How Miami Seduced Silicon Valley
Mayor Francis Suarez at Miami City Hall.
Photo: Ysa Pérez
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Silicon Valley’s favorite politician, Miami mayor Francis Suarez, has many lures to dangle when he’s wooing techies to relocate to his city. There’s the old sugar: low taxes and the Florida sun. As I sat across from him in his office at city hall on a recent afternoon, Suarez was telling a Zoom grid of fellow mayors that the view behind him — a vista of swaying palms, rocking boats, and gleaming water — was “not a virtual background.” The traditional charms have only been amplified in the COVID era: If you can work from anywhere, why not go where you can afford a better house for less, where you can be outside 365 days a year, where your favorite restaurants are opening outposts, where you don’t feel judged for your hustle?
It took a tweet, though, to ignite what Suarez calls “the Miami movement.” On December 4, Delian Asparouhov, a venture capitalist in San Francisco, posted, “ok guys hear me out, what if we move silicon valley to Miami,” and Suarez, lying in bed at home in Coconut Grove, replied, “How can I help?” Those four words got more than 2.7 million impressions. Ever since, Suarez has been on a mission to rebrand Miami — long a place to spend money, rather than earn it — as a haven for founders who feel underappreciated in more calcified urban climes. He bought (with money from a venture capitalist) billboards in San Francisco featuring his Twitter handle and an invitation to “DM me.” As he put it, “I saw the tsunami coming, got out my surfboard, and started paddling.”
The flood of new Miamians who have arrived, full or part time, during the pandemic includes tech investors (Peter Thiel, David Sacks), cryptocurrency bulls (Anthony Pompliano, Ari Paul), new-media tycoons (Bryan Goldberg, Dave Portnoy), start-up founders (Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, Steven Galanis), and many more who aren’t yet billionaires but think the Magic City will give them their best shot. They’re breaking sales records for dock-accessed mansions by day and packing the new branches of Carbone and Red Rooster by night. The boom is visible in the city’s crane-spiked skyline, too, with deals for Spotify, Microsoft, Apple, and TikTok either signed or in the offing. In greater South Florida, a related incursion by the finance industry — Goldman Sachs, Citadel, Elliott — is in full swing.
Wall Street may not be quaking over Miami’s ascendancy, but in the zero-sum game among cities, San Francisco is indisputably feeling some pain. In July, according to Redfin, Miami was the top migration destination for home buyers in the U.S., while San Francisco had the largest homeowner exodus. Suarez told me about a playful text he recently received from the mayor there, London Breed: “Stop stealing my techies.” He says he replied, “Sorry, London, I love you, but no.”
Already, Suarez has made gains in turning Miami into the most cryptocurrency-friendly city in the U.S. In the past six months, the world’s largest bitcoin conference happened here; a crypto exchange called FTX paid $135 million for the naming rights to the NBA arena (edging out the hometown porn studio BangBros); and a city-sanctioned currency called MiamiCoin debuted, generating millions in fees for municipal coffers. Suarez also accepts campaign contributions in bitcoin. He’s running for reelection this November and looks certain to win, thanks in part to hefty donations and cheerleading from Silicon Valley eminences. One of them, the crypto evangelist Balaji Srinivasan, has hailed Suarez as the “first of his kind, the first CEO of the city,” responsible for the Miami movement reaching “escape velocity.”
Convinced that this surge will last — that it will differ from so many earlier cycles of Floridian boom-and-bust transience dating back to the land rush of the 1920s — Suarez has ready answers for what he calls the “counter-narratives” about his city’s trajectory. Won’t all these fair-weather arrivistes go poof when the summer heat hits? Suarez notes that the bitcoin conference was in June and was so popular that $300 hotel rooms went for $1,200. Won’t melting ice caps turn Miami into a swimming pool? “A lot of people don’t know that New York has actually suffered more hurricane damage than Miami in the last ten years,” he says.
For all his enthusiasm, Suarez acknowledges that a robust tech ecosystem needs one thing he can’t simply market into existence: a standout university. (As a Florida expat told me, “It’s hard to find a company that grew to be worth more than $100 billion that wasn’t started within a bike ride of a world-class engineering department.”) To remedy this lack, Suarez, wearing a dark suit and patriotically striped tie, was at his desk one recent afternoon Zoom-pitching Randy Avent, the inaugural president of Florida Polytechnic University, a seven-year-old institution set in the soggy flatlands between Tampa and Orlando.
