MIAMI — Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who built a cruise ship media company worth hundreds of millions of dollars, entered Florida’s Democratic primary for governor Wednesday, joining an already crowded field hoping to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
Levine evoked the memories of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. with large murals showing their images. He quoted King, saying, “The time is always right to do what is right,” during his 15 minute speech to several hundred supporters in Miami’s Wynwood Design District.
“It’s long past time to say we’ve had enough of the political bickering and posturing, enough of the calculated words of hate, enough of those who would tear us down and tear us apart just to score a political point,” Levine said. “They’ve had their turn. Today belongs to us.”
Levine has been building toward the announcement for months, hiring a team of political advisers and touring the state to meet with Democrats and others. He even did a five-day bus trip around Florida for SiriusXM to highlight the state’s lifestyle and attractions.
Levine grew up in the Brookline, Massachusetts, neighborhood where Kennedy was born and attended the same elementary school that Kennedy did. He moved to Florida when he was 10.
Levine, 55, entered politics for the first time when he spent $2 million of his own money to win the 2013 mayor’s race. He has already given his political committee more than $2.6 million and raised another $2 million in donations.
Levine built his fortune off a marketing company that began with $500 in capital in a Miami Beach studio apartment and expanded to provide in-cabin magazines and television content for cruise lines. It had $400 million in annual revenue when he sold it in 2000. He is now CEO of a similar company that provides media for Royal Caribbean International.
He occasionally delivered lines in Spanish during the speech. He also criticized President Donald Trump’s relief effort after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. Levine charted a plane to the island to deliver supplies.
“When the President finally showed up, he descended on the people there with rolls of paper towels, and a boatload of criticism,” Levine said. “So as Washington politicians pointed fingers at each other, I pointed a cargo plane, filled with life-saving supplies, to San Juan.”
He also said climate change will be a priority. Miami Beach recently began a $100 million flood prevention program to address rising sea levels. Some of the city’s roads have flooded during high tides even without a storm.
“It’s time to address climate change by changing Tallahassee’s climate of denial,” he said. “I will make Florida an international leader, not just in climate change and sea level rise, but also in solar and renewable energy.”
Levine is a longtime friend of former President Bill Clinton, who endorsed him in the mayor’s race. He’s seen as a moderate who has called for Democrats and Republicans to work together.
He told reporters he doesn’t see himself simply as a Democratic politician.
“I don’t think people vote for party and I don’t think they vote for policy. They vote for the person. If someone has a history of getting things done, that’s who they vote for,” he said.
Former Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas praised Levine’s leadership style.
“He’s taken on issues that other politicians run away from, like climate change,” Penelas said. “Philip practices a kind of politics that has almost become extinct, and that’s the politics of inclusion. He believes in equal opportunity for everyone.”
Levine joins former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando-area businessman Chris King in the Democratic primary.
Republicans seeking the seat Scott is leaving due to term limits include Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and state Sen. Jack Latvala.
Farrington reported from Tallahassee, Florida.