Greene not meek about Senate bid


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. l Boxer Mike Tyson was the best man at his wedding. Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss lived in his guest house. And the television ads for Jeff Greene’s out-of-nowhere bid for Florida’s Senate seat are financed by a fortune made from betting on the fall of the housing market.

Too much baggage for a candidate?

Not for Mr. Greene in an anti-establishment year that has been a boon to political outsiders.

A recent poll finds the Palm Beach billionaire has spent his way into a near tie with Rep. Kendrick B. Meek, who has been in the race for the Democratic nomination for months. While Mr. Meek hasn’t bought TV ads so he can conserve his cash, Mr. Greene’s heavily circulated commercials describe him as “an outsider willing to take on the career politicians.”

Though Mr. Meek has served in public office since his election to the state House in 1994 at age 28, the Miami congressman still struggles with statewide name recognition. So does Mr. Greene – but he has the cash to make up the difference.

Mr. Greene, 55, says he’ll spend whatever it takes to win. He’s already spent $4 million. Mr. Meek’s campaign had almost $4 million in the bank March 31, according to his last federal report, but hasn’t done much TV advertising.

A telemarketing and real estate entrepreneur who has been a millionaire for decades, Mr. Greene shot into billionaire status in the housing market collapse. Forbes estimated his fortune at $1.25 billion last year and listed him at No. 317 on its list of richest Americans. He was among the few who foresaw that the housing bubble would burst and jumped on the winning end of complex financial derivatives that collapsed some Wall Street investment banks.

Great for his business, but not a story that would endear him to some voters. Yet Mr. Greene is among several superrich business leaders in contention for seats against political mainstays. Former eBay CEO and President Meg Whitman and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina have captured the GOP nomination for governor and Senate, respectively, in California. Rick Scott, who made millions running a hospital chain, suddenly is making a strong run in Florida’s gubernatorial race.

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