Howard Schultz running for president on strength of driving Sonics out of Seattle, $3 Starbucks gift cards

If you haven’t heard by now, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told 60 Minutes on Sunday that he’s considering running for president in 2020 as a “centrist independent,” and lots of people think that’s exactly what the U.S. doesn’t need right now. Which is certainly a valid point, but my first thought was somewhat different: Wait, people are really going to be asked to vote for the guy who moved the Sonics out of Seattle?

To recap for those who have forgotten the Aughts: Starting in 2006, Schultz demanded $220 million in arena upgrades from the state of Washington, threatened to move the Sonics out of town if he didn’t get them, didn’t get them, sold the team to a guy from Oklahoma City while swearing they would stay in Seattle, saw the new guy move the team to Oklahoma City, sued to get the team back on the apparent grounds that the new guy was just supposed to threaten to move not actually do it, lost, and went back to selling crappy coffee. And he was reportedly a terrible boss in other ways as well; as a former Sonics employee wrote later in Deadspin:

One story of Schultz’s cheapness is famous among his former staff. The Sonics’ previous owner, Barry Ackerley, had bought holiday gifts each year for the folks in the front office. When Schultz’s group took over, the custom died. Rightly or wrongly, some of the employees groused that no gesture had been made to them. According to an employee at the time, another of the team’s new owners, Richard Tait, the co-creator of Cranium, heard about the complaints and subsequently gave out copies of his popular board game. Not to be outdone, Schultz followed suit. He gave each employee a Starbucks gift card. One member of the staff—who wasn’t a Starbucks regular—decided to use his card to get some snacks. When he went to pay for his roughly five dollars’ worth of food, he asked how much money remained on the card.

“Well, you owe me money,” the cashier said.

The Sonics employee asked how much had been on the card to begin with.

“$3.50,” the barista replied.

At the time, we would later learn, ordinary customers couldn’t buy a Starbucks card with a value of less than $5. These were custom $3.50 gift cards.

This, apparently, was a bizarre Schultz custom, as several people have testified to on Twitter in the last two days:


Yes, it’s arguably more important to vote for someone for president based on what their policies would be, not on whether they have a record of mismanaging one former business and running another with breathtakingly petty cheapness. But given that everybody in the U.S. is maybe running for president already, you can probably find somebody on that list who isn’t regarded as one step up from a war criminal in his own home town. Okay, not this guy, but somebody.

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22 comments on “Howard Schultz running for president on strength of driving Sonics out of Seattle, $3 Starbucks gift cards

  1. Schultz is running for president of 2006. There is no constituency for his platform of deficit reduction and centrism anymore. If one party is running on popular ideas, and the other is running on racial fear, lies and trickled-on-economics, meeting them in the center is already a defeat.

    1. That seems like a pretty biased view of the electorate. Trump is a moron, but describing the Democratic platform/party as “popular” is a joke, particularly since they just lost an election to this chucklefuck.

      Sadly I agree that centrism doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on in the current political environment. The parties have gotten so efficient and entrenched at using the single member district voting that we are stuck in a hellscape of growing extremism and dysfunction.

      I await our total political collapse, and likely worse subsequent equilibrium. Maybe the equilibrium after that will be an improvement?

      1. The Democrats actually got more votes in both 2016 and 2018 — the Republicans had a slight edge in the 2016 House vote, but it was swamped by more Democratic votes for Clinton and Senate candidates. So if by “popular” you mean “got more votes” and not “won more seats,” the Democrats are pretty clearly more popular.

        (Not that elections are great at determining what policies people really support, especially in a two-party system like in the United States. But just on electoral results, the Dems are more popular right now, and have been for a while.)

        1. “More popular” is not the same thing as “popular”. Democrats need to stop fooling themselves with the idea that their party is somehow well liked broadly in the country. It is barely better liked than the Republicans generally (obviously the Republicans are at a bit of a nadir at the moment).

  2. Not only is Schultz a terrible candidate, but his foolish ego is steering him into a losing proposition. Third party or Independent candidates simply cannot win the presidency in our current system. Like it or not, only the Democratic or Republican nominees can win in the Electoral College. We don’t even have to go back to the 1800’s to see the folly of this. All they do is distinctly give one candidate an advantage by splitting votes off a base. Ross Perot helped Clinton win in 1992. Ralph Nader helped Bush win in 2000. Schultz is just another deluded billionaire in our society that has way too many of those already.

    1. I am not a fan of Howard Schultz in any way but this is not how democracy works. There are massive structural advantages given to the two major parties running (and frankly the biggest structural advantage is given by the media presumption that only two parties be covered) but if Schulz ran a successful campaign and got the majority of votes he would win the electoral college (there are some quirks in some states but the electoral college would vote him in).