“No matter how good the MITs and Harvards are,” Suarez said to Avent, “what is the DeFi school or the crypto school? What is the blockchain school? I think there’s a huge opportunity there, and it’s an opportunity I don’t know has happened very often in the history of education. So I might want to explore with you the possibility of you creating a satellite campus here in Miami.” The city, Suarez suggested, could offer FPU some of its most valuable resource: land.
“One of the great things about a new university like us is that we can think top down,” Avent said, speaking with a Carolina drawl that belied the 20 years he had spent at MIT. In previous jobs, he said, he had encountered institutional gridlock. He seemed to be warming to Suarez’s proposal.
“I think the university class is getting it,” Suarez continued, referring to his prior efforts to convince a big-name program (Stanford? Technion?) to expand to Miami. “But I’m not sure they’re getting it with the same sense of urgency I’m feeling.”
Avent started spitballing technologies an FPU Miami might focus on, like autonomous vehicles, and Suarez smoothly steered the conversation back to the blockchain. “Like, I’m growing up, I’m a young man, I want to go into NFTs,” he said. “What’s the school I go to?” He throttled up his pitch: “I don’t think I’ve offered this to any of the other universities, ’cause it seems like you may be nimble and smart enough to take advantage of it — and small enough, in that obviously it’s not going to be 100 acres.”
He and Avent agreed to schedule a Miami visit soon to talk about specific land parcels. “I’m a very impatient person,” Suarez added, and he and Avent shared a laugh.
After Suarez ended the meeting, I asked where Florida Polytechnic is.
Where’s that? He smiled.
“The middle of nowhere.”
Keith Rabois, a partner at Founders Fund.
Photo: Ysa Pérez
The tech case for Miami isn’t wholly persuasive. (The most notable local start-up is a company that sells kibble.) But it is infectious. To visit here lately is to wonder, first, whether greater San Francisco has outlived its usefulness to the industry, and second, if this more libertine city, one that unblushingly loves rule-breaking and money, is a more natural home — and maybe even an accelerant — for the next generation of disruption fiends.
The day before watching Suarez at city hall, I met with Keith Rabois at a coffee shop called Dr. Smood in Wynwood, a buzzy neighborhood north of downtown where much of Miami’s tech scene is coalescing. Rabois (pronounced ra-BOY), who wore a polo shirt and lightweight slacks, is a partner at Peter Thiel’s $6 billion venture outfit, Founders Fund. In 2020, a fellow investor named Jack Abraham put a bug in his ear about moving from San Francisco to Miami; it buzzed louder after Thiel bought neighboring waterfront homes on the Venetian Islands last September. Before the year was out, Rabois had paid $29 million for a 15,000-square-foot house nearby, which includes a 5,600-gallon saltwater aquarium that can be maintained only by a scuba diver. “There are 13 fish,” Rabois told me. “I think they need a lot of room.”
Rabois now ranks second only to the mayor as Miami’s pitchman-in-chief. He estimates that he spends 15 percent of his time extolling the city, taking prospective relocators from the Bay Area around town. Although he described himself to me as “very introverted,” he has thrown himself into the subtropical lifestyle: Jet Skiing, leading Barry’s Bootcamp sessions for new arrivals, going out six nights a week. “It’s very common for me to be interrupted by someone coming up and saying, ‘I moved here because I read your tweets,’ ” Rabois said, his foot tapping with antsy energy.
“Everyone is just happier here,” he said. Rabois and Pete Gilligan, his chief of staff, had just returned from a meeting in San Francisco — their first visit in eight months. “It was depressing as hell,” Rabois said, frowning and shaking his head. “In the first 20 minutes after we landed, I said to Pete, ‘I can’t wait to get back to Miami.’ Detroit is a metaphor for the Bay Area. It was a thriving city with a very vibrant industry, and it completely collapsed of its own volition.” Nobody he knows in Miami has recently been a victim of a crime, he said, but in Silicon Valley, “every week, without exaggeration, someone in my life has their car broken into.” Rabois spoke contemptuously of San Francisco’s conflicting public-health mandates, which require masking in gyms but not while eating in restaurants. “As if a virus can discriminate between breathing over dinner and breathing over a treadmill,” he said. “It’s insane.”
