearance of one is undeniable. "When it came to my attention he had represented the Maison Grande, it seemed to me that it created, let's not call it a conflict, but a preference, whether or not he represents them now," Brigham says. "When you have represented a group that prefers not to have [the Mirabella], your judgment is going to be swayed because of, I guess, loyalty."
Shapiro still thinks the Mirabella project must be stopped, and doesn't see any problem with his having opposed it. "If there's one thing I'd like to accomplish before I leave this commission, it would be getting together state and federal funds to acquire [the Mirabella] site," he says. "I don't see any conflict at all. I'm still fighting for that, and I'm not involved with that condo association anymore."
On two other issues that have come before the commission, Shapiro's representation of the Maison Grande has created the appearance of divided loyalties.
•In June 1996 the city administration proposed a plan by which 50 to 60 older condominium buildings would be retrofitted with up-to-date sprinkler and fire-safety systems. Residents of those condos rose up in opposition, led by Henry Kay, whose home at the Maison Grande was (and still is) in need of new sprinklers. When this issue went before the city commission in March 1998, Shapiro proposed an agenda item to grant the condos a no-interest loan to pay for the retrofitting. The plan passed, though Shapiro was absent for the vote. That May he began representing the Maison Grande in the first of four foreclosure suits that year.
•On September 9, 1998, the commission passed, by a 7-0 vote, a sanitation-impact fee for all commercial businesses. As defined in the agenda item, the impact fee applied to all condominiums on the Beach, including the Maison Grande, which Shapiro was representing as an attorney. Oddly Shapiro was unaware the fee would apply to any condos. In a February 1999 memorandum to City Manager Sergio Rodriguez, Shapiro noted that he had "received numerous complaints about the fee being charged to condominiums and townhouses. I voted for the ordinance based upon my understanding that it applied only to commercial businesses."
In fact he should not have voted at all. He eventually got a revised version of the ordinance on the agenda that would exempt townhouses and condos. Rodriguez, in his staff report on the ordinance, agreed that townhouses should be exempt, but recommended retaining the fee for condos. The measure passed 5-2, with Kasdin and Commissioner Simon Cruz voting against it. "That cost the city $180,000 we didn't have," Kasdin laments.
Martin Shapiro is noticeably calmer at his legal practice on 41st Street in Miami Beach than he was at the Normandy Isle Golf Course. "I think I came on a little more aggressive than I might have liked," he allows, with a sheepish grin. "But I'm running out of time. I've got to make a case here," he says, then laughs. "I've always been looked upon as an outsider and underdog."
But as he sits, legs crossed, in an unused office on the first floor, he is no less relentless in bashing Kasdin as a tax-and-spend guy, and as a friend to big-ticket developers, including Thomas Kramer. "In those four years of voting on Kramer's Portofino deal, I can't recall a single vote by Kasdin that didn't make Thomas Kramer grin from ear to ear," Shapiro says.
The vehemence with which Shapiro has opposed the Kramer deal is indicative of the often lonely stands he has taken against his colleagues in his ten years on the commission. After having served on the town council of Bay Harbor Islands for ten years, he moved to Miami Beach and was elected to a two-year term on the city commission in 1989. He ran for and won four-year terms in 1991 and 1995; when the commission voted in 1996 to limit commissioners to two consecutive four-year terms, the city attorney ruled that Shapiro could complete his four-year term, but would have to vacate the seat this year.
It was during his most recent four-year stretch, after winning a tough battle against Matti Bower's 1995 bid to become the first Hispanic on the commission, that Shapiro began to cement his reputation as either a fearless populist or a knee-jerk naysayer, depending on who you ask. His "no" votes on the Portofino deal, and his opposition to numerous other high-rises, have put him in a position to capture many of the 6000 or so voters who pushed through the Save Miami Beach charter amendment in 1997, and put him at the forefront of the city's anti-development sentiment that year.