Martin Shapiro is noticeably calmer at his legal practice on 41st Street in Miami Beach than he was at the Normandy Isle Golf Course. "I think I came on a little more aggressive than I might have liked," he allows, with a sheepish grin. "But I'm running out of time. I've got to make a case here," he says, then laughs. "I've always been looked upon as an outsider and underdog."
But as he sits, legs crossed, in an unused office on the first floor, he is no less relentless in bashing Kasdin as a tax-and-spend guy, and as a friend to big-ticket developers, including Thomas Kramer. "In those four years of voting on Kramer's Portofino deal, I can't recall a single vote by Kasdin that didn't make Thomas Kramer grin from ear to ear," Shapiro says.
The vehemence with which Shapiro has opposed the Kramer deal is indicative of the often lonely stands he has taken against his colleagues in his ten years on the commission. After having served on the town council of Bay Harbor Islands for ten years, he moved to Miami Beach and was elected to a two-year term on the city commission in 1989. He ran for and won four-year terms in 1991 and 1995; when the commission voted in 1996 to limit commissioners to two consecutive four-year terms, the city attorney ruled that Shapiro could complete his four-year term, but would have to vacate the seat this year.
It was during his most recent four-year stretch, after winning a tough battle against Matti Bower's 1995 bid to become the first Hispanic on the commission, that Shapiro began to cement his reputation as either a fearless populist or a knee-jerk naysayer, depending on who you ask. His "no" votes on the Portofino deal, and his opposition to numerous other high-rises, have put him in a position to capture many of the 6000 or so voters who pushed through the Save Miami Beach charter amendment in 1997, and put him at the forefront of the city's anti-development sentiment that year.
He clearly believes his stance on development gives him plenty of ammunition against Kasdin. "I don't consider Neisen a public servant," he snipes. "I just think he has some other agenda. He's basically a downtown business guy who likes to mingle with the county establishment, business establishment, and political establishment, and gaze out over Miami Beach from his twentieth-story office on Brickell Avenue."
Not surprisingly the current mayor has a different perception of who's the real insider. "If you look at the record," says Kasdin, "he's been the developer's best friend." Kasdin points to a number of occasions when Shapiro voted in favor of developers, including a recent vote over the increase in zoning density for Don Peebles's Bath Club project. "It's just highly cynical and hypocritical of him."
Term limits precluded Shapiro from running for his commission seat in 1999, so last January he decided to run for mayor. Two months later he bailed out, deciding instead to run for the statehouse seat now occupied by Elaine Bloom (D-Miami Beach). (Bloom is making a run for the U.S. House of Representatives.) "It wasn't indecision," he stresses. "I felt I could perform a valuable service for this community in the state legislature. As time went on, and the city elections were coming up, I began to fear for the city's welfare with Neisen Kasdin looking to be a sure bet for re-election without significant opposition. I was hoping there would be someone else to step forward to take on Kasdin's political machine, but for personal reasons, family reasons, other candidates were not in a position to do that."
The candidates he refers to are two of his commission colleagues, both of whom were first elected just two years ago: David Dermer and Simon Cruz. Either would have been a viable candidate, especially the 36-year-old Dermer, an effective orator who likely still has some momentum from the Save Miami Beach referendum he spearheaded, and which gave him an easy victory in 1997 over incumbent Sy Eisenberg. (One Beach political observer, who asked not to be identified, said Dermer could "tear Kasdin a new asshole" if he decided to run.) But 1999 has been a rough year for Dermer personally. His wife, Elyse, filed for divorce in January; the court battle has dragged on throughout the year, with a trial date set for November 1. The 42-year-old Cruz, for his part, spends his free time chasing his one-year-old twins.
Once it became clear that neither of these young guns wanted to take on an uphill campaign against Kasdin, Shapiro jumped back into the mayor's race, with Dermer's backing. "I'm very proud to have the endorsement of David Dermer in this race," Shapiro says. He points out that Dermer's presence has given him a like-minded ally on the commission, something he'd never had before. "For many years I struggled alone on the commission; it's great having an ally on the dais now," he says.