Rabois — who has been ideologically in sync with Thiel since their days as right-wing provocateurs at Stanford — has dismissed concerns about sea-level rise as “fake news.” But even the more prosocial transplants I spoke to did not consider the issue a deterrent to living in Miami. They viewed it as a problem of the distant future — distant being a relative term among people who have made billion-dollar fortunes overnight. To them, floods are far less pressing than the chance of their California home being incinerated by a wildfire tomorrow.
At Dr. Smood, Rabois continued to tick off Miami’s selling points. He’s meeting a far more diverse set than he ever did in San Francisco, with more mixing of industries, nationalities, politics, and skin colors. Miami’s relative compactness shortens his commute and leads to serendipitous run-ins. Being in the eastern time zone gives him a leg up: “I’ve already read Twitter, worked out, and showered when West Coast people are just waking up.” And then there’s the social factor. Since December, he said, Miami had become home to “nine of my 12 closest friends.”
The bestie ratio is almost a meme.
“Five of my close friends bought in Miami in the last 12 months,” said Pamela Liebman, the CEO of Corcoran, who divided her time between New York and Florida for years but recently moved her office to Miami. “When I play at my golf club, there are more people I know from New York than I ever knew in Florida. Everyone you talk to in Miami tells you how many steps they did every day.”
“Nine out of ten of my best friends moved down here,” said Jeff Zalaznick, a partner at Major Food Group. He was in town with his family for spring break when COVID first struck; two months later, they decided to make their stay permanent. Now MFG is on track to open seven restaurants in Miami and Boca Raton by the end of the year. Roughly 100 employees have relocated from New York and Las Vegas, and Carbone and ZZ’s Club have become the city’s toughest reservations. “I just had that feeling, that energy, that positivity and optimism that for so many years I felt in New York — that intangible thing of people doing deals and wanting to do deals,” Zalaznick said.
“I’m not exaggerating,” said the academic and entrepreneur Scott Galloway, who lives in Delray Beach during the school year (and who co-hosts Pivot, a podcast from Vox and New York Magazine). “I’d say 50 percent of the people I know with a net worth over $10 million have contacted me in the last ten months asking for information about Florida schools and the lifestyle.”
“When I moved to Miami, I had no close friends,” said Bryan Goldberg, the owner of Bustle and Gawker, Zooming in from Ibiza with bedhead and large-format sunglasses. “By the time winter was over, I had made so many lifelong friends. It’s not so easy in your late 30s or early 40s to make new friends. It is in Miami, and I have.” He was one of several transplants who described Miami’s current vibe as like freshman-orientation week.
“What I never saw before,” said Craig Robins, the developer of Miami’s Design District, “was entire social circles from different parts of America deciding to make this their residency. Imagine you’re thinking, Oh, maybe I’ll move to Miami, and you were on the fence — and then imagine three of your five closest friends moved here. Boom. All of a sudden, the value proposition psychologically changed.”
Any claims about a vogue for Miami turning permanent must, of course, be viewed in context. “This is an economy that’s based on growth,” Carl Hiaasen, South Florida’s satirist laureate, once said. “Growth for the sake of growth. We don’t manufacture anything. We don’t produce anything, except, you know, oranges and handguns.” He was articulating an old truth: Florida’s economy has always depended on real estate and hospitality, which in turn rely on an endless stream of new arrivals. The result has been a series of bubbles and their aftermath — most recently, the national foreclosure crisis of 2007, which peaked here — leading some to nickname Florida “the Ponzi State.”
The speed of the ongoing invasion raises obvious questions about how well-considered it is and what the unintended consequences may be. On a Wednesday evening, I went to a bar in Wynwood for a regular tech-scene happy hour. The gatherings were co-founded by Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, a Cuban-born, Harvard-trained organizational psychologist who moved to Miami ten years ago. Five people attended the first happy hour, but during Miami Tech Week, the number hit 470, and this evening, more than 100 entrepreneurs and investors mingled in the outdoor space. As we sat talking, Martinez-Kalinina expressed a more balanced perspective on what was happening in Miami than most people I had encountered. She described herself as “excited for people to be here and very bullish on Miami” but was wary that the haste of the city’s push for investment and zeal to cater to the one percent could lead to a techlash.
Martinez-Kalinina was also clear-eyed about Miami’s more vexing problems. “I don’t just mean that we’re the capital of fraud in the country,” she said wryly. She knows that the short-term viability of the city is at odds with its long-term sustainability and that Florida’s real-estate–hospitality complex depends on glossing over deeper issues. She recognizes that many of the wealthy arrivals are perfectly okay with spending $20 million on a seafront property that will be worthless in a decade. Her concern is for the communities that currently occupy slightly higher ground and will inevitably be displaced by climate gentrification. And she thinks all the talk of sea rise occludes even more urgent problems like the loss of potable water. “Who,” she asked, before being rendered inaudible by a slider-happy DJ, “is going to talk about the fact that Biscayne Bay on many days exceeds the CDC-recommended parts per million of fecal matter?”
Restaurateur Jeff Zalaznick.
Photo: Ysa Pérez
Shit metrics were not on the agenda on a recent morning at Oren Alexander’s Flamingo Drive home, where two men were winching his speedboat into the Indian Creek Waterway so he could give me a tour of waterfront houses. With his brother Tal, who operates out of New York, Oren is the Miami-based half of Douglas Elliman’s lucrative Alexander Team brokerage. Eight years ago, he started selling condos in the new Faena House on Miami Beach. The buyers were the first wave of New Yorkers who would previously have gravitated to Palm Beach but suddenly wanted to own in Miami: Lloyd Blankfein, Larry Gagosian, Leon Black.
When COVID got serious, a lot of the Alexander brothers’ New York clients wanted to quarantine in Miami, and Oren found himself brokering rentals and handing out paddleboards. After a few weeks, many of those clients started asking to be shown properties for sale. “They were like, ‘I can never go back to New York,’ ” he said. His clients, according to public reports, include Ken Griffin, Kanye West, and Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. In a normal year, Alexander might hope to do $200 million in sales at best; by the end of 2020, he had represented the buyer or seller in deals altogether worth nearly twice that. These included what he said were the city’s three biggest condo sales of the year: $33 million, $35 million, and $37 million. This year has been even more “insane,” he said, with his sales in the first six months of 2021 exceeding half a billion dollars.
Alexander models the lifestyle he’s selling: He collects vintage Cohiba Esplendidos, his home office is adorned with Christopher Wool’s word paintings, and his Instagram account is a montage of golfing in the Dominican Republic, electric-foil-boarding in Malibu, and heli-breakfasting in the French Alps. The night before we met, he had motored an investor to the Bahamas to see a development before returning home for a table at Carbone. “Where else,” he said, “can you leave your home by boat and, after a ten-to-15-minute pleasure cruise, go have dinner at Zuma or Cipriani?”
We plied the Intracoastal Waterway, cruising north past Bal Harbour, a popular gated community right on the bay; Indian Creek Island, where the owners of its 32 homes, including Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen, enjoy their own police force; and North Bay Road, where Mickey Drexler owns three adjacent lots. “You really can’t touch any of these properties,” Alexander said. “I’ve knocked on every door. No one wants to sell. A lot of families have been here for a while.” Many enjoy homestead status with their properties taxed at relatively modest rates based on old assessments that would be impossible to duplicate elsewhere.
At the moment, his clients tended to be in cooler places like the Hamptons or the Riviera, but with the school year about to start, they would soon return, and “unfortunately, a lot of very wealthy people are homeless in Miami, in the sense that they can’t find a home. There’s just no inventory,” Alexander said. We were passing the estate section of Pine Tree Drive. “I sold this house designed by SAOTA for $23.75 million a couple years ago,” he said. “Today, I’ve said, ‘I’ll give you $40 million.’ He says, ‘I’m not leaving.’ ” Sellers keep pushing prices higher and higher. “The way today’s market works, you’re not just paying for the asset. You’re paying someone enough money for them to leave their home.”
Alexander had recently returned from a ten-day spearfishing trip in French Polynesia, and he played me a video of him “stoning” (delivering a kill shot to) a 100-pound dogtooth tuna. “Fuck yeah, buddy! Look at that doggy! Woo-hoo! Epic!” the camera holder yells as Alexander surfaces with the heart-impaled beast. On his boat, Alexander chuckled. There are similarities, he observed, between his hobby and his job. Unlike the passivity of rod fishing, where you cast a line and wait, when Alexander spearfishes, “I go down there, I look for the fish, I go after the fish. That’s kind of my business: I target sellers, I target buyers, I go after them.”
