Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine loves the Clinton family. He and Bill Clinton developed a friendship a few decades ago. Levine also spent the 2016 presidential election season riding a tour bus from state to state campaigning for Hillary Clinton's doomed campaign.
Now, Levine is openly mulling a run for governor — and he seems to have taken exactly zero lessons from Trump's victory over his pals. Levine gave a speech to Miami's Downtown Dems political group last Thursday, in which he bashed Bernie Sanders and progressive Democrats for not "understanding" Florida, and promised that if he does run for governor, he's going to reach out to moderate Republicans by trying to find "common ground" with them on issues. He's all but pledged to find ways to lean right rather than left.
"Bernie Sanders lost the primary in Florida to Hillary Clinton," Levine said at the speech, which was recorded by local journalist and liberal activist Grant Stern. "Now, I love the idea of a revolution, but, unfortunately, in South Florida, the term 'revolution' doesn't usually seem like a really good idea. As a matter of fact, especially when you come from Venezuela or Cuba."
Instead, he says he supports a pro-business, "job-creating" platform that benefits both Democrats and Republicans.
If that phrasing sounds familiar, that's because it's the same tactics Clinton used last year to try and convert independents and moderate Republicans in the Sunshine State. It failed. Donald Trump won Florida.
And Sanders is now campaigning alongside Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez to try and move the party leftward. Sanders and Perez spoke together at a rally at Miami's James L. Knight Center earlier this week, where he said the Democratic Party must "take on the billionaire class."
Levine, however, argues that since Florida is a "purple state," progressive tactics won't work here. Instead, he proposed finding "common ground" with Republicans, with a message "that everyone buys into." He also proposed better "infrastructure," protections against sea-level rise, "better education," "better jobs," and "innovation zones" for business.
(For what it's worth, data doesn't seem to back up Levine's larger point: Sanders actually polled better among independents than Clinton did both nationally and in Florida, which means it's likely that his message will convert undecided voters to Levine's side. Multiple post-election polls have also shown that Sanders is currently the nation's most-admired politician, including one poll from Republican-loving Fox News.)
"Fortunately or unfortunately, we're in Florida, which is a purple state," he said.
These are also the same tactics that every Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Florida, including Charlie Crist, has used to try and take control of the state house since the 1990s. A Democrat has not won the governorship since incumbent Gov. Lawton Chiles narrowly eked out a reelection campaign over then-challenger Jeb Bush in 1994.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and 38-year-old Orlando housing developer Chris King have already announced their 2018 Democratic runs for the state house. Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham is also expected to run as a Democrat, while medical-pot activist and major political donor John Morgan is openly mulling a run at the governorship. While no Republican successor to Rick Scott has announced his or her official candidacy yet, current Agriculture Commissioner and former U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam tweeted out an "Adam Putnam for Governor" logo from his Twitter account on Wednesday, before actually announcing his candidacy. That might be illegal.
In addition to laying out a possible platform for his (potential) gubernatorial bid, Levine took an extremely strange swipe at the Miami Herald in the speech, and also denied that his administration censors negative comments on Levine's social media pages.
Levine began the talk by explaining how he became an independently wealthy cruise-ship-media baron before he got into politics: He said he answered an ad in the Herald to get his first job on the Caribbean Cruise lines.
"That was back when people read the Miami Herald, do you remember that?" he said. The joke fell flat in the room.
In the past, Levine has accused the Herald (and numerous other media outlets, including New Times) of sensationalizing or making up stories in order to "sell newspapers." After the Herald published a scientific study that proved human waste was leaking into Biscayne Bay, Levine called the article "sloppy science combined with sloppy journalism." He has continued to take potshots at the Herald throughout his administration.
Stern, the videographer, is suing Levine in order to force Levine to disclose the list of accounts the mayor blocks on social media. Previous court rulings and laws in other states have dictated that social-media accounts are public records if officials use them to announce "official business." As such, politicians cannot block people online. Stern, whom Levine has long blocked online, contends that Levine is breaking public records laws. (Levine has also long blocked New Times on Twitter.)
"We never censor! Never censor!" Levine said, before posing for a few photos.
Elsewhere, Levine is having an extremely weird year: In March, Levine fired off a casual joke about invading Cuba, to which a crowd of Cuban-American lawyers allegedly gasped.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.