      The bigger issue is why complaints about two major parties get funneled into furious fights about which major party one hates least (a massively under reported story in the last election was about how the two major candidates of 2016 were the least popular candidates ever. It would seem that the logical offshoot of this would be electoral reforms that gave people more options (and more party options). Instead the two parties circle their wagons around a two party system and pretend their is no alternative when there are lots of ways to increase third party viability (that is, if we really cared about democracy instead of pretending to care). A concrete example is that despite all the complaining by Democrats of popular vote majorities no serious electoral reform has been proposed.

      I doubt that someone as elitist and horrible as Howard Schulz would create electoral reforms toward democracy (Schulz would look for his candidacy getting exceptional treatment and not make it about democracy and fairness). It is genuinely scary (at least if you care about democracy) that there is increasingly serious talk about reducing democracy–mostly from Republicans seeking to disenfranchise groups they deem undeserving.

    2. ” but his foolish ego is steering him into a losing proposition.”

      It’s actually far worse than that. His comments over the last day or so make it pretty clear he fully understands the situation and realizes he probably couldn’t win: His entire play is to scare the Dems away from running somebody further Left than he could stomach. If he saw that happening THEN is when he would step into the race, claiming to be offering a centrist alternative but in reality just to sabotage any chance the Dem candidate would have of winning.

      I don’t care where a person stands politically, I think we all can agree the last thing we need is a billionaire throwing his weight around, attempting to derail a presidential election if he can’t have his way. In the good old days the billionaires just bought candidates off. But Schultz seems ready to eliminate the middle man and just outright sabotage the election.

  3. I miss when Seattle’s Best Coffee, a subsidiary of Starbucks, wasn’t crap. Used to be a better cup of java than Starbucks itself but something changed in recent years…..I don’t know what but its not the same.

    Happy caffeinated Tuesday to ya.


    1. Yeah. Good one.

      When American politics no longer represents the interests of white billionaires… boy will I be surprised….

  5. Well, I mean, he did fix racism in America by ordering his baristas to ask members of visible minorities if they had had any experiences with racism and how it had affected them…. so really what else is left for Howie but a presidential run???

    And since we know that almost everyone in the company capable of resisting such a plan would have tried to talk him out of it and he didn’t listen, yeah, why not? He’d be just as clueless as Trump but probably (*) does not launder money for foreign gangsters or defraud his subcontractors. Hopefully he is not a self admitted sexual predator either.

    Next to a Clinton comeback for one more good ol’ college try, what could be more fitting for America in it’s current state than Howie 2020?

    Since the nation has tried actual politicians, actors, farmers, haberdashers (though not intentionally), blue bloods, degenerate gamblers, a lengthy list of charlatans and now an outright fraud artist and pathological liar, I propose we limit future candidates to either poultry or marsupials.

    They won’t be any less competent, but there’s a fighting chance they will be significantly less corrupt.

  6. I have no intention of voting for Howard Schultz, but “he stiffed people working in the front office of an NBA team, and a guy who ‘used to work in movie marketing’ on the gifts they felt entitled to but gave fast food workers health insurance” might not be the worst pitch for political office. I’ve certainly heard worse.

    1. True, he did do that didn’t he…. it’s not nothing.

      Plus *this* billionaire presidential candidate might actually be a net billionaire. So there’s that….

      People have to move past the “I don’t like professional politicians” phase of politics. Sure, some of them suck. But some doctors suck too and I’ve never heard anyone say “I need cardiac surgery but I want someone with no medical background whatsoever to perform it because I don’t trust no book learnin’ doctor….”

      1. Oh, I’m with you.

        For what it’s worth, there’s nothing wrong if he wants to run for some more manageable office, cut his teeth in government and move up.

        It’s quite a statement on where we are that the CEO of the 4th largest business by revenue in Washington State (behind Amazon, Microsoft and Costco) is considering running for President and everyone gets excited whereas the actual 2-term governor of Washington State is also considering a run and most people probably can’t even name him.

  7. A guy who couldn’t figure out how to get an arena deal in a wealthy hard core sports town thinks he can be president? Glad I live in Canada

    1. Seattle is undoubtedly a wealthy city but I do believe you are the first person to call it a “hard core sports town”.

      As a former resident of Seattle, let me assure you it isn’t. It is up there with the least sports-obsessed cities I’ve ever lived in.

  8. The gift card story reminds me of stories I’ve heard from former St Louis Rams employees about the time Stan Kroenke (Rams owner & married into the Walton family) gave out Sams Club membership cards to Rams employees only to take them away when they weren’t being used enough.

  9. Displaced Seattleite here, don’t forget that in the mid 90’s he illegally paved a massive driveway through a park in Seattle with a massive wall, did his best to landscape his property to make it look like the entire park was his property, and employed a cadre of ‘confused’ security guards who also didn’t seem to know where the property lines were while harassing park goers. This was in litigation for a big chunk of the 90’s until he moved. Not only did he piss off sports fans, he pissed off the greens. That takes talent.

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