By Jim Bleyer
One spends millions to improve the environment; the other greases the palms of public officials in exchange for political favors.
One spends millions to help the country’s youth become politically engaged; the other bribes his local paper for favorable coverage.
One is substance; the other is facade.
Despite similar backgrounds, Tom Steyer is considered selfless and determined to improve society while Jeff Vinik pulls political and media levers for self-enrichment.
Upon leaving his private equity career, Steyer launched NextGen America, a non-profit organization that supports progressive positions on climate change, immigration, health care, and education.
Upon leaving the hedge funds he managed, Vinik purchased sports teams, the influence of the Tampa Bay Times, and property in downtown Tampa for a projected $3 billion development that is now floundering.
Apprximately $250 million in public funds have been spent to further Vinik’s project, known as Water Street Tampa. Vinik has asked the Florida Legislature to create a special taxing district which would help bail out Underwater Street Tampa.
Authority for taxation would be akin to the Reedy Creek Improvement District (Disney World) and the special taxing district created for The Villages, a haven for wealthy, conservative retirees.
Steyer established the Fair Shake Commission on Income Inequality and Middle Class Opportunity, intended to advocate policies for promoting income equality. He is one of 40 billionaires, along with Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, to sign the “Giving Pledge, a commitment to contribute at least half their wealth to philanthropic causes.
Last year, Vinik sponsored a highly-touted convening of Millennials. Organizers boasted 800 attendees. Media sources told Tampa Bay Beat there were less than 200. Worse than the hyperbole was that the meeting produced nothing but favorable coverage.
It was called the First Annual Millennial Impact Forum but Last Annual Millennial Non-Impact Forum would have been more accurate.
Steyer and his wife Kat Taylor put up $22.5 million to start a community development bank, for the purpose of providing commercial banking services to underserved businesses, nonprofits and individuals. They also created the One PacificCoast Foundation to engage in charitable and educational activities, provide lending support, investments and other services for disadvantaged communities and community service organizations in California.
After Vinik made a substantial political contribution to Florida Governor Rick Scott, he signed off on the move of the University of South Florida College of Medicine to Vinik’s downtown project. There have been numerous “sweetheart deals” involving Vinik including his ill-fated infatuation with the Museum of Science and Industry.
We could go on: Steyer’s modest lifestyle vs. Vinik’s garish ways, for example. For more detailed info about Vinik, check out the related links below this article.
The similarities between Vinik and Steyer ended more than two decades ago.