Long before he became a judge, a Miami Beach commissioner and a mayor of Bay Harbor Islands, Martin Shapiro was a studious college student, a record-setting track athlete, and a loyal friend who despised confrontation.
Marty, as he was affectionately called by those who knew him, was a Cincinnati native, before his family moved to Dayton and later relocated to Miami Beach in 1944 when he was 9. Shapiro stood out among his Miami Beach Senior High School friends and his University of Florida fraternity brothers as a selfless and loving friend, a quiet observer, and a fair-minded public servant.
Shaprio died Aug. 5 at age 83.
“I would call him a quiet American. In 73 years, I never saw him raise his voice. I never saw him get angry,” said 82-year-old Stuart Blumberg, the former president of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association. He has known Shapiro since the two met playing on the street as children when they were both new to Miami Beach.
“He went through life at a very slow, even pace,” Blumberg said. “You never saw him in a hurry; you never saw him anxious.”
After graduating from UF, he attended the university’s law school and went on to work as an attorney before entering the public sector as a commissioner and mayor for Bay Harbor Islands in 1985.
His most memorable work as a public figure was his role in Miami Beach government, where he served as commissioner for 10 years until 1999, as the Beach changed both politically and demographically, with a growing Hispanic population. Shapiro served alongside Mayor Seymour Gelber, father of current Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber.
“He was a very independent commissioner. He was very thoughtful and my dad always believed he was always voting his conscience, never for some other agenda,” Dan Gelber said of Shapiro.
Gelber said Shapiro’s time in the city’s government was pivotal in changing the image of Miami Beach government, following the corruption scandal involving former Mayor Alex Daoud, who was convicted of accepting bribes.
“The commission he was a part of was a reformed commission. It was really a group of people who wanted to re-frame our local government as an evolved government,” Gelber said. “Marty really fit into that perfectly.”
“It really became a cultural destination. I think we became a much more mature city government. It wasn’t just two people making a deal at lunch,” Gelber said. “They started believing that it couldn’t just be about a pretty beach.”
The year before he was elected to the Circuit Court bench in 2000, Shapiro made a run for Miami Beach mayor, but lost the election in a bitter campaign against Neisen Kasdin, who served two terms. Shapiro later became a senior judge, a role which he served for the remainder of his life.
Michele Burger, who has served as chief of staff under both Gelber mayors, said she remembers Shapiro as an approachable public official who listened to his constituents.
“Unlike elected officials, Marty kept a lot of opinions to himself,” Burger said. “Marty was a quiet guy, but he always made it a point to talk to people and get to know people.”
Friends and family recently flew into Miami Beach from across the country to gather for Shapiro’s funeral, an example of the far-reaching and lasting impressions he made on the people he met, Blumberg said.
“He was an incredible friend. His passing was totally unexpected,” Blumberg said. “Marty never talked about himself. He always talked about everybody else.”
Shapiro is survived by his long-time partner, two younger brothers, his son, six grandchildren and one great grandchild. Services were held.