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The Silly Season

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By

Jerry Waxman

 

 

Jeff                 “I’ve made a haul in all the mortgage rackets, from which rip-roaring rich I happen to be.

                        I’ll create jobs in all the income brackets. Vote for me, vote for me, vote for me…….”

 

Marco             “My purse has yet to know a silver lining. My credit card will fix that just wait and see.

                        I’m in foreclosure but I’ll not be whining. Vote for me, vote for me, vote for me…….”

 

Charlie           “A mediocre white haired politician, with no distinguished record for you to see.

                        My marriage gave a goose to my position. Vote for me, vote for me, vote for me….”

I can’t help it. Cole Porter’s wickedly witty Tom, Dick and Harry from his musical, Kiss Me Kate, always comes to mind when The Silly Season takes over and candidates come a’ courting. On any given day candidates are appearing at Hob Nobs, PAC meetings, religious services Chamber of Commerce events, homeowner associations and professional association meetings. They are hosting fund raising parties in local restaurants, bowling alleys, house parties and charter boats. Some run legitimate campaigns and some become more outrageous with each new day. I call it The Silly Season but it is dead serious business, and the future of Florida lies in the balance.

There’s no sillier matchup in the Governor’s race than the one between Bill McCollum and Rick Scott to see who can be more macho. Neither of them have a stellar record to run on. Scott is a member of that new political phenomenon of super wealthy individuals who think they know how to run the government because they achieved a measure of success in business. McCollum made his reputation by exploiting wedge and divisive issues without tackling any of Florida’s real problems. McCollum is a known political quantity and Scott isn’t, however Scott’s company and several of his executives were prosecuted in the largest Medicare fraud ever. Scott wasn’t implicated, but you have to wonder that as CEO if a fraud that large escaped his attention how is he ever going to handle that Tallahassee mob? Why should the public trust a guy who didn’t know what was going on in his own company?

Most of the buzz in Florida’s US Senate race is concentrated on Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist, but the more interesting race is for the Democratic Party’s nominee between Kendrick Meek and Jeff Greene. Both men claim to be progressive and they are from two different backgrounds. Meek’s Mother, Carrie Meek, was an educator who came to Miami in 1961 to assist in the desegregation of Miami-Dade Community College. Her community activism led her into politics and in 1978 she was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. She became a state senator in 1982 and in 1992 she was elected to congress as the first African American from Florida since Reconstruction.

Kendrick Meek was born in Miami and graduated from Florida A&M. He joined the Florida Highway Patrol and eventually became the first African American captain on the force. Up until this time Meek has run almost unopposed for every elective office, however, he has a solid record of legislative accomplishment. He doesn’t boast about his record either-he leaves that to his wife, Leslie, who constantly regales audiences about his classic sit-in with Jeb Bush over Bush’s efforts to do away with Affirmative Action and substitute his One Florida Initiative (by executive Order). Meek and another legislator, Tony Hill, actually forced Bush’s hand and stood him down-the only legislators to do so. Meek also was the driving force behind the Florida Class size amendment, amassing more than 500,000 signatures to get it on the 2002 ballot. The full effect of the amendment will be activated this year.

To hear the Florida Democratic establishment talk of Jeff Greene one would think he was Benedict Arnold, Simon Legree, Boris Badenov, Torquemada, Filthy McNasty and Mr. Applegate all rolled into one entity. Greene has had a credibility and ethics problem because of his past lifestyle and investment portfolio. He ran for office as a Republican in California. Greene’s people refute this, citing that as a private citizen he has the right to associate with whomever he pleases and that none of his investments were illegal, immoral or unethical despite the Democrats allegations about profiting on the backs of unfortunate people. Green himself states that his investments were a hedge to protect his business from the impending real estate bubble. “I never imagined that it would go so far” said Greene. Greene also says that his flirtation with being a Republican was almost thirty years ago and mostly due to his youthful naivete’.

