Stephen Ross and Norman Braman are both likeable men whose good intentions and heartfelt desire to do what’s good for South Florida are surpassed only by their gift for making gobs of money in their chosen businesses. There’s no reason these two shouldn’t get along.
Both love professional football, Ross as the owner of the Dolphins and Braman as the former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles. Both backed and voted for the same presidential candidate. Both call South Florida home and are active in charitable endeavors.
But these gentlemen have been on a collision course for some time, and try as they might to understand or compromise with each other, they have for several years been at opposite ends of a fundamental question.
Now, that question — whether the Dolphins should get public funds to go along with private money Ross is putting up for upgrades to Sun Life Stadium — is not just a wedge issue between the men, but a personal issue.
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That’s why in the last round of local elections, Ross backed one set of candidates and Braman countered by backing the opposing set. That’s why Ross’ right-hand man, Dolphins CEO Mike Dee, the past couple of days called Braman “irrelevant” and “a bitter man” and something of a hypocrite in public, while Braman, among confidants, has referred to Dee as “an [expletive].”
Don’t be shocked. Privately, Ross has said on multiple occasions Braman is “full of [expletive].”
Dee on Wednesday said Braman took public money to fund his car dealerships, and Braman on the same day accused the Dolphins of paying for union thugs to picket his downtown Miami car dealership and try to do the same at his home in Indian Creek community.
Braman and Ross both play to win. Both play hard.
And, ladies and gentlemen, in this match of South Florida pillars, it is on.
“He has been the recipient of tax credits from the state as well as city of Miami community redevelopment money invested directly into his dealership and his businesses, so obviously he doesn’t have a problem with governments participating and partnering with business,” Dee said.
“So his issue with us must be personal or unique and set apart from his own practice.”
“He’s crazy. It’s nonsense. He’s talking about job credits everyone is entitled to. He’s talking about job credit dollars we received because we hired people during the recession. We did something that was good for people that needed work. We did something good for the county.
“That’s not what the Dolphins or Mike Dee are talking about doing with what they’re trying in the Florida legislature or in county government. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Braman insists his issue with the Dolphins, with Ross, and with Dee is not personal. He insists he’s simply fundamentally opposed to any public funds going to help a billionaire grow his private business, “because it’s not right. I’ve been consistent on this for the longest, longest time.”
Braman says he has known Ross for 30 years, and when the idea of tourist tax dollars to upgrade Sun Life Stadium was first raised by the Dolphins in 2011, he met with Ross and explained his stance.
“I told him I’m happy to meet, but I’m not going to change because this is a matter of principle for me,” Braman said.
Ross called Braman about a month or two ago to try to resolve the philosophical differences between the parties as the current round of work toward financing the stadium project began. The Dolphins tell me at the end of that phone conversation, Braman promised to think on the talk and get back with Ross.
He never called back.
“He asked me what, if anything, could be done to get me out of this,” Braman said. “I haven’t changed my view.”
In addition to his ardent opposition of public funds — despite accepting the CRA funds and 2008 tax credits to his dealership — Braman still is steaming over what he calls an attack on him and his business by Ross and others when they sent picketers against him.
“It’s not personal for me,” Braman said. “But Ross decided to make it personal back in August. Ross and [Marlins owner Jeffrey] Loria and [Dolphins vice chairman and partner] Jorge Perez paid for pickets. They paid for this. They paid these people to demonstrate outside my dealership. They paid for buses and sent them to my home. They also called me a racist.”
The pickets did indeed happen. It was not an organic demonstration. Someone opposed to Braman paid those people to march. But the funding source is hard to tie directly to the Dolphins with certainty. So I don’t know whom to believe.
“Let me be clear, we had nothing to do with protestors at his home or business. That is not a tactic we would ever employ or endorse,” Dee said. “Regardless, the fact that this is driving his opposition is stunning.
“A bruised ego does not justify a personal crusade against a project that will create thousands of jobs and help even more working families by bringing economic activity to our county over the next three decades.”
The amazing thing is this issue of tourist and other tax funding for Sun Life Stadium upgrades still hasn’t shifted into top gear. If and when the issue is finally set for a countywide vote, each side will almost certainly do what it can to sway voters.
So this fight, already raw, already competitive and even personal, has the potential to get really ugly.