Jeff Greene and Donald Trump: Billionaires and … politicians?


Another Palm Beach billionaire businessman with ties to Mar-a-Lago but virtually no political experience has decided to go big and run for an office traditionally held by veteran politicians.

Jeff Greene, a member of President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, has filed paperwork to enter the Democratic primary for governor.

Greene, 63, has said he considers Trump a friend. They also are neighbors on Palm Beach, with their oceanfront estates separated by only the Bath & Tennis Club.

Although Trump is a Republican and Greene a Democrat, the men have much in common. Both men made their fortunes in distressed real estate and were considered outsiders among Palm Beach socialites.

Greene’s march toward real estate riches

Greene, 63, was born in Massachusetts and moved to West Palm Beach when he was in high school. After attending Harvard Business School, Greene made his money as an apartment landlord in Southern California.

His biggest win came when he bet that the subprime mortgage bubble would burst. In 2006, Greene bought credit default swaps that he later cashed in for a profit of $500 million to $800 million. Before assembling a massive real estate portfolio in West Palm Beach, Greene tried his hand at politics, spending $24 million on a failed bid for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination.

>>THE GOV RACE: What does Jeff Greene’s entrance mean?

Greene then focused on real estate, spending nearly a quarter billion dollars on property between Lantana and Jupiter by 2014.

Greene is now West Palm Beach’s biggest landholder. But West Palm Beach officials have grown skeptical of his plans because major projects have not moved forward. That cost him on Monday, when city commissioners, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, rejected his request to develop West Palm Beach’s prominent Tent Site, a lot at the city’s Okeechobee Boulevard gateway.

Mayor Jeri Muoio repeatedly raised doubts about Greene’s qualifications for the development plum, pointing to his failure to move forward on his One West Palm project, a $250 million, two-tower project that won city approval more than a year ago and has yet to be built. Greene has said he’s negotiating with a construction company on the project.

Meet the next Henry Flagler: Billionaire bullish on land buys in county

But Greene did follow through on providing his children with a better education — founding the Greene School on Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach in 2016 because he wasn’t satisfied with public or private school options for his children. Now, Greene hopes to build a private tennis center with both indoor courts near the school.

Besides his home in Palm Beach, Greene also bought the historic post office building, where he runs his businesses.

Greene has been publicly critical of Trump

While he considers Trump a friend, Greene has not been shy about commenting on his neighbor.

“I live two doors away from Donald Trump in Palm Beach,” Greene said during an interview with CNBC the day before the November 2016 election. “I know enough about Donald Trump to know that I would be scared to death to see him as our president.”

Greene did not buy Trump’s “locker-room-talk” defense of comments he made about grabbing and kissing women during a recorded conversation with Access Hollywood host Billy Bush. The Washington Post broke the story and published the videotape on Oct. 8, 2016 — one month before the presidential election.

“He didn’t say he could do that. He said he did do that,” Greene said. “To say ‘I’ve done it,’ this is not locker room kidding around — this is an admission of sexual assault.”

Five things to know about Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene

Greene also scoffed at reports last year that said Chief of Staff John Kelly hoped to limit Trump’s mingling and consulting with guests and members in the dining room at Mar-a-Lago.

“He’ll go crazy,” Greene said, recalling a dinner last season at Mar-a-Lago when Trump walked up to his table, shook everyone’s hand and took pictures.

“Trump loves being king of his castle. He walks around and talks to the people. It’s not a policy discussion. He never engages in long conversations with anybody,” Greene said. “He’ll say, ‘How’s that hotel doing?’ Or, ‘What a beautiful wife!’ And that’s the extent of it.”

Greene has been mildly critical of Trump’s visits, saying the traffic has cost him reservations at his hotel in southern Palm Beach, the Tideline Resort. But the president’s visits also “add a new level of glamour to an already glamorous and exciting community,” Greene said.

“I think that Donald Trump as president shines a bright, bright light on Palm Beach and I think that will put us on the map,” Greene said.

Greene and Trump restored aging estates

As for their mansions on Palm Beach, both Greene and Trump bought aging historic oceanfront estates and restored them. Trump purchased Mar-a-Lago in 1985 and spent millions of dollars repairing and updating the decrepit estate.

Greene and his wife, Mei Sze, live a couple of lots south of Mar-a-Lago in a landmarked beachfront mansion they renovated and restored at 1200 S. Ocean Blvd. With 36,867 total square feet, the house stands on 3.8 acres on the part of the coastal road known to locals as Billionaires Row.

The Greenes’ 1920 Mediterranean-style house was designed by noted society architect Addison Mizner and named La Billucia. The couple bought the property from the late billionaire Malcolm Glazer in December 2009 for a recorded $24 million – the highest-dollar sale in Palm Beach that year. The house is homesteaded in Palm Beach County tax rolls.

 

Greene also is slightly wealthier than Trump. According to Forbes’ billionaire list released in March, Greene is worth an estimated $3.8 billion. Trump’s net worth dropped from $3.5 billion to $3.1 billion last year, according to Forbes.

Greene’s estate also is worth more — valued at $39.1 million while Mar-a-Lago and three adjacent parcels have an estimated value of $33.9 million, according to Palm Beach County tax and property records. Greene pays a staggering $666,475 in taxes while Trump pays $642,177.

Staff writers Alexandra Clough, Tony Doris and Palm Beach Daily News reporter Darrell Hofheinz contributed to this report.



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