Billionaire Palm Beach real estate investor Jeff Greene has filed paperwork to enter the crowded Democratic primary for Florida governor, throwing a potentially expensive wild card into a contest that has no clear favorite.
Four Democrats are already running for governor and another Palm Beach County Democrat — former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter — is expected to decide as soon as this week whether to launch a campaign.
Greene, who did not return calls seeking comment Monday, filed candidate papers Friday, according to the Florida Division of Elections website.
Greene told The Palm Beach Post in April that he was underwhelmed by the Democratic field of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Winter Park businessman Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.
He said he was ready to dip into his fortune — estimated at $3.8 billion by Forbes last year — if he decided to run for governor.
“If I did get involved,” Greene said in April, “I’d be able to get my message out and spend whatever it would take to get me over the top.”
Greene spent about $24 million of his own money on a losing 2010 U.S. Senate bid, getting 31 percent in a Democratic primary against former U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek. In that race, Meek accused Greene of making his fortune off the misery of others during the mortgage meltdown that began in 2007. Greene made hundreds of millions of dollars by predicting that the subprime mortgage market would collapse and invested in sophisticated contracts called credit default swaps.
Greene also was hammered in that race for running for Congress as a Republican in California in 1982 and for having Mike Tyson as the best man at his wedding.
Another of Greene’s relationships could be fodder for Democratic primary foes. He’s a member of President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, which is two doors north of Greene’s oceanfront home. Shortly after Trump’s 2016 victory, Greene told Forbes: “Having won the presidency and kept control of the Senate and the House, Republicans have a chance to do something great for this country. I hope all Democrats do the opposite of what (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell did, when President Obama was elected, and get behind Donald Trump and not think about voting him out of office.”
Greene has subsequently expressed disagreements with Trump in interviews with The Palm Beach Post.
As the 2018 governor’s race began taking shape last year, Greene told The Post last October that he had a better “understanding of where the economy is and where it’s going” than the other candidates.
Greene in 2017 brought pundits, politicians and business leaders to West Palm Beach for a “Managing the Disruption” conference on technology and the economy that focused on the impact of automation on blue-collar workers.
“We’re heading into treacherous waters. I don’t think that any of these guys really get it,” Greene said in October of the Democratic candidates.
Greene has also said he has gained insight into educational issues, such as the need to boost reading skills before third grade, since founding The Greene School in West Palm Beach.
“A lot of the things that we’re doing (at The Greene School) could be implemented very easily in public schools,” Greene said last year.
Polls so far have suggested the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination is up for grabs less than three months before the Aug. 28 primary.
A Florida Atlantic University poll last month showed Levine and Graham in a virtual tie for the lead at 16 percent and 15 percent, respectively, with 42 percent of Democrats undecided.
Levine, who has been advertising on TV since November, released an internal poll last week that showed him with a 30-to-20 percent lead over Graham, who has not yet advertised on TV. Levine’s poll showed 33 percent of voters undecided.
Murphy has been encouraged to enter the race after a poll he commissioned showed Levine leading with 20 percent and Murphy and Graham tied at 14 percent with 41 percent undecided.
Gillum released an internal poll last month that showed Levine getting 20 percent and Gillum and Graham tied at 13 percent, with 52 percent undecided.
Gillum, the only black candidate in the primary, welcomed the addition of Greene to the race.
“As the son of a construction worker and bus driver, and still the only non-millionaire Democrat in our primary, I believe Florida Democrats need a true champion for working people as their nominee. I look forward to continuing this contest of ideas with Jeff in the field,” Gillum tweeted on Monday morning.
Graham, the only woman in the race, is scheduled to begin the TV phase of her campaign on Wednesday with a $1 million buy in the Orlando and Tampa markets. She has sought to characterize the primary as a contest between “Gwen and the men,” and Greene’s entry furthers that narrative.
“The more Democrats we have working to end 20 years of Republican rule, the better,” said Graham campaign spokesman Matt Harringer. “Gwen will continue to stand up for everyday Floridians who are facing higher healthcare costs, an affordable housing crisis and devastating public school cuts.”