Meek’s Changing Fortunes
Carrie's son, Kendrick, is not used to contested elections.


Neal B. Freeman

Unlike his neighbors along the mean streets of inner-city Miami, Kendrick Meek was born sucking on a silver spoon, at least politically speaking. He was the son of the legendary Carrie Meek, who built a political career from the ground up, picking her way from door to door across the cracked-window desolation of Liberty City. She became the first African American to win a place in the Florida congressional delegation and, after years of nit-pick constituent service to the majority blacks and minority Haitians in her impoverished district, she managed to lock down the 17th CD for life. And then for a bit longer, as it happened. In July 2002, just days before the filing deadline, Representative Meek unexpectedly retired. The only candidate prepared to jump into the race at that late date was her son, Kendrick, at the time a highway patrolman and part-time state legislator. The campaign was no pick-and-shovel chore for young Meek. He ran unopposed in the Democratic primary, and then unopposed in the general election. Just as he did in the subsequent elections of 2004, 2006, and 2008. Life, at least in its political dimension, has been more than fair to Kendrick Meek.

When he got to Washington, Meek settled in to a conventional logrolling career that, to this point at least, has managed to avoid disgrace. He has voted with knee-jerk reliability with the Pelosi leadership (98.3 percent of the time in this Congress), while declaring himself a party moderate. From his perch on the Ways and Means Committee, he has become an aggressive earmarker, near the top of his class, spreading grants and contracts around to personal and political favorites. Most of those earmarks have been relatively hygienic, but, according to a May story in the Miami Herald, two of them were ticketed for a South Florida builder who, it was later revealed, had paid the retired Ms. Meek $90,000 in consulting fees. That was the same builder who had given Kendrick Meek’s chief of staff the down payment to buy a house. The same builder, in fact, who is now facing trial for stealing $1 million from a building project supported by the Meeks. The buildings themselves, you’ll be amazed to learn, never got built.

While most of Meek’s congressional activity has been low-key and behind-the-scenes, he has taken a leadership role in racial politics, serving for several years as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. That may sound like a letterhead job with no juice. Hardly. From 2004 through 2008, the foundation raised prodigious amounts of money, almost $55 million. Congressional records pried loose last year show that approximately $1 million of that money was donated to more or less worthy causes. The rest — almost all of it, that is — went for receptions, junkets, theme parties, galas, and other team-building exercises cooked up by Cruise Director Meek. The CBC Foundation story is a scandal of some magnitude, but it has elicited only cursory attention to this point. It remains a ticking package, however, for those in charge, and especially for Kendrick Meek. To tidy up for the 2010 campaign, Meek was moved out of the chairmanship earlier this year in favor of Donald Payne (D., N.J.), who, while no hot-eyed reformer, promised to provide a bit of adult supervision.