Howard Schultz ‘Not Nuts,’ Should Run in 2020, Sternlicht Says

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(Bloomberg) — When Howard Schultz headlined a Boys’ Club of New York fundraiser on Wednesday, at least one person in the room was receptive to the idea of him running for president: Barry Sternlicht, chief executive officer of Starwood Capital Group Management.

“I’m a fan,” Sternlicht said after the former Starbucks Corp. chairman spoke. “If the two ends swing too far right or too left, he has a clear shot without being a spoiler.”

Sternlicht, 58, said he tried to get Schultz to run in the last election, telling him, “You could win this.”

This time around, “I would go to work for him,” he said. “The whole question is will he go through the pain of running.”

Schultz said on stage that he’d make a decision by July 1 and that he and his wife are “cautiously optimistic.” The possibility of him running as an independent has triggered a backlash among Democrats, who say his candidacy could split the opposition to President Donald Trump and help ensure his re-election.

“I’m not worried about being a spoiler,” Schultz said Wednesday. “I think if the Democratic Party chooses a far left-leaning person who espouses policies and ideas that resemble socialism, that would be the spoiler,” he added to applause.

‘Not Nuts’

Sternlicht agrees with Schultz that an independent has a chance to win, and cited Ross Perot getting 19 percent of the vote in 1992 as evidence. “He was a little nuts,” Sternlicht said of the Texas billionaire. “Howard is not nuts.”

What gives Schultz an opening, he said, is the number of people in the U.S. who are neither far right nor far left politically.

“I don’t think there’s a better shot for the middle,” Sternlicht said. “Everyone I know is socially liberal and fiscally conservative. There’s nobody for us. We are huge, we’re not Texas, New York and California, we’re everywhere.”

Sternlicht says he’s pro-environment, supports fixing the education system and cares about immigration. “We need immigrants,” he said. But he’s unfamiliar with where all of those running for the Democratic nomination stand on the issues.

“I’d like to know some more about these candidates we don’t know anything about, like Mayor Pete,” he said of South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “Have you heard him speak? He’s unbelievable. A Rhodes Scholar. It’s a little early for him to be president, but he’s fascinating.”

‘Very Different’

The crowd gathered for the event on the Upper East Side included David Einhorn, Gigi and Averell Mortimer, Danielle and David Ganek, Topper Mortimer and Dennis Basso. Boys’ Club trustee Amy Griffin introduced Schultz and was the one who’d extended the invitation to him to speak. Anjali Melwani, president of the Boys’ Club Women’s board, said the idea to invite him came after her husband Prakash Melwani, chief investment officer of Blackstone Group, read that Schultz had spent time at a Boys’ Club in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood.

“I went to a Boys’ Club as a kid, and so much of that experience was linked to my own self-esteem,” Schultz, 65, said in an interview. “I grew up 15 miles from here but in a different ZIP code, very different.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Amanda Gordon in New York at [email protected] To contact the editors responsible for this story: Pierre Paulden at [email protected] Steven Crabill, Peter Eichenbaum

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