Greene, Meek Meet in First Democratic Debate
With polls showing Kendrick Meek and Jeff Greene essentially tied in the race for the Democratic Party’s U.S. Senate nomination, the two men hit each other hard on ethics while trying to draw distinctions on policy during their first debate Tuesday.
The debate, hosted by the Palm Beach Post, was streamed on the newspaper’s website in lieu of being televised, perhaps a sign of diminishing interest in the contest to win the right to battle presumptive Republican nominee Marco Rubio and no-party candidate Gov. Charlie Crist, who has moved aggressively to win normally Democratic votes since leaving the Republican Party.
But that did not stop Meek and Green from debating with gusto Tuesday, clashing over ethics and their records in the Democratic Party, as well as national issues such as immigration, gay and abortion rights and the war in Afghanistan.
Greene struck first, casting the race as a choice between “career politician” Meek and a successful business man, themes familiar from his ubiquitous television ads that put him with 2 percentage points of Meek in a recent poll.
“I’m running for the United States Senate because I’m fed up with what’s going on in Washington,” Greene said. “I’m running to put an end to corruption and bribery once and for all and offer the people of Florida a clear choice between more of the same from career politicians who have failed us in every way or a self-made man.”
A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Meek with a 29-27 percent lead – within the margin of error. But it also showed large percentages - 59 percent for Meek and 64 percent for Greene - saying they don't know enough the candidates to make a decision yet.
Meek painted Greene as a Johnny-come-lately to the Senate race, Florida and the Democratic Party.
“I’ve worked very long and very hard for the state of Florida, as a state trooper and an elected official,” Meek said. “I’m the only true progressive in this race. I’m the only candidate that has been in the race since 2009. I’m the only one of four major candidates in this race that has not run for federal office as a Republican.”
Greene ran for Congress in California in 1982 as a Republican.
Greene drew a contrast with the rest of the U.S. Senate field too, saying he was the only one not currently dogged by ethical questions as election season gets underway in earnest.
“I’m running against three candidates who have ethical (questions),” he said. “Marco Rubio was caught using a Republican Party credit card and now he didn’t pay his subprime mortgage…Charlie Crist’s hand-picked chairman was led away in handcuffs and now my opponent in the Democratic primary asked for $4 million from a developer,” referencing allegations Kendrick Meek steered federal contracts to a developer who hired his mother as a consultant.
Meek bristled as the charges his mother had acted improperly.
“How dare you attack my mother?” Meek said. “I’m a man of integrity. I’d never attack your mother. I wish that you'd run against me versus trying to run against my 84-year-old mother.”
Greene said he was not raising questions about Meek’s mother, former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek. Instead, he said he was targeting Meek’s own culpability, citing a newspaper editorial that said Meek was “either clueless or worse,” for saying he did not know about his mother’s job or the car she received.
Greene also said the only job Meek created as a member of Congress was one for his mother "so she make $90,000 and get an Escalade to drive up to Tallahassee."
Greene said that Meek should call for a congressional investigation because “the people of Florida need to know who you are working for.” But Meek maintained his innocence, saying “I did nothing wrong, nothing improper and that’s the reason I’m not subject to any investigation.”
Meek threw sharp elbows at Greene too, saying that he made his money on the backs of Floridians whose homes have been foreclosed on during the recession that has crippled the once-booming state housing market.
“You’re the king of the undercover credit default swap that led to the destruction of the economy,” Meek said to Greene. “On nights Floridians were praying they could save their homes and the equity in their homes, Mr. Greene was praying they would default so he could become a millionaire.”
Greene defended his real estate investments, saying “what I did was protect my investment and the jobs I created, not speculating.”
Greene also refuted Meek’s claims that he was new to Florida, saying “Kendrick, when you were three years old, I was getting my driver’s license.”
“My parents moved to Florida in 1970,” he said. But Meek pointed out that Greene’s previous Congressional run was in California, saying “You just got here two and a half years ago and now you’re saying ‘I want to be the United States Senator because my wallet says so.’”