Standing in front of a mural of John F. Kennedy and quoting from Martin Luther King Jr. and Gloria Estefan, Miami Beach mayor and multimillionaire businessman Philip Levine formally entered the Democratic race for Florida governor Wednesday.
Levine said he’s ready to spend $25 million or more of his own money in a Democratic race that so far hasn’t excited donors. He joins a Democratic primary field that includes former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King.
With Republican Gov. Rick Scott facing term limits next year, two Republicans — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater — have opened GOP campaigns for governor. The Republican race could eventually include House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast.
Levine announced his candidacy in front of hundreds of supporters at his new campaign headquarters, a former Hillary Clinton campaign office in a building owned by a Levine corporation in Miami’s hipsterish Wynwood area. The building’s interior walls were covered with freshly painted murals of Kennedy, King, Harriet Tubman and Cesar Chavez.
“Like America’s greatest generation, these heroes devoted their lives — even sacrificed their lives — to help all who would follow,” said Levine, who wore a jacket and tie with jeans and white Adidas sneakers.
Levine quoted Martin Luther King’s statement that “the time is always right to do what is right” and said: “Today, here in Florida, it’s time to do what is right.”
Levine said that includes addressing climate change, boosting the minimum wage, supporting public education and ending “political posturing and bickering.”
Levine, who briefly floated the idea of running as a no-party candidate, gave a shout-out to former Republican President Dwight Eisenhower to criticize President Donald Trump’s handling of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
“It was a moment when Puerto Rico needed a lot more Eisenhower, and a lot less Trump,” Levine said. He added that, “as Washington politicians pointed fingers at each other, I pointed a cargo plane, filled with life-saving supplies, to San Juan.”
He ended his speech quoting from “Get On Your Feet,” the 1989 synth-pop hit written for Estefan. Levine urged his supporters to “get up and make it happen” as the song began playing.
Levine already has put $2.6 million of his own money into a political committee, All About Florida, that has also raised about $2.2 million from contributors. Levine was asked Wednesday about speculation he might put $25 million of his own money into the governor’s race.
“We may put up to that, we may put more,” Levine said. “But I can tell you one thing; our fund-raising so far is pretty significant because we’re getting support from all types of people that aren’t the vested political interests. We’re getting support from entrepreneurs, from people that want to see Florida in a different vision, as a 21st century economy.”
Levine, 55, built his fortune off a marketing company that began with $500 in capital and expanded to provide in-cabin magazines and television content for cruise lines. It had $400 million in annual revenue when he sold it in 2000. He’s now the CEO of a similar company that provides media for Royal Caribbean International.
He was elected Miami Beach mayor in 2013 after spending $2 million of his own money on the race.
Asked by a reporter to differentiate himself from the other Democrats in the race, Levine said: “In business, we really don’t talk about what we’re going to do in the future, we talk about what we’ve done in the past. So if you look at what we’ve done in the past in Miami Beach in a very short time, coupled with my private sector experience, I think it’s very different. But…I’m not running against anybody. I’m just running with my own message.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.