Miami Beach: Where Vice and Virtue, the Tawdry and Tame, Co-Exist

In Miami Beach, vice and virtue, the tawdry and the tame, the high-and-mighty and everyday people, coexist as in few other places.

We are home to all-night clubs, over-exposed celebrities and centimillionaire entrepreneurs. And your doctor, your dry cleaner, your retired Aunt Rosa, and your waiter from last night.

Miami Beach is now a 24-hour international destination that tries to accommodate events and visitors of all kinds. It keeps things interesting for residents, who as a whole are extremely worldly, open-minded and ultra-tolerant. And, of course, it stokes our city's economy.

But it also illustrates the paradox that is Miami Beach, and presents vexing problems unique to our city and its elected leaders like myself.

Because of our European visitors, nudity is a common sight on our beaches. Yet for more than a decade, we have debated whether to allow booze at our city's only all-hours, all-nude strip club, Club Madonna -- which, this being Miami Beach, is right across the street from a public elementary school.

On Friday nights, our synagogues are filled with Shabbat worshipers. On Sundays and even weekday mornings, a good many of our residents celebrate Mass. And we are blessed with dozens of active PTAs and neighborhood associations that are an integral part of our city's civic life.

Meantime, our residents play host to some of the world's premier gay and lesbian events: the Winter Party Festival, Aqua Girl, Sizzle Miami, the Miami Beach Bruthaz Conference and, of course, the White Party.

It's just all part of living in the dichotomy that is Miami Beach, a city always in flux.

Those of us elected to manage that flux try to steer our city to the side of virtue and, I'm not ashamed to admit, to the tame.

It's not always easy.

South Beach, for example, is in a state of perpetual tension. The residents want their neighborhood to be lively, vibrant and exciting, but they draw the line at rowdy and raucous.

The bars and clubs in their midst, however, don't want the party to ever stop. Nor do the small minority of visitors who abuse our hospitality by dissing our city's residents and laws.

Hence we periodically hold protracted and heated fights over noise restrictions and operating hours for bars and clubs.

And it's why I've been imploring my city's administration to be better prepared for mass-scale events such as Urban Beach Weekend, which has completely overwhelmed our resources and residents; and which, unfortunately, has been marred by mass arrests, violence and gunplay.

Most recently, an even bigger issue has emerged in our city's virtue-vs-vice debate: casino gambling.

The casino gambling debate is sure to be with us for the next several years. It's just too big, with too many well-heeled players, to go away.

Once again, I find myself siding against vice. Casino gambling is just not compatible with our city's quality of life.

That's not to say Miami Beach shouldn't be at the table during the debate, which has been centered across the bay in the City of Miami. What happens there does not stay there.

Some may say that the city has gone way, way too far in favor of tame over tawdry.

Brett Sokol, the insightful Ocean Drive magazine editor who also blogs for the New York Times, writes that Miami Beach has indeed lost its edge in a fine Opinionator piece titled: "When Drag Queens Go, The Neighborhood Follows."

True, we are now far more family-friendly and franchise-laden than just a decade ago. But I can assure everyone that Miami Beach is in no danger of becoming boring, or even conventional.

On our city's official website, it boasts that Miami Beach is "The World's Playground." Indeed, we offer more than just sun and surf. We're exotic, international, edgy, cultural, and at times, sophisticated.

Those pining for a dose of Miami Beach's bad old days can watch Magic City on the Starz Network. The TV series is set in Miami Beach circa 1959, when Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack and Louis Prima headlined the then-new Fontainebleau Hotel, with Mob protection.

The show comes with a provocative tagline: "The beautiful life is about to get ugly."

Not to worry. Not in the Miami Beach of 2012.