Attitude Dancing

Andrew Delaplaine, the editor of the South Beach weekly Wire, is huddled with campaign aides inside his cramped, book-lined office on Euclid Avenue, trying to come up with ideas for television ads in his long-shot race against Miami Beach Mayor Seymour Gelber. Standing at a computer keyboard in his standard uniform of khakis and a black T-shirt, Delaplaine brainstorms with producer Melanie Morningstar and cinematographer Marika Mattingly, who will be filming the spots for cable television. Mattingly, a woman in her twenties who, like Delaplaine himself, has never before worked on a political campaign, suggests, "We need something that makes me believe he's a totally serious candidate."

Delaplaine proposes some catch phrases to deal with that image problem: "I'm taking the issues seriously. I have real solutions..."

"...for real problems," adds Morningstar, an outgoing Australian native who's overseeing much of the campaign, although there's no single campaign manager.

As Morningstar and Mattingly prod Delaplaine to focus his themes, he begins to sound -- at least most of the time -- like a serious candidate, even though most political veterans on Miami Beach have dismissed his mayoral bid as capricious, a "lark," as Ric Katz, Gelber's campaign consultant, puts it.

"What do you think are the most important issues?" Morningstar asks.
"The most easily talked about is parking," Delaplaine responds, but he's quickly interrupted by Mattingly, who interjects, "The most important to me is the Portofino land deal," referring to the City of Miami Beach's controversial arrangement with developer Thomas Kramer that gives him a virtual monopoly to build high-rise towers in South Pointe.

"It's a done deal," Delaplaine notes impatiently.
But Mattingly insists, "I'm still so fucking angry about it."
Suddenly, Delaplaine, a chubby, energetic man with close-cropped, curly black hair, is seized with inspiration. "'I'm standing here at the very tip of South Pointe,'" he improvises, as if actually shooting a spot, "'but I'm here to talk about why North Beach is becoming a slum.' The camera pans up the Portofino Tower, and you correlate the city's emphasis on it directly to the decline in North Beach, the sucking away of resources." But he can't resist adding a joke: "'I'm at the southernmost tip of Key West -- and I can't get up!'"

The trio quickly turn their attention to the issue the 45-year-old Delaplaine has been harping on for years in the "Barbs" column he writes for Wire: parking. Mattingly asks him, "What's the one sentence that hits home?"

"Free parking!" Delaplaine shoots back. "I personally believe that if you have a South Beach address, you should be issued a free decal that lets you park in any residential area and not pay tickets at parking meters."

"As a voter, to me, it's too totally unrealistic," Mattingly notes. "It's utopian to say 'free parking.' Can you really promise that?"

"We can say we're going for it," Delaplaine glibly remarks, "and let the commissioners vote against it." He then starts spouting other solutions, including adding angle street parking that would, he contends, increase parking spaces 30 percent.

In the course of about two hours, they hash out with surprising ease rough scripts of ads designed to appeal to citizens in the three main sections of the city. After covering South Beach (an emphasis on parking) and the North Beach area around the Kennedy Causeway (decay and crime), Delaplaine turns to the affluent Middle Beach section: "'Have you ever wondered why property taxes go up and city services keep getting worse?'" he says, seguing back into his on-camera persona. "'That's because politicians refuse to tell the bureaucracy to stop wasting money. And each year they come back for more.'" But, he admits after completing his pitch, "we don't specify how the money's wasted. Let's find a bogeyman." However, by the end of the session he still hasn't figured out which expensive project to blame.

An even trickier problem, though, confronts them now: how to deal with some of the negative perceptions people have of Delaplaine. "Maybe we shouldn't bring it up, but in regard to the Herald article on you, are you going to take this position [mayor] seriously?" Mattingly asks. (Earlier in the week, a tough Miami Herald piece recounted some of the skeletons in Delaplaine's closet and quoted political consultants who derided his candidacy.) Morningstar thinks the "seriousness" question can be handled briefly, noting, "Our campaign slogan is 'We're in this to win.'" He types that out and says, "Make that the tag line."

