Committing the political equivalent of a home invasion in broad daylight, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene stumped Monday afternoon in the needy Miami neighborhood represented in Congress by rival Kendrick Meek and his mother for almost two decades.
Greene toured the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, visited the vacant lot where Meek had unsuccessfully championed construction of a biotech campus, and drove down streets pocked by closed storefronts and rundown apartment buildings.
"Kendrick Meek has neglected his district and neglected his state," Greene told about 50 people gathered in front of the Helping Hands Youth Center in Liberty City. "People are fed up with career politicians."
Meek says he didn't know developer Dennis Stackhouse had paid his mother, former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, as a consultant and helped his chief of staff buy a home when he sought federal funds for the biotech project. Stackhouse never built it, and is charged with stealing $1 million in private and public funds.
"All the money keeps disappearing when it comes to the black community," said Mae Christian, who wore an Obama campaign T-shirt at Greene's campaign event. "We have a lack of leadership."
Even by the standards of wacky Florida politics, there was something surreal in the sight of Greene, a Palm Beach billionaire, driving through Liberty City in a Cadillac Escalade — the same kind of car he has criticized Meek's mother for accepting from Stackhouse.
His brazen attack on Meek's home turf reflected the audacity — critics would say arrogance — of a real estate mogul bankrolling his own campaign and making his first trip to Liberty City. Greene has lived in Florida full time only since 2008.
"Kendrick's entire life has been about representing and working on behalf of the residents of Liberty City and the surrounding communities, while Jeff Greene was there for a political stunt," said Meek's spokesman, Adam Sharon.
Meek's mother still lives in Liberty City, while Meek lives nearby in Miami Gardens. Sharon added: "There's no doubt the recession and the housing market collapse has hit the community he represents in a more impactful way then almost anywhere else. When you are of and from that district you know that better than anyone, certainly better than Jeff Greene."
Greene's campaign billed the speech as his "Jobs for Florida Plan," but he gave few details in his eight-minute talk beyond calling for affordable college tuition, more unemployment benefits and a "national infrastructure bank'' to build roads, bridges and high-speed rail lines.
Greene also vowed to "end earmarks once and for all," referring to the pet projects members of Congress tuck into the federal budget. Meek has argued that bringing money home to his congressional district is part of the job.
Asked about his 1982 Republican bid for Congress in California, Greene fudged and said, ''I was a Republican 30 years ago for a couple years of my life." Records show he remained a Republican until 1992, when he moved to Malibu and dropped his party affiliation. Greene registered as a Democrat in 2008.
Greene is slated today to campaign in Miami-Dade for the second day in a row when he and his wife visit the Embrace Girls Foundation in Sunny Isles Beach.
In the crowd at the Helping Hands Youth Center was the father of Sherdavia Jenkins, the 9-year-old girl killed by a stray bullet while playing on her front stoop in 2006.
"It's hard for me to even be in this area, but I believe a change is needed," said David Jenkins, explaining his support for Greene. "I'm hoping he can create more jobs and put an end to some of the violence in our neighborhood."