Real estate bigwigs weigh in following governor’s race nominations

Supporters on both sides for Democrat, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Republican, Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum
Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum

After Democrat Andrew Gillum pulled off a stunning upset against well-funded competitors Gwen Graham, Philip Levine and Jeff Greene for the Democratic nomination for Florida governor in Tuesday’s primary election, many members of the real estate industry found themselves Googling Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee.

The Florida Association of Realtors won’t take a position on the new candidates because the group endorsed Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who lost against Ron DeSantis as the Republican nominee for governor. A spokesperson for the Florida Realtors declined to share how DeSantis and Gillum answered questions during a candidate screening earlier this year, but said, “we don’t have positions right now on either of the selected candidates.”

Gillum’s campaign focuses on expanding healthcare access, addressing climate change, improving public education and other issues. He has also spoken in favor of the state fully funding affordable housing, especially for seniors. And DeSantis has pledged to keep taxes low and stop “illegal” immigration, in addition to restoring the Everglades and improving the coastline through beach restoration and flood mitigation.

Unlike Levine, Gillum didn’t attract big-ticket donations from major real estate players. But DeSantis, President Trump’s pick for governor, attracted contributions from Leonard Blavatnik, gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson, developer Art Falcone and Palm Beach broker Lawrence Moens, according to data from the Florida Department of Elections.

Gillum, who received a financial boost from billionaires Tom Steyer and George Soros, attracted smaller donations, including from real estate agents throughout Florida.

South Florida real estate insiders say they are still digesting the primary results.

Developer Don Peebles declined to say who he voted for, but is supporting Gillum in November.

“Gillum has a message that is a bit different than the typical progressive message that tends to be interpreted as an anti-business approach,” Peebles said. “In order to attract businesses, there needs to be a strong quality of life. One of the core ingredients to quality of life is a strong public education. Gillum is going to address some of these key needs, but is going to address them on a tax-neutral basis and reprioritize.”

Mike Pappas, CEO of the Keyes Company, said both candidates seem to be aligned with real estate industry policies, like individual property rights, the right to fair housing and extensions of insurance programs. He did not vote for either DeSantis or Gillum.

Developer Avra Jain said she hasn’t been following the candidates on a business level and that she is focused on social issues when she votes. “Excited about Gillum for that reason!” she wrote via text.

Alicia Cervera Lamadrid, managing partner of Cervera Real Estate plans to vote for DeSantis in November. “He got the president’s endorsement, which seems to be counting as we look across the country,” she said.

Cervera, a registered Republican, said she likes “businesspeople in office,” adding that she is “not particularly fond of career politicians.” One important issue for the industry, she said, is renewing the policy that limits increases on commercial property taxes.

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Developer Jorge Pérez, chairman of the Related Group, said via email that Gillum seems like “a man with good ideas and heart.”

Pérez said he hopes to meet Gillum and discuss his positions, which he believes will be much more like his, as opposed to DeSantis, a conservative Republican. “From all I have read, I agree with Mr. Gillum’s positions on healthcare, education, affordable housing and the environment,” Pérez added.

Developer Jimmy Tate of Tate Capital supported Levine, but as a registered Republican, voted for Putnam. “From a real estate perspective, I think people are still digesting [the results of the election],” Tate said. “I’d like to learn more about Andrew Gillum. I think we know about Ron DeSantis.”

Tate, who’s leading the $1.5 billion redevelopment of Bahia Mar in Fort Lauderdale, said that climate change is the biggest issue facing the real estate industry, but that it will take more than just the governor to solve issues tied to sea level rise.

“I think we all want to cure the Everglades and mitigate the red tide. In my opinion, you can find solutions to that stuff,” he said. “Climate change is a federal issue, it’s a development issue. It’s going to require a collective effort to find a solution. Until that happens, no governor is going to solve that issue.”

He added, “You have two politicians running for governor with completely different backgrounds. The far left approach would be bad for business, and bad for Florida.”

Ron Shuffield, president and CEO of EWM Realty International, agreed that both candidates have extreme views, but said the state’s economy is going to do well regardless. “This has been a very active year in our industry, especially in terms of high-end sales,” Shuffield said.

Contributions from real estate players

Among the donations from real estate players to DeSantis:

  • Falcone and his wife, Mary Falcone, gave a combined $6,000 to DeSantis in April. Falcone declined to comment.
  • Paul S. Ferber and the Ferber Company each gave $3,000 in May.
  • Lawrence Moens of Lawrence A. Moens Associates, a top luxury brokerage in Palm beach, and his wife Virginia Moens each gave $3,000 in April and June. Moens could not be reached for comment.
  • Adelson and Miriam Adelson also each gave $3,000 in May.
  • Randy Perkins, a spec home developer, donated a combined $6,000 through the companies RP Capital Investment and Sea to Seaside LLC in August.
  • MG3 Developer Group contributed $3,000 in August.
  • Howard Rich, a real estate investor based in Philadelphia known for funding libertarian policies, gave $3,000 in July.
  • George W. Banks of Priderock Capital Partners also threw in $3,000 in July.

Among donations for Gillum, Dale Webb, an agent with EWM in Coral Gables, gave at least five $250 contributions between June 2017 and October. Real estate investor Andrew Korge donated $100 last year. Messam Construction of Miramar gave $3,200 between June 2017 and June of this year. D. Stephenson Construction of Fort Lauderdale contributed $2,500, and Eagle Brick Construction gave $500 in July 2018.