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Billionaire Developer Jeff Greene Running For Florida Governor On Income Inequality Platform

Jeff Greene
Jeff Greene and Mary Callahan Erdoes at the World Economic Forum, 2015

When billionaire developer Jeff Greene ran for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010, he won only 31% of the primary vote. Headlines focused on his friendship with convicted rapist Mike Tyson — the best man at his wedding — and debauchery on his yacht ("sex, drugs and techno music").

But now that he is running for governor of Florida — he declared his candidacy Friday — he wants to focus on a bigger issue that propels him: his concern about income inequality in the country. 

Greene, who comes from a middle-class family, worked as a telemarketer and built wealth by buying and renting out houses in Western Massachusetts. He then made his real fortune by copying hedge fund manager John Paulson and betting against subprime mortgages circa 2008, turning $50M into $500M.

After decades in Los Angeles, Greene relocated to Palm Beach, where he has in recent years bought up land and initiated several apartment, hotel and office projects. The father of three also founded a private school, The Greene School.

Over the years, he has seemed obsessed with and disturbed by growing income inequality. 

In a 2012 New York magazine profile, Greene said that he had a "real, legitimate fear” about the issue — hinting that it could result in a left-wing dictator coming to power, and possibly nationalizing assets, à la Hugo Chavez.

“You have this huge, huge class of people who are impoverished," he told the magazine. "If we keep doing what we’re doing, we will build a class of poor people that will take over this country, and the country will not look like what it does today. It will be a different economy, rights, all that stuff will be different.”

At a Bisnow event last year, Greene noted that wages for most workers were low across South Florida — even at his own hotel, where he had recently realized how tenuous his staff's jobs were.

"On a payroll of 130 employees, I think eight of them get salaries," he said. 

Greene also holds an annual conference called Managing the Disruption, which anticipates that automation will threaten the blue-collar workforce, resulting in instability.

“We have to understand where the world is going so we can come up with some thoughtful solutions on how to build an inclusive economy so people aren’t left behind,” Greene said at his most recent conference.

He has even called for higher minimum wages and taxes on the wealthy. 

Yet for all his concern about regular folks, Greene has been poked at as out of touch with them. Curbed took stock of five of his mansions, and Greene has underestimated the damage that could be done by Donald Trump, saying after the 2016 election that he was behind him "100%," although he alternately said that he would be "scared to death to see him as our president.

Pundits seems to believe that Greene's a long shot to win, but his competitors — former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and one-term former Rep. Gwen Graham — don't have much name recognition themselves, and Greene could throw a lot of money into his campaign. 

Greene has said the economy is "heading into treacherous waters" and he could navigate them. The Democratic primary is Aug. 28. In the meantime, Greene is trying to unload his 25-acre estate in Beverly Hills. Asking price: $129M.