“You don’t have a legal right to do that,” says Chris Korge, the current National Finance Chairman for the Democratic National Committee.
Chris Korge is on a conference call. It began at 5:30, the time at which our interview was supposed to start. From the waiting room of Korge’s Coral Gables office, which is on the second floor of an older building on Palermo Avenue, I get to listen to a rather tense conference call between Korge and two others regarding something about opening a café in some airport…
“If you guys agree to that…” Korge is negotiating, his slow and raspy bellows ooze confidence. My attention shifts to a life-size glass statue of a bald eagle staring at me from the coffee table. Next to the eagle, Muhammad Ali growls at Sonny Liston in that ever-famous, ever-sweaty Sports Illustratedcover—a poster that probably decorates the walls of many of the home gyms of suburbia.
I can only guess that Korge is a fan of JFK—Norman Mailer’s “Superman Comes to the Supermarket,” but in book form with stunning complementary archival photos and “The Kennedy Legacy” occupy the opposite end of the mahogany table. They look as though they’ve been freshly dusted, probably by an assistant or secretary of Korge’s.
As the sun gives way to a pink sky, which I can see through a partially-shaded window, one of the men on the conference call—he has broken English—explains something about a deal in Houston. He sounds irritated, to say the least. This is the loudest speaker phone I have ever heard, but it so perfectly matches Korge’s booming voice.
In the corner of the room, a telephone with a cream-colored spiral cord looks like it was taken straight out of 2003. It’s sitting on a side table right below a framed photo of Korge and the Bush family. To be frank, this photo is not at all a rarity in the waiting room. On another little side table is Clinton’s inaugural address, a candid shot of Korge and Hillary Clinton and a signed photo of Jeb Bush kissing Korge’s bald head. Barack Obama and Bill Clinton are regulars on the walls of this tiny room—each posing in multiple photos with Korge, who seems like one of their old friends.
Korge is yelling now. It’s almost 6:30. His tone on the phone, even when he’s yelling, is focused and persuasive. It’s stern, commanding, totally confident and even a bit condescending. I can tell he’s ready to hang up—this negotiation has not reached an agreement. I’m right. “Come in now!” he calls for me from his office.
Before stepping foot into Korge’s office, which was expectedly cluttered for a prominent powerbroker such as he, I already feel like I know this character. A friend of Korge’s, Alex De La Cruz, tells me Korge didn’t really want to take on this colossal position for the DNC, but felt he was the only one equipped for the job. Korge’s confidence is that of a normal person’s after a couple shots of tequila—unapologetic. And tequila, in fact, is one of Korge’s drinks of choice. Either “good good tequila” or Scotch, De La Cruz says, with a splash of Diet Coke.
Korge is apparently a crumb-eater—he’ll pick at the crumbs long after the cracker is gone. He’s got a killer singing voice, great comedic timing and if he wasn’t a politician and a businessman, he could probably be the next Danny DeVito.
“What separates him from everyone else,” De La Cruz had started to tell me before his son, Jordan, interjected—“other than his height!” Jordan cackled—“is that he’s very driven and determined,” De La Cruz finished, side-eyeing his 24-year-old son.
Yes, Korge is short. And bald. That’s why I compared him to Danny DeVito and not Jerry Seinfeld, but, nonetheless, Korge did not choose to pursue a career in comedy or acting, probably because, as he tells me, he knew he wanted to be a lawyer since he was 14, and he grew up helping his father, who was a treasurer for a congressman, at events in places like Key Biscayne where Korge would pull coats and assist the guests.
When he wasn’t stuffing envelopes for one of his father’s campaigns, Korge was fundraising for a new air conditioner in his high school cafetorium. As the vice president of La Sale Catholic High School’s student government, Korge buddied up to his school principal who knew a guy who knew a guy that owned the local Porsche dealership. Long-story short, a then 16-year-old Korge successfully secured a Porsche for his class to auction off and eventually cool down their scorching lunch room.
A 64-year-old Korge laughs, recalling that he was in fact a bit of a “rabble-rouser” back then. But at least he knew what he wanted. The summer the Pentagon Papers broke, a 16-year-old Korge was serving as a page in Congress, a summer he says, “really kind of got me [him] hooked into politics.”
