The older brother of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has landed a high-ranking position in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ job creation department, the latest in Rubio’s orbit to find a home working for DeSantis.
Mario Rubio started as the new Director of Community Development on Jan. 22, a position that puts him in charge of millions of dollars of federal and state grants earmarked for local communities. Rubio will make $115,000 a year.
The younger Rubio’s senate office wouldn’t answer any questions about the hiring, including whether one of the state’s most powerful Republicans recommended his brother — or anyone else — for a job in the DeSantis administration.
For his part, DeSantis personally interviewed Mario Rubio but did not speak with Sen. Rubio about the appointment to the Department of Economic Opportunity, the agency’s spokeswoman Tiffany Vause said.
Mario Rubio is listed as a member of the “executive staff” on the Department of Economic Opportunity’s website. The Tampa Bay Times requested the names and applications of anyone else considered for the position, but the state did not provide any.
“Gov. DeSantis interviewed Mario Rubio for approximately 25 minutes and deemed him to be qualified,” Vause said. “Mario Rubio has extensive experience in community development.”
Rubio spent the last eight years working for the City of Jacksonville, most recently as Small and Emerging Business Administrator. The job involved recruiting and training local small businesses to bid for and win city contracts, according to his resume. He earned relatively high marks in periodic evaluations from the city.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said under Rubio, “we have introduced a number of tools, processes, and offerings that are providing greater support and resources to our small business community.”
“I am grateful for his service to my administration and wish him much success in his new role,” Curry said.
During his campaign, DeSantis leaned heavily on people once in Marco Rubio’s inner circle, and as governor, that connection is still very apparent. DeSantis hired Rubio alumni Brad Herold as campaign manager and Whit Ayers as pollster, as well as Something Else Strategies, longtime Rubio consultants.
When it came time to pick his running mate, DeSantis tapped Miami state Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, a vocal backer of Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. It was Rubio who reportedly convinced Nuñez to accept the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket.
After the election, DeSantis brought on Amanda Emmons as his scheduler and Jordan Wiggins as director of operations — both worked for Rubio — and recommended one-time Rubio chief of staff Richard Corcoran to Florida Education Commissioner.
Mario Rubio, 69, is 22 years older than his more famous brother. At age 6, he arrived in the United States from Cuba with their parents, according to newspaper reports. Mario drove their mother to the hospital to deliver Marco, the latter once said.
The elder Rubio has largely remained behind the scenes during his brother’s meteoric rise in Florida politics.
An Army Special Forces veteran, Rubio worked for 32 years at insurance company Florida Blue. In his last five years with the company he lobbied Tallahassee on health care policy — a time period that overlapped with Marco Rubio’s turn as Speaker of the House.
During his unsuccessful campaign for President, Marco Rubio featured his older brother at a Des Moines, Iowa, campaign event during a speech on reforming the Department of Veteran Affairs.
“Like many thousands of other veterans, Mario is struggling to get the care owed to him for an injury he suffered during his service,” Rubio said, according to a Washington Examiner report. "He was hit in the mouth while in jump school, bending his front teeth back in a way that became an orthodontic nightmare,” adding that his brother is “going through the exact same bureaucratic nightmare” as other veterans.
Mario Rubio made a brief attempt at a political career in 2008. He lost a Republican primary for a Jacksonville area state House seat to Lake Ray, who was eventually elected.
Multiple attempts to reach Rubio were unsuccessful. A state spokeswoman said he was unavailable for comment.
Times Senior News Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Steve Contorno at [email protected] Follow @scontorno.