Meet the Miami Parking Lot Magnate Urging Florida's Jews to Vote Trump

Donald Trump has not rolled out a textbook campaign to appeal to Jewish voters. First, he gave a speech laced with anti-Semitic jokes to the Republican Jewish Coalition. Then he began demanding a "loyalty pledge" that gave his rallies a distinctly Munich-circa-1933 vibe. And just this past weekend, a Trump backer was filmed yelling, "Go back to Auschwitz," and doing a Nazi salute at a Cleveland rally.

So it was jarring to open the Miami Herald on the eve of Florida's vital primary race to find a full-page ad exhorting South Florida's Jews to back the Donald. 

Who was behind the blitz? Turns out the big-money Trump-backer is a billionaire parking lot magnate who had his own brush with Trumpian self-financed politics when he dropped $600,000 on a Miami Beach commission race — only to lose the seat. 

Jacob "Hank" Sopher is an 82-year-old real-estate and parking guru. (Reached at his office, Sopher declined to discuss the ad with New Times, saying through an employee that it "speaks for itself.")

Sopher's full-page color ad ran inside the Herald's front section Sunday. It called Trump a "man of integrity" as well as "a friend of the Jewish people" and "a friend of Israel."

It's an interesting appeal, because by most indications, Trump is driving a serious wedge into the GOP's Jewish base. Just yesterday, the Week delved into how his populist rants have made even staunchly pro-Israel conservative Jews do a double-take. 

So it's telling that Sopher's history in Miami echoes the billionaire candidate's escapades in Manhattan. Sopher made his mark as a parking lot operator in New York and Miami, running a firm called Quik Park that operated large garages in South Beach and downtown. 

He was a big donor in Miami Beach, even inadvertently helping to sharpen campaign finance laws by breaking them in 2001. The Miami Herald reported:

In 2001, parking magnate Jacob "Hank" Sopher, who had a $40,000-a-year contract with the city, gave an illegal $500 contribution to Richard Steinberg, who was elected to the Commission.

Steinberg said at the time that he knew who "Hank" Sopher was, but didn't know that he was the same Jacob Sopher who contributed to his campaign.

Administrators declined to penalize Sopher because they said there wasn't an intent to break the rules. They also cited the fact that the legislation was so new that there were still kinks in the way the law functioned.  

In 2003, he decided to jump straight into Miami Beach politics by self-financing a bid for the city commission. He entered the race in part because his company had lost a valuable garage contract because his bid didn't include a living wage for parking lot attendants. 

Over the next year, he sank $600,000 into the race, hiring notorious campaign manager Randy Hilliard (nicknamed the "Prince of Darkness" for his heavy-handed tactics) and waging a one-man war against Bay Link, the light rail planned to connect mainland Miami and the Beach. 

"This is an antiquated street car that is dangerous and is going to cause chaos on Miami Beach,'' he told the Herald at the time.

As he poured ever more cash into the race, the daily asked him how much he was willing to spend to snag a city commission spot. "I'm not counting," he told the Herald.

It was all for naught. Sopher took the incumbent to a runoff but lost to Simon Cruz, who nabbed 58 percent of the vote.

Sopher nibbled at the edges of local politics for a few more years, initially jumping into the next commission race but then bowing out before the election. In 2004, he tried to buy the failed Miami Arena for $25 million as part of an ambitious downtown redevelopment plan, but was outbid. 

Now he's apparently found a kindred spirit in the real-estate developer making his own outsider bid for national office. Will Sopher's appeals echo wider Jewish support in Florida for Trump? We'll find out at the polls today. 

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