miami scene Stanley Tate, here in his Miami office, continues to be a powerful but quiet force in the Republican Party.
The Miami powerhouse helped rescue the nation’s banking system in the ’90s. Now, at 85, he says he has one priority: turning back Obama’s policies.
ow do you explain to your wife that there’s an FBI agent with a gun sleeping on the living-room couch?
That was the dilemma that Republican legend Stanley Tate faced after he answered the call by two U.S. presidents to clean up the savings and loan crisis that rocked the nation in the early 1990s.
“We started closing banks — and not everyone was happy. I began getting death threats at the little apartment where I was living outside Washington,” the fit and twinkle-eyed Tate, now a young 85-year-old, remembers.
“One message that was recorded said, ‘We’re going to get you — you’re a dead man, Tate.’ Two armed FBI agents moved into the apartment to protect me just before my wife Joni, who didn’t know anything about the threats, came up from Miami to visit. When I picked her up at the airport, I told her carefully, ‘I just want you to know you’ve got to wear a dressing gown if you want to go to the bathroom, because there’s a guy sleeping in the living room.’”
His 65- year marriage to his sweetheart Joni survived the ordeal, Tate says with a chuckle.
Tate is telling tales, but he’s not telling everything he knows. His humble office in North Miami just off of Biscayne Boulevard suggests, to the unknowing, a modestly successful businessman still active in retirement.
Tate, who has been dubbed the “mayor” of these parts, in fact has been hugely successful in business and remains a powerhouse figure in national political and financial circles (in the 1970s, Tate served as mayor of Bay Harbor Islands, a small municipality in Miami Dade County).
His successful reign under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton as chairman of the Resolution Trust Corp. or RTC, the agency that managed and liquidated banks’ assets in the wake of the S&L crisis, still fuels Washington mythology. Few have forgotten the farewell bombshell he dropped in his 1993 resignation letter to President Clinton.
There were no platitudes from Stanley about leaving “to spend more time with the family.” Instead, he wrote: “Mr. President, Washington is a vicious city . . . full of rumors, allegations, and accusations, without much, if any regard for truthfulness or factuality.”
Heading the RTC was just one of many achievements in the long life of a remarkable businessman who has been a powerful, quiet force in GOP circles for decades.
Tate came from modest beginnings, paying for college with his tips as a waiter and parlaying a $6,000 loan to buy his first Miami house in 1948 into a real estate development business today that grew into a diversified billion-dollar empire. Along the way he’s owned hotels, banks, steel and auto parts manufacturers, and even the celebrated Studio 54. Hard to believe that straight-laced Republican Tate once found himself operating New York’s trendiest disco, but it’s true.
MOVER AND SHAKER Stanley Tate with Mitt Romney. In 2012 he served as co-chair of Romney’s Miami-Dade campaign.
GOP VIP At left, Tate with then-Gov. Jeb Bush (center) and U.S. Army Gen. James T. Hill at a ceremony in 2003 presenting Florida Prepaid College scholarships to the children of parents lost during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Above, with George and Laura Bush at the president’s Crawford, Texas, ranch in 2005.
When club owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager went to jail for tax evasion, Tate bought the nightclub directly from the IRS. When Rubell and Schrager were released from prison, he immediately hired them to help him run the club.
It was “a wild club in every respect” he recalls. “The business was also incredible. On some nights we made more than a million dollars cash.”
From his six-story Miami office he built years ago, he commands a far-flung operation that includes offices in China, London, and New York. Today, Tate Enterprises is largely run by his two sons, Kenny and Jimmy, with the elder Tate giving overall guidance. Focusing between business and politics is easy and automatic for him.
He remembers getting active in the 1950s as a Republican. As a Jew, he often found himself alone among friends who strongly identified with the Democratic Party. But Tate joined a small coterie of successful Jewish businessmen like Michigan’s Max Fisher, who made it acceptable for Jews to proudly wave their GOP credentials.
In his windowless conference room, three walls are covered from floor to ceiling with pictures of Tate alongside almost every American president and political figure of import in his lifetime.
He fondly points to one of President George W. Bush and him in Crawford, Texas. During the Bush presidency, Joni and he were stay-over guests at the ranch.
Tate was always amazed by President Bush’s energy. “He was up very early, like 6 a.m., and he was right to work. I remember he would spend the morning on the phone, often with the families of servicemen. He was a very heartfelt man. One day after he ended a call, tears were streaming down his face. He had a gotten off the phone with a 7-year-old boy whose father had died in combat.”
ate uses his influence for the causes he believes in. He passionately supports Israel. In fact, he is the only living founding member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group formed in 1954. Tate’s just off the phone complaining to Washington friends about the Obama administration’s recent agreement with Iran. He says its nuclear program will prove a disaster for Israel and the world.