Delaplaine reflects for a moment, then starts to take umbrage at the doubts about his candidacy. "I don't think the city's taking the issues seriously," he rails. "They ignore the issues. This guy [Gelber] was going to be elected without opposition, and none of this was going to be discussed." But they're not sure whether to address directly the attacks on the Delaplaine campaign's validity.

Morningstar at first argues they shouldn't rebut the criticisms in their commercials. "Let's not give airtime for their issues," she says. On the other hand, she muses, "Maybe we need to do a whole one that addresses everything A Andrew's bankruptcy [in 1991], the fact that people see him as an anti-Semite, all of the negative issues." She puts the best spin possible on some bad publicity: "I don't think it's so bad all those things came up in the Herald because a) everything's out in the open, and b) it gives Andrew an opportunity to explain his position. The bankruptcy -- as he explains it and I believe him -- is the smartest thing he's ever done, businesswise. It's the only way his creditors could ever have been paid back."

The debtor-turned-candidate starts typing up some more slogans. "'I see a city government that's not facing any of the problems that face us,'" he recites. "'I'm taking the issues seriously. But I can't do anything without your vote on November 7.'"

Mattingly notes with approval: "The good part is you don't sound like a politician."

Delaplaine answers bluntly: "If I had been planning to be a politician, I wouldn't have led the kind of life I've led."

Morningstar cracks up with laughter when she hears this and says, "That's for bloody sure!"

As the first openly gay candidate in Miami Beach, a former nightclub owner, and a local newspaper editor for the past five years, Andrew Delaplaine has made a name for himself on South Beach. Of course that hardly guarantees an outpouring of support. And with his reputation, deserved or undeserved, as a heavy drinker, Delaplaine has his work cut out for him if he hopes to convince a majority of Miami Beach's 36,600 registered voters to support him in the nonpartisan race. (He's cut back sharply on his drinking since July -- well before he decided to run for office -- when he made a bet with a friend that he could stop drinking for a month. These days he drinks little or no alcohol.) Only Delaplaine has challenged incumbent Mayor Seymour Gelber.

Given the roasting he anticipated taking in the press, his decision to run was not considered lightly. As he recounts it, on the Wednesday after Labor Day he was strolling along Lincoln Road with his good friend Curtis DeWitz, weighing the pros and cons of making a bid. He'd half-jokingly spoken about running for mayor before, but this time he thought it might be worth taking the plunge. "It was an opportunity to do something," he says now. He told DeWitz that he'd do it, but only if the merchants he knew on Lincoln Road would support him. So he stopped into a few stores that night, asked if they'd back him for mayor, and when they told him they would, he filed for office the next day -- with $1200 given him by DeWitz and another friend.

But to have a chance at succeeding, he needs, for starters, to appeal to what might be considered his natural constituency: gays, small business owners, and disgruntled South Beach residents. Unfortunately for him, there's good reason to believe that not enough of them are registered to vote -- or will even bother going to the polls if they are. So Delaplaine and a handful of committed volunteers step up their efforts to raise money and register voters.

They go where the potential voters are. On South Beach that means places such as Glam Slam on Washington Avenue. For the gay-oriented Friday-night party called Icon, Delaplaine has dispatched perhaps his most loyal supporter, George Tamsitt, a close friend and former competing nightclub owner, to man a voter registration table. It's not the kind of place that, say, the League of Women Voters would choose for voter outreach. House music pounds away inside the club's ornate lobby, and a hefty black drag queen in a blonde wig hands out condoms to the men who enter. Tamsitt, thin, gray-haired, and rather frail-looking after a five-week hospital stay for a bout of Guillain-Barre Syndrome that initially had left him nearly paralyzed, has nonetheless managed to come out in the rain to do his stint for Delaplaine.

