TALLAHASSEE — A bank where Senate president and Republican state CFO candidate Jeff Atwater worked has been named one of the seven weakest in Florida.
Thestreet.com reported this week that Riverside National Bank of Florida, which is based in Fort Pierce, failed to hold the amount of money required by regulators. Nationwide, 89 institutions made the trouble list, based on regulatory data.
The report indicated that Riverside lost $4.6 million in the first quarter of 2009, but much higher losses were recorded the year before in part because the bank's investments in the government-backed lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae went sour as the housing market collapsed.
Overall, the bank had more risky investments than regulators want, according to the report. And the bank has been working under an order by the federal comptroller of the currency to improve its financial standings and make less risky investments.
Atwater, a North Palm Beach resident who has long been a banker, said he left Riverside in February because he had increased duties as Senate president. And he said he has had limited responsibilities for the past two years as he sought the Senate post.
But as he wages a campaign for state chief financial officer, his banking experience could be both an asset and a negative.
The position is currently held by Democrat Alex Sink, herself a former bank executive, who is running for governor against Republican Bill McCollum, who sat on the House Banking Committee during a 20-year career in Congress.
Rick Wilson, Atwater's campaign manager, noted that his role at Riverside was not in loans or investments and strongly rejected any suggestion that the bank's woes reflected on the candidate or his qualifications.
"Jeff's work in recent years as marketing manager was to go out and seek out new clients, new customers," Wilson said.
Democratic Party of Florida spokesman Eric Jotkoff took a shot anyway, citing the bank problems and a just-approved state budget that included higher taxes and government employee pay cuts. "I'm not sure how we can trust him as our state's financial watchdog."