Don't Call Me a Lobbyist!

Even though my name is Chris Korge and Alex Penelas is my best buddy and all the commissioners are indebted to me and I guarantee you'll get that fat county contract

Korge insists it's a mistake to think that a person's ability to do business with the county depends on his willingness to contribute. "There are no ramifications to not donating," he says. "If anyone thinks that, then they erroneously came to that conclusion because of their own paranoia or fear that is unwarranted." And he rejects the notion that donating to various political campaigns at his request -- or the mayor's -- is simply a cost of doing business with Miami-Dade County: "I think they would be stupid to think that."

As a result of Korge's successful fundraising efforts, he was recently named co-chair of the Democratic National Committee Business Council, a group of influential donors and fundraisers who meet regularly with the party's leadership. Commissioner Barbara Carey expresses amazement at how quickly Korge has become active within the party at a national level. "I asked him once what he wanted, and he said maybe he'd get an ambassadorship," recalls Carey.

"I wouldn't mind being an ambassador someday," Korge acknowledges. "I think it is a job I could do well. I've always liked foreign affairs. But at this point in my life I don't think I could afford to do that. It is a very costly job." He says he and his wife have talked about foreign service, but she is loath to live outside the United States while their three children are still growing up. (The youngest is seven years old.) But he quickly adds, "If I were ever offered an ambassadorship, I would consider it."

Korge is thinking plenty about his future. He says he's eager to move beyond the relentless battles at county hall, and he certainly doesn't want to be known as a lobbyist, or even a lawyer-lobbyist, for the rest of his life.

Among other things, he's given thought to running for office himself. In fact, he claims he was approached earlier this year about running for Florida secretary of state but declined for two reasons: "I don't think that particular position interests me, and I could not afford to live off a $95,000-a-year salary at this point in my life." (Korge will not discuss his income. "What my clients pay me, as far as I'm concerned, is privileged information," he says. Commissioner Dennis Moss once suggested that lobbyists should be required to disclose their fees, but the idea was quickly shot down after strong opposition from Korge and others.)

Sergio Pino can barely imagine Korge the candidate. "I wouldn't let him run for office," he says with a laugh. "I would never let a friend of mine do that." Such talk provokes Phil Hamersmith as well. "Chris has this need to be loved, to be applauded, to be somehow recognized," he opines. "He desperately wants to be respected. Chris has talked to me and others about running for office himself. I don't believe he is at all electable. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think a short, balding Lebanese guy from Miami is electable in the state of Florida."

For the time being, though, Korge says he is most interested in continuing to influence the political process from the sidelines. More than that, he considers it his civic duty. "I have a responsibility to put my forces behind people I really believe in and to oppose people who I really think are not up to par," he declares. "I think I have that responsibility. Chris Korge has a responsibility to support good people."

And it's a safe bet those "good people" will continue their support of Korge's position as a wealthy and powerful man.

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