Billionaire Palm Beach Democrat Jeff Greene Fears Revolt of the Poor
Around the State
Billionaire Jeff Greene is a different kind of rich Democrat.
The man who made his fortune hedging against the real estate market -- and since 2009 accumulating mortgage-backed securities -- still wants to represent the poor, improve their lot, convince his rich friends they should pay more taxes.
But is his political ideology built on compassion? On a sense of social justice and social order?
Not exactly, says Joel Endelman, "Jeff is definitely not about compassion."
Endelman is a political consultant who for a time during 2010 worked with Greene's campaign for U.S. Senate.
"Jeff isn't one of the patrician class of Democrats like the Kennedys," he told Sunshine State News. "Kennedy Democrats are wealthy intellectuals who generally inherited their money but feel a deep sense of responsibility toward those less privileged. I'm not saying there's anything phony about Jeff Greene because there isn't. But his concern for the underclass is all about self-protection."
Why are Greene's political motives popping up now? Because Jessica Pressler of New York Magazine interviewed Greene at his Sag Harbor estate. Her story on page 14, "The Other Barbarians at the Gates" -- called "jaw-dropping" by members of his own party -- has been political talk-show fodder ever since it appeared in last week's edition.
Pressler draws a picture of Greene, 57, worth an estimated $2.1 billion, as a man who lives in fear of a populist revolt, a plundering uprising of America's "poor people." As a member of the country's richest 1 percent, Greene claims the nation's wealthiest people, people like himself, should pay more in taxes willingly -- "buy a little democracy insurance" -- because one day, "if you have 50,000 angry people coming across the river, you think you're safe?"
According to Pressler, Greene told her, "This is my fear, and it's a real legitimate fear. You have this huge, huge class of people who are impoverished. If we keep doing what we're doing, we will build a class of poor people that will take over this country, and the country will not look like what it does today. It will be a different economy, rights, all that stuff will be different."
On April 30, 2010, Palm Beach resident Greene announced his intention to run as a Democrat for the United States Senate seat held by George LeMieux, saying, "I am an outsider, the only candidate who isn’t a career politician. I’ve succeeded in the real world of hard work – the others have only succeeded at running for political office after office."
A few years earlier, calling Beverly Hills, Calif., home, Greene unsuccessfully attempted to gain the support of the Republican Party in preparation for a run there.
Ginny Marks, a GOP activist in California at the time, told Sunshine State News she recalls the party "didn't really fathom" Greene. "He found a way to get crosswise with some pretty powerful party people" in the Golden State.
During his Florida campaign, his reinvention as a Democrat, Greene was endorsed by the Tallahassee Democrat editorial board. The board commended him for his "edge and an energy that make him want to push beyond the usual talking points." Greene ultimately lost the nomination to U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, who lost to Republican Marco Rubio in the November general election.
Said Endelman, "I like Jeff, but he was a heroically bad candidate. I remember at one Democratic rally he told a group he couldn't remember all the houses he owns. He tried to convince people he was a man of the people, just like them. Flying around in your private jet and talking about the bad economy, hanging out with convicted-felon celebrities, taking mega-yacht trips to Cuba -- these aren't going make you a populist among Florida Democrats.
"The story in New York Magazine does at least explain a lot about Jeff's motives," he said.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.