"He could change a lot of things. He doesn't owe anything to anybody," Tamsitt says while waiting patiently for would-be voters to drop by. "He's an incisive, intelligent renegade." Most of the crowd of about 100 ignores Tamsitt -- they seem more interested in flirting and drinking than in registering to vote. Every now and then someone wanders by, including Jeff McDonel, the club's production manager, who leans over to fill out a registration form. "We're tired of them ruining the city without listening to us," McDonel says. After about two hours at Glam Slam, Tamsitt has collected seventeen filled-out voter registration forms (from both straights and gays), a respectable if hardly overwhelming showing.

Delaplaine may ultimately win some gay votes through such efforts, but he hasn't been embraced by most gay political activists. Indeed the Dade Action PAC (Political Action Committee), the area's leading gay political group, has endorsed Gelber. "We choose the candidates that can best serve the gay and lesbian community," explains Eddie McIntyre, chairperson of the organization, "and Mayor Gelber has given us genuine support."

Delaplaine, pointing to the support of a few board members of the gay PAC, says he expects to win strong backing among individual gays. And yet the campaign, even granted its low-budget nature, doesn't seem to have galvanized many South Beach voters, gay or straight. In early October, for instance, a weekend effort by a few of Penrod's concession workers to register sunbathers turned into a desultory affair that produced not many more than a dozen new potential voters. By mid-October, however, Delaplaine and Morningstar make varying claims that their campaign has registered 500, 1000, and 1500 new voters, although they offer no evidence to back up those numbers.

The campaign's headquarters, located in the lobby of the empty Park Washington Hotel (the Washington Avenue hotel currently is being refurbished), seldom hum with activity. On most days it's just Tamsitt or another volunteer answering the phone, and on a recent Tuesday morning there wasn't anyone there at all, because Tamsitt was out obtaining precinct maps. About 70 volunteers signed up to work on the campaign, Morningstar says, but there's little sign in Miami Beach of their presence. "It's hard to get people motivated to do anything," she concedes.

Overall, political analysts say Delaplaine will be doing well if he gets more than 30 percent of the vote, but no one is predicting a victory. Yet consultant and lobbyist Randy Hilliard believes that Delaplaine's vote count may surprise people. "I think he'll do very well," surmises Hilliard. "There's a great deal of voter discontent with incumbents." And Hilliard discounts the widespread view that Delaplaine is just running as a stunt: "Andrew is too intelligent a man to do something like this for the sake of frivolity." (Sources say Hilliard has served as an informal adviser to Delaplaine, but Hilliard declines to confirm or deny those accounts.) Most experts, though, view Delaplaine's candidacy with disdain. As political consultant Bob Goodman puts it, "I don't know what motivates him. Maybe it's a little of the Andy Warhol in all of us. He just isn't a serious contender; he has no chance."

Whatever his chances, sometimes Delaplaine and his supporters create the impression of having political momentum in a typical South Beach way: They throw parties, in this case parties-cum-fundraisers. Although turnouts may vary, they're always enjoyable affairs, and Delaplaine A witty, literate, and outgoing A almost always rises to the occasion. At one such party, when he's asked about his campaigning that day, he says, "I kissed three babies today -- so the state attorney's office is investigating me for child abuse!"

On a recent Friday night, over 70 people show up at the Bridgetown Grill on South Beach for a Delaplaine soiree, a considerably better showing than a similar event at Lincoln Road's 821 club the previous weekend, when only about 15 people attended. A table at the front of the Bridgetown staffed by two volunteers takes in approximately $1000 by the end of the evening. Even socialite and publicist Norma Jean Abraham, one of Delaplaine's creditors from the 1991 bankruptcy stemming from his failed South Beach nightclub Scratch, shows up to lend him support. Delaplaine is as irrepressible as ever -- joking, for instance, when someone hands him a cigarette, "This is my first bribe." But when he gives a brief campaign talk to the audience, he's animated by genuine passion. "The momentum is building," he says. "They realize we're serious." He goes on to talk about Coconut Grove, where he was born, as a wonderful place to live before "they built it out," he adds. "That leaves South Beach, and before they totally fucked it up, I wanted to have one thing to say about it. I'm trying to remind these people that have been in power that they were put up there to serve the people who live here, and they don't do that now. It's time we reminded them in no uncertain terms who their employers are." He finishes to whistles and strong applause.

