Political Consultant Who Claims He "Created" Marco Rubio Backs Patrick Murphy

In 2002, then-Florida House Speaker Tom Feeny thought he needed some help handling a brewing redistricting battle. So he hired longtime consultant Steve Cody, who says his job was to "script" a debate between members of the Florida House to ensure that two new districts were drawn across the state.

After one potential speaker refused to participate in the debate, Cody says, his team recruited then-second-term House member Marco Rubio as a last-minute fill-in.

Telling the story publicly for the first time this week, Cody claims that without this accidental appearance, Rubio's rise to the top slot in the House might never have happened. And, of course, had Rubio never won that powerful Tally job, he likely never would have run for U.S. Senate or president.

Now Cody says he's deeply disappointed in Rubio's conduct as senator and refuses to support him. He says he's infuriated that Rubio has said, on record, he doesn't enjoy being a senator yet continues to campaign anyway.

"If you had an employee saying every day that he doesn't want to be here, that this is a stupid job, you'd have to review this guy," Cody tells New Times. 'That’s where we are with Florida and with Marco. Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, if you did not reelect him, that would give him a lot of free time to go to Iowa and start campaigning for president again on January 21."

Cody first told the story of his long-ago role in Rubio's rise in a lengthy Facebook post published Tuesday. New Times was not able to corroborate his details; some individuals involved in the story refused to speak, and a spokesperson for the Rubio campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

But as Rubio weathers a tough reelection battle for Senate, Cody's story suggests another surreal incident in the candidate's past. Earlier this week, New Times reported that Rubio's ties to his drug-dealing brother-in-law may have been closer than Rubio has admitted publicly.

Cody says he's aware some people might be put off by the "raw politics" of the entire ordeal. But he says he's unafraid to share the story now because he's "old and cranky."

Cody, who says he is "very liberal" but a registered independent, has endorsed Rubio's opponent, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy. Though Rubio has led Murphy in the polls for months, the most recent Quinnipiac Poll showed the race is now "too close to call." (RealClearPolitics says Rubio is up 49 to 43 percent.)

Though the Democratic Party abandoned Murphy a few weeks ago, the new polling numbers have led to a new wave of high-level endorsements (from President Obama and Hillary Clinton, no less) for the Democrat.

There are some large caveats to Cody's tale: Rubio served as speaker of the Florida House from 2006 to 2008, leaving a lot of time between Cody's 2002 story and Rubio's ascent to the speakership. Cody was also unable to say exactly when the whole ordeal occurred or produce any copies of his "script."

But Cody has openly worked behind the scenes on redistricting issues in Florida since the 1980s and is a known character among Florida's political elite. (His law license was temporarily suspended in 2013 after he bounced a check, among other small charges.)  So when Feeny, the speaker, hired him, Cody said his decades of experience in redistricting fights taught him to make sure nobody said or did anything out-of-line during the debates. Politicians had often messed up surefire votes by talking too much and blurting out something controversial. So he says he helped script the whole thing.

"Sometimes even the best plans you come up with get screwed up," Cody says. "Members want to stand up and say things on the floor. They want to get the last word in even when they don’t know what they’re talking about. They can’t resist a 'hot mike.' So if you want this thing to be successful, you have to make sure you control the floor."

So Cody says he and his team drafted a "screenplay" in which various Republicans pretended to debate with one another over redistricting issues. In reality, everyone would stick to a script, and nobody would say anything controversial. Cody says his group blatantly tried to bring a Cuban-American politician into the fold who would challenge a prominent Republican, Johnny Byrd, on the House floor.

"Initially, we approached Gaston Cantens" to participate in the scripted debate, Cody tells New Times. Cantens, a Cuban-American Republican, was then openly fighting to take over the speakership. He now works for Florida Crystals, the Big Sugar company owned by the politically gargantuan Fanjul brothers. (New Times was not able to reach Cantens for comment.)

"Gaston listened to us and then said he had absolutely no interest in being involved," Cody adds. "So we went along with the script and just put a blank for the name of the representative, like 'Name to be inserted later.'"

That person inserted later happened to be Rubio. In his Facebook post, Cody said his colleague, lawyer Miguel de Grandy, "suggested that we sit down with a young guy from West Miami who was at the start of his second term, Marco Rubio. We did, and Marco agreed to his role." (De Grandy declined to comment for this story.)

Cody tells New Times he was personally invited onto the House floor to watch the so-called debate unfold.

"On the day of the floor debate on second reading, Miguel's associate, Nick Mazzora, went onto the House floor with a stack of black binders," Cody wrote in his post. "Every player got one and each played his part. Marco was so convincing in the way that he challenged Johnny Byrd that it made an impression on the Republican House members."

Cody says multiple Republican House speakers then approached Rubio to congratulate him for standing up to Byrd in public. But Cody says the two men were in on the joke the entire time.

In hindsight, Cody says, he thinks his "script" helped convince the rest of the Florida Legislature that Rubio was someone in which they could place their faith. He says he doesn't regret it — Rubio seemed like an OK guy at the time. But he's now upset that Rubio turned out to be such an ineffectual politician.

"He was a young, enthusiastic, bright guy," Cody says. He adds that Rubio seemed far less "conservative" than he does today. Cody says Rubio used to admire liberal Tallahassee Rep. Bill Sadowski. "Back then, all Republicans were less conservative, not the sort of 'archconservatives' seen now. But Rubio started embracing the Tea Party in 2010 as a way to catapult himself past Charlie Crist."

Like many people who have worked closely with Rubio over the years, Cody describes the senator as a man so consumed by ambition he seems willing to overlook most ethical conflicts.

"I don't regret creating Marco Rubio," Cody wrote Tuesday. "I just wished I had more of a chance to teach him what the 'service' part of 'public service' means."
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.