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Portfolios to politics: RIA exec eyes Senate seat

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Bronfman Rothschild may have a temporary new leader in March — a position that could become permanent after November.

Neal Simon, the firm's CEO, has launched an exploratory committee to run for an open Senate seat in Maryland as an independent. Simon, who has led the $5 billion RIA since 2015, says he will make a decision by the end of February.

The 49-year-old executive says he's been talking to voters in Maryland and has heard widespread frustration with "partisanship and divisiveness" in politics. "People are ready for change," he says, adding that if he keeps receiving encouragement from the public he is "highly likely to proceed."

If Simon does run, Michael LaMena, the former president of HighTower Advisors who joined Bronfman last year as president and COO, is poised to step in as the firm's top executive. Bronfman has been in the forefront of independent firms growing by acquisition.

"We haven't worked out the exact terms, which will depend on how quickly campaign activities escalate," Simon says. "But the company will be well positioned to make the move and no matter what happens I will remain on the board, continue to be a significant shareholder and be here for Mike."
Simon faces long odds in the Maryland race.

The incumbent, two-term Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, received twice as many votes as his Republican opponent in 2012, beating Dan Bongino by 30 points, or 56% to 26%.
"Neal Simon is an impressive guy, but Ben Cardin will be awfully difficult to beat," says Greg Valliere, a political analyst and chief global strategist for Horizon Investments. "Cardin is an entrenched fixture in Maryland politics and is the heavy favorite in the general election. Maybe Simon could finish second, with the Republican finishing third, but Simon would be a decided underdog."
Simon acknowledged that he faces an uphill battle and says he will proceed only "if I think there is a legitimate path to victory." He has already hired a pollster, a data analytics specialist and political veterans who have worked on campaigns of two other independent candidates, Sen. Angus King of Maine and Evan McMullin, a former CIA employee from Utah who ran for president as an independent in 2016.

Simon has been active in the Centrist Project, an organization advocating nonpartisan solutions to political and policy issues.

Both Republicans and Democrats, he asserted, shouldered blame for last year's "ill conceived" tax bill. Republicans squandered an opportunity to simplify the tax code, according to Simon, while Democrats "sat on the sidelines" and did not engage with their counterparts.

As for Donald Trump, Simon says the president is doing "too much to continue divisions [in the country] and not enough to bring us together. People are tired of partisanship and want leaders who care more about country than party."

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