After his speech he even acts like a concerned political official. When a man who lives near Glam Slam complains about his frustration at getting noise codes enforced by different city departments, Delaplaine listens patiently and tells him: "We'll have a meeting with the police about this." It's as if Delaplaine really believes that he could get elected.

The real challenge for Andrew Delaplaine comes when he tries to reach beyond his hard-core South Beach base to the broader electorate. His first serious test in that regard occurs at a candidates' forum on October 10, the day that the Herald publishes a critical article about him headlined, "Beach candidate boasts 'new vision,' messy past." Besides the article's references to his 1991 bankruptcy and two arrests A one in 1992 for public intoxication, the other in 1985 for drunk driving A there's the lingering allegation that he deliberately published anti-Semitic slurs in Wire. Delaplaine and his staff have always said that a 1993 reference to "Jewish landlords" resulted from a typographical error. But that explanation may not be sufficient to appease the heavily Jewish audience he has to face tonight in the candidates' forum, sponsored by the Middle Beach Community Association and held at the Miami Heart Institute. After being portrayed as an irresponsible anti-Semitic lush in the Herald profile, Delaplaine has, perhaps, some damage control to attend to.

In a bid for respectability, he's abandoned his T-shirt look, supplementing his usual khakis with a blue blazer, red tie, and white shirt. He sits on a dais with candidates for the city commission: incumbents Susan Gottlieb, Martin Shapiro, and David Pearlson, plus two challengers. Mayor Gelber is running late. In response to questions from moderator Dwight Lauderdale of Channel 10, Delaplaine and the others explain why they're running for office.

"I saw an entrenched mayor representing an entrenched power structure," Delaplaine says. "A small businessman trying to get a Dumpster in back of his alley has more trouble than Thomas Kramer does in getting a 60-story building built." That comment elicits modest applause from the crowd of more than 100 voters.

For practically every question, he's got a sharp-tongued retort, while the mayor, after he finally arrives, is in the somewhat awkward position of explaining the complexity of a problem and the progress that is being made on it. When Gelber is asked about crime, for example, he cites his career as a prosecutor and judge, and adds, "One way to fight crime is to get policemen out on the street." However, Justice Department oversight of police department racial hiring practices has complicated the Beach's ability to hire new officers. But the city recently has received permission to add 40 to 60 officers, and, after being trained, they'll be on the streets. "We're hiring as many officers as we can," Gelber says.

Delaplaine snaps, "We've got the officers, we just got to get them out of their beds in Kendall where they're watching TV and put them working on the streets, not in their air-conditioned police cruisers. If you look out at Washington Avenue on a Friday night at one a.m., all you'll see are meter maids writing tickets to generate revenues, not cops taking thugs off the street. That will not change under this [Gelber's] administration." He wins some solid applause for those attack lines.

When it comes to parking, he also scores rhetorical points: "The special interests don't want to solve the parking problem. They want to make sweetheart deals with [hotelier] Tony Goldman." Gelber doesn't offer much of a defense. "Parking is one of our weakest points. We have failed in that," he concedes, while urging the crowd to give the Beach's new parking director, Frank Del Monaco, a chance.

Despite the seeming legitimacy this forum gives Delaplaine, the true disparity between Gelber and his opponent becomes clear when all the candidates are asked how much money they've raised so far. "I've raised a ton of money," Gelber announces with a mix of pride and embarrassment at his $85,000 haul. "We didn't know who our opponent would be." Then, reaching over to patronizingly pat Delaplaine's hand, he notes, "With no reflection on Andy, I've quit soliciting funds as of the last [treasurer's report] filing date." The clear, unspoken message is that Andrew Delaplaine is not worth taking seriously. When Delaplaine's turn comes, he pauses dramatically and jokes, "I'm owned by Big Sugar," then adds, "We'll be spending $20,000, more or less." Pointedly, he never mentions how much he's actually raised. (By the end of last week, he claims to have raised slightly more than $9000.)

