MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) – A nasty Democratic Senate primary turned spiritual Sunday as Rep. Kendrick Meek told a church congregation that he forgives billionaire opponent Jeff Greene for his campaign attacks. The feeling wasn’t necessarily mutual, however, as Greene, handing out school supplies to families in the same community, said it was Meek who pushed the campaign in a negative direction.
Meek, a former Florida Highway Patrol trooper, said he was talking to a Tampa police chaplain recently who gave him advice. “He said ‘Do you understand the power of forgiveness and the day you release him, the day you become more powerful,” Meek said. “I release him. I release the spirit.” The congregation applauded.
Later, Meek explained further, saying forgiveness allows him to think more clearly. “I can’t be distracted by attacks. I have to focus on the future of the state of Florida. I have to release anything in my heart against Mr. Greene and how I feel about him personally and move on and that’s what I’m doing,” Meek said. “It’s been tough, I’m not going to sugar-coat it.”
Greene said after his event, held in Meek’s congressional district, that he wrote to the congressman when he entered the race and said he wanted to keep things positive. “The first day of the campaign, the first day I got involved, May 1st, his campaign began to launch vicious personal attacks. Against me, against my family, against everything we stand for,” Greene said. “And I’ve unfortunately had to respond.” The race has been bitter. Greene has said Meek is corrupt because he sought federal money for a developer who had his mother, former Rep. Carrie Meek, on his payroll. Meek said Greene, who achieved billionaire status by making investments that paid off when the housing market collapsed, is a “bad man” who enriched himself on the misery of others. And the attacks escalated from there, including Meek questioning Greene’s character for asking former boxer and convicted rapist Mike Tyson to be his best man and Greene sending a mail piece questioning whether Meek would support Israel.
On Sunday, the National Jewish Democratic Council defended Meek’s record on Israel and said it was disappointed in Greene’s mailer. Meek acknowledge he’s had a role setting the tone of the campaign. “I know what I said, and that’s the way I felt, but I have to brush that off and I gotta move forward. Me being disappointed in Mr. Greene’s attacks is not going to change his plan of attack,” said Meek, who visited five churches on Sunday morning before holding a “Souls to the polls” early voting rally with several pastors. “I don’t have to carry it in my heart, I don’t have to carry it in my mind.” During a stop at the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Meek told the congregation he will represent all of Florida. “A victory on Tuesday will be the people of good will, will be whites and blacks and Hispanics and Muslims and people from all over Florida saying that I’m the person that should lead and should be at the top of the ballot in November,” Meek said. He looked very comfortable at the pulpit, delivering his words with the force of a minister. “My mother said I’m going to be there one day. I’m going to preach one day,” Meek, smiling, said afterward.
At the early voting rally, C.J. Phipps, a 38-year-old health care worker, said he waited in line 35 minutes to cast his vote for Meek. “My focus was Meek all along,” he said. “Last election it was a couple of hours, so I’ll take 35 minutes.” Across town, Greene told about 50 people gathered with their children that he is a self-made man who worked three jobs to put himself through school and that every child there could live the same dream. The crowd clapped when he talked about creating more after school programs. He also said he would work to create jobs. “We can win this economic world war,” he said. Jacqueline Williams, 39, of Miami Gardens, attended the event with her 6- and 10-year-old daughters and left saying she might vote for Greene. “They gave me something to go home and strongly think about. I’m pushing more toward him now. He’s more toward education, unemployment, and he’s really down to earth,” she said.
Associated Press Writer Christine Armario contributed to this report.
The photo above is of U.S. Representative Kendrick Meek.