By Michael E. Miller
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By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
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By Kyle Swenson
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He clearly believes his stance on development gives him plenty of ammunition against Kasdin. "I don't consider Neisen a public servant," he snipes. "I just think he has some other agenda. He's basically a downtown business guy who likes to mingle with the county establishment, business establishment, and political establishment, and gaze out over Miami Beach from his twentieth-story office on Brickell Avenue."
Not surprisingly the current mayor has a different perception of who's the real insider. "If you look at the record," says Kasdin, "he's been the developer's best friend." Kasdin points to a number of occasions when Shapiro voted in favor of developers, including a recent vote over the increase in zoning density for Don Peebles's Bath Club project. "It's just highly cynical and hypocritical of him."
Term limits precluded Shapiro from running for his commission seat in 1999, so last January he decided to run for mayor. Two months later he bailed out, deciding instead to run for the statehouse seat now occupied by Elaine Bloom (D-Miami Beach). (Bloom is making a run for the U.S. House of Representatives.) "It wasn't indecision," he stresses. "I felt I could perform a valuable service for this community in the state legislature. As time went on, and the city elections were coming up, I began to fear for the city's welfare with Neisen Kasdin looking to be a sure bet for re-election without significant opposition. I was hoping there would be someone else to step forward to take on Kasdin's political machine, but for personal reasons, family reasons, other candidates were not in a position to do that."
The candidates he refers to are two of his commission colleagues, both of whom were first elected just two years ago: David Dermer and Simon Cruz. Either would have been a viable candidate, especially the 36-year-old Dermer, an effective orator who likely still has some momentum from the Save Miami Beach referendum he spearheaded, and which gave him an easy victory in 1997 over incumbent Sy Eisenberg. (One Beach political observer, who asked not to be identified, said Dermer could "tear Kasdin a new asshole" if he decided to run.) But 1999 has been a rough year for Dermer personally. His wife, Elyse, filed for divorce in January; the court battle has dragged on throughout the year, with a trial date set for November 1. The 42-year-old Cruz, for his part, spends his free time chasing his one-year-old twins.
Once it became clear that neither of these young guns wanted to take on an uphill campaign against Kasdin, Shapiro jumped back into the mayor's race, with Dermer's backing. "I'm very proud to have the endorsement of David Dermer in this race," Shapiro says. He points out that Dermer's presence has given him a like-minded ally on the commission, something he'd never had before. "For many years I struggled alone on the commission; it's great having an ally on the dais now," he says.
Does Shapiro have a chance to make up for Kasdin's tremendous head start? He thinks so. "I believe Kasdin's support in the community, while it may be a mile wide, is an inch deep."
Not everyone agrees. "In reality only one person has a chance to win," says Ric Katz, who directed David Pearlson's unsuccessful campaign against Kasdin in 1997. "I think Marty will put up a good fight, and people who are angry at Neisen will fuel some of that fight. But Neisen's smart, and he's not taking Marty for granted. He should be a fairly easy victor."
Shapiro stresses it's not such a big deal that Kasdin currently has a 10-1 advantage over him in campaign funds. The two examples he cites of big-money campaigns that lost, not coincidentally, also serve the purpose of bashing Kasdin: the Save Miami Beach referendum, in which the Kramer-backed "no" side raised some $1.5 million, the victorious "yes" side about $9000; and the failed penny sales-tax campaign, in which Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas and his allies raised $1.9 million and lost by a 2-1 margin.
There are enough people out there who, as Katz says, are "angry with Neisen" and could give Shapiro a last-minute infusion of cash. One powerful player in town, developer Don Peebles, has pledged to do just that, right before the commission was to vote on an increase in zoning for a property he owns at 59th Street and Collins Avenue, near the Mirabella plot and the Maison Grande.
Don Peebles is best known in Miami Beach as the guy who finally made the so-called African-American hotel a reality. In 1990 the city snubbed the prepresidential Nelson Mandela by failing to officially recognize his visit. The disrespect shown to this world-renowned leader infuriated black Americans nationwide, and several activist groups declared a boycott of the City of Miami Beach.
As a gesture of reconciliation, the city in 1993 committed itself to facilitating the construction of a new convention hotel that would have black ownership. The Royal Palm Crowne Plaza, a 422-room convention hotel now under construction at 15th Street and Collins Avenue, is that building, and Don Peebles is that owner.
Among those commissioners who supported Peebles's eventually successful bid for the project, as well as the ten million dollars in city redevelopment agency money he received for the construction, Kasdin was one of the leaders. Peebles showed his gratitude by generously contributing to Kasdin's 1997 campaign. According to Kasdin's finance forms from that election, Peebles and people or entities connected to him gave some $6000 to the campaign.