After he's finished, Delaplaine is surrounded by some well-wishers, and it's clear that he's won a few new converts. (Surprisingly, no one has brought up questions about drinking, bankruptcy, or anti-Semitism.) Saul Feltzin, an elderly retiree, walks over to congratulate him, although Feltzin allows that he initially thought little of Delaplaine's campaign after reading about him in the Herald. He complains to Delaplaine that his property taxes have risen from $5000 to $25,000 over the years, and the candidate tells him, "They waste so much of your money."

"Keep it up," Feltzin says. "I'll send you a donation."
Others, though, remain unconvinced. Elayne Weisburd, the president of the Middle Beach association, sniffs, "Everything is a joke to Andy, but I don't consider my city a joke."

There's not much in Delaplaine's background that points to a career as a politician. Although born in Coconut Grove, he grew up on a large plantation in a rural town in Sumter County, South Carolina, after his father, a General Foods executive, left corporate life to become a gentleman farmer. Delaplaine's standard of living decreased after his parents divorced when he was eight years old, although he and his four siblings continued to live on the decaying farm and, by 1959, began attending private schools, joining other whites in avoiding the newly integrated public schools. The civil rights revolution of the Sixties barely interested Delaplaine, as he focused instead on his reading and his dreams of becoming a writer. He graduated from a small college in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and headed to New York City to establish himself as a writer. But he ended up selling underwear at Saks Fifth Avenue, supplementing his income with free-lance work revising film scripts. After two years, he returned to South Carolina, where he worked as a newspaper reporter in Columbia while toiling on a novel. (He's now revising it.)

Delaplaine first moved to Florida -- Bay Harbor Islands -- in the late 1970s to live with his mother and to start work as the editor of Leisureguide magazine, a tourist publication, of which he was the major stockholder, geared to hotel guests. (He subsequently bought and lived in what had been his great-grandmother's winter cottage in Belle Meade.) He sold his interest in the magazine company for about $500,000 in 1981, he says, and then frequently traveled to London, where a few plays he had written were produced; simultaneously, to make money, he edited travel newsletters. He moved from Belle Meade to South Beach in 1988, where he quickly made an impact on the nascent arts and party scene. Back then there wasn't much around except the Strand, but Delaplaine saw the area's potential and set about realizing his goal of starting a theater. He also established himself as a unique character with his charm, literary erudition, and, perhaps most strikingly, his habit of wearing shorts, even to formal gatherings. As he explains it, "I had gained a lot of weight, and I couldn't wear my expensive wardrobe, so I wore shorts."

He thought he'd make a great impresario. In 1988, with loans from the federal Small Business Administration, he and his sister Renee purchased a 17,000-square-foot abandoned building on Jefferson Avenue near Fifth Street for $400,000. The front room became a restaurant and bar called Scratch, and the back room became a theater. The theater -- with productions by different local troupes -- never really succeeded, but the front room blossomed into a popular hangout. Soon the theater space was converted into a disco. The place became a hot spot for visiting celebrities such as George Michael and Grace Jones. As Wire columnist and pioneering scene maker Louis Canales remembers, "It helped put South Beach on the map."

