TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine jumped into the Democratic primary for governor on Wednesday, promising to address climate change and to raise the minimum wage if he is elected.
“Today, here in Florida, it's time to do what is right,” Levine told supporters and friends in an announcement speech in Miami, echoing a phrase from civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.
“It's time to address climate change by changing Tallahassee's climate of denial,” said Levine, who was dressed in a dark business suit with a tie and white Adidas sneakers. “It's time to make a day's pay enough to avoid a lifetime of dread, fearing that one event, one illness, one bad break could break an entire family.”
Levine, 55, a wealthy businessman who has served two terms as Miami Beach mayor, is entering an already crowded 2018 Democratic primary, where former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King are vying to replace term-limited Gov. Rick Scott.
In outlining his agenda, Levine is not much different from his Democratic rivals, who also want to address climate change and raise the minimum wage. But Levine can point to specific efforts as mayor in dealing with the issues.
“We didn't ignore rising sea levels with rhetoric,” Levine said. “We took it on with state-of-the-art pumps, infrastructure and renewable energy programs that are now being studied, and recognized, as a role model for cities around the world.”
Levine said if elected he would also work to expand Florida's efforts in solar and renewable energy, adding it would be done with the government and private-sector innovators.
As mayor, Levine backed an effort to raise his city's minimum wage to $13.31 per hour by 2021, from the current $8.10. But after a challenge, a trial court found the measure violated state law, although the case remains on appeal.
A native of Boston and a graduate of the University of Michigan, Levine, who has lived in Florida since he was 10, said he started his own business career “with $500 and a pocketful of dreams.”
“That's why I am fighting for a statewide living wage, like the one we passed in Miami Beach, because it's not fair to ask anyone to work harder and harder, only to fall further and further behind,” Levine said.
At several points in his speech, Levine slipped easily into Spanish. “We will always be with Puerto Rico,” he said, referring to his efforts to help the island recover from Hurricane Maria, while criticizing President Donald Trump for showing up “with rolls of paper towels and a boatload of criticism.”
Speaking in front of a large image of President John F. Kennedy and invoking other progressive leaders, like Cesar Chavez, Levine said he would further outline his agenda for the state in the coming months.
But he talked briefly about changing Florida from “not just a service economy” but to an “innovation economy,” saying he would focus on Florida's Space Coast where efforts by entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are reviving the state's space industry.
He also talked about “rejuvenating” Florida's “deteriorating roads, crumbling bridges and depleted transportation systems with some of America's best and most up-to-date infrastructures.”
Although he is making his first statewide bid, Levine has some advantages, including being the only Democratic candidate from Southeast Florida, where a third of the state's 4.8 million Democratic voters live.
Levine, who has built a personal fortune by running media companies in the cruise industry, also enters the campaign as the leading fundraiser, with $4.7 million in his political committee, which includes $2.6 million from himself. In an interview with The Miami Herald, Levine said he could put as much as $25 million into the campaign.
Among his supporters who spoke at his rally were former Miami Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas and Anthony Shriver, a nephew of President Kennedy.
Shriver talked about Levine's work with the Best Buddies organization, which helps people with developmental disabilities. Shriver said Levine, who is on the group's board, has “gone above and beyond” in his efforts.
“There are many who are willing to write the checks, but there are few who are truly willing to put in the hours and the work,” Shriver said.
Levine was joined at the rally by his fiancee, Carolina Murciano. The couple has a 1-month-old son and two other children.
Graham, who made her gubernatorial announcement at a Miami-Dade County high school this year, wasted no time in showing she is ready to compete with Levine, announcing endorsements Wednesday from three South Florida mayors.
“As governor, she'll fight to create jobs, raise wages and build an economy that works for every Floridian,” West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio said in a statement.
The field of Democratic candidates could also grow, with Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan saying over the weekend at a gathering of state Democrats that he will make a decision about the race in the spring.