South past the Venetian and Sunset Islands, we reached Coconut Grove, where many clients, especially families with young children, are interested in moving. It has some of the best schools in South Florida, and Alexander had recently done deals there for $30 million, $48 million, and $65 million. As he piloted his boat, he was working all the while — shooting a video of a recently listed property, trading notes over the phone with another high-end broker, inspecting city records on a $44 million property. We glided past the homes of boldface names from quainter times: Barry Gibb, Adriana Lima, Harmony Korine, Don Johnson, Pablo Escobar. They paled beside the temples to new-economy money: There went the homes of crypto billionaire Michael Saylor, Rockstar Energy Drink’s Russ Weiner, WeWork founder Adam Neumann. Alexander said he too has become a crypto investor, and mansion sellers in Miami now routinely say they will accept bitcoin as payment. (In practice, though, blockchain people tend to want to hold on to their crypto. It’s their fiat money they want to get rid of.) Alexander mused aloud about whether there has ever been so great a transfer of wealth and capital in such a short time as the one happening right now in Miami.
The mansions were beautiful, but from other people — ones not in the business of selling them — I heard gently expressed fears. “All these historic houses in Miami are being demolished to create three separate $30 million houses on the same lot,” one lobbyist told me. “Not from a historic-preservation perspective but from an economic perspective, if at some point you have a market flooded with identical white-box houses in the $40 million to $50 million range, supply’s going to outpace demand, and it will all of a sudden implode.”
Miami mania is also putting pressure on the amenities enjoyed by all those new occupants of luxury condos and decamillion-dollar waterfront homes. The building trades are overwhelmed, boats are scarce, country clubs have five-year waiting lists, and the best private schools are impossible to get into.
The influx of wealth is, predictably, creating friction with less-moneyed residents and visitors. Near the Venetian Islands, as we passed a pontoon full of day-tripping kids listening to loud music, Alexander said, “This is a big issue. A lot of these guys are advertising on Instagram and picking people up off the causeway. I doubt they’re properly licensed.” A bridge up ahead started to close. “Let’s get this bridge,” he said, and sharply accelerated. Suddenly, a couple of Jet Skiers cut across our path. Alexander pulsed his horn — beep-beep-beep-beep-beep — and was forced to slow down. “This is one of the things I hate the most, okay,” he said, “because anyone can just pay a hundred bucks, rent a Jet Ski, and they tell them to go here ’cause you’re allowed to go fast in this zone. But this is like a highway, and people don’t know what they’re doing, and they’re just joyriding, going back and forth. People have been hit. As far as what I’m advocating for — get rid of all this. We’re a high-end town. These people that live here on the water are the highest-paying customers of the city. Protect them. Make sure they’re enjoying their time here so they continue to bring their friends and spend money here and so forth.”
We were arriving back at Alexander’s dock, and he nodded at a house across the water where girders were piled near the property edge. “This is what’s happening throughout Miami,” he said. “They’re raising seawalls everywhere.” Alexander opened an app on his phone and frowned. “We really need to lobby Apple Weather,” he said. “Just ’cause it rains for 30 minutes doesn’t mean you get to give us a rain icon for the day. It’s not accurate.”
Real-estate broker Oren Alexander.
Photo: Ysa Pérez
Perhaps the biggest preconception the authors of the Miami craze have sought to overturn has to do with work. The diligent labor of certain cocaine impresarios notwithstanding, Miami has long had a reputation for being all about hedonism — a bad fit for vitamin-D-deficient strivers who like to go on 24-hour coding jags. As one South Beach resident told me, “Crypto people throw the worst parties.”
Delian Asparouhov, author of last December’s Tweet Heard Round Palo Alto, was initially among those skeptical of Miami as a place to grind. Besides being a principal at Founders Fund, he co-founded a Los Angeles–based start-up, Varda Space, that aims to create zero-gravity factories beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Asparouhov flew to Miami last March for Rabois’s birthday party but only after clarifying for his girlfriend (now fiancée) his geographic intentions: “We looked at each other, and we said, ‘There’s no chance we move to Miami.’ ” He added, “And then, over the course of the week, I closed multiple term sheets while there, so I clearly was capable of being professionally productive.” He and his fiancée moved in April.
