Wine Cave Liberals
An Ann Arbor expat gets caught in a political crossfire.
From the February, 2020 issue
"I'm just a pawn here," a frustrated Craig Hall told the New York Times in December. Hall's Napa Valley fundraiser for presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg had just blown up the December Democratic debate, where senator Elizabeth Warren declared that "billionaires in wine cellars should not pick the next president of the United States." (Buttigieg shot back that he was the only candidate there who wasn't even a millionaire.)
Hall is an Ann Arbor native--his father worked at Argus Camera and his mother was an art teacher. He once told a Dallas paper that "growing up in a liberal university town" made him think that business was "somehow an evil, negative thing." He added that he'd since concluded that entrepreneurs "can do well for themselves and [also] do good things for society."
In December, Hall told the Times that in his own circles, he is "often seen as the most liberal"--views he traces to growing up here during the turbulent Sixties. In 1967, he was elected "mayor" for Student Government Day, presiding over a "city council" that adopted an income tax. But the actual city staff didn't have many ideas about how he could fulfill his campaign promise to improve student housing.
In a video posted on hallgroup.com, Hall says that disappointment spurred his first real estate deal: at eighteen, he put down his life savings to buy a run-down house on Hamilton Pl. Determined, he says, to "prove that you could be a good-guy landlord," he had dozens of properties by the time he dropped out of the U-M to expand into "lifestyle" apartment complexes. He moved his company to Dallas in the early 1980s, claims to have lost $1 billion after tax laws changed later in the decade, but now is richer than ever.
The winery connection comes through his third wife, Kathryn, whose father owned a Napa orchard. They often host fundraisers there for causes and candidates they support. "There are literally hundreds of Democrats that have been in that same cave,'' California governor Gavin Newsom told the Associated Press.
In 1997, president Bill Clinton named Kathryn Hall ambassador to Austria. While she's an attorney who speaks German and French, Clinton probably also noticed the Halls gave $234,000 to Democrats in the previous election cycle. Maybe Mayor Pete will be equally grateful if he becomes President Pete.
[Originally published in February, 2020.]
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