Philip Levine, from successful businessman to outspoken pol to gubernatorial candidate

Philip Levine

After months of testing the waters, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is entering the race for Florida governor.

The 55-year-old Democrat will attempt to become the first mayor to lead the state since Tampa’s Bob Martinez did so in 1986, and comes into the race with some impressive credentials to introduce himself to Floridians.

Unlike several of the top Republicans in the race, Levine lived most of his life in the private sector before running for mayor and winning in 2013.

Levine grew up in Boston before moving to Hollywood, Florida.

The cruise industry is where he got his start, beginning as a port lecturer right out of high school, doing so well he later founded Onboard Media, a concessionaire that produced onboard TV advertisements, magazines, art auctions and more. As the majority shareholder, he ultimately sold that company for what has been reported as $300 million.

In 2010, Levine was tapped by President Obama’s Secretary of Commerce Dept. to serve on a task force advising on U.S. tourism. The goals of the task force were to grow America’s tourism industry.

Levine is a FOB – Friend of Bill (Clinton). The two met at Levine’s home when he hosted a fundraising event for the former president in the 1990’s. In 2001 they traveled together to Saudi Arabia and Australia. The friendship paid dividends when Clinton traveled to Miami Beach and endorsed him in a four-way contest in 2013.

Shortly after being elected, Levine immediately went to work on a project to deal with Miami Beach’s flooding issues, ultimately getting buy-in from the City Council to spend $400 million to improve stormwater infrastructure.

He also has shown his willingness to mix it up with Rick Scott, signing a 2016 ordinance that raised the minimum wage in Miami Beach to $13.31 an hour.

Levine raised some eyebrows among fellow Democrats earlier this year at a Tiger Bay lunch in Tampa, where he mused about running as an independent for governor.

“If you can’t do it in the Democratic Party, then you better figure out another way,” he said. “And as an entrepreneur who doesn’t think conventionally, I’ll figure out another way if I decide to run.”

Spokesman Christian Ulvert downplays those remarks, saying that he was simply responding to how he could win statewide.

“I think that folks in the Democratic Party are going to be excited to have one of the leading voices in the country around climate change, someone who’s willing to take on the minimum wage fight, fight the governor on that, take on some police reforms that were needed in Miami Beach, be one of the biggest champions of LGBT rights, and is not afraid to take on health care issues,” he said, adding, “That sounds like the values of the Democratic Party.”

What will be interesting to see play out is Levine’s rapport with the press, which has been contentious over the years. When he initially ran for mayor in 2013, he shunned the Miami Herald, claiming the paper was biased and distorted his answers. His battles with Airbnb led him to get into a tête-à-tête with Sunshine State News reporters, who he accused of being paid by the company to “write fake sponsored articles with fake journalists on fake-news sites.”

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at [email protected].


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