Asparouhov quickly fell for the city’s charms, not least its heterodox politics. “Miami is such a purple city,” he said over FaceTime from Bulgaria, where he was visiting family. “As an immigrant with more conservative political views than many in San Francisco, I felt more at home. I enjoy that in Miami, American flags are flown very proudly from houses and retail, whereas I can’t remember the last time I saw a flag hanging from a window in San Francisco. I felt unbounded in leaving.”
Miami has only grown on him. “I run into tech people all the time,” he said. “Like, walking my dog on Sunday at 8 a.m., chatting up some guy, he’s like, ‘I’m a PM at Coinbase.’ Of course you’re a PM at Coinbase, the one stranger I randomly talk to in the dog park.”
Asparouhov’s experience is at the crux of whether Miami can sustain a new identity as a tech hub. It used to be the case that the fatal flaw in basing a start-up here was the shallow pool of local talent and the limited desire of talent elsewhere to move. “I always had software-developer needs,” said Mike Komaransky of the crypto platform Grapefruit Trading, who moved from Chicago to Coconut Grove in 2018. “That’s changed completely. You can contact people in different states now and say, ‘Would you be willing to move to Miami?’ and not get an immediate no.” The same shift is true of capital. “It’s bizarre for local founders,” said Maria Derchi Russo, the executive director of Refresh Miami, a nonprofit created to foster the city’s start-up community. “They used to get on a plane to San Francisco to raise money. Now it’s a complete 180 where San Francisco VCs are saying, ‘I’m coming there to meet you.’ People are still in awe of that.”
It’s tempting to get swept up in all this, but when I called Billy Corben, he offered a dramatically different take on his city. Corben is the preeminent documentarian of Florida sleaze, most recently in the latest Netflix installment of his Cocaine Cowboys franchise, and on the phone, he was as quick to enumerate Miami’s flaws as everyone else was to rhapsodize about its allure. There were the record pediatric-ICU COVID admissions the city was experiencing just then. There were the king tides that foretell a perilous future: “We’re sinking. We’re one big hit from a Cat 3 hurricane from being the next city of Atlantis.” There was the collapse of Champlain Towers South, the result of the “generational incompetence of this government.” Corben pointed to the city’s rising cost of living and widening income gap, citing a United Way report from last year that found 54 percent of residents can’t afford to live in Miami-Dade County. “Mark my words,” he said. “In our lifetimes, we will see swamp favelas in Miami. We will see people building ramshackle tent villages in a swamp.”
In Corben’s view, the pandemic-era frenzy over Miami is just another South Florida real-estate hustle, one that will inevitably go splat, returning Miami to its age-old identity as “a sunny place for shady people.” He routinely mocked the invasive species that is tech bros, whom he calls “arroz con manbros,” and pointed out that several of the more prominent Silicon Valley transplants faced accusations of wrongdoing in California: Rabois resigned as COO of Square after an employee accused him of sexual harassment; the venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar left Sherpa Capital and Virgin Hyperloop One after Bloomberg reported that five women had accused him of sexual misconduct; and Emil Michael, a top executive at Uber, was pushed out amid an internal investigation into the company’s toxic culture.
Corben thinks the new arrivals are in for a rude awakening when they eventually grasp the deep-rooted tribalism and feuds of Miami politics. “When we hear people who’ve been in Miami for 34 days try to tell us what our community is and tell us about the competency and responsiveness of our government, it’s science fiction, a genre of Twitter. It’s all lies,” he said. Corben, who in his caustic Twitter feed likes to explain that Miami’s mayor has two private-sector jobs that are potentially rife with conflicts of interest, has variously derided Suarez as “a very bro-ey mayor” who “loves toxic masculinity,” “a hood ornament,” and “a Realtor dressed as a mayor.”
I saw Miami’s intractable politics intrude on Suarez’s tech aspirations one morning. Instead of attending the groundbreaking for a new office tower downtown, he was diverted at the last minute to a meeting with Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who was making an impromptu visit to Miami to confer with local politicians and activists about the humanitarian and political crises in Cuba and Haiti. Talking with Mayorkas at Ermita de la Caridad, a sacred site for Cuban exiles, Suarez aired the idea — popular among Miami’s Cuban community but not with the part of the Democratic Party that was mostly represented at the meeting — of at least considering military intervention.
