Miami’s mayor a magnet for Big Tech money

Billionaire tech investors and major developers have given nearly $2M to Suarez and his PAC

Miami Issue /
Apr.April 27, 2021 12:00 PM

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez (Photo by Sonya Revell)

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s call to make Miami the new Silicon Valley has Big Tech and real estate pouring cash into his coffers.

Newly minted venture capital billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya, crypto investors Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, Shutterstock founder Jon Oringer and others are backing the mayor’s reelection campaign this year to the tune of more than $2 million.

Suarez himself admits that many of the major tech players who have written checks “don’t even live in Miami, but have been excited by my vision.”

The mayor has embraced cryptocurrency and proposed building a high-speed tunnel with Elon Musk’s Boring Company to alleviate the city’s traffic woes. He said that the business community “can only vote by contributing.”

Ahead of the November election, real estate developers are also donating to Suarez’s campaign. Among them: The Related Group, the Chetrit Group, Fort Partners, Property Markets Group, Carpe Real Estate Partners, and an entity tied to the Melo Group.

Developers have always contributed to political campaigns, but for investors and entrepreneurs outside of South Florida, cutting a check could be a way to get in early with the next rising star, said Jennifer Connolly, an associate professor at the University of Miami who focuses on local governance.

“I think we’re in a phase right now of American politics where a lot of more visible or well-known city officials are creating names for themselves nationally and moving forward,” she said. “No one can predict the future, but I would not be surprised if Mayor Suarez has a political career ahead of him that reaches out of Miami.”

Omnipresence

The mayor is everywhere.

In addition to his press conferences and “Cafecito Talks” video series, Suarez has embarked on a public relations blitz to put Miami on the radar of Big Tech companies. He’s appearing on major news networks like CNN and keeping the conversation about Miami going all over social media.

He traveled to Las Vegas this year to tour the Boring Company tunnel in the hopes of bringing affordable, underground mass transit to Miami. He also recently proposed investing city funds in Bitcoin and giving city employees the option to be paid in Bitcoin.

Suarez’s responsiveness and accessibility could be another draw for business leaders, in addition to South Florida’s business-friendly tax environment.

“Very few local politicians have made such a strong push outside of South Florida,” said Miami broker Andres Asion. “At the end of the day, if 30 percent of the people end up staying, that’s an amazing 30 percent.”

Suarez’s political action committee, Miami For Everyone, has collected funds from a host of big names, according to a review of state campaign finance records.

Palihapitiya, an early Facebook executive and founder and CEO of Social Capital, has made the largest contribution, donating $250,000 to Suarez in January. Billionaire James Pallotta, founder of the investment firm Raptor Group, gave $100,000. Jon Oringer, the billionaire founder of Shutterstock who moved to Miami Beach last year, also donated $100,000. The Winklevoss twins each contributed $50,000 in February.

Billionaire Keith Rabois, a recent Miami Beach transplant, gave $50,000. The early PayPal investor and Founders Fund partner appears to have struck up a rapport with Suarez, recently tweeting that he had converted the mayor to Barry’s Bootcamp and making an appearance on “Cafecito Talks.” Oringer has been a guest on the show as well.

Marking its territory, Founders Fund, which is also led by PayPal co-founder and billionaire Peter Thiel, signed a long-term lease at a new Class A building in Wynwood.

“It’s a domino effect, because at the end of the day when these companies start bringing in 100, 150 engineers, those engineers have high paying jobs,” Asion said. “They’re going to rent and buy in the communities of Miami.”

Real estate investors taking note include entities tied to Fort Partners and its founder and CEO, Nadim Ashi. Those companies have contributed $35,000 to Miami For Everyone since February.

OKO Group, led by billionaire developer Vladislav Doronin, and an affiliate entity gave $50,000 to the PAC. David Levinson and Robert Lapidus, principals of New York-based L&L Holding Company, each contributed $10,000. L&L is partnering with Carpe Real Estate Partners, which also donated $10,000, to build a mixed-use project on the former Rubell Family Collection property in Wynwood.

Edgewater Management Services, tied to the Melo Group, contributed $50,000 to the same PAC. Melo has delivered 2,300 apartments in downtown Miami over the past four years, and has nearly 2,500 planned for the next two years.

In March, PMG gave $50,000, Ugo Colombo’s CMC Group gave $25,000, and Related’s PRH Investments gave $20,000.

Billionaire New York developer John Catsimatidis, who is working on a major project on the west coast of Florida, wrote a $1,000 check to Suarez’s campaign, as did Miami Beach-based commercial real estate brokerage Koniver Stern Group.

“I suspect the proportion of real estate [contributions] will probably grow, just based on the way things have gone this year,” Suarez said. “I haven’t put much energy or time into fundraising, even though I’ve been very successful at it.”

Despite having little power within the city of Miami’s government —  the city commissioner and city manager hold the most power — Suarez has kickstarted conversations with major tech firms and billionaire investors around the country.

“These people see an opportunity to support someone who may not have a great deal of policy-making power, but has the influence,” said Connolly of the University of Miami. “Maybe one of the reasons you donate is you want to be a part of this movement the mayor is building.”


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