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World Reconsidering allegiances: Former staunch Republican Finn Wentworth on denouncing what his old party has become

Businessman Finn Wentworth is photographed in his office at Normandy Real Estate Partners in Morristown, N.J., on Nov. 2, 2018.

Benjamin Norman/The Globe and Mail

A photo in Finn Wentworth’s office shows him standing and smiling between former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Chris Christie, the former Republican governor of New Jersey.

The photo is a reminder of the time when Mr. Wentworth, the former corporate boss of the New York Yankees and New Jersey Devils, was still a staunch Republican.

Now he considers himself a political independent. He is backing the local Democratic candidate in the midterm race for the House of Representatives, and deplores the extent to which his old party has lost its way.

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“The Republican Party I joined years ago was socially moderate and fiscally conservative,” he says. “It’s neither of those things now.”

Mr. Wentworth isn’t the only prominent Republican to be reconsidering his old allegiances. Ben Sasse, the Republican senator from Nebraska, announced in September that he has regularly thought about leaving the party and sitting as an independent. Earlier this month, Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire founder of Bloomberg LP and former Republican mayor of New York, reregistered as a Democrat. Also this month, Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and well-known conservative voice on military affairs, published an account of why he was leaving the right and announced he was now a “man without a party.”

While the numbers are still too small to be labelled a trend, the defections underline the extent to which today’s Republican Party has shifted, moving away from its traditional concerns to become the party of Donald Trump and his personality-based brand of populism.

It’s a transformation that repels people like Mr. Wentworth. He grew up in a middle-class family, one of 10 children, and rose to become chief executive of YankeeNets, LLC, the holding company for the New York Yankees, New Jersey Devils and New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets. He co-founded the YES Network, a national sports network, and now operates Normandy Real Estate Partners, a property investment firm headquartered in suburban Morristown, N.J., with offices in Boston, Washington and New York.

Mr. Wentworth isn’t the only prominent Republican to be reconsidering his old allegiances.

Benjamin Norman/The Globe and Mail

For decades, he was a faithful Republican, contributing US$186,450 to the party’s candidates and causes in New Jersey since 2007, according to records at the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. He even travelled as a delegate to the party’s 2016 national convention in Cleveland. He had known Donald Trump on a casual basis for years, and thought he lacked empathy, but was willing to keep an open mind.

Instead, he witnessed Mr. Trump publicly belittle the Khan family, whose son, a U.S. Army captain, had died in a car bombing in Iraq. Mr. Wentworth was disgusted by the spectacle of a presidential candidate disparaging a family that had made the ultimate sacrifice. “That was my epiphany,” he says.

His disquiet grew after the election as Republicans moved ahead on legislation that would have made it easier to carry a concealed weapon in New Jersey. Mr. Wentworth spoke out against the proposed changes after talking to Gabby Giffords, the former U.S. congresswoman who survived an assassination attempt in 2011, and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly.

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He was also deeply concerned by the Republican assault on affordable health care, commonly known as Obamacare. Mr. Wentworth, who serves as chairman of the Morristown Medical Center Foundation, notes that if the Affordable Care Act were repealed, 30,000 people in his district would lose health coverage.

On top of that, he disapproved of the budgetary consequences of Mr. Trump’s tax-reform package. By slashing tax rates on corporations and high-income earners, it opens the door to massive deficits in years to come – a blunt rejection of the calls for fiscal responsibility once sounded by Republican Party faithful.

Mr. Wentworth decided to pull his support for Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a Republican who had represented New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District since 1995, but who had turned into a loyal follower of Mr. Trump’s agenda. “Rodney was voting as if he represented a district in Alabama, not New Jersey,” Mr. Wentworth says.

When Mr. Frelinghuysen decided not to run for re-election, Mr. Wentworth also declined to back the new Republican candidate, Jay Webber. He instead threw his support behind the Democratic contender, Mikie Sherrill, a former federal prosecutor and U.S. Navy helicopter pilot. He praises her record of achievement and her ability to work with people of many different political stripes.

“If you had told me a couple of years ago that I would be enthusiastically supporting a Democrat in this district, I would have told you that you were crazy,” Mr. Wentworth says. He says some people have been surprised at his shift, some have asked him what took him so long, but nobody has been impolite.

He believes Congress needs more women and more veterans to bring a sense of reality to a political debate that has become polarized and counterproductive. “Moderation has become a dirty word,” he says. “I hope we can change that.”

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east coast battleground

NEW YORK

UNITED

STATES

Hudson

River

NEW JERSEY

0

10

Montclair

KM

Morristown

11th congressional

district:Rodney Freling-

huysen (R) carried the

district by 19 percentage

points in 2016 while

Donald Trump won it by

less than one percentage

point.

Newark

New

York

The district has 265,797 households with a median income of US$112,348

District profile

Total:729,569

Population(2017 est.)

Male

356,594

Female

372,975

Latest Monmouth poll

(Oct. 9, likely voters)

48%

44%

Jay Webber (R)

Mikie Sherrill (D)

Total money raised

(In millions of US$, Sept. 30)

$7.0

$1.2

Jay Webber (R)

Mikie Sherrill (D)

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

state of new jersey; census.gov;

opensecrets.org; nj.com

east coast battleground

NEW YORK

UNITED

STATES

Hudson

River

NEW JERSEY

0

10

Montclair

KM

Morristown

11th congressional district:

Rodney Frelinghuysen (R)

carried the district by 19 per-

centage points in 2016 while

Donald Trump won it by less

than one percentage point.

Newark

New

York

The district has 265,797 households with a median income of US$112,348

PENNSYLVANIA

District profile

Total:729,569

Population(2017 est.)

Male

356,594

Female

372,975

Latest Monmouth poll

(Oct. 9, likely voters)

48%

44%

Mikie Sherrill (D)

Jay Webber (R)

Total money raised

(In millions of US$, Sept. 30)

$7.0

$1.2

Mikie Sherrill (D)

Jay Webber (R)

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: state of

new jersey; census.gov; open secrets.org; nj.com

east coast battleground

NEW YORK

UNITED

STATES

Hudson

River

0

10

Montclair

KM

Morristown

11th congressional district:

Rodney Frelinghuysen (R)

carried the district by 19 per-

centage points in 2016 while

Donald Trump won it by less

than one percentage point.

Newark

New

York

The district has 265,797 households with a median income of US$112,348

PENNSYLVANIA

NEW JERSEY

District profile

Total:729,569

Population(2017 est.)

Male

356,594

Female

372,975

Race *

Latest Monmouth poll

(Oct. 9, likely voters)

White

597,063

48%

44%

Black or African

American

26,686

American Indian

and Alaska native

1,510

Mikie Sherrill (D)

Jay Webber (R)

Asian

78,160

Total money raised

(In millions of US$, Sept. 30)

Native Hawaiian and

other Pacific Islander

355

$7.0

Some other race

11,250

$1.2

Two or more races

14,545

Mikie Sherrill (D)

Jay Webber (R)

*According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “white” includes anyone, “having origins in any of the

original peoples of Europe, the Middle East or North Africa.” Hispanic is not defined as a race using

this definition. There are 83,359 “Hispanic or Latino (of any race)” counted among these figures.

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: state of new jersey;

census.gov; open secrets.org; nj.com

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