Reaching for the most incendiary weapon in Democratic politics, gubernatorial primary rivals Philip Levine and Jeff Greene likened one another to President Donald Trump during a joint appearance at the Kings Point Democratic Club west of Delray Beach on Sunday.
Former Miami Beach Mayor Levine and billionaire Palm Beach real estate investor Greene, who have been blasting each other in TV ads over the last few weeks, shared the stage nine days before the five-candidate Aug. 28 Democratic primary for governor. They were joined in front of about 200 people by former Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham, who appeared on behalf his daughter, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, and took issue with negative ads Greene has run against her.
Things began to escalate after former state Rep. Irving Slosberg, a vice president of the club who served as moderator, asked the candidates to differentiate themselves from the others in the five-candidate primary.
Levine cited his experience as a two-term mayor. Clearly referring to Greene, who has never held public office, Levine added: “If there’s one thing we know, it’s that we don’t need to give someone from the private sector the top job. Matter of fact, we just did that with the president and it has not worked out so well.”
Greene dismissed Levine’s experience in Miami Beach, saying a resolution against assault weapons there was merely symbolic and an ordinance to hike the minimum wage quickly became tied up in legal challenges.
“It’s called a weak mayor in Miami Beach … Anybody can pass resolutions. So I think being attacked for not being a mayor is a little unfair,” Greene said.
Greene also accused Levine of airing “misleading commercials” that show a clip of Greene calling Trump “a great guy” in a TV appearance the day after the 2016 election. Greene later told the club he was merely echoing the immediate post-election sentiments of former President Barack Obama and defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in hoping for the best from a Trump presidency.
“I’ve been fighting personally against Donald Trump, toe-to-toe, face-to-face, for many years and I will stand up to him. I’m his biggest fear right now,” said Greene, who is a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club.
A few minutes later, before answering a question about seniors, Levine said: “The one thing I want to do for seniors is to make sure they get the right information because just like Gov. Graham said, Jeff, you don’t need to attack people to get your point across, the way you’ve attacked Gwen and the way you’ve attacked me.”
Levine also ridiculed Greene’s claims that he will stand up to Trump.
“We’re not going to take on Trump by passing the Grey Poupon across the table at his country club at Mar-a-Lago, OK?” Levine said.
Greene shot back: “I don’t want to answer this, but I think we already have one angry, aggressive bully in Washington. We don’t need another one in this election.”
Graham, whose daughter has been the target of negative TV ads from Greene and others, also took aim at Greene.
“If you believe that the appropriate, respectful way to deal with the people that you’re asking to give you serious responsibilities is to contort negative things about people like Phil — I mean, I’m not perfect. I doubt that Phil is perfect. Jeff may be perfect. I don’t know. But the important thing is not some minor incident in your past, it’s rather what you first have as your goal — do you have a vision for this state that you want to accomplish?” Graham said.
Levine exited the meeting early to get to a live TV interview in Hallandale, but not before taking a final shot at Greene.
“This is what you did when you ran for the Republican congressman (in California in 1982), this is what you did when ran for Senate against Kendrick Meek (in 2010). You lie and you continue to lie,” Levine said, adding, “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity, we appreciate it. Make sure you get out there and vote.”
Later in the meeting, with Levine gone, Greene said he’d support Levine if he wins the Democratic primary — using the same language he used for Trump after the 2016 election.
“If Philip Levine beats me, if Gwen Graham beats me, I promise you I will say ‘Philip Levine’s a great guy. We had our differences but let’s try to get together and win,’” Greene said.