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Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Fo­cus On/Se­cu­rity -

pri­mary. Yet as the GOP splits over Trump, Ru­bio may still be hop­ing he can pull off an upset in his home state and siphon del­e­gates away from the front-run­ner ahead of a con­tested con­ven­tion.

If Ru­bio has any chance at all, it’s for the same rea­son Bra­man adopted him in the first place: He’s younger, fresher, and less ter­ri­fy­ing than his op­po­nents. But ter­ri­fy­ing plays well these days. And af­ter Trump’s vir­tual sweep of the for­mer Con­fed­er­acy, Ru­bio ap­pears to be in a win-florida- or-bust sit­u­a­tion. Con­ser­va­tive So­lu­tions, the proRu­bio su­per PAC Bra­man has con­trib­uted to, plans on spend­ing $5 mil­lion in Florida ahead of the win­ner-takes-all- del­e­gates March 15 pri­mary.

When I first in­ter­viewed Bra­man in De­cem­ber, no­body re­ally ex­pected the Trump thing to last. “I’m not los­ing any sleep about it,” Bra­man said, sound­ing wise. “You al­ways have that in­fat­u­a­tion with a pub­lic fig­ure who’s been on tele­vi­sion and so forth. I mean, this coun­try does not em­body the mean­ness and nas­ti­ness of Don­ald Trump. It’s not what this coun­try’s about. That’s why we have such great phi­lan­thropy.”

It’s un­clear if Bra­man has be­gun to lose sleep over Trump’s sus­tained dom­i­nance. He didn’t an­swer fol­low-up calls and e-mails; he did have his sec­re­tary send me a link to an ar­ti­cle about the $10 mil­lion he gave Ge­orge­town last month for Holo­caust re­search. This much is clear: The Bra­man-ru­bio dy­namic car­ries with it a dif­fer­ent im­pli­ca­tion than it did just a few months ago. When we spoke, Bra­man em­pha­sized he wasn’t ex­pect­ing a quid-pro-quo post in a prospec­tive Ru­bio White House. Now he seems like a po­ten­tial li­a­bil­ity. To win the GOP nom­i­na­tion, Ru­bio has to shed his image as a sput­ter­ing, empty-suit au­tom­a­ton propped up by es­tab­lish­ment cash.

“I told you why I be­lieve in Marco Ru­bio, [and] I do,” Bra­man said. “There’s been noth­ing in the world per­son­ally that Marco Ru­bio’s ever done for me, my fam­ily, and I’ve never asked him. But I just don’t like the idea that Marco Ru­bio isn’t stand­ing on his own two feet.”

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op­er­a­tion. That in­stantly cre­ated prob­lems. Com­pli­cat­ing the process, ac­cord­ing to an ac­count by jour­nal­ist Mark Bow­den, was a false mar­riage Bra­man ar­ranged in 1973 to save a Pe­ru­vian house maid from de­por­ta­tion. The Depart­ment of Jus­tice, Bow­den re­ported, balked at the idea of an INS nom­i­nee rip­ping loop­holes in im­mi­gra­tion law. Bra­man with­drew his nom­i­na­tion.

(When I asked Bra­man about the false mar­riage, he replied: “That’s non­sense. That’s the first I’ve heard of this in a very long time.” He said he with­drew “be­cause my wife wouldn’t go to Wash­ing­ton with me, and also it was the height of the re­ces­sion.” He needed to tend to his deal­er­ships, he said.)

Bra­man, still rich, still bored, treaded wa­ter for a few years be­fore de­cid­ing to buy his home­town foot­ball team, the Philadel­phia Ea­gles, in 1985. His ten­ure isn’t re­mem­bered fondly in the city. “He bought the fran­chise and im­me­di­ately showed him­self to be the pro­to­type of the rich, Scrooge Mc­duck guy who had a lot of money, let you know it, and wasn’t go­ing to spend it on what he con­sid­ered at the time to be ridicu­lous NFL salaries,” said for­mer Philadel­phia In­quirer Ea­gles beat writer Glen Mac­now, who now does sports ra­dio in the city. “He charged his play­ers when they would take ex­tra san­i­tary socks out of the locker room. So play­ers would get, at the end of train­ing camp, an item­ized bill.”

Bra­man cut some of the best play­ers, hiked ticket prices, and paid the coach­ing staff the low­est salaries in the league. Ed Ren­dell, then mayor, used his name in opin­ion polls as a kind of gauge of un­pop­u­lar­ity. Ea­gles coach Buddy Ryan dubbed Bra­man, who had a sum­mer pad on the Riviera, “the guy in France.”

In 1991, sev­eral months af­ter he fired Ryan, Bra­man paid $3.9 mil­lion for a 19,000-square-foot man­sion on ex­clu­sive In­dian Creek Is­land, which at the time was the prici­est home pur­chase in Mi­ami his­tory. (In­dian Creek Is­land is a speck of land in Bis­cayne Bay that has an his­tor­i­cally anti-semitic golf club ringed by 40 homes. Jay Z and Bey­oncé lived there for a while.) Bra­man planted a Claes Olden­burg sculp­ture in a chil­dren’s nurs­ery and turned a swim­ming pool into a wine cel­lar.

