Last night, Hillary Clinton graced an undisclosed Miami Beach location with a $50,000-a-plate dinner hosted by sugar tycoon Alfonso Fanjul. This morning, as the dust from Clinton's motorcade settles over South Florida, New Times examines a few of the candidate's biggest local donors.
The names come from a recently released list of boosters who have each helped raise more than $100,000 for Clinton this election. (During the 2008 campaign, these megadonors were called "Hillraisers," until someone in Clintonland figured out that "raising Hill" didn't exactly jibe with Clinton's message of steady, responsible government. They're now called "Hillblazers," which takes care of that problem but also doesn't seem to make any sense.)
They include a scandal-ridden member of her State Department team, two pot advocates, the man running to be the first ever openly HIV-positive congressman, and a slumlord who allegedly took a New York housing project for a $40 million ride. For better or worse, these are the ten most interesting Hillblazers in Florida this year.
10. Fred Cunningham, Palm Beach Gardens.
Fred Cunningham is an attorney with the law firm Domnick Cunningham & Whalen and a former president of the Florida Justice Association. In 2013, he was part of the legal team that represented Trayvon Martin's family in a wrongful death suit against the homeowners' association that put George Zimmerman in charge of the neighborhood watch. The family reportedly settled the suit for more than $1 million.
9. Mitchell Berger, Fort Lauderdale.
After the Sunshine State royally screwed up the 2000 election, Mitchell Berger was one of the lawyers fighting on behalf of Al Gore to demand a recount in Florida. He was forever immortalized as a character in the 2008 movie "Recount" in which, as one reviewer described it, "a splendid cast mostly just sits around watching the bad news on television." Berger has stood with the Clintons since he served on Bill's transition team in 1992. When he married Sharon Kegerreis, a partner at his law firm, in 2013, the couple got a shout-out from an even bigger Clinton supporter:
8. Christine Jennings, Sarasota.
Christine Jennings, a retired banker, had a Bush v. Gore-style election debacle of her own in 2006, when she ran for Congress as a Democrat from Florida's 13th district. She lost by 368 votes – but, somehow, more than 18,000 of the 237,861 electronic ballots cast that November recorded no vote in her race. Ultimately, a judge ruled that Jennings could not examine the voting machines' code to determine if they malfunctioned. Her Republican opponent, Vern Buchanan, held onto his victory. Jennings ran again in 2008, but after spending much of her campaign attacking Buchanan for allegedly not paying his income taxes, Jennings' 2006 campaign failed to pay $70,126 in payroll taxes, IRS documents showed.
7. Brian Goldmeier, Miami.
Brian Goldmeier is a Dade County rainmaker recently cited for helping Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez raise more than $3 million for his 2016 reelection campaign. Still, even while praising his fundraising efforts, Gimenez's finance chair, Ralph Garcia Toledo, called Goldmeier "one of the great pains in the asses I’ve ever met in politics or in life." Curiously, when he's not fundraising for Hillary Clinton, Goldmeier also raises money for Miami-Dade Commissioner Lynda Bell, who the Florida Bulldog describes as "one of the most conservative Republicans on the county commission." (Bell served as president of the anti-abortion Right to Life group and posed for a Dade County library poster holding a copy of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.)
6. Bob Poe, Orlando.
Bob Poe, a businessman, former state Democratic party chair, and candidate to represent Florida's 10th district in Congress, announced in June that he is HIV-positive. If elected, he would be the first ever openly HIV-positive member of Congress and one of the legislature's few openly gay members. Independently wealthy after founding a company that sold emergency communication systems to local governments, Poe is largely funding his own campaign for the Congressional seat vacated by incumbent Daniel Webster.
5. Ben Pollara, Coral Gables.
If Florida legalizes medical marijuana this November, it will be largely thanks to Ben Pollara, who manages United for Care, the group organizing support for Amendment 2. Pollara's first campaign to legalize medical marijuana was narrowly defeated in 2014 after Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson poured millions into opposing legalization in Florida. Incidentally, Pollara will be available to answer New Times readers' questions about legalization later this afternoon via Facebook Live.
4. John Morgan, Heathrow.
John Morgan, another legalization backer, chairs United for Care and has personally sunk more than $2 million into the fight for medical marijuana. However, he provided fodder for the antilegalization campaign in 2014 when he told a raucous crowd at a "Yes on 2" rally, apparently after downing more than one cocktail, "If you motherfuckers don't get up and vote, fuck it all, we can't win." The opposition quickly spliced a cell phone recording of the event into one of the attack ads that preceded Amendment 2's narrow defeat in 2014.
3. Dawn McCall, Miami Beach.
Hillary Clinton didn't have a monopoly on State Department scandals during her term as Secretary of State. Dawn McCall served under Clinton as coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs, which, according to its website, aims to make U.S. foreign policy "relatable and understandable" to people using tools like social media. But in 2013, the inspector general found that McCall had spent $630,000 in taxpayer money to boost the number of "likes" the State Department got on Facebook. Republicans jumped on the apparent mismanagement and declared it was "time to unlike" Hillary Clinton. The report also found that "a pervasive perception of cronyism exists in the bureau, aggravating the serious morale problem" and that "many staff members described the bureau atmosphere as toxic and leadership’s tolerance of dissenting views as nonexistent."
2. Andrew Korge, Miami.
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Andrew Korge would very much like to be a state senator next year but apparently isn't so keen on having to campaign for his seat. The first-time candidate initially announced that he would run against incumbent Republican Senator Anitere Flores in District 39. But in June, he dropped out of that hotly contested race and switched to District 40, where he might have a better shot at winning. Less than a month later, though, he was under investigation for allegedly trying to pay his primary opponent, incumbent Democrat Sen. Dwight Bullard, $25,000 to run in another district. The investigation is ongoing, and Korge and Bullard are both still in the race. Korge also happens to be the son of Clinton megadonor Chris Korge, who is also on the list of this year's Hillblazers.
1. Elaine and Gerald Schuster, Palm Beach.
There's a lot of loyalty between the Clintons and the Schusters. Elaine and Gerald Schuster belong to one of 12 American families that have given to every national Clinton campaign since 1992. In exchange, the Clintons have stopped by the Schusters' $15.6 million home in Palm Beach at least twice this year for fundraisers. But the Schusters' real estate firm, the Continental Wingate Company — the source of their wealth and, therefore, their friendship with the Clintons — is haunted by a multimillion dollar embezzlement scandal.
In 1999, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development accused Continental Wingate of siphoning off $1.4 million in taxpayer money it was supposed to use to renovate the Jose DeDiego Beekman Houses, a public housing project in the South Bronx. Three years earlier, Continental Wingate defaulted on six of its eight mortgages on the Beekman Houses, forcing the HUD to take them over and pay off $27.4 million in loans, according to the New York Times. By this point, 80 percent of Beekman's housing units did not meet the HUD's basic housing quality standards. City Limits reported in 2001 that Wingate "has yet to pay a cent toward the rehabilitation of the buildings it bled." They noted that, all told, "It looked an awful lot like a $40 million bailout of a wealthy and politically connected slumlord."