Not for Sale ... Exactly

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Does Shapiro have a chance to make up for Kasdin's tremendous head start? He thinks so. "I believe Kasdin's support in the community, while it may be a mile wide, is an inch deep."

Not everyone agrees. "In reality only one person has a chance to win," says Ric Katz, who directed David Pearlson's unsuccessful campaign against Kasdin in 1997. "I think Marty will put up a good fight, and people who are angry at Neisen will fuel some of that fight. But Neisen's smart, and he's not taking Marty for granted. He should be a fairly easy victor."

Shapiro stresses it's not such a big deal that Kasdin currently has a 10-1 advantage over him in campaign funds. The two examples he cites of big-money campaigns that lost, not coincidentally, also serve the purpose of bashing Kasdin: the Save Miami Beach referendum, in which the Kramer-backed "no" side raised some $1.5 million, the victorious "yes" side about $9000; and the failed penny sales-tax campaign, in which Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas and his allies raised $1.9 million and lost by a 2-1 margin.

There are enough people out there who, as Katz says, are "angry with Neisen" and could give Shapiro a last-minute infusion of cash. One powerful player in town, developer Don Peebles, has pledged to do just that, right before the commission was to vote on an increase in zoning for a property he owns at 59th Street and Collins Avenue, near the Mirabella plot and the Maison Grande.

Don Peebles is best known in Miami Beach as the guy who finally made the so-called African-American hotel a reality. In 1990 the city snubbed the prepresidential Nelson Mandela by failing to officially recognize his visit. The disrespect shown to this world-renowned leader infuriated black Americans nationwide, and several activist groups declared a boycott of the City of Miami Beach.

As a gesture of reconciliation, the city in 1993 committed itself to facilitating the construction of a new convention hotel that would have black ownership. The Royal Palm Crowne Plaza, a 422-room convention hotel now under construction at 15th Street and Collins Avenue, is that building, and Don Peebles is that owner.

Among those commissioners who supported Peebles's eventually successful bid for the project, as well as the ten million dollars in city redevelopment agency money he received for the construction, Kasdin was one of the leaders. Peebles showed his gratitude by generously contributing to Kasdin's 1997 campaign. According to Kasdin's finance forms from that election, Peebles and people or entities connected to him gave some $6000 to the campaign.

How much has Peebles given Kasdin this year? "Not one dime," Peebles says emphatically.

Peebles says his dissatisfaction with Kasdin has grown since the 1997 election, and crystallized when the developer approached the mayor to secure his support for Peebles's next project in Miami Beach, the Bath Club. This beachfront low-rise private club at 5937 Collins Ave. stands in the middle of mid- and high-rise condominiums, and fell on hard times in the Eighties and Nineties. Peebles bought the property in June 1998 and wants to bump the zoning density up a notch so he can both preserve the existing structure and build a condo and thirteen-story resort-hotel tower on the same site.

But when he began making the rounds of the commissioners about his prospects for a zoning increase at the September 29 commission meeting, Kasdin told him he wouldn't support the proposal until Peebles went to the surrounding community for their input on the project.

"I was very disappointed that Kasdin has not stepped up to the plate on this issue," Peebles says. His assessment is that Kasdin simply wanted to defer voting on something as potentially unpopular as an increase in zoning so close to an election. "I think he made a terrible mistake, and that just amplified the perception that you can't get a straight decision out of him," Peebles says. "The Bath Club vote should have been a no-brainer."

When the Bath Club issue came to the commission for its first reading, the public hearing was delayed from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. on that Wednesday night. (The meeting had begun at 9:00 a.m.) Commissioner Susan Gottlieb left the meeting and requested the Bath Club issue be deferred; it wasn't. When it finally came to a vote, the tally was 5-1 in favor of the increase in zoning, with Kasdin being the lone dissenter. (Zoning changes require five votes for passage). After the meeting Kasdin denied his opposition had anything to do with a lack of political will on his part. "We had letters from two neighborhood groups in the area asking us to oppose the project, because they wanted to meet with [Peebles] and learn more about it," he explains. "I just didn't think it should be rushed through."

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Ted B. Kissell
Contact: Ted B. Kissell