Delaplaine led a high life. By his own admission he would start to drink Scotch at five p.m., then would wander into Ocean Drive's few bars in an effort to drum up business for his restaurant. Now and then, he recalls, he'd have sex with young men upstairs in his restaurant or on the abandoned theater sets in back. ("Thank God for the beds back there," he says now, "because the concrete can be really hard on your knees.") But neither he nor his sister knew how to run a club or restaurant, and owing to a combination of competition, suspected employee theft, and inexperience, he now says, the business struggled. For a brief time in 1990, the pair also ran Miami's first all-gay nightclub at the Warsaw Ballroom, but despite large crowds they couldn't afford to maintain the lease, so they lost that club. Scratch closed early in 1990, with the Delaplaines owing more than $600,000 on the property and facing liens of at least $50,000 from creditors, including the IRS. About the same time, he fell behind on the mortgage payments on his $25,000 condominium, which ultimately was sold to satisfy creditors. He was also hit with a lawsuit by an irate landlord, Lawrence Kaine, over his failure to pay rent on office space he leased; Kaine alleged Delaplaine damaged the property.

Kaine is just one of several enemies Delaplaine has made with his sometimes reckless approach to finances. After serving Delaplaine with an eviction notice, Kaine recalls, "[Delaplaine] trashed the place, smashing the wall and tearing out electrical fixtures." Kaine won a $12,000 judgment against Delaplaine that he later used to obtain a lien on Delaplaine's share of Scratch, but Kaine's efforts to secure ownership of that property were thwarted by Delaplaine's filing for bankruptcy in July 1991. Delaplaine denies destroying Kaine's property and says of his bankruptcy, "I did it to protect my assets. I felt awful, but I had a plan to pay back my creditors with this property."

His bankruptcy filings showed that he owed $1.7 million and claimed assets of $45,000. His and his sister's creditors included the IRS ($30,554), Saks Fifth Avenue ($2000), Two Bills Seafood company ($3000), and assorted individual vendors and investors such as Richard Parker ($200,000), who invested in the club's renovation. Delaplaine now admits that some of those listed debts were inflated to forestall further claims against him. Still, many of the original creditors remain furious. Billy Sandefur, the president of Two Bills Seafood, says, "As far as I'm concerned, he's a crook. He owed us money and he wouldn't pay us. He used me to finance his operation."

Most of the 150-odd creditors, in fact, were never paid anything from the December 1992 sale of Scratch and Delaplaine's condominium. Total proceeds: $615,000. Delaplaine, on the other hand, has publicly claimed that the property sales netted one million dollars. To which bankruptcy trustee Gui Govaert responds, "That's bullshit."

Govaert says now that Delaplaine had a "so what?" attitude about the entire bankruptcy process. As if to confirm this, Delaplaine gleefully recalls telling Govaert and two prominent creditors at a bankruptcy hearing how he spent a $519 check he'd just received: "We went to the Avalon Hotel, ordered lobster, steak, and champagne until it was all gone, and left a sizable tip, too." He claims the trustee told him that given the same situation, he would have done the same thing. (Govaert doesn't remember any such incident and says he'd never make such a statement.)

Despite his financial problems, Delaplaine's faintly aristocratic manner and freewheeling business ventures have always given the impression that he (along with his realtor sister Renee) has lived off his family's wealth. He insists, "Everyone thinks I'm loaded, but I'm not." Last year he made approximately $5000, he claims, and shared a place with his then-lover. This year he's been able to raise his salary as Wire editor to $500 a week. (As the majority stockholder in the company that owns the newspaper, he can set his own wages.)

Delaplaine says now that he feels "bad" that he left creditors in the lurch when he declared bankruptcy, but he also has few regrets. He quotes approvingly his sister's comment: "The new life we started by coming to South Beach and the friends we made was worth being broke for." One of those friends, George Tamsitt, observes, "He lost a lot, but he was never down. He bounced back right away."

