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Jeff Greene finishes fourth in Democratic primary for governor

He says he'll enthusiastically support Andrew Gillum.
Jeff Greene, a Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, speaks during a teachers' rally in Miami Gardens on Aug. 19. (Josh Ritchie/The New York Times)
Jeff Greene, a Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, speaks during a teachers' rally in Miami Gardens on Aug. 19. (Josh Ritchie/The New York Times)
Published Aug. 29, 2018
Updated Aug. 29, 2018

Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene finished fourth in the Democratic primary for Florida governor, earning roughly 10 percent of the vote despite having spent tens of millions of his own money on an aggressive campaign.

Greene, who watched the election results at home with his family, said in a phone interview that he would enthusiastically support winning candidate Andrew Gillum.

"I can tell you that if I wasn't going to win I wanted him to win," Greene said. "Andrew and I, I really thought, were the only two progressives, true progressives in the race."

Greene had previously planned to host an election night watch party at the Tideline Hotel in Palm Beach, which he owns, but on Monday afternoon his campaign announced that the election party had been canceled.

Greene spent Monday campaigning in Jacksonville, where he called for increased gun control measures following a shooting at a video game tournament on Sunday that killed 3 people and wounded 11 others. The candidate cast his ballot on Tuesday in Palm Beach.

Greene launched his campaign late in the race, quietly opening his campaign account in early June without holding a press conference or granting any media interviews. He quickly became a loud presence in a crowded Democratic field with five candidates, however. Greene spent more than $34 million on an aggressive campaign, producing TV commercials and mailers in which he pledged to fight Donald Trump and attacked his opponents' environmental records. Greene also focused on education, promoting a private school he founded for his three sons in West Palm Beach as a model for Florida's public schools.

The billionaire developer, who lists his net worth at $3.3 billion, raised more than $37 million for his campaign, most of which came from his own fortune.

Greene said he did not regret spending millions on his campaign. "My feeling is if I can get a message out and get a robust conversation going on early childhood education, universal pre-K, ending stand your ground, common sense gun reforms, it's worth it," he said. "What could be more important than making a difference for the people of Florida?"

Greene, 63, was an unconventional candidate with no government experience. The son of a textile machinery salesman, he grew up poor in Worcester, Mass., went to Harvard Business School, and moved to California in the 1980s, where he made a fortune in real estate and development. Greene later made an estimated $800 million betting against the real estate market ahead of the crash in the late 2000s. The candidate owns an $85 million estate on Palm Beach near Trump's Mar-a-Lago, where he has a membership.

Greene said that he and his wife, Mei Sze Greene, will continue to focus on education issues, including the private school they founded. "We intend to continue to be involved in trying to make a difference for as many kids as possible in Florida and throughout the country," he said.

Greene is no stranger to political defeat. He lost to former congressman Kendrick Meek in the 2010 U.S. Senate primary and ran an unsuccessful campaign for Congress — as a Republican — in California in 1982. Greene spent close to $24 million of his own money on the campaign against Meek, earning 31 percent of the vote.

Earlier this month, Greene announced that he'd put $5 million into a political committee to help other Florida Democrats. At a recent leadership meeting of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party in Doral, the billionaire candidate pledged to use his fortune to put more Democrats in office.

"I'm prepared to use what I've accrued in my lifetime to flip Florida blue once and for all," he said.

Greene told the Miami Herald that he plans to donate money to Gillum's campaign, although he wouldn't say how much.