His parents were Democrats from New England and moved to Florida in 1970 as the New England Textile industry started to decline and his father’s business failed. His mother is still a Palm Beach County resident. Greene helped support himself through various menial jobs at area hotels like The Breakers in Palm Beach. His higher education includes Johns Hopkins and Harvard Business School. Greene built a successful real estate business in California and was wealthy prior to the housing and foreclosure crisis. He was a lifelong bachelor until he wed in 2007. He and his wife, Mei Sze, have an infant son, Malcolm, who is almost eleven months old.

The race is causing consternation in Central Florida Democratic circles. Greene has the money to hire people and some early Meek supporters are now on the Greene Payroll. The Greene people are being treated like pariahs at Democratic functions, yet they gamely show up and at times are not allowed to speak up for their candidate. Meek has the solid support of the Central Florida labor unions and Democratic clubs, yet Greene continues to make inroads through his targeted advertising and mass mailings. The Tallahassee Democrat actually endorsed Greene over Meek citing Greene for his “edge and an energy that make him want to push beyond the usual talking points”, remarking, “We like the toughness he would bring to the office.”  On the stump Greene is personable, relaxed and willing to submit to tough questioning. He did make a recent gaffe regarding his trip that ended up in Cuba, however in subsequent meetings with the press he explained his misspeaking satisfactorily.

The two candidates are very close on most of the issues. When asked by reporters last week at the Beardall Senior Center in Orlando Greene replied that he and Meek are both Democrats and that they should be close on them. He continues to claim that Meek is a failed career politician, which is an unfair statement as Meek has never lost an election and has an extremely progressive voting record and is as tough a fighter as the Democrats have in Congress. Meek sees his career as one of a public servant and not a politician. His supporters agree with this assessment. Meek has started to fight back citing Green’s questionable real estate deals in California, and his twisting of the facts about Meek’s mother’s consulting rewards. The negativity serves neither of them well. Both men have strong enough assets to campaign on their merits alone. Both are likeable and engaging and they both have strong ideas. Meek’s campaign is more people oriented, while Greene focuses on economic issues and job creation. If either candidate has any stump weakness it is that Greene doesn’t spend enough time on people issues and Meek doesn’t spend enough time on economic and job issues. Greene consented to a short interview in which he attempted to outline the way he would create jobs. He admits that government must play a role in helping the process.

Greene has the kind of drive it takes to both get known and influence people. He claims that he cannot be bought by any special interest and that he will change the way business is done in Washington. That is ambitious, yet way too optimistic. As a freshman senator he’s low man on the totem pole and if the Establishment Democrats hold any grudge he’s not going to get any choice committee assignments. His best option would be to use his money and start his own lobbying firm to influence every other politician. That could change things, except that’s becoming what he says he’s against. Meek, on the other hand, despite his solid record of progressive legislation has a name recognition factor among Democrats. His victory over Jeb Bush and the class size amendment alone should have made him a household name in Florida. His historic petition drive (over 112,000 signatures statewide) to get on the ballot is the first time in Florida history that anyone has qualified in that manner. It would have been a lot cheaper to just pay the qualifying fee but Meek is determined to stay grass roots and identify with the people, and that’s how he runs his campaign.

On Tuesday, August 10 Meek and Greene met for another debate in Orlando. The taping took place at 2:00 PM for later broadcast throughout the state. The press room was full of reporters from all over the state. The result was more of the same. More time was spent attacking each other or defending themselves that the issues were left out to dry. Greene kept hammering away at Meek, blaming him as the personification of a Washington establishment that doesn’t work. Meek kept referring to Greene’s past colorful relationships and allegedly questionable real estate transactions. Staff members on both sides claimed victory, with Greene’s staffers actually handing out victory press releases before the debate was over. The only loser in this debate is the voting public, who, once again, has been denied a robust debate on the real issues and could wind up electing any Tom, Harry or Dick.

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