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Host of Florida Business Leaders Running for Office

May 25, 2010 - 6:00pm

Prominent business leaders are entering political races all across Florida, a reflection of voter discontent and continuing concern about the states poor economy and high unemployment rate.

When you see proven and successful business people seeking elected office, theyre fed up, said Russ Verney, a political consultant best known for serving as senior advisor to Ross Perots presidential campaign in 1992. Theyre fed up with politicians who do nothing.

In business, you dont talk about problems, you solve them, said Verney.

Business people are hoping that Florida voters agree that their skills and experience will help with the Sunshine States economic woes.

Two business leaders running for statewide office have generated a good deal of headlines lately as they begin to tap into their personal wealth to run television and media ads. Health-care executive Rick Scott is running against Attorney General Bill McCollum for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene is running for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination.

Both the Scott and the Greene camps have played up their candidates' business credentials and lashed out at officeholders.

Voters deserve to know whos failed and whos succeeded; whos a part of the corrupt political system and who is independent of it and will always put Florida first, said Paul Blank, a Greene campaign spokesman, in a release on Wednesday blasting U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, the frontrunner for the Democratic Senate nomination. Unlike the career politicians, Jeff Greene is the only candidate who has signed the front of a paycheck, not just the back of one and will create jobs and get results.

There are also prominent business leaders without elective experience running for Congress.

Bruce ODonoghue, owner of a traffic engineering business, is running in a crowded Republican primary to take on U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.

Vartan Djihanian, ODonoghues campaign manager, said that business leaders have experience that voters are looking for in these troubled times.

Speaking of business leaders, Djihanian said, They know what it's like to make a payroll or to make a budget. We need that in Congress today.

Economic turmoil and jobs are the top issues of the day, said Jon Miller, campaign manager and press secretary for Craig Millers congressional bid (the men are not related). Craig Miller, former president and CEO of the Ruths Chris Steak House chain, is running for the Republican nomination against U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas.

Craig Miller has created tens of thousands of jobs. Hes a guy who signed the front of checks more than the back of them, Jon Miller added, referring to his candidates experiences at Ruths Chris and Pizzeria Uno. Voters are looking for someone to take that kind of experience into Congress.

Dr. Rudy Moise, the president and medical director of Comprehensive Health Center in North Miami, is running in a crowded Democratic primary for the congressional seat that U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek is vacating.

Anastasia Apa, Moises campaign manager, said her candidate, who is facing a large number of officeholders in the Democratic primary, has benefited from being an outsider with a background in business.

All across the district, we find people who are out of work who want to send a smart, experienced businessman to Congress, said Apa, who pointed to Moises work in the private sector as attractive to voters facing economic hardships.

Campaign staff for the business leaders also say that voters have no faith left in career politicians.

Voters are tired of people who spent their entire lives playing political games, said Djihanian.

Its a sign of the times, said Verney on the number of business leaders running for office in Florida. Politicians have no idea how to solve the problems.

The phenomenon is not new at either the national or state level.

During the 1990s, businessmen like Ross Perot, Steve Forbes and Morry Taylor ran for the presidency. Earlier in the century, William Randolph Hearst, Owen Young and Henry Ford enjoyed presidential booms and Wendell Willkie, a utilities executive, pulled off one of the great upsets in American political history by winning the Republican presidential nomination in 1940.

Prominent businessmen have also run for office in Florida with mixed results. American Heritage Life Insurance co-founder Claude Kirk never held elected office before winning the gubernatorial election in 1966. Jack Eckerd, the founder of the drugstore company, ran for governor in 1970 and 1978 and for the U.S. Senate in 1974. John Peyton, currently serving as mayor of Jacksonville, was a vice president of Gate Petroleum before being elected to office.

Reach Kevin Derby at or at (850) 727-0859.

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