Miami-Dade County

The Marlins feud continues: David Samson slams county mayor — and his taste in art.

David Samson during a 2016 news conference while president of the Miami Marlins. Although the franchise sold for $1.2 billion last year, he’s continuing a long-running feud with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
David Samson during a 2016 news conference while president of the Miami Marlins. Although the franchise sold for $1.2 billion last year, he’s continuing a long-running feud with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

Former Marlins president David Samson unloaded on Miami-Dade’s mayor Thursday amid a fight over profit sharing, saying Carlos Gimenez was “not a good mayor” who had a “vendetta against a short Jewish guy” while refusing to support his hometown baseball team.

In an interview on Dan Le Batard’s 790 The Ticket radio show, Samson criticized Gimenez for virtually boycotting Marlins games while mayor (including a no-show during Miami’s first-ever All-Star Game last year). Former owner Jeffrey Loria recently told Miami-Dade it is entitled to no revenue from his $1.2 billion sale of the Marlins to Derek Jeter and partners, despite a 2009 profit-sharing deal tied to the county building Loria a stadium in Little Havana.

“This was something negotiated by me and the county and the city back in 2009. … It has nothing to do with Mayor Gimenez and what my view of him is as a mayor who is not a good mayor,” Samson said as the hosts laughed. “It is totally irrelevant what he or anyone else thinks. It is right there in the contract.”

Gimenez voted against the 2009 stadium deal as a county commissioner, and backlash against the publicly owned $515 million ballpark — with about $150 million from the Marlins and the city of Miami spending $100 million on parking garages — helped propel him to the mayor’s office in 2011.

On Thursday night, Gimenez issued a statement brushing off Samson by comparing him to Public Enemy No. 1 in the eyes of many Miamians.

“I am as worried about him criticizing me as I am if Raul Castro were criticizing me,” Gimenez said.

Samson’s and Loria’s tenure at the Marlins left them some of the most reviled executives in sports, thanks to the unpopular stadium deal, payroll cuts and poor performance on the field. The new ballpark opened in 2012 but has struggled with attendance ever since. In his interview, Samson said attendance was the top liability for the money-losing franchise. “We just couldn’t get enough fans,” he said.

Samson said he thought the Miami ballpark could generate between $7 million and $10 million a year from a title sponsor, but that backlash against the franchise scared away naming-rights buyers. “I was never able to secure a deal at a price I thought was worthy of the naming rights,” he said, “because there was so much noise — and negativity — surrounding the Marlins.”

Gimenez has raised the possibility of suing Loria over the former owner’s attempt to pay the county nothing from the profit-sharing deal.

The mayor has embraced Jeter, including saying publicly he might help the new owner remove the county-owned ballpark’s “home run sculpture,” a seven-story commissioned piece of art that is both loved and loathed for its kitschy, colorful presence off center field. Celebrated pop artist, Red Grooms, submitted his concept for the sculpture at the urging of Loria, a friend.

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The home run sculpture in the outfield of Marlins Park. Mike Ehrmann Getty Images

Jeter has privately told Gimenez he doesn’t want the sculpture there, and the mayor has said in interviews that he doesn’t like it. Samson on Thursday said Gimenez is “a man with no taste in art.”

In his statement, Gimenez had a comeback to that, too. “I certainly appreciate Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Raphael, Monet and Sargent,” Gimenez said. “These are artists who, after his public dollar windfall, Mr. Samson may actually be able to afford one of their works.”

The back-and-forth was another milestone in a public feud that has simmered for years. As mayor, Gimenez publicly touted his decision not to attend Marlins games and urged prospective owners not to keep Samson in the front office when Loria began courting buyers last year.

“For a mayor not to support his hometown sports team is absurd,” Samson said Thursday. “For a mayor not to support programs and companies that want to do business in your community that are charitable — that are great philanthropic partners — because of some personal, vindictive vendetta against, you know, a short Jewish guy, that’s his own business. If he wants to run his county that way, let him.”

Asked by a host the relevance of Samson being short and Jewish, Samson responded: “Maybe if I were tall and a goyim, I would have gotten along well with him. I have no idea.”

The radio exchange came near the end of a light-hearted interview about Samson running a grueling series of daily marathons in a global tour that had him waking up to race in a different city each day. The interview eventually turned to the recent controversy over Loria’s claim of a paper loss on the sale under the terms of the 2009 agreement with Miami and Miami-Dade. Samson mentioned Gimenez in response to a question about the county’s profit-sharing deal.

Samson was once Loria’s stepson and served as his top deputy in the Marlins organization, running the team on a day-to-day basis and presiding over negotiations for the 2009 stadium deal. His first comments on Gimenez being “not a good mayor” sparked some chuckles from hosts, with Le Batard asking Samson whether he enjoyed “bleeping over” Gimenez.

Afterward, Samson described the comments as him trying to match the humorous tone of the popular sports talk show, which features Samson as a regular guest with commentary on sports, movies and other topics. Samson said his “short Jewish guy” comments were meant as “self-deprecation” and “radio humor.”

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