Outside the church, the politicians’ entourages cooled their heels. Suarez’s body man showed off his Coinbase debit card to another local mayor’s digital director. His deputy chief of staff, who drives a Tesla and puts 80 percent of his monthly income into crypto, gently ribbed a social-media aide for not having bought ether when he told her to. “She’d have quintupled her money by now,” he said. Back at the office, they have a whiteboard with a ticker for the prices of bitcoin, ether, and solana, and they have discussed the possibility of turning the mayor’s “How can I help?” tweet into an NFT.
After the meeting with Mayorkas, Suarez was driven to a comedor — a community center for the elderly — to meet constituents and then stopped for a quick lunch on Calle Ocho. As we sat in the back corner of a fritas joint, he reminisced about the moment, last December, when everything changed. After his initial tweet went viral, he posted another 800 times that month. “It was all me, all hours of the day and night, two in the morning sometimes,” he said. Up to that point, his social-media output had been “typical politician stuff. I wasn’t really expressing myself in an unfiltered way, which is also very dangerous. But in doing it — this may sound hokey-pokey, but in a way, I found my voice. I realized I could be myself, and I wasn’t going to pay a consequence for that, and that people liked me for who I am and not necessarily for the generic, sanitized version of myself. And that was very liberating for me and, frankly, a huge confidence boost.” The 800 tweets got 27 million impressions. As we left the restaurant, a table of older Cuban men bantered with Suarez in Spanish. “You hear that?” he said, turning to me with a grin. “They said, ‘Stay with the technology.’ ”
As a pro-tech centrist Republican, Suarez has seen his national political profile rise of late: Besides making Fortune’s “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” list, he has been invited to the White House, met with Nikki Haley amid speculation that she was vetting running mates for a 2024 presidential run, and next year will become head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. But even some staunch supporters of Suarez wonder whether the entrenched Miami will stand in the way of the new.
When Formula 1, with Suarez’s support, wanted to add a downtown Miami circuit to its calendar a few years ago, the move was blocked by city commissioners. Suarez may walk on water with the tech crowd, one lobbyist said, but “in city hall, where his actual job is, he is constantly kneecapped and cut down by the old guard.” The Miami Cuban machine that dominates city politics is “very afraid of non-Cubans becoming a majority” and has little interest in seeing its power base diminished by all the wealthy non-Cuban outsiders arriving at Suarez’s invitation.
Suarez is also up against the state in which his city is located. “Florida is insane,” as one transplant put it. “Miami and Florida are different things.” While Suarez is a moderate Republican who favors mask mandates, the Trumpist governor, Ron DeSantis, has vigorously opposed them. On the day I was with him, Suarez and a local developer did a live remote with Bloomberg TV. Toward the end of the interview, the anchor started grilling Suarez on his differences with the governor. Afterward, Suarez turned to the developer’s PR person, who had arranged the interview, and said, “Thanks for prepping me for the DeSantis questions.”
DeSantis may have deeper objections to Miami’s becoming a tech tub. For one thing, according to a Republican political operative, DeSantis doesn’t believe Florida has sufficient high-end resources to accommodate hordes of rich newcomers. “When I spoke to him,” the operative told me, “I got the impression that the last thing he wants is wealthy Republican donors who moved from New York calling to complain about how they can’t get into country clubs.” DeSantis is also acutely aware of how neighboring states have drifted purple in recent years and of the effect the Austin tech boom has had on statewide Texas elections, which Republicans have been winning by increasingly narrow margins. “He’s like, Why do I want to incentivize companies that will bring thousands of employees, most of whom will hate me?”
Miami must contend, too, with lingering anti-Florida snobbery. The New York media investor Strauss Zelnick has told people, “I thought the whole reason we made lots of money was so we wouldn’t have to live in Florida.” And a New York hedge-fund executive who hasn’t moved suggested that the Delta-variant surge — and the attendant images of overrun ICUs — has dinged Miami’s glossy rebrand: “It doesn’t make it as attractive as it was six months ago, when a lot of my friends were saying, ‘It’s great down here, it’s paradise, it’s a great place to raise kids.’ They’re not trashing their decision now, but it’s weird down in Florida. There’s a chaos quality.”
On the ground in Miami, though, zeal reigns. “In the future, Miami is going to be the most important place to be for three or four months a year,” Bryan Goldberg told me with the full-blown fervor of a convert. “From December through March, it’s going to be the place to be, globally, for decades to come. I think that every ambitious business-person has to have a Miami strategy from this day forward for the rest of their lives.”