Real estate developer Mel Sembler dead at 93

Mel Sembler, a prominent real estate developer and influential Republican fundraiser, died at the age of 93 at his residence in St. Petersburg, Florida, last week. 

Sembler was responsible for creating over 350 shopping centers and retail projects across the Southeast, the New York Times reported. 

The cause of death was lung cancer.

Sembler’s significant contributions to the Republican Party earned him prestigious ambassadorships from two presidents. His expertise in fundraising for Republican candidates, such as George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Jeb Bush, solidified his position as a key figure within the GOP establishment.

Acknowledging the pivotal role of money in politics, Sembler emphasized the impact of financial contributions.

“Money gives you a voice. Without money, you have no voice,” he said in 2019.

Sembler gave $100,000, then the maximum allowed, to the elder Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign and was appointed ambassador to Australia. He served in that role from 1989 to 1993. He was responsible for $220 million in campaign donations to the younger Bush, which landed him the ambassadorship to Italy, from 2001 to 2005.

Despite initial hesitation to back Donald Trump, Sembler eventually became a dedicated supporter of the former president, serving as a financial vice chairman for the Republican National Committee during Trump’s 2016 campaign and raising funds for his inauguration. He was also a benefactor of Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

Born in St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1930, Sembler married Betty Schlesinger, with whom he shared three sons. Betty died last year. 

Apart from his extensive real estate endeavors, Sembler was also known for his involvement in the development of a chain of residential drug treatment centers for adolescents called Straight Inc. The program faced controversy and legal challenges that eventually led to its closure in 1993.

While maintaining a significant presence in the world of real estate and politics, Sembler remained committed to his community. 

His impact extended beyond his professional and political activities, as demonstrated by his support for anti-drug causes, including a substantial donation in 2016 to defeat a constitutional amendment in Florida that sought to expand access to medical marijuana.

— Ted Glanzer

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