By Jim Bleyer
Sure, the legendary Wall Street misanthrope Gordon Gekko is more chiseled and less rumpled than Tampa wheeler dealer Jeff Vinik, but there is no argument the duo share many characteristics.
Both are charming, manipulative people whose goal of enhancing their personal fortune overrides a social conscience. They both exploit working people for their own gain. The key characteristic of sociopaths is that they have very little regard for others.
Gekko and Vinik made their dough risking other people’s resources. Both want to enhance their riches with no regard for the “little people.” Both came under scrutiny from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Both utilize misinformation to bolster their business empires.
In Gekko’s case, he squashed labor unions to profit from a company liquidation. Vinik has no qualms burdening the poor and working class with a regressive sales tax increase to finance a $15 billion ludicrous, unspecific transit plan that will bail out his far-behind-schedule Water Street Tampa project.
The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms, greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.
Greed has been good for Gekko and Vinik.
Vinik grew up appropriately in Deal, NJ, less than 60 miles from Wall Street where vulture capitalist Gekko plied his trade. The town is a tiny enclave of less than 1,000 permanent residents, about half the number during Vinik’s years there. Deal made headlines nine years ago when some high-profile citizens were arrested in an elaborate international money laundering scheme that stretched to Switzerland and Israel.
Wikipedia lists 15 “notable people” from Deal including Vinik, philanthropist Huntington Hartford, and Patti Scialfa, Bruce Springsteen’s wife and member of the E Street Band. As a senior, Vinik wrote in his high school yearbook, “It’s not how you play the game, it’s what college you get into.”
The former Boston-based hedge fund manager reinvented himself in Tampa where many residents remain unaware Vinik managed two underperforming hedge funds, endured ethical controversies involving his management of the funds, and that he was a target of several shareholder lawsuits and an SEC investigation.
He initially ran Fidelity Magellan, the world’s largest stock mutual fund at the time, only to step down in 1996 after a costly bet on Treasuries.
Just prior to his departure, the New York Times reported: “In the last six months, shifts in the fund’s portfolio have been relentlessly scrutinized and roundly criticized as its performance lagged further and further behind the overall stock market. More than a dozen lawsuits have accused the 37-year-old Mr. Vinik of stock manipulation, contending that he extolled a stock in public to keep its price up as he quietly sold large holdings -a claim that he denies.”
A year later, Fidelity Investments paid about $10 million to settle a lawsuit against the company and Vinik, its former manager. Plaintiffs claimed he misled individuals into buying Micron Technology stock at the same time the Magellan Fund he managed was selling the stock.
The class-action lawsuit accused Fidelity and Vinik of fraud.
Fast forward to 2018, eight years after Gekko found redemption. Vinik and his new Tampa cronies have bought their way onto the November ballot by spreading influence with several million dollars.
To date, a key divergence between the two men has been the punishment and rehabilitation of Gekko per the far less popular 2010 sequel, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” In it, Gekko is released from prison after serving time for insider trading and securities fraud. Instead of a villain, Gekko becomes the protagonist.
The sequel did not transfix the public because the average Joe is drawn to scoundrels more than Boy Scouts. It was widely reported that many young people gravitated towards careers on Wall Street because of the Gekko character. Likewise, Tampa developers, land use attorneys, engineering firms, and others who will profit from the transit scam have latched onto Vinik’s coattails.
The downtown Tampa business crowd supporting the regressive tax see themselves as profiteering from a light rail corridor that will displace minority communities and be financed by working class families.
These special interests would welcome this boondoggle on the backs of the poor and middle class while “gentrifying” East Tampa’s African American community who would be wedged out. The working class and minorities be damned.
There is no way these pompous heavy hitters, most of whom believe the “Elliott Wave” is a surfing maneuver, will divorce themselves from an immoral, if not criminal, venture if it means surrendering enormous profits.
The Tampa NAACP last week called out Vinik and his minions declaring the transit plan is misleading, oppressive, and for the benefit of special interests. The influential organization’s president Yvette Lewis declared afterward, “it’s simple. We are advocating a ‘no’ vote.”
The NAACP, like the Martin Sheen character in “Wall Street,” calls out the manipulation, greed, and disregard of the working class. Sheen, a labor union official in the movie, told his son Bud Fox, “Stop going for the easy buck and produce something with your life. Create instead of living off the buying and selling of others.”
The false narratives began the very moment Vinik’s cabal started collecting ballot petitions. The Gekko-inspired lying persists in the mainstream local media, particularly the financially-reeling Tampa Bay Times that Vinik rescued with a temporary cash infusion last year.
In another stunning parallel, Vinik has his own Bud Fox, Gekko’s ambitious underling and front man depicted by Charlie Sheen. Tyler Hudson enjoys that role for Vinik, rolling out presentations and misinformation on behalf of the corrupt transit package.
Vinik plays the Tampa establishment and media like a slide trombone and has them eating out of his greasy palm. Besides Gekko, Vinik sort of reminds one of this guy: