The Count, as he's known at Miami Beach City Hall, is a small man struggling to balance magnificent obsession with an abiding interest in historical minutiae. Both qualities are satisfied by the Count's 27-year quest to claim a share of the European fortune of distant German relatives, lost somewhere between the demise of Prussia and the Holocaust. But since 1994, when the Count moved from New York to Miami Beach, local politics has been his all-consuming hobby. Nearly every day he can be spotted lurking around city hall's fourth floor, sometimes smoking a cigar on a balcony and keeping a keen eye on the comings and goings of the movers shaking down the latest city deal. "To be honest with you, I have nothing to do," he shrugs. The Count's passions run to public access and the rights of the working class, from opposing the closing of public roads to demanding low-cost housing, to promoting candidates he feels aren't beholden to the Beach's entrenched power structure. "The greed here is unbelievable," he observes. "If I can do a little to upset that, it's a good thing." Of course the Count has his detractors. Some believe he's actually evil, having cast a spell over weak-minded elected officials, and that he has subverted the best intentions of well-meaning bureaucrats. The Count merely laughs at that. "My objections are philosophical, not personal," he says. "I mean, I love these people, but it's one thing after another."

You know who you are. On September 10, 2002, you voted to maintain the county's human-rights ordinance after a bruising campaign spearheaded by religious fanatics who wanted to delete the words "gays and lesbians" from the local anti-discrimination law. For many the repeal effort evoked the days of Anita Bryant's vicious anti-gay campaign, the stain of which still clings. You kept us from becoming a poster city for backward-thinking and intolerance. But it was close. The SAVE Dade campaign squeaked by with just 53 percent of the vote. That's why you're heroes. You voted when it counted.

Most drivers en route between Miami Beach and Miami via North Bay Village likely pass unawares through this North Beach neighborhood. Overshadowed by nearby Little Buenos Aires (Collins in the Seventies), Normandy Isle is a discrete entity, surrounded by the bay and canals, including one that divides the island in two, offering many residents water access and providing a training ground for crew teams and skullers out of the Miami Beach Watersports Center. The northern half is rooted by the Normandy Shores Municipal Golf Course while the southern half has the commercial district centered around the fountain, informally dubbed the Place Vendome (nearly all the Normandy Sud streets have French names). With sections of single-family homes and predominantly small apartment buildings dating from the Forties and Fifties, it's home to a mix of long-time residents and newer arrivals, Anglos and Latinos (of which Cubans and Argentineans are only the most visible), families and singles (straight and gay), who manage to co-exist. The area is in transition, though, as Section 8 rentals give way to condo conversions, with the accompanying dislocations. But the City of Miami Beach is also investing millions in fixing up the streetscapes and in refurbishing the Normandy Isle Park, to the benefit of all.

The trick is to stash your skank bag (the sizable trash or cloth sacks in which the homeless drag their stuff around) somewhere else before you start holding up a palm tree. That way the cops won't know you're one of them. Then you get a pair of shades, clean up as much as feasible, hide your bottle of Natural Ice behind your back, and sleep in peace. (The homeless are always tired because cops chase them around at night when they see them on the street.) Lummus is a glorious green oasis, and you can dream of the rich babes just across Ocean at the News Café, the Cardozo, or the Tides, who might discover you here, and unlike most other folks, recognize your good qualities.

This hotel has its own creative director! You know the place by its former name, the Banana Bungalow, perched there at the tail end of Indian Creek on Collins Avenue. It still has that fabulous, sweeping-roofed glass-encased lobby. The Fifties rooms have not been remodeled. But the Signature Rooms have been "redecorated" by artists and designers. You can take the Honeymoon Suite, with lingerie, panties, necklaces, and bra hung on a lamp, painted in red on the walls. Or the room covered with little red plaques -- if you take one off, you can write a "secret" message on the white wall underneath. Or you can leave another message in the Message in a Bottle room, with glass bottles hanging in a corner. And the cheesy Gold Lamé room is killer. The rooms will most likely be redone by other artists next year. Down at the poolside patio there's electronica lounge music in the evening, a barbecue on Saturday afternoons and a hip, urban feel 24/7. With rates that can drop below $100, this little island can make South Beach feel cool again.

