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Needle is also a long-time Dermer friend and political supporter. The two men worked closely together on the successful Save Miami Beach referendum. "David has taken the position that the populace is against Bay Link," he notes. "Unfortunately, he has misjudged the populace." (It wouldn't be the first time. In 1999 Dermer opposed a $92 million public-works city bond measure, claiming it was a boondoggle in the making. Voters overwhelmingly approved it.)
Along with several other South Beach residents, Needle helped to create a group called the Alliance for Reliable Transport, which acts as a watchdog over the county's mass-transit projects and is trying to correct the rampant misinformation about Bay Link being disseminated by opponents. Lost in all the rhetoric, Needle says, are insights to be gained from a closer reading of the May survey. Of those polled, the Bay Link proposal was favored by a majority of people in all age groups except those 50 to 64 years old, where it was a close 39 percent in favor, 43 percent opposed. Fully 63 percent of Hispanics supported the light-rail project. Geographically, 50 percent of those living in South Beach, 57 percent in Mid-Beach, and 45 percent in North Beach said they were in favor of Bay Link, and even in North Beach only 33 percent were definitely opposed. The most telling response, however, came near the end of the survey, after respondents had been provided more information about Bay Link and guided through arguments for and against the project. Question number 23: "Now that you've heard a little more about the issue, do you think the Commission should vote to continue the study of the light-rail system?" Yes: 63 percent. No: 31 percent. Don't know/refused: 6 percent.
But why examine numbers when you can listen to rumors, innuendo, and personal attacks? Needle himself has faced accusations that he's working on a more sinister agenda. "All these accusations, that it only serves special-interest groups, aren't true," he complains. "The hyperbolic assertions, the absurd objections, and the trashing of people who speak up for Bay Link are an effort to distract attention from the actual merits and the positive impact the project will have on our urban fabric."
While Needle says he doesn't expect the Bay Link debate to damage his friendship with Dermer, he does express dismay with the mayor's theatrics at the March 10 commission meeting and the manner in which he has addressed the issue since then. "He's reacting to politics and not the project," Needle says. "I think it was unnecessary to [create confusion], because he could have gotten the deferral, the consultant's study, and everything that has happened since March 10 by simply asking for it. He could have led the commission in that direction in a noble way. I was disappointed that he didn't choose to take the high road."