U.S. Senate candidate Kendrick Meek came under attack Saturday from his new Democratic primary rival, Jeff Greene, who called the Miami U.S. representative corrupt for seeking federal money for a developer and campaign supporter later charged with massive fraud.
Meek pursued millions in taxpayer dollars for Dennis Stackhouse to build a high-tech park in Liberty City after the developer helped Meek's chief of staff buy a house and paid Meek's mother $90,000 for consulting, according to police records obtained by the Miami Herald. The park was never built in one of Miami's poorest neighborhoods.
Stackhouse is accused of making off with $1 million in public and private loans.
"Kendrick Meek's behavior is completely outrageous," Greene said in a statement, calling for a House ethics investigation and a ban on earmarked federal budget requests. ''We can no longer let the corrupt actions of these failed career politicians stand."
Trail to candidacy
The newly released evidence amounts to a major blow for the Democratic front-runner, who has spent the past 16 months doggedly building a grass roots network around the state that collected more than 125,000 voter signatures.
Stackhouse's upcoming trial and Greene's unexpected entry into the race have turned the Aug. 24 Democratic primary into a contest, after months of being eclipsed by the fierce rivalry between Gov. Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio.
Greene, a real estate tycoon, has the personal wealth to back up his attacks on television.
Meek has said he was unaware of Stackhouse's relationships with his staff and family and that he was trying to bring thousands of jobs to his congressional district.
"Kendrick Meek worked to bring economic development to South Florida but was let down by a former member of his staff, and the project was hijacked by a greedy developer years ago," said a statement released Saturday by the campaign.
Meek also returned fire, trashing Greene for making a fortune betting against the collapsed housing market. "Now he is using his ill-gotten gains to attack Kendrick Meek in the hope that he can buy a Senate seat for himself," said a campaign statement.
The candidate who stands to gain from the backbiting between Meek and Greene: Crist, a former Republican now campaigning as an independent and making broad overtures to Democrats.
Crist was more popular among Democrats in a recent Mason-Dixon poll than Meek, who was unfamiliar to 40 percent of the voters in his party.
"I'm not sure Kendrick is aware of how quickly this race is about to be over," said political consultant Jeff Garcia of Miami, who has managed Democratic congressional and Senate campaigns but not worked with Meek. "I would say this thing is on life support."
The Mason-Dixon survey pegged Crist at 38 percent, rising Republican star Marco Rubio at 32 percent and Meek at 19 percent. Former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre received 4 percent and Greene got 2 percent.
Lori Glasser, president of the Broward County Democratic Council of Club Presidents, said Meek has been taking the country's Democratic stronghold for granted.
"I think he's in trouble, and I think he's been in trouble for a while," she said. "I think you will find Democrats that support Charlie Crist because they like him and find him very personable."
Other Democrats pointed out that Crist and Rubio have their own political liabilities.
Under Crist's leadership, state Republican Party staff and elected officials spent party donations lavishly.
State investigators are scrutinizing a side fundraising contract between the part and Crist's handpicked chairman, Jim Greer, who was ousted earlier this year.
Rubio is among the party credit card holders under review by the Internal Revenue Service.
No apology on funds
Crist, opening his new campaign headquarters in St. Petersburg on Saturday, said of Meek's relationship with Stackhouse: "It should be concerning to anybody and certainly it is to me, but we should leave it to the proper authorities to decide."
Rubio's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Police said the investigation is continuing and would not say whether Meek and his mother, former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, are part of the probe. Police arrested Stackhouse in October, more than two years after a 2007 Miami Herald investigation revealed the developer used double billing and bogus invoices to pilfer from a county agency and private Boston bank.
In 2004, Meek got $72,750 in the federal budget for Stackhouse's proposed development. He unsuccessfully sought another $4 million for the development in 2006.
Meek has made no apologies for seeking federal money for local projects, though both his leading Senate rivals have attacked so-called earmarks as a symptom of government overspending. Crist has vowed not to seek earmarks, while one of Rubio's biggest champions in Congress, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, is a prominent earmark critic.
Meek this year is asking for nearly $238 million in earmarks, ranging from $100,000 for "teaching healthy lifestyle choices to children" through the Haitian American Alliance Youth Foundation to $37 million for dredging Miami Harbor to accommodate larger vessels.
Times/Herald staff writers Lesley Clark and Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.