[Click here for a video of Romney’s response.] If Mitt Romney loses the presidency, pundits and TV talkers will undoubtedly assign some of the blame – or credit – to one evening he spent this spring at Marc Leder’s $3 million mansion west of Boca Raton.
Details about what Romney said there on May 17 are now coming out, thanks to a surreptitiously recorded video. Further complicating the mission of a presidential campaign struggling to gain the upper hand in the 24-hour news cycle, the Republican candidate described 47 percent of Americans as people who don’t take responsibility for their lives and think government should take care of them.
Romney’s self-inflicted wound came on a night when about 100 well-dressed supporters gathered for drinks and a sit-down dinner in a room with high ceilings and pale yellow walls to mingle with the candidate, hear him speak in an intimate setting – and feed the campaign’s already healthy bank account.
This wasn’t an evening of political war stories told over beer and bar nuts. It was a $50,000-a-person affair at Leder’s six-bedroom, nine-bath house in the gated Long Lake Estates community in unincorporated Palm Beach County. The wealthy neighbors include one couple who spent $155,000 to clone their dog.
Romney sat down for a few minutes, ate quickly and then spoke extemporaneously for about 45 minutes.
No one in the room reacted when Romney made the comments, said a major Republican donor who was present but didn’t want to be identified to avoid attracting national media attention.
“Everyone kind of got it,” the attendee told the Sun Sentinel. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”
Much remains unknown. No one is disputing that the recording took place in Leder’s house. But it’s unclear how someone could have pulled it off. Mother Jones, the liberal magazine that posted the video on its website Monday, has been mum on identifying who shot the video.
Romney’s comments rocked the political world and brought a burst of national attention to the South Florida financier who hosted him.
Leder is part owner of the Philadelphia 76ers NBA basketball team, and co-chief executive of Sun Capital Partners. The private investment firm is focused on leveraged buyouts and other investments – the same way Romney amassed his fortune at Bain Capital.
Leder isn’t talking. Boca Raton-based Sun Capital referred calls to a New York public relations firm, which issued this statement on his behalf and declined further comment:
“I hosted a fundraiser for an old friend in May. I believe all Americans should have the opportunity to succeed, to improve their lives, and to build even better lives for their children. I have supported people from both political parties who share this view and make it a priority, even though their ideas on how to achieve it may differ.”
Interviews and public documents paint a picture of the Wharton School graduate and former Lehman Brothers executive as a shrewd businessman with a lavish lifestyle.
Sun Capital’s portfolio includes more than 70 companies, many of which are household names: Boston Market, Smokey Bones, Gerber Childrenswear, Hickory Farms, The Limited, Friendly’s.
The firm specializes in targeting unprofitable or underperforming businesses, with the aim of turning them around, but often involves dismantling companies and selling off assets.
Friendly’s, the family eatery and ice cream parlor, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011, court records show.
“Friendly’s used the Chapter 11 process to close restaurants, cut jobs and terminate pensions for roughly 6,000 workers and retirees,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
One company that Sun Capital closed, in 2008, was Jevic Transportation, in southern New Jersey. It then filed for bankruptcy. About 1,500 workers were let go.
“I had a job on Sunday, no job on Monday,” said William J. Brown, 57, of Burlington, N.J.
Brown earned $800 a week, driving a forklift for the freight shipping firm until he got word of the closing, via a Federal Express letter to his home.
“They just closed the doors. Stopped medical and everything,” Brown told the Sun Sentinel in a phone interview. He said he hasn’t worked in over a year, and that he is among the people Romney talked about who pay no federal income tax – not because he doesn’t want to, but because he has no job.
Now 50, Leder married his wife, Lisa, in 1986. She filed for divorce in Palm Beach County in 2009, after 22 years and three children.
The divorce became fodder for the New York tabloids, which chronicled Lisa Leder’s determined quest for half of her husband’s stake in Sun Capital and referenced her admitted affair with her children’s tennis coach.
The legal paperwork filed for the divorce paints a picture of a very rich couple who lived a regal lifestyle, with residences in Boca Raton, Lake Park and the ski resort town of Stowe, Vt.: “The parties enjoy a very high standard of living including multiple multi-million dollar homes, private jet travel and other luxuries.”
Their vehicles: an Aston Martin convertible, a Bentley convertible, a Cadillac Escalade, a Lexus, a Volvo and a Toyota.
Lisa Leder described her then-husband as a “very successful private equity investor with enormous annual income.”
She estimated the couple’s worth at more than $400 million, including her husband’s share of Sun Capital and ownership interests in 80 companies “through a series of domestic and Cayman Island corporations, partnerships and other entities.”
Lisa Leder hung up when reached on her cellphone by a Sun Sentinel reporter Tuesday.
Though he lives in Palm Beach County, Leder doesn’t get involved in local politics. “He’s a national guy,” said County Commissioner and former Boca Raton Mayor Steven Abrams.
Federal Election Commission filings show Leder’s given more than $140,000 in the last eight years, mostly to Republican causes, but also to a smattering of Democrats. He’s also given $225,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Romney.
Yet he’s not much for one key aspect of politics: voting. Of the 23 primaries, runoffs and elections since he registered to vote in Palm Beach County in 1995 – the same year he founded Sun Capital – Leder has voted eight times.
Staff researcher Barbara Hijek and staff writers Marc Freeman, Brett Clarkson, Ed Komenda and Anne Geggis contributed to this report.
[Click here for a video of Romney’s response.]
Read more at: South Florida Sun-Sentinel