The latest Republican to hop into Florida’s competitive U.S. Senate race made millions as a home builder in Manatee County, where has lived for more than three decades.
So why did Carlos Beruff start his campaign Monday morning in Miami?
Because this is the city where he was born and spent his childhood.
“It’s where I started as an American,” he said. “So I felt that was an appropriate place.”
In an interview leading up to his announcement, 9 a.m. Monday at a Vicky Bakery on West Flagler Street, Beruff wouldn’t go into much detail about his platform. He wouldn’t say if he’ll follow in the footsteps of his ally, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and self-fund his campaign.
“I haven’t gotten any checks yet, so I guess I’m self-funding at this point,” he quipped. (He then sounded like someone who will soon be saying yes to checks: “I plan on doing what needs to be done.”)
Beruff also declined to pick a presidential candidate ahead of Florida’s March 15 primary: “I’ve stayed on the sidelines –- and I’ve found it very entertaining.”
And when asked about his position on U.S.-Cuba policy, Beruff, who has sounded keen on lifting the trade embargo, called President Barack Obama “the world’s worst negotiator.”
“He didn’t negotiate a good deal, but do I want Cuba to open if we had gotten a really good deal? Of course,” he said. The embargo, Beruff added, shouldn’t be lifted “unless we start getting a whole lot more stuff,” including “reform” in the detention of political prisoners.
Beruff’s mother was in Miami in 1958 to stay away from Fulgencio Batista’s Cuba, he said. The family returned after Fidel Castro’s revolution, only to be disenchanted and leave again, this time for good, in 1961, according to Beruff. Only his grandmother, mother and siblings moved to Miami. Beruff wouldn’t see his biological father again for another two decades.
His parents were involved in a failed attack on the Cuban presidential palace in 1957. His stepfather, the late Coral Gables jeweler Carlos Tepedino, was involved with the CIA.
“You own a jewelry store in the Havana Hilton, you get to meet a lot of interesting people,” Beruff said.
Beruff left Miami at age 12 when his parents moved the family to New York. He returned to Florida in 1973 to attend boarding school in Howey-in-the-Hills, about 40 miles northwest of Orlando. Though he attended Stetson University for a semester, and later the University of South Florida, he never graduated college.
It was in Manatee-Sarasota that he got his start in home building, in 1980. He made much of his money during the real-estate boom, after, he says, “crazy things started happening” with skyrocketing home prices that he couldn’t explain.
“I sold 90 percent of my inventory not because I thought I was the smartest man in the room but because I thought I was the dumbest guy in the room,” he said. “As it was, I got out in 18 months, almost at the very top, and two years later I looked like I was a genius.”
His interest in politics began after being appointed to various state boards beginning in 2008. At the South Florida Water Management District, he claimed, “there were all kinds of things that these people were doing that were not illegal, but they were less than fiscally responsible.” He brought that to the attention of then-state Sen. J.D. Alexander, who pushed to cut the water management districts’ property-tax rates. (The cuts were later deemed to have been too drastic to sustain Everglades restoration and other water projects.)
That experience led him here, Beruff said.
“Last October, some friends called me up and said, ‘There’s really nobody in the Florida Senate race that has any business experience,” he said. "I really think that you need to have people in Washington that really know how to do something other than talk pretty."
Here are excerpts of Beruff's announcement, as released by his campaign:
“I’m a husband and father, I’m a homebuilder, I’m a Florida businessman. But most of all I’m a proud American, and like many people, I’m fed up…This country that has given me so much is on the verge of slipping away from us. That’s why today, I am announcing that I am running for the U.S. Senate. I’m not running with permission from Washington. It’s time to get rid of the Washington political class, and bring in a whole new crop of people who will not accept the failures of our federal government, and who won’t take no for an answer…
When my mother fled Cuba and raised us here, I won the lottery because I was able to grow up in the greatest country on earth – The United States of America…This next chapter of my life isn't a choice for me, it's an obligation. I believe that I have an obligation to my family, and every American who loves this country like I do…
“Obama has taken us down a socialist path…creating a culture of government dependency…weakening our military…and harming our economy with regulations that kill jobs. The bottom line is that the Obama administration thinks MORE government is the solution. Government IS the problem, not the solution. My name is Carlos Beruff and I’m running for the United States Senate, because it’s time to put America First.”