Readers Choice: Delano Hotel

Every day he assaults the senses of the unprepared and quickens the mirth of the accustomed. Trapped in crawling traffic beneath his welcoming gaze, thousands of worker bees trying to make downtown-Miami money without actually having to live there contemplate his message. Is it a commandment? A suggestion? A calling? A joke? "For a Healthy Clean Tush," Mr. Bidet advises. His stick-figure form, painted on the side of a building, is bent into a sitting position, a large triangle symbolizing a spout of water aimed at his derriere. Even now, a pack of teens with a cell phone is calling the advertised telephone number, snickering, hanging up. Taking pictures. Calling back to ask, "Is this for real?" You bet. Mr. Bidet is but one of the faces of Arnold and Donna Cohen, South Florida's bidet barons, whose bathroom devices have been getting the job done since the Seventies. Donna rattles off a long list of loyal customers, including actors, ex-presidents, CEOs, and TV weathermen. Thanks to what Cohen describes as "a little office out in Los Angeles," this includes notables such as Jack Lemmon, Barbra Streisand, John Wayne ("When he was still alive"), Dr. Joyce Brothers, and Jimmy Carter ("It's what keeps him smiling"). "We thought we'd send one to Clinton, but he was in enough trouble," Cohen quips. Beware the lure of the bidet: Once you've soaked, mere paper becomes almost heretical. "It becomes like a little cult," Mrs. Bidet confides.

Happiness is a bumper lane. On a Friday night. With dance music blaring and all kinds of crazy shapes glowing purple, yellow, and green in the black-light strobes. Kids roll the ball between their legs with both hands; punch in silly names on Don Carter's fancy score-keeping computers; and if Mom and Dad get to paying too much attention to that pitcher of beer, even go shooting halfway down the lane with little fingers still stuck in the ball!

Readers Choice: Miami-Dade County Youth Fair

Why? Because he's so damn entertaining. Because he's not afraid to lie down in a $1000 suit in front of a jury to approximate a corpse. Because he comes up with cute nicknames for opposing counsel (he mockingly told a jury that if federal prosecutor Allan Kaiser got his way, police would blow kisses to criminals rather than arrest them; he called it the "Kaiser Kiss"). Because he moves his arms constantly when summarizing. Because there's not a gag order around that can shut him up. Because if you're a cop accused of something very, very bad, so bad you don't think you have a prayer, this is the guy who will put on a show that just might distract the jury enough to get you off.

Well, okay, the Lord never said, "Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbor with electoral fraud." But Tony! Neither did He say, "Go forth and bear false witness to petition signatures because homosexuals belongeth to an axis of evil." In the absence of an explicit prohibition, our local Christian Coalition leader apparently figured there'd be no problem. The issue was repeal of the Miami-Dade law forbidding discrimination against our neighbors because they are gay, lesbian, bi, straight, or asexual. Last August state law-enforcement officers arrested Verdugo and charged him with one felony count of false swearing during the Take Back Miami-Dade petition drive that forced this repeal question onto the September 10, 2002 ballot. (Agents also arrested three others in the Take Back family.) A few hours later Verdugo was out on bond, unrepentant, and preaching on AM radio about how he had been framed by Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, the supervisor of elections, various prosecutors, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and other members of the homosexualist Mafia. Verdugo hit bottom, however, when he took little Elian's name in vain. He told listeners that his own arrest reminded him of that early morning in April 2000 when federal agents swooped in and snatched the miracle child. Verdugo now knows the power of mercy, if he didn't before. Because he was a first-time offender, prosecutors gave him the option of performing community service instead of standing trial. And so the charge was dropped.

We're not jealous of you Jorge, we're proud! We've seen your handsome face adorning those humorous videos, and we know the rest of the world has been chuckling with them as well. We watched you win Best New Artist at the Latin Grammys, then go on to be nominated for Best Latin Pop Album at the non-Latin Grammys. You were one of the first signed up to Madonna's new label Maverick, and not just because of those looks -- we all know the other pretty boys on the charts don't write their own songs and play their own instruments like you did for Jorge Moreno. That disc that gave us the exhilarating homage to Desi Arnaz in "Babalú," and highlighted your own songwriting skills -- and mixture of styles from pop to tropical to son -- on "Mi Sufrimiento" and "Despertare." And you can still laugh at yourself. You Cuban-American honest-to-God high-quality-product-of-Miami, you go boy!

Readers Choice: Alex Rodriguez

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®