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"The idea of shifting to an “anything goes' standard is not going to bring in business," Kasdin cautions. "It could actually lead to the death of the Beach as an attractive place to visit." Still, for Kasdin, indulging all-night clubbers is hardly Dermer's worst sin.
"He's a hypocrite," he snaps, addressing Dermer's constant championing of his leadership in the Save Miami Beach crusade against notorious high-rise developer Thomas Kramer. "When he first ran for city commission in 1991, he ran against Susan Gottlieb, who was a chief proponent of downzoning. By 1997 [when Dermer ran again and was elected] he saw which way opinion was moving. Where was he in the meantime when myself, Susan, and Nancy Liebman were trying to roll back development? He was nowhere to be found."
Particularly rankling to Kasdin is Dermer's role in spiking the 1998 sale to the city of Kramer's "Alaska Parcel," a three-and-a-half-acre chunk of prime Beach waterfront. He concedes it was a popularly received move, but he considers it shortsighted. "We had an option to buy [the parcel] for seven million," Kasdin sighs. "It could've been a public park free of high-rises forever. Instead Dermer led the opposition, saying, 'We're not going to give Kramer a dime.'"
As of last week, Kramer is set to go to court. Says Kasdin: "If a judge says that property has to be permitted to have high-rise zoning, the responsible parties are the ones who voted against the public buying it when we had an opportunity three years ago." He adds sharply: "That was a criminal act!" and then points to a similarly aborted deal with the city: Kramer offered the seven-acre slice of bayfront north of Monty's for $11 million, a bargain considering it sold this past summer to Jorge Perez's Related Group for $52 million. Perez has slated more towering condo buildings for the site.
Perhaps even more glaring, the notorious duo who received more than $100,000 in consulting fees to orchestrate Kramer's own anti-Save Miami Beach campaign -- political operative Armando Gutierrezand his wife Maritza's Creative Advertising Ideas -- are now part of the brain trust behind Dermer's mayoral quest. Armando is his consultant, while Dermer recently paid $20,000 to Maritza's agency.
Gutierrez is known to the general public chiefly for his role as the Elian Gonzalez "family spokesman," helping to turn a six-year-old boy into a political prop for the Cuban-exile community. But before all that, Gutierrez was a familiar face in Beach elections, believed to be responsible for spreading false rumors of anti-Semitism and redbaiting on behalf of whichever candidate hired him. The Fair Campaign Practices Committee called him "a blight on Dade County politics." And while Dermer may be paying his salary, at least when it comes to Cuban-exile politics, Gutierrez seems to be calling the tune.
During the October 1 mayoral debate at the Colony Theater, a hint of Dermer's position emerged. Asked by filmmaker Frances Negron how they felt about Cuban artists performing in Miami Beach, both Bloom and Liebman emphatically announced their belief in freedom of expression. They were delighted with the Supreme Court's ruling that led to the overturning of Miami-Dade's cuba ordinance, which barred county-funded arts groups and venues from interacting with that island. Cuban bands wanna play here? Bring 'em on!
With the Hollywood Jazz Festival's mysterious cancellation of next month's concert by Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdés, as well as West Palm Beach's Carefree Theater backing out of an earlier Irakere date because of fears of violent protests from road-tripping exiles, this is hardly a moot issue.
When the microphone was passed to Dermer, he hemmed, attempted a diversionary joke, and then said simply: "The law of the land is what it is, and we have to follow the United States Supreme Court." And that was it. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of cultural freedom, particularly in its eerie echo of county mayor Alex Penelas's own public waffling -- acceding to the ordinance's repeal while being painstakingly careful not to offend el exilio.
Gutierrez appears to be up to his old tricks in the Group II commission race as well. Front-runner Saul Gross is hardly an underdog. His campaign war chest of $158,697 handily dwarfs that of his four opponents: Joe Fontana with $35,800, Louis Martinezwith $15,680, Dan Pearson with $7100, and Julio Lora with $2925. A close look at these four, however, paints a far different picture than a simple lopsided fight. Some of Gross's opponents may be little more than straw men for figures eager to put theirman inside city hall.
In an interview with Kulchur this past July, Pearson -- previously unseen in Beach civic circles -- was unable to elaborate one single policy difference between himself and Gross. Which begs the question: Why is he running? To that, Pearson could only stammer a few clichés about his so-called independence.
During a Latin Chamber of Commerce-sponsored debate at Pearl last month, the other three candidates were scarcely more inspiring. Julio Lora had difficulty elaborating anything substantial he had to offer, while Louis Martinez -- a Gutierrez in-law and client -- admitted he'd only been a Beach resident since July, having just moved here from Illinois. Common sense would suggest that Martinez actually live in a community for more than a few months before trying to represent it -- unless, as more than a few observers have dourly suggested, his only intention is to act as a spoiler and use his Hispanic surname to siphon Latino votes away from Gross.