MANATEE -- Carlos Beruff saved his hometown for last Monday afternoon when he came back to officially announce his run for U.S. Senate -- for the fourth time since morning.
Starting at 9:30 a.m. Monday, the longtime Manatee County homebuilder flew between Miami, Jacksonville and Orlando to make the announcement in some of the state's biggest population centers. But he also made sure that a stop at home was on the list. In front of more than 200 local supporters at his company's Whitfield headquarters, Beruff talked himself up as a political outsider who wants to go to Washington, D.C. not out of the desire for a political career, but to cut government spending. He is running for the seat being vacated by presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio.
Other hot-button issues he listed during the event included closing the border between the U.S. and Mexico to illegal immigrants and increasing military spending with money cut from domestic programs.
He called the federal government "inefficient and unaccountable," and pledged to serve no more than two terms if elected. His approach to politics there, he said, will be much like the one he brings to leading his company, Medallion Home.
"I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I will work when I have to," he said. "And that's what Washington needs, people who will get up in the morning, go to work and do something besides just talk pretty."
Dressed in an indigo blue suit, white shirt and red tie, Beruff, 58, seemed at ease in front of his audience, which was peppered with other local builders, county commissioners and other officials from both Manatee and Sarasota counties. On a dais set in front of a pond behind Medallion Home's recently renovated headquarters, he keyed on his family history as a Cuban immigrant and his experience as a member of several state-appointed boards.
Born in Miami in 1958 to Cuban parents, he emigrated to the U.S. with his mother, sister, brother and grandmother in 1961 in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution. His family subsisted on government surplus food for part of his childhood, an experience he did not put into context until years later.
"I didn't know I was poor until I was an adult," he said.
Now the head of a multimillion dollar company, he has spent the past seven years building a political profile. He was appointed to the State College of Florida board of trustees in 2008 by then-Gov. Charlie Crist, and again in 2012 by Gov. Rick Scott. He is currently president of the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority and is a member of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud. Scott also named Beruff to his Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding last May.
He said he will resign from all of his board commitments to focus on the race.
He lists some of his top accomplishments on those boards as working to reduce the size of a proposed SCF library that is expected to be built for $25 million less than originally proposed. On Swiftmud's governing board, he took credit for dropping the agency's annual budget from $128 million to $68 million. Agency staffing was also reduced by almost 400.
Some of his other actions have brought controversy. As the president of the SCF board of trustees in 2012, he pushed then college president Lars Hafner to resign his post. More recently, he guided a proposal to abolish faculty tenure, which earned the SCF board a vote of no confidence from faculty.
And, last September, Beruff resigned his Swiftmud position on the same day he introduced a measure to grant a wetlands permit to fellow Manatee County homebuilder Pat Neal that gives him permission to remove mangroves at a Perico Island subdivision.
Beruff said he plans to resign from all his appointments to concentrate on his campaign, starting with SCF in the coming week.
He acknowledged his work has not pleased everyone.
"I didn't do it to be popular," he said.
But on Monday, the day he announced his Senate candidacy, there were no reservations among his supporters.
Jon Mast, CEO of the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association, attended the event as a supporter.
"It's exciting," he said of Beruff's campaign. "Carlos will bring his business sense and mind."
Pat Neal was also there. The former state senator was unflaggingly positive about Beruff, a man he calls a friend.
"If Carlos tells you he'll do something, you can take it to the bank," he said.
"All the people who love and support Carlos came out. He's smart, good with people's money, passionate about what he wants, a businessman. I think he'll make a wonderful U.S. Senator."
The multimillionaire candidate
Beruff said Monday he will self-fund his campaign at the start. He has already hired campaign staffers and plans to "fly and be everywhere" during his upcoming run for Senate. As time goes on, Beruff said he plans to accept campaign contributions.
According to the Federal Elections Commission, Beruff filed Feb. 25 as a candidate for Senate. Records show that the treasurer for his campaign committee is Eric Robinson, one of his fellow trustees at SCF.
While he has not yet released his personal financial information, Beruff does have a big-money track record in business. He is one of the most active homebuilders and developers in Manatee and Sarasota counties. According to property records, the companies Beruff controls personally or through business partners and Medallion Home executives and employees, make up his total Manatee County holdings at approximately 2,700 acres. Records show he paid more than $70 million for that property.
Medallion Home is a money maker, according to figures the private company has disclosed. It notched more than $100 million in sales in 2013, a record for the company. In a promotional and biographical video released by the campaign Wednesday, Beruff said Medallion Home has built about 2,500 houses over the years.
Beruff has gone up against government outside of his political appointments. He has waged a years-long battle with Manatee County over his proposed 3,200-home Aqua by the Bay subdivision at Long Bar Pointe. Blocked from developing a marina and other water and near-water uses on the property, he sued the county for $18 million late last year. The suit was dismissed in January.
Beruff and Aqua business partner Larry Lieberman have since filed an appeal with the Second District Court of Appeals in Lakeland.
That suit is one of three legal actions the Long Bar Pointe developers are pursuing with the circuit court. In addition, in July 2013, they filed against Manatee County seeking relief from a $2.35 million "special fee" related to the construction and expansion of El Conquistador Parkway. The road borders the Long Bar Pointe property.
On July 29, 2015, the partners filed another complaint, this one against Florida Power & Light. It alleges that the utility laid an underground and underwater cable outside its easement and on lands owned Beruff's and Lieberman's companies.
Members of Beruff's family were on hand for his announcement stops Monday, including his wife Janelle. The couple married in 2010 in Sarasota County. They have a 2-year-old son and are expecting their second child.
Beruff has been married previously. He married his first wife, Christine DeSantis, in early 1982. The couple divorced in 1996.
He joins a race already heavily populated by Republicans, including Reps. Ron DeSantis and David Jolly, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and businessman Todd Wilcox. Democratic U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson are also running.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.