For two businessmen, tough going in the public sectorOctober 23, 2013: 3:58 PM ET
Wolf drops Mass. gubernatorial bid; Hantz inches forward with Detroit woodlands project
By David Whitford, editor-at-large
FORTUNE -- Mike Bloomberg notwithstanding, businesspeople tend to get slapped down when they venture into the public arena. Take for example Dan Wolf, the hugely successful founder of regional airline Cape Air, whose political ambitions I reported on last month on Fortune.com.
Three years ago Wolf, a Democrat, won a seat in the Massachusetts state senate. Last summer, "with great excitement and high hopes," he declared his candidacy for governor of Massachusetts. But there was a problem: Wolf still owns a big chunk of Cape Air, and Cape Air has contracts with Massport, the state agency that runs Boston's Logan Airport. In Massachusetts, that disqualifies you from drawing a public-sector paycheck.
Wolf had hopes that a petition signed by a bipartisan roster of Massachusetts luminaries would persuade the State Ethics Commission to grant him an exemption and allow him to restart his campaign. "We felt that the petition would focus the commission's attention," a Wolf advisor told Fortune, "and it did. But the regulatory process, absent an emergency situation, is not instantaneous."
No it is not. The commission failed to act at its monthly meeting on October 17, and four days later Wolf withdrew from the race. "[I]t is now clear that no resolution, regardless of its form, will be reached for at least several more months, quite possibly longer," Wolf said in a statement. "Given that timing, I feel I have no option but to end my campaign for Governor." He'll keep his senate seat at least until the commission issues a final ruling, not expected until early next year.
Then there's Detroit stockbroker John Hantz, whose plan to create the biggest urban farm in the world I wrote about for Fortune in 2009. Hantz's preposterously ambitious idea -- a large-scale, for-profit agricultural enterprise, wholly contained within Detroit's city limits, that would restore big chunks of tax-delinquent urban blight to pastoral productivity; provide decent jobs with benefits; supply local markets and restaurants with fresh produce; attract tourists from all over the world; and stimulate development -- never materialized, done in by community distrust of a rich man and his motives, and the glacial pace of zoning and permitting in a city careering into bankruptcy.
But Hantz kept pushing, and last week came a breakthrough: a $520,000 deal with the city -- approved by Detroit's emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder -- for 1,500 "blighted parcels" on Detroit's east side. "We're on our way," says a Hantz spokesperson.
Still a long way to go. Hantz will have to spend another $3 million over the next couple of years on demolition, clean-up, and mowing. And he still doesn't have permission to grow tomatoes, fruit trees, or anything else edible. Instead the newly reconceived Hantz Woodlands will look more like the forest on an English country estate, planted with 15,000 oaks, symmetrically arranged.
Trish Hubbell, a spokesperson for the community organization Greening of Detroit, says that while there is still "concern about a big organization coming in and taking all that land," the mood in the neighborhood seems to have shifted in Hantz's favor. "A lot has changed from the original deal," Hubbell says.
"We are pleased and delighted that the project is moving forward ... ," Hantz said in a statement. "And it is only the beginning."