Not much has changed in almost 50 years, besides the fact that instead of air conditioners, Korge is now responsible for raising money for the entire DNC. Let’s be clear. Korge doesn’t need this job. Nor does he really want it. Korge is an attorney, a kingpin in the Miami real estate market and a retail powerhouse. He owns every NewsLink you’ve purchased peanuts or a magazine at in MIA or JFK (and several other) airports across the country. He’s responsible for the construction of the Arsht Center and the American Airlines Arena. He has already served as the National Finance Chairman for Hillary Clinton’s presidency campaign and proven himself as one of the best Democratic fundraisers in the country. But he says he owes it to the world (and his grandkids) to take on this role once more.
“Usually someone at my point in life doesn’t want to do this, but there was no one better to do it than me,” Korge says. “I think defeating Trump is the single most important thing I can do politically, probably in my entire career.”
Korge half-brags, half-complains and a smidgen-reminds himself that he’s got no time for this job. “I travel four days a week,” he starts. A tangent is looming. “I’m leaving this Wednesday, I don’t come back till after Thanksgiving. On the 20th I go to Atlanta for a debate, on the 21st at 7 in the morning, I fly to San Francisco. I have a big event with Barack Obama there, then I go to LA, I have meetings, then the following Monday I have to go back to Washington, then New York, then I have to go to Boston, do an event with Elizabeth Warren, then I come back on Friday. So, it’s a major sacrifice.”
Pandora’s box has been opened. And by Pandora’s box, I mean Korge’s box of self-assurance. Or should I just say pride? Simply put, Chris Korge might as well be running one of those women-empowerment, self-love Instagram pages that force you to acknowledge your self-worth through rose-colored filters and corny quotes—he certainly knows his self-worth, and he flaunts it.
“On the political side,” explains Korge, “I’m a volunteer. I’m giving six figures to the Democratic National Committee. I can’t ask other people to give big checks if I’m not going to give big checks. So, I’m giving all my time, I’m losing millions of dollars expanding my business, because I think it’s really that important.”
Since being elected Finance Chairman, Korge has been scrutinized by many a Democrat after he outwardly donated money to Kamala Harris’ campaign and denounced Bernie Sanders on Twitter. Not to mention that the clear connection between Korge’s political and business ventures pretty much contradicts the DNC’s progressive virtues.
To this, Korge, of course, has a simple response. He says he called up all 400-something members who would be voting for his election to ask for their support. “The people that criticized me in that article all not only agreed to support me, but they agreed to even nominate me, if I wanted to be nominated, but I didn’t need to be.”
At the end of the day, Korge has the experience that the job warrants, and he is optimistic about his progress so far. Korge says that by the end of 2019, he raised as much as President Obama did during his reelect in 2011. However, even though the DNC is slowly outraising the RNC, while the DNC is spending the money on rebuilding their infrastructure, Korge says Trump is using the money all for himself.
“What we’re selling,” Korge ultimately decides, “is: save the democracy. That’s what we’re selling, and to a lot of people, it’s compelling.”
Throughout the course of our interview, Korge has stopped mid-sentence to check his pinging email at least seven times, has uttered some “oh sheeyet’s,” some “are you shitting me’s,” and several “aye, aye, aye’s”—so much so that it is hard not to ask what in his inbox on the left of his two Dell desktops could be eliciting such audible responses.
Now I recall De La Cruz mentioning Korge’s ADD-like tendencies. Inside De La Cruz’s kitchen, I asked if he had any stories about Korge he’d like to share. The sprawling kitchen, bustling with De La Cruz’s family and friends, who were enjoying the tail-end of their Sunday dinner, erupted in laughter. De La Cruz’s wife, Veronica, chuckled. “Oh yeah, there’s a lot!”
It is Korge’s very jaunty, carefree attitude, De La Cruz said, that allows him to compete in the political world. “People come to conclusions about you that are not true,” Korge says. “Anyone can write and say anything. They can attack your reputation. You have to have very thick skin to do what I do, because I don’t really care what anyone thinks of me.”
Korge is getting antsy. I ask him who his favorite president was, a question that seems to throw him off. “That’s so unfair to ask,” he says, stoically. Considering he has hosted the last ten or so presidents in his Miami home, this is the most serious thing he has said during our interview. He can’t choose. Instead he tells me that nobody is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes.
“I don’t hold anyone on a pedestal, as can be witnessed by some of the crazy shit I say to them,” Korge chortles. “Obama’s probably gonna be really pissed off at me…” his email pings and he trails off, checking his inbox one more time.
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