“The negotiators think they’ve stopped Iran,” Tate pauses, then snaps, “They haven’t. They’ve given them the opportunity to continue to develop a nuclear bomb. It’s a dumb agreement. I’m scared of [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani and the ayatollah. The Islamic movement wants the rest of the world to do it their way, or get out of the way.” The world is going to hell in a hand basket, Tate posits, largely due to one person: Barack Obama.
“I was thrilled when Obama was first elected,” Tate recalls. “I said, ‘Only in America could a black man from a poor family become president.’” But it didn’t take long for the thrill to wane. “He’s got an ego second to none, and he doesn’t like me, and I don’t like him,” he says. “We’re philosophically miles apart.”
“I believe education is the backbone of democracy, the backbone of America. The prepaid plan was designed for families who wanted their children to have a better job and a better life than them.”
Tate says he met Obama in the early days of his administration, in an Oval Office sit-down with the idea that the man who helped save the nation from the S&L crisis could help the man who just inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. He says the president was, at first, cordial, and noted to him the significance of the room.
“With all respect I was in this room before you were born,” Tate recalls telling the president. Tate had been suggested to the Obama White House as a possible candidate to head up the FDIC. Tate told the president, “I’d be happy to consider the job, subject to me bringing my own people who can make the changes we need to do.”
Tate says Obama told him he would need people recommended by the White House. It was a deal breaker. Obama abruptly ended the interview by saying “the interview is over.”
“I am convinced that Obama will turn out to be the worst president this country has ever known,” he says. “More and more people are becoming aware that he isn’t the savior he and his followers thought he was. I don’t care for him, not so much for his healthcare, though I have lots of objections to that, but because he doesn’t believe in the Constitution or the concept of America that says we have rules and should abide by them. You can’t run this country like a dictatorship.” Strong views for sure, but Tate is not one to pull punches no matter how powerful the person is with whom he is speaking.
He’s legendary for sitting at his desk until after midnight dictating into his recorder letters and emails for his circle of friends, people like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Eric Cantor, Mitt Romney, John Boehner, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and hundreds of others who fill out his Rolodex. The influential Ros-Lehtinen, former chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says Tate is a significant influence on her life and politics. “He has known me practically all of my life since my parents and I fled from communist Cuba,” she says, adding that when she decided to run for Congress, Tate was one of the first people she turned to for counsel.
On a host of issues, including matters involving U.S. policy toward Israel, she says she continues to seek out his “sound judgment.”
Tate still sees the GOP as the best hope for the country. He was Miami-Dade co-chair of Mitt Romney’s campaign, and insists that Romney would have become a memorable president by concentrating on the “disastrous” economy.
He says the GOP needs to find a leader. Tate previously lauded Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan as hopefuls. “There are a few people I think have potential, but they’re not as well known as those people who think they will run. I’m reasonably sure Hillary will be the Democratic candidate, and I think it would be wrong to run a campaign against her. We should be running a campaign for a candidate who’s better than her.”
His favorite for 2016 is a surprise: former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton. “He is certainly one of the most eligible men I have known,” Tate says of Bolton. “He’s extremely knowledgeable on foreign affairs and a team player getting exceptional people around him.”
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fter decades of business and political success, Tate says the accomplishment he’s most proud of is founding the Florida Prepaid College Program that has helped more than 480,000 people graduate from state colleges in the last 26 years. “At least 75 percent of them were kids from low-income families who would never have been able to afford college otherwise,” he says.
Tate came up with the model plan, since copied by states around the country, for parents to buy tuition, payable in monthly installments over 18 years, at the cost prevailing not when the students actually entered college, but at the time they were born.
“I believe education is the backbone of democracy, the backbone of America,” he insists. “And the prepaid plan was designed for families who wanted their children to have a better job and a better life than them.”
He’s personally boosted the plan’s funding by $600,000, and the amazing role he has played in Florida education was highlighted when then-Gov. Jeb Bush called him one day in 2006. “He told me, ‘Stanley, I’m going to give you a present: I’m changing the name of the program to the Stanley Tate Florida Prepaid College Program.’” Tate thanked Gov. Bush and remembers telling him he created the program to help “low income people get a higher education, so that this country remains strong for a long time.”
Jeb Bush’s admiration for Tate’s accomplishment has not waned. He tells Newsmax: “Stanley Tate has been a champion for children for decades. Thanks to his leadership and tireless efforts, more Florida students have been equipped to achieve their dreams. His lifetime of service is an inspiration.”
But Tate thinks his work is not done. It won’t be, as long as Barack Obama is in the White House, he says.
As originally published in Newsmax magazine.
Tate opening image/michael price / romney, president bush/courtesy of stanley tate / jeb bush/AP IMAGES / children, murphy/courtesy of stanley tate / studio 54/john p. kelly/redferns/getty images / cover: laflor/vetta/getty images