jeff-greene-kendrick-meek_web.jpgWEST PALM BEACH — In the first debate between U.S. Senate hopefuls, Kendrick Meek and Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene on Tuesday, June 22, things got personal.

“How dare you attack my mother?” Meek fired at Greene, turning away from the camera and staring Greene directly in the eye. He lashed out at Greene after Greene said the only job Meek ever created was one for his mother (political stalwart Carrie Meek) as a consultant to make $90,000 and get an Escalade to drive up to Tallahassee.
Kendrick Meek had had enough. Throughout most of the 90-minute debate, he sat calmly while Greene constantly made reference to the first question posed to Meek, about his dealings with Miami developer Dennis Stackhouse, who was arrested on fraud and theft charges.

Carrie Meek was once paid $90,000 as a consulting fee by Stackhouse, and she also received a Cadillac Escalade from Stackhouse for her trouble, according to police. Kendrick Meek also once sought federal dollars for a project for Stackhouse, but neither Congressman Meek nor his mother, who is a former congresswoman, has been charged with a crime.

“Nothing that I have done has been improper. And that’s the reason why I’m not the subject of any investigation whatsoever,” Meek said. He also said he supports the arrest of Stackhouse.

But Greene would not let go of the issue and he constantly made reference to the situation and Carrie Meek throughout the debate.

Finally, Meek, clearly angered – retorted, “How dare you attack the character of my mother?!! How dare you attack a Floridian that was born here? Someone who has lived here. Someone that has stood up for women. Someone who has been a stellar Democrat,” Meek fired at his opponent.    

Although they were told not to applaud during the debate, the crowd applauded and cheered Meek.

Greene, looking flushed, then responded: “Kendrick, I’m not attacking your mother, I’m attacking you.”

West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, who has endorsed Meek, said she was not in favor of the personal attacks coming from either side. She said she would prefer that the candidates stick to the issues.

Roslyn Siders of Boynton Beach, echoed the mayor’s sentiments, but said Greene was clearly wrong to hurl attacks at Meek’s mother – especially since
Greene’s own mother, also a senior citizen, was seated in the audience. Siders said she feels as though Meek won the debate because he handled himself with class, she said.

And though the topics discussed were widespread: illegal immigration, gay adoption, the war in Afghanistan, energy, the stimulus bill and more – the attacks never ceased.

Greene lumped Meek with corrupt, career politicians.

“This culture of corruption and culture of bribery in Washington needs to end once and for all,” Greene said.

Meek accused Greene of bringing about the “destruction of our economy” with his business tactics and real-estate investments. Greene, a real estate investor, said he did not regret making credit default swaps that netted him hundreds of millions of dollars, while foreclosures skyrocketed in Florida and across the country.

“On nights when Floridians went to bed praying that they could save their homes, and the equity in their homes, Mr. Greene was praying they’d lose their homes so he could profit and become a billionaire,” Meek said.

Greene defended himself.

“When I saw the real estate market imploding, I had to do something to protect the jobs I had created, the mouths I was feeding and to protect the investments I worked a lifetime to own,” he answered.

Meek also questioned Greene’s sincerity in running as a Democrat, reminding the audience that Meek is the only one of the candidates running for the Senate seat who hasn’t run for office as a Republican.

Greene once ran for office in the 1980s as a Republican.

Much of the attention in the Senate race has focused on Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent after abandoning the Republican Party, and conservative Republican Marco Rubio.

Greene touted himself as a self-made man, reminding the audience that he once worked as a busboy at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. Though he’s now a billionaire, there were times when his family struggled, he said.

Meek, however, said he is the only candidate who will stand up for the middle class.

Both candidates agreed that some type of Social Security reform is needed. Both supported gay adoption and the repeal of the military’s “Don’t ask, Don’t tell,” policy.

Both opposed an Arizona-style immigration law in Florida.          

Like-minded on most policy issues, the candidates both struggle with an identity issue. Some polls show that throughout the state of Florida, respondents don’t know much about either candidate.  After spending $5 million on TV ads, Greene is closing the gap on Meek, polls show, even though Meek still leads by a slight margin.

The debate was sponsored by The Palm Beach Post, in conjunction with WPBT-2 of Miami. The primary election is scheduled for Aug. 24.

AP Photos/The Palm Beach Post, Lannis Waters. Staff Illustration. Jeff Greene, left, and Kendrick Meek, right, participate in a debate for the U.S. Senate seat on Tuesday, June 22.