Last week's Miami Beach City Commission meeting was a South Beach-style theater of the absurd. The elderly residents were crabby as usual, party people got political over a misconception, and the city's elected leaders confirmed that municipal government couldn't get organized or efficient even if it tried.
The hot topic was a proposed ordinance to close a loophole allowing new nightclubs in South Pointe and Sunset Harbor. Though they had already been banned as a result of complaints about Opium Garden and Nikki Beach, many sprang up under the guise of restaurants that were open after-hours for entertainment purposes. The ordinance, passed by a 5-2 vote, halts the introduction of any new nighttime venues, although existing joints will be able to keep operating.
But the issue that mobilized the nightlife community to such an overwhelming degree was their concern over a few statements Mayor David Dermer allegedly made to the press suggesting that he wanted to roll back the operating hours for clubs in those areas. Though the commission was actually voting on the ordinance, not a proposed 2:00 a.m. closing time, Dermer's comments brought out more than 300 nightlife industry supporters to the public hearing, thanks to an e-mail campaign waged by Michael Capponi, Carmel Ophir, Eric Milon, David Kelsey, Samantha Marin, and www.savesobe.com. Leave it to a group of promoters to pack a city hall meeting. They could have set up a velvet rope outside chamber doors and charged a cover (Ophir actually considered it).
Let's get to the details of the meeting, which was rife with hilarity. There were residents lobbying against what they viewed as a threat to their quality of life. One speaker complained about the "broken bottles, drug paraphernalia, and human excrement" she confronts every day in Maurice Gibb Memorial Park, which is across the street from Purdy Lounge on Purdy Avenue. Now I must admit to seeing those broken bottles myself, and I personally apologize for leaving behind drug paraphernalia, but I seriously dispute the notion that clubgoers are shitting in public recreational areas. Another resident from the same neighborhood handed out earplugs, saying she needed them to sleep because of all the racket. I hate to stereotype people by their age, but the Grim Reaper was shadowing most of these whiners. I can't believe that any of them have the hearing ability to detect music being played inside a club.
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Meanwhile the opposition's case against any more restrictions was summarized on a circulating sticker: "Don't kill the goose!" Its self-appointed leader, Capponi, sat front row, fitted in a three-piece suit and postured in his usual eloquent manner (legs crossed, chin up), while issuing thumbs-up to the crowd until it was his turn to take the podium. Before he began his speech, the commission asked for his identity, apparently miffed by his supposed presumption that they should automatically know who he is. "When the mayor tells the Miami Herald, 'You can go party off Miami Beach,' or that people come here just for beaches and weather, it makes me nervous," Capponi said. "The nightlife industry spends millions of dollars promoting South Beach. Any day you can open People magazine to see pictures of celebrities in the clubs." He added, "What we need is more cops in the streets, better sanitation ..."
Then Mayor Dermer, who had just returned from a half-hour meeting with Gov. Jeb Bush, pompously interrupted Capponi, asking facetiously, "Are we negotiating a garbage contract?" Capponi, who is a little hard of hearing at times, ignored the insult and concentrated on making his point as boos from the audience rang down on the mayor.
During the rest of the four-hour deliberation, it was hilarious to see some of the commissioners pandering to a demographic still virgin to this Monty Python kind of circus. Luis Garcia, in the middle of a tirade intended to vindicate the nightlife industry, was himself interrupted by Matti Herrera Bower. "Do you have the floor?" Garcia asked rhetorically. "Yes, I have the floor!" Bower responded in her signature hysteric fashion, to the palsied applause of wrinkled retirees. Saul Gross successfully introduced a motion against the 2:00 a.m. closing time, promising to "never mention rolling back hours again." Simon Cruz admitted, "I wasn't exactly the darling of this industry, but we have to acknowledge that Miami Beach at this particular time is defined by its nightlife."
But the best quote came from Mango's owner David Wallack: "Crime fills in the darkness. You perpetuate the darkness by closing clubs, and these residents will get belted upside the head in their million-dollar condos."