FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Story of Leonard Abess, Banker

In his first speech to Congress, President Obama briefly bonded with popular outrage at Wall Street’s excess and greed. He picked a counter-note from South Florida: “hope is found in unlikely places,” the president said, “I think Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him.”

A Miami banker’s story is an unlikely place for positive news these days. The markets for condos, platted subdivisions, and commercial real estate in South Florida are in broad disarray. Miami is, in addition, the political epicenter of the housing boom that propelled Jeb Bush, a developer’s developer, to the governor’s mansion in 1998, long before 9/11 gave Alan Greenspan the excuse to cut interest rates to historic, low levels; rescuing American investors mainly terrified by the collapse of the dot.com bubble.

Florida’s bankers and builders had earlier conceived powering the engine of the state’s economy with financial derivatives tied to loans and mortgages: It all began in farmland and wetlands and ring suburbs, where opportunism meshed the interests of New York financiers, local bankers, real estate speculators, mortgage companies, and elected officials who deformed the purposes of government to zone platted subdivisions and condo canyons like there was no tomorrow.

In early 2008, the Spanish bank Caja Madrid paid $927 million in exchange for an 83 percent stake in City National Bank founded by Abess’ father, Leonard L. Abess, in 1946. The bank grew steadily and then rapidly on successive waves of real estate development that, in the final phase of the housing boom, fed insatiable demand for obscure and risky financial instruments that are plunging world economies into the deepest economic crisis since the Depression.

The Abess family have been prominent Miami philanthropists for decades. In 2007, Leonard Abess and his wife, Jayne, received the highest award of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. Buried in the Chamber press statement: the fact that the Abess’ also contribute to the environment.

“Jayne and Leonard Abess are devoted environmentalists,” reads the Chamber press statement. “They created the Abess Center for Environmental Sciences at Miami Country Day School and founded the Abess Floating Research Station in the Brazilian Amazon. Leonard’s long-standing environmental affiliations include the World Wildlife Fund’s National Advisory Council, the Palm Society, the Audubon Society, and the Nature Conservancy/Florida Chapter.”

Sad to say, in Florida the list of bankers who contribute to the environment doesn’t go much further than Leonard and Jayne Abess. And even here, caution is warranted. While The Nature Conservancy and Audubon serve their members well, neither group is on the front line where grass roots and citizens sue over zoning decisions; civic unreasonableness that strikes at the heart of those new platted subdivisions in wetlands. On the other hand, both organizations solicit contributions and are broadly supported by corporations.

This point is not meant not diminish the importance of the Abess’ largesse and commitment to the environment. But it underscores in a way that is discomforting how “green” has been in the eye of the beholder. It is particularly important in view of the fact that the pendulum has shifted in the United States. Today, a vast amount of real capital, taxpayer investment, and political energy is being spent on “green” jobs and a “new economy.”

It is no simple omission that grassroots environmental groups are vastly under-funded in comparison to groups who could be counted on to behave nicely when they were invited to the table.

Miami is a little bit like “Chinatown” in this respect; every gear of the growth machine is etched with the effect of a rotten system that made bankers, insurance companies, and a totem pole of lobbyists wealthy beyond the dreams of most ordinary Americans. What happened to wetlands like the Everglades was just the lowest tranche of their concern. Consider, for example, how the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce was so absorbed with shilling for growth at any cost, that it allowed itself to be fleeced of nearly $2 million by its former finance director and finance manager. But that was in 2004. Such a long, long time ago.

ALAN FARAGO, who writes on the environment and politics from Coral Gables, Florida, and can be reached at alanfarago@yahoo.com

 

More articles by:

Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades and can be reached at afarago@bellsouth.net

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
April 07, 2020
Joel McCleary – Mark Medish
Paradigm Shift by Pandemic
Matt Smith
Amazon Retaliation: Workers Striking Back
Kenneth Surin
What The President Said (About The Plague)
Patrick Cockburn
The Chaotic Government Response to COVID-19 Resembles the Failures of 1914
Marshall Auerback
The Coronavirus Pandemic Has Opened the Curtains on the World’s Next Economic Model
Vijay Prashad, Paola Estrada, Ana Maldonado, and Zoe PC
Trump Sends Gun Boats to Venezuela While the World Partners to Fight a Deadly Pandemic
Jeremy Lent
Coronavirus Spells the End of the Neoliberal Era. What’s Next?
Dean Baker
The Big Hit: Covid-19 and the Economy
Nino Pagliccia
A Simple Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela: End All “Sanctions”
Colin Todhunter
Locked Down and Locking in the New Global Order
Robert Fisk
Biden Says He ‘Doesn’t Have Enough Information’ on Iran to Have a Vew. How Odd, He Negotiated the Nuclear Deal
Wim Laven
GOP’s Achievement is Now on Display
Binoy Kampmark
Boastful Pay Cuts: the Coronavirus Incentive
Dave Lindorff
It’s Spring and I’ve Turned 71 in a Pandemic-Induced Recession
Steve Brown
FLASH! Trump Just Endorsed Bernie’s Medicare-For-All Health Plan
Marc Haggerty
Class and COVID-19: Those Who Can and Those Who Can’t
Manuel García, Jr.
A Reply to Jeffrey St. Clair’s “Strange Things Happening Every Day”
George Wuerthner
How Fuel Breaks Fuel Fires
Marshall Sahlins
Election 2020
April 06, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
COVID-19 and the Failures of Capitalism
W. T. Whitney
Donald Trump, Capitalism, and Letting Them Die
Cesar Chelala
Cuba’s Promising Approach to Cancer
David A. Schultz
Camus and Kübler-Ross in a Time of COVID-19 and Trump
Nomi Prins 
Wall Street Wins, Again: Bailouts in the Time of Coronavirus
Dean Baker
Getting to Medicare-for-All, Eventually
Dave Lindorff
Neither Pandemic Nor Economic Collapse is Going to Be a Short-Lived Crisis
Sonali Kolhatkar
Capitalism in America Has Dropped the Mask: Its Face is Cruel and Selfish
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 7 Pro-Contagion Reversals Increase the Coronavirus Toll
David Swanson
A Department of Actual Defense in a Time of Coronavirus
Ellen Brown
Was the Fed Just Nationalized?
Jeff Birkenstein
Postcards From Trump
Nick Licata
Authoritarian Leaders Rejected the Danger of a COVID-19 Pandemic Because It Challenged Their Image
Kathy Kelly
“He’s Got Eight Numbers, Just Like Everybody Else”
Graham Peebles
Change Love and the Need for Unity
Kim C. Domenico
Can We Transform Fear to Strength In A Time of Pandemic?
Mike Garrity
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Files Lawsuit to Stop Logging and Burning Project in Rocky Mountain Front Inventoried Roadless Area
Stephen Cooper
“The Soul Syndicate members dem, dem are all icons”: an Interview with Tony Chin
Weekend Edition
April 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Omar Shaban
Gaza’s New Conflict: COVID-19
Rob Urie
Work, Crisis and Pandemic
John Whitlow
Slumlord Capitalism v. Global Pandemic
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Strange Things Happening Every Day
Jonathan Cook
The Bigger Picture is Hiding Behind a Virus
Paul Street
Silver Linings Amidst the Capitalist Coronavirus Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Control of Nature
Louis Proyect
COVID-19 and the “Just-in-Time” Supply Chain: Why Hospitals Ran Out of Ventilators and Grocery Stores Ran Out of Toilet Paper
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail