Jeff Greene for Senate: Hey, How Bad Can He Be?
A novel argument speaks to Florida's Democrats.


Neal B. Freeman

Jacksonville, Fla. – Seven weeks and $4 million ago, Jeff Greene was unknown to any of the three Floridas — the liberal south, the swing middle, or the conservative north. What most Floridians know about him today is what he has told them himself in a series of tight-shot TV spots. In the first of these, reflecting the distilled wisdom of 2008, he says roughly, “I’m Jeff Greene. You’ve never heard of me. Vote for me anyway.” In the second, adding nuance to the inevitable “comparison” ad, he says roughly, “I’m Jeff Greene. I’m not as bad as the other guy.” And in the third, seeking to tickle the nerve endings of aroused Obama voters, he says roughly, “I’m Jeff Greene. I’ll bring lots of unspecified change.” Democratic voters in anno mirabile 2010 oddly seem to have found this argument compelling and have rallied in large numbers to Greene’s loud if not quite certain trumpet. In a June Quinnipiac poll, Greene has pulled into a dead heat with Democratic-party favorite and (until seven weeks ago) presumptive nominee Rep. Kendrick Meek.

We thus owe Mr. Greene a little shrift. Here’s the basic file, gleaned from a few curious souls scattered across the state. Jeff Greene is 55, a son of middle-class Worcester, Mass., whose distinctive accents make the occasional return appearance when he speaks at high speed. He is well educated, Jewish, newly married, the father of an infant son. He is not, despite the insistence of the New York Times to the contrary, a “real estate mogul.” After graduating from Johns Hopkins and (to settle for the mincing verb) attending Harvard Business School, he moved to California and made a score in the real-estate boom of the Eighties. Off the job, he lived hard, famously hard. As boom turned to bust, however, a pall fell over Greene’s bachelor lifestyle and he was forced to begin the tedious process of unwinding his leveraged investments. By the early Nineties, he was all but tapped out, a nine-figure victim of market mistiming.

The story of Jeff Greene might have ended right there, but, in a real-American version of the second act, he clambered back up the money tree. Within only 15 years, he had earned his own parking place in the Forbes 400. According to the magazine, Greene’s “number” hit $1.2 billion. (There’s lascivious interest in Greene’s finances, but, unlike Crist, Rubio, and Meek, Greene refuses to release even partial tax returns.) In 2007, Greene married an Asian-American woman he had met at a party thrown by his pal Mike Tyson, and in choosing Iron Mike as his best man, he made one of the most buzzworthy wedding-day decisions since Oswald Mosley, marrying Diana Mitford in the fascist wedding of the year, selected Josef Goebbels. Greene then picked up stakes and moved to Palm Beach, where he began to live not so much hard as large, consuming in a mode conspicuous even by indigenous standards. Greene’s collection of rich-guy toys was so over the top that even the local arrivistes began to snipe. In a classic quote to the Tampa Tribune, Greene put the grumblers in their place: “They’ll attack me for my success in making money. It’s called ‘the American Dream.’”