Billionaire Jeff Greene Shakes Up Senate Race

Democrat rails against unemployment and political insiders
By: Kevin Derby | Posted: April 30, 2010 10:19 AM
Jeff Greene

Jeff Greene / Photo credit: www.jeffgreene.com

Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene jumped into the U.S. Senate race on Friday--making an exciting election contest even more dramatic.

A day after Gov. Charlie Crist announced that he was leaving the Republican Party to continue his campaign as an independent, real estate investor Greene threw his hat in the ring, launching a bid for the Democratic nomination. Greene joins a field that includes frontrunner U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre and former North Miami Mayor Kevin Burns. Former House Speaker Marco Rubio is the favorite to win the Republican nomination.

Launching his campaign on a website, Greene took aim at his opponents in a video message.

“All of the major candidates for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat have been inside government for the past 10 years,’’ said Greene. “And during those 10 years, things have only gotten worse.’’

Greene focused on Florida’s record high unemployment, calling for incentives and tax cuts for small businesses. “Today the people in Florida are struggling – for me that struggle is personal,” he said. “That’s why as Florida’s Senator, job creation will be my number-one priority, and like everything I’ve ever done, getting results will be what drives me.”

The billionaire candidate has an interesting past with aspects of modern celebrity and a Horatio Alger tale. Growing up in a middle class environment, Greene held some odd jobs, waiting tables at the Breakers and working for a traveling circus before making his fortune, now estimated at $1.25 billion, in real estate. Greene added to his wealth by investing in credit default swaps, investing against sub-prime mortgages.

Greene certainly played up his origins in his announcement. “I started with absolutely nothing and through hard work built business success beyond my wildest dreams – it’s called the American dream,“ he said. “I’m running to preserve and protect that dream for my six month old son Malcolm and for all Florida’s children.”

Greene did not touch on some of the more colorful aspects of his past. These include a tangled lawsuit against actor and director Ron Howard, having Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss living on his property for a year and having controversial heavyweight great Mike Tyson as the best man at his wedding in 2008.

While Greene may be running as an outsider, he has hired some prominent Democratic insiders to manage his campaign. Greene has brought on veteran campaign strategist Joe Trippi, best known for his role in shaping former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. Greene has also hired Paul Blank, like Trippi a veteran of Dean’s campaign, to handle communications.

While he grew up in Florida as a Democrat, Greene drifted over to the Republican ranks during his time in grad school, going for his MBA at the Harvard Business School. Greene ran in the Republican primary for a congressional seat in California but was unsuccessful in winning the nomination. Since that time, he has returned back to the Democrats.

Democrats have been rallying to Meek this week with officeholders and the party apparatus continuing to back the congressman’s campaign. 

“While neither Carl Hiaasen nor John Grisham could have written a more exciting script than the reality that is the 2010 election cycle in Florida, President Obama recently said Kendrick Meek is next U.S. senator from Florida,” said Eric Jotkoff, Florida Democratic Party spokesman. “We not only stand by the President’s words but continue to enthusiastically support Kendrick Meek, the hands-on leader Florida needs fighting for us in  Washington.”

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com  or (850) 727-0859.

Comments (1)

Honorable Lynn L.Laird
9:39PM MAY 5TH 2010
Mr. Greene, The Panhandle is Meek County. Do not even try to ask for support from local elected Democrats or from Democrat party members up here. Take your dirty $$$ and shut up and go away.

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