Harold Rosen didn’t want to be mayor.
A powerful player in Miami Beach already, the attorney and then-vice mayor didn’t think he would have time to run a city, too. But when the mayor died, and the city commission was at a standstill on who should replace him, Rosen threw his hat in the ring.
“So I said to these guys, I’m gonna be the mayor, I’ll take the job...who’s gonna vote against me?” Rosen revealed in a 2011 interview archived by Florida International University. “And I became the mayor.”
During his three years in office from 1974-77 Rosen played an early role in ushering in a transformation in the island city, from a sandspit “inhibited” by rent control and a large elderly population to the billion-dollar resort city it is today.
“Harold Rosen started the renaissance,” said Seth Bramson, an adjunct professor of history and historian-in-residence at Barry University. “He brought a great sense of optimism to Miami Beach.”
And while his orders didn’t come without apprehension, death threats or at least some regret, Rosen’s name was spoken of in warm, loving words on Wednesday, during the city’s first commission meeting since Rosen’s death on Tuesday. He was 92.
During the meeting, current Mayor Dan Gelber and the entire commission offered their condolences, saying Rosen will be missed and loved forever. The whole chamber then rose and stood silent for a moment in memory.
Gelber praised Rosen’s dedication to the Beach, where he moved in 1948 after growing up in Carthage, New York.
“He had a wonderful love for our city,” said Gelber. “He put the great in the greatest generation.”
Gesturing to the wall in the chamber where all of the Beach’s mayors are pictured, Commissioner Micky Steinberg said, “His picture is on the wall there, and he’s also in our hearts.”
City Attorney Raul Aguila recognized Rosen for his work as a lobbyist, in which he helped an engineering and consulting firm in 2001 receive the city’s largest contract at the time, tapped to manage over $200 million in public right-of-way projects.
During his time as mayor, Rosen may have been surprised with how his descendants would characterize his service.
Around 1970, when he first proposed the idea to unshackle property owners from price ceilings, primarily in place to protect the elderly, his commissioners were weary and their constituents — “all the old people” — were livid, Rosen said bluntly during the 2011 interview.
Bramson, the Barry University professor, called Rosen a “mayor of the people.” But at the time, he “couldn’t care less” about the wishes of his constituents, Rosen said in 2011.
“The commissioners at that time... they didn’t want to go against the vote [for future elections],” Rosen said. “I couldn’t care less because I didn’t wanna go any higher beyond the city commission. So it never bothered me.”
In 1976, Rosen found the votes he needed in the commission, and rent control was abolished by a 4-3 vote. Though the decision was controversial at the time, the Florida Legislature followed suit in 1977 and various courts struck rent-control ordinances down in the 1980s.
His only son, Steven Rosen, said he didn’t think Rosen enjoyed being mayor.
“I never really thought he liked it, I just think he felt like he could help the community,” said Steven, nicknamed Rocket by his father because he was born on July 4th.
Rosen’s legacy isn’t free of blemishes.
A bungled urban renewal project in the southern quarter of the Beach, preceded by a 1973 moratorium on “unplanned development” in that area, led to hotels and apartments sliding into decay and property values stagnating, according to a 1982 Miami Herald article.
The city chose the area south of Sixth Street because it was home to the oldest buildings and poorest residents in the city, the Herald reported.
To condemn the 372 buildings in that area, the Beach needed state approval, which required the area be designated as “blighted” or neglected. Despite objections from residents and State Attorney Janet Reno, the commission declared the area “blighted,” a decision Rosen seemed to regret years later in an interview with the Herald.
“It wasn’t that blighted. That was just a word we had to use. Some parts of it were bad, but the majority was good. I think we just wanted to change the image. It was becoming a lot of small co-ops for the elderly and we didn’t want a retirement community for the elderly,” Rosen told the Herald. “Regrettably, there’s been a tremendous price.”
Rosen, a World War II veteran and graduate of the University of Miami’s School of Law, is survived by his wife, sister, two children, 10 grandchildren and recently born great-granddaughter, who was named Rose in his honor.
Services will be held Friday at noon at Temple Emanu-El, 1701 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Flags at City Hall and the Miami Beach Police station will be flown at half-staff.