JTA: Can a Jew from liberal Miami Beach be Florida’s next governor? Philip Levine is betting yes.

November 20, 2017

One candidate for governor is a former congresswoman and the daughter of a former governor and U.S. senator. Another candidate is a mayor who grew up in a blue collar African-American family. A third political newcomer is a Harvard graduate who builds affordable housing.

Florida has been known as a place where candidates of diverse backgrounds make a name for themselves. But in statewide races it generally hasn’t included Jews, at least in recent decades.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a wealthy businessman with a knack for drawing attention to himself and his city’s struggles with climate change, is hoping to become the exception. With Florida set to elect a new governor in 2018, Levine is the only candidate among the serious contenders who is Jewish.

While some political observers question whether a Jew from liberal Miami Beach can win in a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1994, Levine sees that as nonsense.

“I knew this African-American guy, believe it or not, who won the state twice and was elected president of the United States twice, and an older Jewish guy almost got the Democratic nomination for president,” he says. (Barack Obama carried the state in the 2008 and 2012 elections. In the 2016 Florida Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders in a landslide.)

The last Jews elected statewide were in the 1970s: U.S. Sen. Richard Stone and Attorney General Robert Shevin.