In 1994, Bra­man sold the Ea­gles for $185 mil­lion, $120 mil­lion more than he’d paid nine years ear­lier. Fol­low­ing the sale, he re­treated to Mi­ami for good and re­made him­self anew, this time into a civic vig­i­lante with a pas­sion for bud­getary pru­dence.

“The par­ties are bulls---,” Bra­man said, pan­ning the club scene at Art Basel Mi­ami. Bra­man, who was in­stru­men­tal in bring­ing the De­cem­ber art fair and celebrity bac­cha­nal to Mi­ami 15 years ago, wasn’t ea­ger to dis­cuss Paris Hil­ton’s DJ set at the W, or Adrien Brody’s de­but paint­ing ex­hibit, Hot Dogs, Ham­burg­ers, and Hand­guns. What gets Bra­man off about Art Basel is all the fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity. “Art Basel is like hav­ing a Su­per Bowl here ev­ery sin­gle year with­out one cent of tax­pay­ers’ dol­lars,” he said, sit­ting on a fold­ing chair in a lounge area at the Mi­ami Beach Con­ven­tion Cen­ter. “They pay the nor­mal rent for this fa­cil­ity.”

Bra­man has pas­sions. He’s build­ing a mu­seum that will bor­row from his bil­lion-dol­lar per­sonal col­lec­tion, which fea­tures works by Pablo Pi­casso, Jasper Johns, Alexan­der Calder, Mark Rothko, and Damien Hirst. And he has causes. He used to chair the Greater Mi­ami Jewish Fed­er­a­tion and helped erect a Holo­caust Me­mo­rial in Mi­ami Beach. (He’s also anti-hubris: When a group of lo­cal pols plas­tered their names on the me­mo­rial, Bra­man at­tempted to pry off the plaque with the back end of a ham­mer.) Higher ed­u­ca­tion, med­i­cal re­search, op­po­si­tion to casino gam­bling—the list goes on. “When it comes to non­elected civic lead­ers, it’s ba­si­cally Nor­man Bra­man and every­body else,” said Mi­ami poll­ster Fer­nando Amandi.

His fis­cal mono­ma­nia, though, is what’s made him a fix­ture in the city. “My fa­ther never earned more than $75 a week. So I find it in­cred­i­bly trou­bling that when there are dol­lars that are out there to ad­dress [real] prob­lems, that peo­ple who are worth bil­lions of dol­lars steal the tax­pay­ers’ dol­lars,” he said. “I don’t be­long and give any money to Grover Norquist’s or­ga­ni­za­tion. I’m not in that an­ti­tax move­ment. It’s not my b----. My b---- is how the tax money is uti­lized.”

Bra­man waged his first bat­tle in 1982, when Mayor Mau­rice Ferré pro­posed a 1¢ sales tax to re­tool the Or­ange Bowl. Bra­man heard the news, bought a bunch of ra­dio spots, and de­bated Ferré one-on-one. The tax failed. In 1999, Bra­man jet­ted back from his home in France to fight another 1¢ sales tax that would have funded pub­lic tran­sit. He won that one, too. In 2010 he ini­ti­ated and bankrolled a vote to re­call Mayor Car­los Al­varez, who’d sup­ported a pub­licly funded, $634 mil­lion sta­dium for the at­ten­dance-poor Mi­ami Mar­lins. Al­varez lost, badly, and was last seen com­pet­ing in body­build­ing com­pe­ti­tions. In cer­tain ways, Bra­man re­sem­bles a South Beach ver­sion of Noah Cross, the John Hus­ton char­ac­ter in Chi­na­town— an un­elected ty­coon who runs a city by con­trol­ling its pub­lic re­sources. And why not? Taxes, mass tran­sit pro­grams—these aren’t things auto deal­ers tend to sup­port. Un­sur­pris­ingly, Bra­man has made en­e­mies. “When peo­ple cross him, he does ev­ery­thing he can to elim­i­nate them,” said lob­by­ist Chris Korge, who bat­tled Bra­man dur­ing a sep­a­rate sta­dium fight. Many Mi­ami­ans, though, view him not as a vil­lain but as a check against a cor­rupt po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment. The year of the re­call, a poll asked if Bra­man was a “prin­ci­pled com­mu­nity ac­tivist” or a “wealthy trou­ble­maker.” Just 12 per­cent went with trou­ble­maker.

The per­cep­tion that he op­er­ates out of prin­ci­ple rather than self-in­ter­est has in­oc­u­lated Bra­man to some de­gree from crit­i­cism that he’s cor­rupted Mi­ami’s demo­cratic process. “Whether you agree with him or not, he’s his own man,” said Aaron Pod­hurst, chair­man of the Pérez Art Mu­seum Mi­ami board of trustees. “He does what he wants to do. If a per­son crit­i­cizes Nor­man, it doesn’t mat­ter to him.” Stephen Helf­man, a lawyer for In­dian Creek Vil­lage, con­curred. “He can go about his life, and live his very nice life, and he’s not af­fected by pretty much any­thing. So he lives out his prin­ci­ples.” Ferré called him “a very sin­cere doc­tri­naire.”

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