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A mayoral showdown in an enclave of millionaires: The Gentrifier vs. the Gentrified

Golden Beach has always attracted the rich and the famous, like Ricky Martin and Eric Clapton.

Property values in Golden Beach have nearly doubled in the last five years. The 344 estates are now worth over $1 billion.
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Property values in Golden Beach have nearly doubled in the last five years. The 344 estates are now worth over $1 billion.

Next Tuesday, the residents of one of South Florida’s most wealthy enclaves will have an opportunity to elect a new mayor for the first time in over a decade.

In Golden Beach, 600 or so registered voters will choose between seven-term Mayor Glenn Singer, who has run unopposed since he was first elected in 2005, and lifelong resident Barbara Shaheen, who says Singer’s administration is trying to get rid of older residents who don’t fit the vision for the ever-more exclusive town.

Singer and others on the five-person town council have a combined tenure of more than half a century.

“It’s a fiefdom and that’s wrong,” Shaheen told the Miami Herald. “I have a strong sense of what’s right and fair.” She said her first point of order as mayor would be implementing term limits, something Singer strongly opposes.

“I enjoy being mayor at Golden Beach,” Singer said. Although Golden Beach is a weak mayor/strong manager town, Singer takes credit for recent town improvements made during his tenure. “I’ve done about $40 million of capital improvements with no increases to the residents tax-wise or otherwise,” he said.

In the past decade, improvements in infrastructure ushered in a wave of new construction in Golden Beach, a residential coastal town wedged between the ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway in Northeast Miami-Dade, historically the home of the rich and famous. (Eric Clapton named his album “461 Ocean Drive” after his former Golden Beach home.) Now, longtime owners are selling to developers who divide the lots and replace the quaint old homes with garish mansions. Property values have soared — nearly doubling in the past five years alone to more than $1 billion of taxable value.

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Glenn Singer Courtesy

Singer’s main reason for running again: “I want to keep the momentum going of redeveloping Golden Beach,” he said.

Shaheen says Singer’s administration bullies older residents like her in an effort to push them out of the neighborhood, to make room for new development, and wealthier, often foreign residents — like gentrification on a different end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

“My biggest concern about Golden Beach is that people should be treated fairly, equally, and professionally,” Shaheen said during a recent candidate forum.

Several former residents told the Herald they sold when they no longer felt welcome in Golden Beach. Some said the town would cite them with bogus code violations in what appeared to be a more targeted effort to push them out of homes that were being eyeballed by developers. Others said they felt uncomfortable in the new population of residents who didn’t speak English.

Shaheen and Golden Beach are currently tied up in a lawsuit over the appearance of her once grand — now slightly shabby compared to its neighbors — 1940s Mediterranean-style home, currently valued at $3.4 million. Shaheen says the town has unfairly placed nearly $1 million of code violations on her home in an effort to get her to move.

“I don’t think anyone should be treated like this,” Shaheen said.

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Barbara Shaheen Courtesy

Singer denies it all. If older residents can’t afford their homes due to higher taxes, or feel left behind by the rapid pace of change, Singer chalked that up to an “unfortunate” side effect of progress in the town, but not his administration’s fault.

Singer says the town isn’t picking on Shaheen. The home is simply not up to code.

“We treat everyone fairly,” said Singer in response to these allegations. “Everyone is a taxpayer. We love all the residents. I lose sleep when the town has to cause a legal action against a resident.”

Though their differences and disagreements often take center stage, both Singer and Shaheen share most of the same visions for the small town: a lower property tax rate, exclusivity for residents, a private beach for residents to enjoy and outsiders to envy, more and better parks, a new town hall along State Road A1A (though Shaheen wants to make the decision a referendum), and an unparalleled police force making Golden Beach the safest town in the entire country.

On Tuesday, Golden Beach residents will also vote to fill two seats on the council.

Candidates for town council include incumbent Kenneth Bernstein who has served since 2007, former councilman Bernard Einstein who served from 1999-2017, and newcomer Hunter Sonn, who is running on a platform of bringing tech-based solutions to the town. The ballot will ask residents to pick two of three.

A video of the forum featuring both mayoral and all council candidates will be re-aired at noon and 7 p.m. daily on the Golden Beach website.

Sarah Blaskey covers local government in municipalities across Miami-Dade County. She holds a master’s degree from Columbia University’s school of journalism and is the recent recipient of a Pulitzer Center grant for her work on shark fishing and human trafficking in Central America.


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