Delaplaine left another group of frustrated people in his wake in 1991 when he abruptly quit his post as editor of the South Beach newspaper Antenna, taking office equipment with him to launch Wire. With the financial backing of Philadelphia attorney Raymond Page III (since deceased), Delaplaine launched Antenna in 1990 with the typical South Beach mix of puff pieces and photo spreads, supplemented by political commentary. But because of Page's reluctance to grant him a majority stake in the business, Delaplaine recounts, he decided simply to remove equipment from the office A located in the Leonard Beach Hotel, owned by Page A and start his own paper. Helped by an Antenna sales manager, he grabbed two computers (which Delaplaine says he owned), file cabinets, a paste-up board, and other items, then carried them a few blocks north to a temporary office on Washington Avenue. "I wanted to be quick about it," Delaplaine recalls. He expected the rest of the staff to follow him, but they didn't. As New Times reported in April 1991, his colleagues were shocked. One editor said, "We came in on that Tuesday and there was not one scrap of paper in the office. Nothing."

As a result, Delaplaine was hit with two legal actions: a temporary restraining order barring publication of Wire -- which he violated -- and a lawsuit filed by Page charging him with civil theft and conspiracy to defraud, among other misdeeds. That suit was never pursued, Page's attorney Brian Giller explains, because at the time Delaplaine was considered too broke to pay damages. Giller adds with some bitterness, "Ray took him in at a low point, made him the editor, backed him financially, and was extremely upset that he got stabbed in the back by Andrew."

To Delaplaine, starting Wire was a personal imperative. "I had to have some voice in this town," he notes. As editor of Wire, Delaplaine has since become best known for his biting comments in his column about what he terms Miami Beach's "Silly Hall," and his quixotic campaign to promote South Beach as its own city. But his satiric edge sometimes betrays a mean streak. In a May 1994 column, he pointed with irritation to the demands of handicapped persons to use parking spaces and public facilities. "Who the hell do they think they are?" he asked, recounting the way he slammed the door of his nightclub in the face of a "busybody in a wheelchair" who wanted to inspect his restrooms. His conclusion: "My attitude is, stay home!" And at one of his recent fundraisers, he jokingly commented about the city's fleetingly floated plan to kill stray cats: "I think the [homeless] guys who pee in the streets are a lot worse than the cats. I think we should get rid of half the people and ship them away." Delaplaine says such comments were just "meant to be humorous."

As for the accusation that Delaplaine has purposely run anti-Semitic items in his publication, he heatedly -- and perhaps plausibly -- denies it. His campaign advisor, Morningstar, who is Jewish, is equally vehement that Delaplaine isn't an anti-Semite. Still, there's that troubling 1993 article mentioned in the recent Herald story. Delaplaine's column opened with these words: "Jewish landlords could get real and stop catering to those sleazy operators who run . . . neon tourist shops on Ocean Drive." Delaplaine and his staff say the phrase was caused by a typographical error that dropped the letter w from a story that began, "We wish landlords. . . ." The art director, Antony Jenners, claims he mistakenly assumed the writer meant to say Jewish, so he added a j to the letter e and closed the space between the e and wish. It's the kind of screwup a shoestring operation might conceivably make. Nevertheless that explanation didn't prevent Delaplaine from being lambasted by some Jewish leaders.

Delaplaine is well aware that his assorted flaws undermine his credibility. "It's unfortunate that I'm an imperfect person," he says. "I understand why they're trying to smear my weaknesses rather than respond to the issues." And he believes his bankruptcy shouldn't affect his fitness to be mayor. After all, he points out, "the elected people don't touch the money. The city manager's the guy writing checks."

But whether he really wants -- or expects -- to be mayor is an open question. One South Beach club veteran and supporter who knows him fairly well says that before Delaplaine filed for office, "he told me early on that he didn't want to win. He just wanted to make people think. I don't know if he's gotten excited by the campaign in the last few months."

He seems to have done just that, and now Andrew Delaplaine, jokester and gadfly, actually seems serious -- or at least as close as he gets to being serious -- about his mayoral race. And, he says, "Win or lose, I feel good about having the guts to try."

Critics have seen the change, too. "I noticed he went out and bought a suit and tie," says veteran political consultant Bob Goodman, who's advising commissioners Gottlieb and Shapiro. "Maybe he's taking it more seriously than the public is.

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